Headlights of a Winnebago illuminate a stark, barren ribbon of asphalt through a tunnel of gloomy,
foreboding trees. The driver of the vehicle peers into the night, trying by force of will to bring the
happy lights of Yosemite City within reach. It has been a long, stressful drive with a trail of impatient
passenger cars constantly backed up behind.
Passing Lower Cathedral Rock, the headlights illuminate, like the flash of a strobe, a pair of
cars and several filthy individuals. The lights illuminate this scene, which disappears into
the darkness as the driver pats his shirt pocket where a campsite reservation confirmation
rests, close to his heart.
The red tail lights of another Winnebago roar off into the darkness, leaving the four of us
once again in the night, our only light source the soft blue flame of a stove warming a pot of
spaghetti, this faint glow reflecting off our gear scattered in piles across the asphalt. Eventually
even the roar of the vehicle fades, and softer sounds reclaim their space: purr of the stove;
murmurs and laughter; and echoing stories of the day’s events bouncing back at us from the
rock, answered by the nearby voice of the Merced River.
Above us, the East Buttress of Lower Cathedral Rock is illuminated by fading twilight:
A dim, ghostly pillar of granite soaring into the night sky. The rock – each highlight, every
feature – is starkly clear to us in memory, as if the mid-day sun were shining in this dusk;
each ledge and arête spotlighted by our efforts and perceptions on this past day.
At last, late in the evening of this moonless night, we will stow our gear, say our goodbyes,
and go to various corners of the Valley: to either bum a bit of space on a Housekeeping
Cabin floor, find a patch of dirt to share in Camp 4, or find a secluded stretch of forest floor
away from the hubbub of the Valley. And so it goes – A chance meeting of close friends at
the base of a huge rock spire; a flared 5.10c corner, dust, granite, ants and heat… One
rope team waiting for another team at the summit after a hidden classic climb in a forgotten
corner of Yosemite Valley. A perfect day followed by the coolness of a perfect evening.
The friendship at this turnout below the spire is strong: a warm glow among us all from the
shared experiences of the climb… and in the shared memories a litany of climbs stretching
back through the years for over half a lifetime.
The lights of the Winnebago illuminate, like the flash of a strobe, an instant in time;
a moment of camaraderie and fellowship shared at the end of a serious climb well-done.
Illuminate, for just an instant, the very heart; the center; the very reason for climbing.
Unknowing, his face set in grim lines starting to soften with the thought of a long-awaited
R.V. vacation, the tourist motors onward up the two-lane road, a roadside party receeding into
the darkness, behind, in his rear-view mirrors.