March 22, 2013 Clair Marie 0Comment

I grew up as a very adventurous person. My dad was a big time climber in our area and took me on many trips across California to some of the most well known climbing areas. Starting at a very young age my climbing shoes could fit in the palm of an adults hand. I was raised with a passion for granite and other form of rock and an even deeper passion for experiencing that rock from as high up as I could get! One of my dreams from childhood was to climb the face of El Capitan El-Capitan-57in Yosemite Valley, CA. I was a seasoned Yosemite go-er as my family picked that location as our favorite vacation spot, spanning upward of 4 weeks a year in the valley. Each time I was there the daunting task of climbing the face, more particularly the nose, drew me closer and closer. My dad had climbed it multiple times before but he insisted on reminding me that he didn’t have an interest in doing it again, if I wanted to climb it then it was up to me to find a solid climbing partner who would take me up the approximated 3000 ft cliff.

Being head strong and already a BASE jumper at the age of 17 I agreed to the adventure and started to prepare for another dream come true with my boyfriend at the time Chris McNamara, who was a renowned big wall climber and had set the record for number of times up the face as well as the youngest team ascend at the age of 16 with his 14 year old brother.

With the ultimate amount of trust I jumped at the idea with no hesitation but with little idea as to what to expect. I had been a climber for about 13 years but about 10 of them I was just goofing off with my siblings and climbing whatever I could find with no regard to taking it seriously as a sport. The decision that was mutually made by Chris and I took way, starting me out practicing some techniques to help me through the climb which I had never tried before. With only a week and a half to prepare I decided to let go of most of my nervousness surrounding the climb and just trust that I knew what I was doing and that Chris, although our relationship was weak at the time, had both of our best interest in mind.

We arrived in the valley earlier than expected and decided to start the climb. My pack was almost heavier than I was and making my way up the short hike to the base of the climb was brutal. I just hoped the rest of the climb would be a little more fun filled. We started climbing and only made it about 400ft up before we had to set up our porta-ledge where we would be spending the night. Although starting early meant we added one additional night to the climb we were more than happy to embrace that.

The entire climbing experience was incredibly peaceful and some times too El Cap first stop peaceful. Being a 2 person climbing group the majority of the trip was spent separated. Feeling a bit like isolation at times it really forced me to either quiet the voices in my head or let them take over and convince me to be scared. In the lower parts of the climb I was really petrified, shockingly so, that the thought of falling was constantly playing through myt head. As an experienced climber I was really bothered that the height was getting to me. But as I climbed further from the valley floor the less concerned I became about the height and the more blissful the entire experience was becoming. I remember at one point the only thing holding me to the rock were 2 bolts and nothing below me but my feet smeared to the rock and sheer granite all the way to the ground probably around 2,500 feet below. I remember thinking in that moment that I wanted to be scared at how exposed I was but instead I had this peaceful calm that said, if you fell here you would die so who cares.

sunset elcap We spent 2 nights sleeping in our portable ledge, in our harnesses and anchored to the cliff. Both nights were spectacularly beautiful. Sunsets from a cliff can not be described, only felt. Like a burning sphere of beauty and hope preparing to rest in preparation for the next day. Once we neared the top there was one section where letting go of the safety of the rock and hanging above 3,000 feet of nothing was the next step. As directed by Chris I pushed off the wall as hard as I could and I saw myself separate from the wall by what seemed to be 30ft and I was sitting there, in mid air, nothing to my right or my left and nothing below me for what looked like ever. It took everything in my body to just relax and not 20tense up and hold my breath. It was terrifyingly awesome and I just sat there for a few minutes to admire the view, soak up the weird feeling of massive internal fulfillment but being surrounded by nothing. I made my way to the top and felt this massive form of respect for this life I had, for Chris helping me experience this and for my ability to just let go and fully experience it.

The hike down was less than exciting, it was incredibly painful having such a heavy pack and I heard my knees creek and grind with each downward step. On one small section rappelling down was one of the only ways and having a pack that weight almost as much as I did it took all of my core strength to not fall backwards and end up upside-down and as helpless as a turtle on its back. I remember the entire way down I couldn’t help but think, man it would be so much easier to just jump off now.

When we reached the bottom we were greeted by my mom whom had been watching us make the climb through binoculars at the bottom of the cliff along with one of her friends. We sat in the field directly below the cliff and I was just in awe that my dream had finally come true, and I was exhausted from the whole experience.

The entire adventure really helped me realize that each and every day there are a million small things that can stress me out or prevent me from staying true to my path and really going for it. But if I just let go of the control, trust myself and the people I surround myself with and focus 100% on enjoying the process but visualizing the end result, then not only will it all work out but it will exceed my expectations. It really opened my eyes to the possibilities of how we can have the choice, to decide what dictates our outcome. Our fears, limitations and the small stresses in life, or our drive, desire and zest for life. Making the conscious choice to rappel the negative and small things and soak up the positive and good in this life was one of the most critical choices I have ever made and has by far been the most impactful on all of my future experiences. I have encountered thousands of limiting factors in my life and hundreds of people who have tried to keep me from my dreams but understanding the simple fact that I have the power over my emotional response to them is what has helped aid me to get where I am today.

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