In Due Time

Article Index

A Play in Three Acts

Yvon Chouinard Chuck Pratt
Tom Frost Royal Robbins
Warren Harding Steve Roper
TM Herbert Other Rock Freaks

The Top of El Capitan in Our Time


Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, TM Herbert, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins and Steve Roper are holding hands and standing in a circle. It is dusk. The group, obviously in "high" spirits, dances and spins. Finally, utterly spent, they collapse and break into mock chorus:

We the dead-end kids
In this game
Did make our bids
For enviable fame!

But O mournful fate
Does proclaim
The adventurous state
Is on the wane!

On the wane!

ROBBINS. O tell me before we go, who was the best of them all, the lead in the show?
CHORUS. O you Royal, O you.
CHOUINARD. And who the most casual, and exhibitive of finesse?
CHORUS. O you Yvon, O you.
HERBERT. And who the most human and filled with jest?
CHORUS. O you TM, O you.
ROPER. And who the most gross?
CHORUS. O you Steve, O you.
FROST. And who the most saintly and the least verbose?
CHORUS. O you Tom, O you.
PRATT, more quietly than the rest. And who the most sober?
CHORUS. O you Chuck, O you.
HERBERT, rising. Will someone remind me why we are here? I have wife and child below, and lots of cold beer.
ROBBINS. We have vowed to end it all. Please recall, please recall. The humdrum, the tedium, the slippery crack, the breaking back, the hauling of an enormous sack! Where is the meaning for us? Hammered thumbs, bloody puss! A glorious ascent is no accomplishment. It's all undone by some younger one. Here's our chance to be brave. It's the image we must save. Come on now, let's not hedge-off the edge! Off the edge! He points westward to the darkening void.
FROST. O happy days. O happy days. He rises and shuffles a little two-step. Everyone rises looking befuddled.
HERBERT, quietly to CHOUINARD. Frost is gone.
CHOUINARD, somewhat dazed. We will glide and arch and be pretty to the end. To PRATT, becoming wide-eyed. Practice the many ways to stream the air. Like eagles... like eagles.... and O! What should I wear? He stands and assumes a diving posture.
PRATT, stumbling away. Where's my bottle?
ROPER, sarcastically. I thought we were here to dump to our heart's content off the Nose. Pointing to CHOUINARD. But not to pose. Not to pose.
ROBBINS, with relish. Exactly! But to dump ourselves! It is time. Do you not hear the tolling of the bells? Everyone listens, then looks to one another questioningly. Never mind. Never mind. I will you no jibes. Merely think on the hordes of young climbers. And none take bribes!
PRATT, approaching ROBBINS, bottle in hand. Then tell me you fool, why did you open the climbing school? The climbing schools and climbing shops have flooded the Valley and flooded the rocks! Smiling sadly, he strokes ROBBINS' head. They break into a scuffle, but are separated by FROST, who kisses them. Meanwhile, CHOUINARD, standing apart, is testing various gliding postures. .. arms up, out. .. hands opened, closed.... Suddenly, from the cliff's edge, there is a loud hammering, drilling and whirling of tarps, bags, pitons, hooks, umbrellas and ropes. HARDING, in a massive tangle of slings, hammers, nuts, bolts, cameras and wine bottles, flips up over the top. He has a Christian Brothers label stuck to his forehead.
HARDING, eyes rotating, hair standing out like weeds. What a farcing expedition! I've bolted all the way, top to bottom—an absolute first. Nowadays, the way to glory is not by the best route, but the worst. Takes stamina! By the way, where's the TV camera?

PRATT, frothing. Great doom! Great doom! The prostitution of climbing! For the buck, he puts up a shuck! The game must be played well or not at all - to ascend is not to maul! We follow the natural line as free as can be, then nail to the extremity. A bolt or two if we must, but only after our balls we bust! And cameras and press go to hell! They show not the truth but what will sell! Climbing was our last escape in a country bent on rape. Now you bring the rape to us! My God, whom can I trust?
ROBBINS, hurriedly before HARDING can speak, and grabbing at PRATT and HERBERT. Then off the edge!
HERBERT, screaming. Mercy! I'm with child!
FROST, seriously. He's with child!
From the darkness toward the north, a chorus of voices can be heard to sing out:

See how decadent this lot!
They cry for mayhem
And their fiber is rot!
Look! How with ego fraught.
Now down with them
To the death they've bought.

ROPER, incredulously peering northward. WhattheholymotherofJesuswasthat?


A mob of bushy young climbers, powerful, gymnastic in build and carrying torches, emerge from the darkness. Their leader, with a profusion of locks, steps forward.

CHOUINARD. An apparition!
PRATT. Apparition, hell! Pink elephants!
ROBBINS, stumbling toward the LEADER. Name your game!
LEADER. To ascend! To ascend! To ravage the walls, ascent on ascent!
ROBBINS, coming closer to the LEADER. You're on!
PRATT, to ROBBINS. These are your children, fresh from the schools. Wash your hands of them.
ROBBINS, still staring down the LEADER. Too late. Too late.
FROST, shuffling. O happy days.
HERBERT, amiably, trying to reduce tensions. What a night for a bash. At 4 there's booze and hash.
HARDING, seemingly unruffled. I can dig it!
LEADER, ignoring all but ROBBINS. Do this! He starts to cartwheel.
ROBBINS, also cartwheeling. It's easy!
LEADER, fiercely handspringing. And this!
ROBBINS, with some effort. Not bad!
LEADER, flapping his arms and flying. And this!
ROBBINS, flapping, but earthbound. O No! I'm had!

Though you are high
Up on pot
He can fly
And you can not.

ROBBINS, still flapping and being carried to retreat by HERBERT and CHOUINARD. Body, fly! I command you to fly!
PRATT, hysterically to ROBBINS. Learn the lesson of defeat. Not every man must you beat!
HERBERT, to FROST, quietly. If PRATT would only go back to school. . . poet.. . philosopher . . . teacher ....
ROPER. And martyr.
FROST, belatedly. . . what?
ROBBINS, finally exhausted. PRATT is right. It is the hour of defeat. Let us jump and the game complete.
Suddenly the air is filled with another chorus, this one seeming to come from all directions. There are no words, but only a cascade of most beautiful and calming voices. The air becomes bright, and a light and radiant mist envelops the scene. Faces begin to appear and vanish within the mist. ANTON NELSON appears, then vanishes. Then, appearing and vanishing, JULES EICHORN, BESTOR ROBINSON, AL MACDONALD, MORGAN HARRIS, GEORGE WHITMORE, MARK POWELL, DICK LONG, DON WILSON, LES WILSON, and again, ANTON NELSON. Then, brighter and lasting, the countenance of JOHN SALATHE appears. CHOUINARD is cowed; PRATT, paralyzed; TM, trembling; HARDING, haywire; ROPER, riveted; FROST, freaked but smiling; ROBBINS, blanked and kneeling; the LEADER and his followers, on their asses.

ROPER. WhattheholycreamofChrististhis?

SALATHE, solemnly from behind a flowing beard. Beloved. I speak to you not in rhymes, nor in parables of truth. Hear me and the chorus of angels in whom you never believed. I give you now the sacred commandments in continued violation of which you may well know just punishment by scourging lightning and blinding bolts.
First, of arrogance. Your arrogance is well known in the outer world, disguised by friendly appearing competition, but O so often lined with blackest contempt. What is this encounter tonight between two generations but the spitting up of venoms long suppressed by your endless games! I speak not only of arrogance between and among yourselves, but of false arrogance before the modern world. Damn you who stand in contempt of the world yet wave before its cameras and place climbing in its market place!
CHORUS. Thou shall not hate in arrogance or think one's self worthy of much acclaim, or hold to false contempt.

SALATHE. Next, of selfishness, called by you individuality. Your selfish ways drive poisoned roots deep into others, shaming especially the women who come into your lives. Lo! but these are treated by you as so many servants—how past time for them to cast dirt back into your faces!
CHORUS. Thou shall not use others for thine own pleasure or whim.
SALATHE. And next, of cynicism, called by you realism. Thou wretched lot, thou knowst full well the plights of this nation and this beloved earth, but yet act not to save your brother or your self! What graver evil than not to know and love in proper proportions both one's self and the moment of life given unto him; not to rage against injustices and the ravaging of nature, but to retreat into thine own self instead and mock the coming doom!
CHORUS. Thou shall not withdraw and be inflamed with self-pity.
SALATHE. And last, of self-contempt, called by you nothing since you know it not. The angels pity your guilt, for thusly do all your sins derive. The man of inner peace and acceptance lives and climbs in full knowledge of his place and worth, uncaring of his precious "image." Pity the man who knows not himself and knows not his own self-hate.
CHORUS. Thou shall know and respect thyself first, and thence will all things follow in just and rewarding ways.

The face glows in silence, seemingly waiting for a reply.
LEADER, shaking. Will there be ... time . .. for.. a . . rebuttal? More confidently. Haven't you heard? In youth is the salvation of the world! No issues do we flee. Our women will be liberated! Social ills incinerated! Listen all! We climb not for glory! Inner peace, creative release, life force, unselfish course, natural reflections, mind projections, nourishment and wonderment, pertinent and reverent. A lightning bolt reduces him to ashes. His followers scamper for cover.
ROBBINS, with acceptant tone. We are all guilty, and many others not here tonight.
SALATHE, firmly. Their skins may yet be burned from their backs. For now, trust that they will suffer from an inner hell.
ROBBINS. But we are here to end the game forever.
ROPER. Speak for yourself, Royal. To SALATHE. I see no joke here, no game. But just one question, put in all humility: by what authority do you . .. Lightning crashes into the ground around ROPER, setting several bushes ablaze.

SALATHE, in anger. O rational and sarcastic skeptic, I care not to answer in full. Suffice to say that I am no more than a vessel in this life, obliged to transmit unto you what the voices say unto me!
HERBERT. Enough! Enough! How are we to be saved?
SALATHE. Both old and young, know and accept thy pitiful selves and from new humility, act accordingly toward all men.
PRATT. The truth!
HERBERT. I hear ya! FROST, starting the two-step again. Yup! HARDING. I'm in!

ROBBINS, looking ambivalent. It's.. a .. deal. Another lightning bolt blasts into the earth sending up clouds of smoke around Robbins.
SALATHE. No deals. Yes or no?

The lighted face disappears. The younger climbers return. Several stand around the ashes of the LEADER, then move away.
ROPER. Are we dreaming?
PRATT. Must we taste the ashes of this dead climber to believe! And dream or no dream, there is truth to glean.
HERBERT, trying to avoid still another rhyming duel. How about that bash? And a little hash? He puts one arm around FROST, his other arm around an anonymous young climber and starts for the trail. HARDING follows, so does CHOUINARD, ROPER and the younger climbers. ROBBINS and PRATT remain.
ROPER, turning to the pair. Will you come down?
PRATT, ROBBINS, simultaneously. In due time ... in due time.

The others leave. In the gloom, ROBBINS and PRATT remain. A cool breeze has come up from the north.
ROBBINS. I will say it. You are every climber's conscience.
PRATT. I am nothing.
ROBBINS. I feel so changed ... can we not turn back? Return to a time when there were but a few of us? A true community of climbers? O I long to tremble before virgin walls, fearful once more. Where are the unclimbed walls? What have we done to this Valley? And ourselves?
PRATT. The walls are nothing, climbing everything.
ROBBINS. The climbs, then. Shall we climb them again? Will we climb the Salathe Wall yet once more, just the few of us?
PRATT. I do not believe it is our destiny.
ROBBINS. How will we learn to do without the pursuit of challenge, of yet another climb?
PRATT. By understanding that challenge is of the self and of the mind.
ROBBINS. Shall the younger climbers find inner peace and acceptance, and avoid the emptiness of personal glory?
PRATT. I do not know, but I do not think so.
ROBBINS. Will they continue to multiply and cover the rock?
PRATT. Indeed, we have tasted our own hemlock.
ROBBINS. Shall they continue to sell and be sold?
PRATT. Do not the sons inherit the sins of the father? So it is told. The wind becomes stronger, their voices difficult to hear.
ROBBINS. Then tonight the truth has been revealed?
PRATT. Does your soul not know it has been healed?
ROBBINS. Did anyone else hear Salathe?
PRATT. Each in his own way. The wind rises to gale force.
ROBBINS. Is this the end of climbing? Its glory? Its freshness? Its friendship? Its space and freedom? Its infancy? Its innocence? And yes, its absurd and sometimes inhuman ways? How can it be ending, when I feel all is beginning?
PRATT. In the end, even climbing is nothing ... integrity everything.

He says something more, but his words can no longer be distinguished. The two climbers bend into the wind and grope for the trail. In the darkness, they misjudge directions and come to the very edge of the wall. There, they appear to be talking and coming to an agreement. They laugh hysterically. Suddenly, both stand upright and are swept into space.


Ascent, Sierra Club, 1972