Sunset on El Capitan

Yosemite's El Capitan glowing golden in evening sunlightI’ve been a rock climber since age 16. The places climbing has taken me, and the challenges it set before me, have been some of the peak experiences of my life. Take, for example, when I was climbing the Nose route on the sheer 3,000 foot face of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley over three days in the summer of 1982.

We were nearing the end of our second day of strenuous climbing and had entered the towering upper corner system on the massive face. It’s like being on one side of a giant, vertical, open book. Climbers who’ve been there liken it to a natural cathedral.

I was standing on a perfect, tiny ledge formed in the wall, known as “The Glowering Spot,” with 2,000 feet of airy exposure under my feet as I looked straight down onto the tops of trees on the valley floor. Had the Empire State Building been constructed in Yosemite, the top of its antenna spire would have been more than 500 feet below me!

My partner was climbing above, so I was alone for a while, a small human speck in a sea of vertical granite sweeping for thousands of feet in all directions. And, the sun was setting over Yosemite.

The world was still and silent but for the brush of an occasional breeze across the rock face. I watched the shadows lengthen on the valley floor. Then, suddenly, the sun dipped over the horizon. And the rock face around me exploded in golden fluorescence. Everything, from the minute to the infinite, was glowing gold.

I was simultaneously aware of both the distant horizon and the tiny, golden rock crystals inches from my face, reflecting the setting sun. I felt both completely insignificant, and, at the same time, central to the most majestic natural tapestry ever created.

It’s a feeling I will remember my entire life.