In Thanks

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As Vern zooms off to link up with a long, handsome, right-curving arch, I imagine Poppa Kamps climbing along with us, feet splayed out sideways, edging in his distinctive, duck-like style. Bob's climbing has always been sane, I think, utterly sane. How would he do here? The pitch is sanely protected, but madly difficult. My mind wanders to Frank Sacherer, who reportedly and supposedly thrived on unprotected leads. I think of him throwing himself at a pitch in Yosemite, risking all, I suppose, in hopes of finding all. What a contrast to Kamps, tediously protecting every difficulty, risking little, not aiming for the big bang. How fitting that Bob caught Sacherer's eighty-foot plunge on Lower Rock in Yosemite, held and single-handedly rescued him, unconscious for half the descent. And that Sacherer has, apparently, all but left rock climbing while Bob, in his mid-forties, climbs on.

But if Bob is sane, he is also wry, too damn wry for me to have ever been able to thank for my introduction to climbing and this place. So, I turn to the imaginary figure climbing the pitch with us, wait until he's exhausted and say, "Hey, thanks."

Vern calls on belay from his perch. He juts out from the leaning arch like a gargoyle. Following, I find the lieback an arching 5.9. My pitch involves a skittering, rock-slapping, 5.10 flaring jam. Vern's lead—ending the arch—is again 5.10, this time an awful undercling over slightly decomposed rock. The rock crinkles under his feet as he jigs across. A hilarious flopping around on my part gets us over the arch at its thinnest portion. Again, there are just enough knobs. From here, one traversing pitch to the left and three more straight up, none over 5.8, gain the top. Over each pitch, we exhaustedly yank the dead walrus along, its nose diving under roofs, its fat flanks melting around every knob in its path. How fitting, I think, that we should be obliged to drag our armory, half of which we didn't use.

On top at dusk, Vern and I shake hands a little awkwardly. There is no question that we have created the finest route in Tuolumne. Nevertheless, our friendship is precarious, me enmeshed in the work-a-day world and Vern the rebel, defiant of the world below.

As Vern begins down, I stay for a moment, thinking of Tuolumne as my femme fatale. Here, years ago, I touched the rock like a boy might first touch a nubile girl, gingerly, unsurely. I went sleepless, turning and re-turning the thought of the next day's rendezvous. I sometimes whistled, like a rowdy, at the billowing shape of the tall, round domes. In the midst of it all, as with a lover, I felt lustful, whole, godly, as well as small and angered. How frequently the nubile youth became harsh mistress, whimsical and demanding, though gorgeous still. Often she rewarded us only after we backed away to try again to please her. We were learning and she was teaching. But in the end, she smiled on us like a mother who rewards a certain goodness, so that at the close of recent seasons, I could step from the car on the return drive, look across treetops crisply held in fall air to Fairview, the queen herself, and feel full of thanks.