Vertical World of Yosemite

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However, as we read the several climbing accounts, we find much evidence for remarkably familiar perspectives simply transplanted to the mountain environment. Proctor in his account of the 1884 ascent of Half Dome, an incredible feat, gives as his motivation for the ascent something like patriotic fervor. He says, "No foreigner will do that job (climb Half Dome and replace the cable) 'till we have a try at it," Robbins, in everlasting divulgence, recites familiar existential perspectives while climbing the North American Wall: "If one could only find meaning to make these hard truths of insignificance and omnipresent death acceptable. Where to find this meaning?" Doug Robinson, in writing of Chouinard as visionary explains the mountain experience in metaphysical terms, a perspective then as available as the nearest youth: "Vision is intense seeing. Vision is seeing what is more deeply interfused, and following this process leads lo a sense of ecology." Toward the end of the book, as Robbins parts his ribcage, heart valves and soul for all to see, we find the driving perspectives of the greatest American rock climber to be in some ways analogous to those of businessmen worried about stocks or the soap business. He says, "That was really when I first started being competitive and started pushing myself in a way that I haven't stopped doing since. I suppose I've done this in some ways in order to maintain the pleasant aura of success that made me feel so good in the early days. I liked that so much I determined to keep it coming, no matter what I had to do to get it (italics added)."

If the vertical world or quixotic adventure will not necessarily elevate our souls, bring us to see with the vision of gurus or save us from the lockstep of popular incantations, one might ask what can it bring. The answer is that it brings what life itself brings, that whether one is hanging from under roofs on El Capitan or running a soap business makes little difference. Some of the same hours of trial, companionship, competition, preoccupation, love and hale are to be found in the flat and the vertical world. The editor reminds us that John Muir lived and wrote well while in the mountains, but William Carlos Williams brought about his poetry in between taking urine samples from patients. It is for this reason that the experience of the vertical world is no better than the ability of those who inhabit it to know themselves and say what they know.