The Ghosts Of Yosemite
Yosemite is far more than a national park. If you simply explore the park on paved paths and take photos of scenic views, you’re not capturing the true essence of the park. Yosemite is not only where rock climbing began, but the entire idea of pushing human boundaries and extreme sports limitations began here. Whether you’re a climber or you prefer a different outdoor activity, there is without a doubt so much you can learn from the climbing legends of Yosemite.
Perhaps one of the most influential legends of all is Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Chouinard focused his energy in surfing and climbing, and he was the first to create the pitons climbers came to rely on, thus beginning the Patagonia brand. Warren Harding is one of the most memorable climbers of all time, partly for his lavish wine-drinking habit that he carried to the rock wall, but mostly for achieving the first ascent on the iconic El Capitan’s plummest line, The Nose. His more serious and conservative rival, Royal Robbins, turned the art of climbing into a precise science that revolutionized the sport.
Other legends like Kim Schmitz, who in 1966 began recording speed climbs on El Capitan at age 19, and Tom Kimbrough went straight to Yosemite as soon as they could to pursue livelihoods in climbing. It is a right of passage for climbers to begin here. They start tracing the lines of the climbers they’ve always looked up to, then they go explore the rest of the world.
The most spectacular aspect of this tradition is that despite the tragic deaths of many climbers in Yosemite (particularly those who finish their ascents with BASE jumping), the young generation of climbers continues to pursue this dangerous territory. For instance, Dean Potter, who died along with Graham Hunt this past spring, pushed the limits by starting a huge BASE jumping movement that was initially meant to make climbing safer. Extreme climbers today free climb, leaving their lives at serious risk should they fall. Wingsuits would help free climbers land safely after a fall. These wingsuits turned into a whole new sport that rewards climbers with a scenic view as the fly around the cliff they just conquered on their way back to ground. After Potter’s death, the danger of BASE jumping was emphasized but climbers continue to push the boundaries today.
Between 1970-1990 fifty-one climbers died in Yosemite. Each year about 15-25 parties require a rescue and about sixty climbers each year stagger into the medical clinic on their own. There is no telling how many seriously injured climbers seek medical help outside the park.
So the next time you’re in Yosemite, instead of snapping photos of undeniably stunning scenes, take a minute (or many minutes) to take in the space in which your standing. Some of the most tragic deaths have occurred here, many mysterious falls have taken place without an audience member in sight, and many corners of the park are home to aspiring athletes that hope to trace the paths of the climbers who were victim to such fatalities. If ghosts do exist, you can be certain they are lurking Yosemite’s most iconic walls.