Vertical World of Yosemite

Article Index

Small wonder, then, that all the accounts are not equally good and the best are by climbers who deeply explore their emotions and at the same time write well. Climbers are the first to admit there is a paucity of great writers among the ranks: but there can be little doubt that within the fiery slams of Harding, the unfolding eloquence of Pratt's reflections and the stabbing perceptions of Robbins, a craggy art unveils itself. Reflecting on the painful controversy following his ascent of the Wall of the Early Morning Light, Harding transcends both petty anger and black depression, achieving a moment of greatness: "Another day is drawing to a close. All the old climbers are putting away their toys and games. . . . Perhaps some of the more daring will have a small glass of Red Mountain. ... I remain in my chair a bit longer—I try to probe further back through the years . . . but it all seems like 'I've seen this movie before' . . . always the good guys vs. bad guys. Maybe I should have played cowboys and Indians; only trouble is, I'd surely have been an Indian!" Chuck Pratt finds elemental truth in his ascent of Mount Watkins, and shares his discovery in succinct and confident prose. He writes, "We had all come [to the Valley of Light] as strangers, full of apprehension and doubt. Having given all we had to the climb, we had been enriched by a physical and spiritual experience few men can know ... we were rewarded by a gift of victory and fulfillment for which we would be forever grateful. It was for this that each of us had come to Yosemite, and it was for this that we would return, season after season." Finally, Robbins delves into his ascent of Tis-sa-ack and in a stinging style discovers he is both pit viper and friend to his partner in the vertical world: "I had vowed that I wasn't going to give Peterson an inch, but I weakened. I told him it was a damn good lead."

It is perhaps fitting that Robbins, in his incessant probing, should synthesize the point of the Vertical World. In the final pages of the book, he asserts, "I think the more you can approximate the rigors of climbing to the rigors of life, the more complete a game it is." By the time we finish this collection of essays, we learn a lesson most climbers eventually come to know. Climbing is not the only thing in the world worth doing and the quixotic adventure is not very quixotic most of the time. Climbing, in fact, is as terrible or as wonderful as the men who climb; and the game, then, is only as complete or fulfilling as one's ability to live life well.

American Alpine Journal, 1974