Smoke rising up from behind Half-Dome, as seen from the east.

In this post, Matt attempts to recall his first time on the rock, and the great debt he owes to some old friends who introduced him to climbing. Seriously, Matt, you should call those folks once in a while. They're awesome.

I had an amazing first time climbing. Most of my friends started in the bouldering gym or tried it in a classroom setting. Many of my partners have parents who climb and got them into it as children. There’s no wrong way to start climbing, but I still think my introduction was the best.

My Junior year of college I was hanging out with a few kids who’d attended a High Sierra semester program and had lots of experience in the wild places of California. I had spent my off-campus semester in the heart of Los Angeles studying urban issues. My friends could comfortably backpack for a week in the snow, while my navigation skills were limited to LA’s public transit system.

Nevertheless, they invited me to join them on a quick trip to Yosemite over President’s Day weekend. After six hours in the car trying to convince them (and myself) that I wasn’t in over my head, we rolled into the valley late and cowboy camped on the dense snow that covered the valley floor. It was warm in our sleeping bags and the beautiful stars seemed to shine brighter than all the lights in the city.

Matt belaying Blair in Yosemite, circa 2011. Good thing I was there to supervise.

The next morning, we parked at the east end of the valley and hiked to an apron under Half Dome. My friend Blair (the most experienced in our group) tied me in at the end of the rope, and another friend tied in a few yards ahead of me. Blair, Whitney and I scrambled up a mid fifth class flake, with Blair plugging gear into the crack and building anchors to lead the way. I was in the back and cleaned the gear as instructed. Matt and Moriah climbed on a second rope.

I was ecstatic. The sun was out and warmed our bodies, but the granite was still cold and we stuck to it in a way that seemed to defy physics. My oversized, second-hand climbing shoes worked well enough on the slabby route. The rock we were on rose and steepened for two thousand feet above us. Looking West, we could see down the entire valley: Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan. It felt like were in the gods’ private playground, and trespassing.

At the top of the second pitch, Blair confused me with a question:

“Where’s the anchor?” I had grabbed most of the gear he left in the crack to protect us as we climbed, but the large nest of cams and cordage that served as the way-station between pitches was still where he’d placed it.

“Don’t we need those to get down?” I was clearly in over my head.

On the way down Blair left the rest of us hanging from the two bolts of a rappel station so he could pendulum over and retrieve the gear I’d left behind. My harness (which I’d purchased from an old Mexican woman at an L.A. swap meet for $10) made some funny noises whenever I shifted my weight. By the time we got back to the ground I knew I was out of my depth, but I was grinning ear to ear and couldn’t wait to climb again.

Luckily Blair forgave me and we climbed together many times in the future. I learned a lot from him, Matt, Mo and Whitney, and my passion is still strong today…

After college, I dated Whitney but it didn’t work out in the long run. Mo, Matt and I stayed in touch for a while but living thousands of miles apart have taken its toll. I still see Blair now and again, and his choice to live out a van and climb in the Sierra after college was a big inspiration for me to move into my van and travel over the last three months. All of them have worked as guides, or on trail crews, and been a great encouragement to me getting out more.

I often say that the first time I climbed was outside, in the valley, and claim that as the reason I fell in love with climbing. But the truth is, the massive beauty of Yosemite was nowhere near as inspiring as the people I climbed with.

Last week I was back in Yosemite National Park. Wildfire smoke filled the valley, but Tuolumne Meadows was clear enough. None of my old crew is there anymore, but my fiancé Casey was. On this trip, Casey climbed her first multi-pitch route: a meandering mid-fifth class route on Lembert’s Dome, at the eastern edge of the park, with an amazing view of the Meadows.

Casey and I after finishing the Befinner’s Route on Lembert's Dome.

Every time we met an anchor, she was grinning. By the time we topped out, I could see that same excitement in her eyes, inspired by the massive granite landscape and the feeling of being somewhere it seems humans are not allowed. In many ways, Casey is more experienced outdoors than I am, but being able to expose her to this felt amazing. I learned a lot from friends and partners, and being able to share that with others, especially those I'm so close to, is more exhilarating than any wall of granite.

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