Who doesn’t want to Free Solo?
Honnold does it. Bachar did it, and Hersey did it too.
How else does one measure themselves A Man?
Let me tell you about the silly little time I tried to play my hand.
The Glacier Point Apron hosts a wide variety of climbing experiences, and one of the most notable is a small fissure of granite known as The Grack which runs up the Apron for about four hundred feet.
My first time on The Grack, I only got to climb the first two pitches before having to bail because of crowding issues. I distinctly remember thinking, “This is so easy and fun, I should free solo this thing!”
So, of course, a certain little Zay showed up by himself one day with a pack of cigarettes in one hand, and a beer in the other. On my waist was a harness with a few carabiners and slings, and a rappel device. On my back was a 200-ft rope, for descending the route; the only way down is to rappel unless you fancy down-climbing.
Overhead, the imposing massif of Glacier Point towered for three thousand feet above, and a certain reminder of its infamy became clear. Glacier Point is famous for rock fall, and – of course – small pebbles were trickling down the wall. Constantly. Every few minutes, a downpour of grains resembled the flow that would occur if someone at the summit had dumped a small bucket full of grains. Being that this was winter, and that Glacier’s impressive shadow was rather arctic, the entire scene was… spooky.
Something said to go for it. Was I wearing normal climbing shoes? Of course not. Nay, I wore my Sportiva TX3 Approach Shoes.
Then I started climbing. Low and behold, the terrain was as easy as I remembered, though climbing with the rope on my back was rather cumbersome. Higher up, I looked down to the ground – now some two hundred feet below – and thought, “This might be a dumb idea.” It was. I have always wielded my own idiocy like a sword. Another sprinkling of beads came trickling down the wall, and some of them even tapped my feet. Spooky.
The climax came fast, at the end. What I did not know, unfortunately, was that the serene crack dissipated, and that the final fifty feet was essentially low-angle and holdless face climbing: not quite the coolest thing in the world when you are on-sight soloing in Approach Shoes.
With a few whimpers and please-gods, I crept over the summit as carefully as I could, and lit another cigarette. Another trickles of grains came down and the shade got cold. Quick.
Staring down Tenaya Canyon, I shuddered to think of Chief Tenaya’s curse. That Canyon is said to be haunted by his ghost, seeking retribution for the taking of his lands and the murder of his son. My father – a former park ranger – once called it “The Bermuda Triangle of Yosemite.” I was glad I was here, and not there.
Five rappels, and two thousand tiny rocks saw me to the bottom. Safe and sound.
Finally back at the car, I threw the rope in the back, and heard a sound.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
Something, somewhere between the size of a football and a basketball had just come crashing down Glacier Point. I couldn’t see where it landed, but I bet I knew where.