For as long as I can remember, I have watched my dad point at rocks and tell me their names.
“Those are the Minarets—Clyde Minaret was the first thing I ever climbed—I was 13—it was a total shitshow. I almost died twice.”
That is usually followed by a mini-lecture about the names of established routes on those rocks, stories of the times he climbed any of those particular routes, the history of ascents on those routes and/or his goal to either repeat or climb that route for the first time. He will usually then prattle on about any other notable information, such as difficulty rating, how good the pro (protection) is, and rock quality. For example,
“That’s the ledge I pissed off of in 84, not knowing I wasn’t clipped into the anchor.”
“There’s a chimney right there on Salathe that I did unprotected, which put me in my partner’s good graces until we ran out of water. Then he hated me.”
“The pro is just bomber in the handjams section on Pitch 4”—mimicking hand jams—“but the face climbing after it had me whimpering like a baby.”
“If I can do Reed’s Direct again”---pulls over suddenly on Big Oak Flat Road—“then I know I’m ready to do El Cap again.”
This avalanche of information has always come unsolicited, so naturally as a kid I paid very little attention, as it did not involve my peers, candy, or Ace Ventura. As a teenager it mystified me, because at that point I had developed my own personal interest in the sport, but I still wasn’t anywhere near his level of obsession. I tried with genuine effort to listen as he told me the history of pitons, and while I did find that interesting and relevant, after 25 minutes I was over it.
A large portion of these mini-lectures have taken places in El Cap Meadow, in front of the most famous rock of them all, the King Rock, the famous and legendary El Capitan. I have endless memories of standing, sitting and let’s be real, probably sleeping in that meadow while my dad talked. He spent countless hours staring up at that sheer granite face, using binoculars to identify climber parties and specific pitches, and daydreamed about the routes he wanted to do himself.
Nowadays, the time I spend climbing with my dad is rare. I live on the opposite coast, and neither of us get much time away from work. Many of the things I previously took for granted about my dad I now relish in.
Two weeks ago my dad and I spent a week together in the Sierras. On our way down 120, my dad turned at me, a sheepish grin on his face. “Wanna go to El Cap Meadow?”
So there we were, sitting in El Cap Meadow for the 783rd time, sitting in the shade of a tree to avoid the summer sun. Beads of sweat pooled at the base of my dad’s neck as he craned to take in the Beast in its entirety.
We looked at the Salathe, and the Nose, and discussed Honnold’s unfathomable solo of Freerider. I asked him to retell certain parts of his ascent up the Salathe in 73, and we tried to identify what we finally decided was a haulbag on the Zodiac.
It was quiet as we walked back to the car. I felt relaxed, and comforted by our ritual. As I pulled away from our parking spot along the meadow, my dad suddenly laughed. He paused for a moment, before looking out the window one last time at the Captain.
“I’m not sure why I find it so satisfying, after all these years,” he said. “I just…do.”