Set Free (Sierra Climbing Part 4)

After leaving Prayer Tower (aka The Incredible Hulk) because of the cold, we knew we were in for a battle of the crowds. It was a bluebird Saturday in Tuolumne Meadows and even our idea of an afternoon jaunt up the Regular Route on Fairview dome was met with a conga line of climbers we spied from the road. I had to agree with Adam that our best option to escaping crowds was to get vertical and leave the rope behind.

I was uncertain at the start. Peaking back at the rope in the car. A sad limp snake left behind. No umbilical cord. I would be tethered to no one, nothing; a fitting metaphor at the moment.

With nothing but a chalk bag, climbing shoes and a little water we started off for Tenaya Peak. This is what it felt like:

Looking up, this little peak wears a featured white apron across its northwest flank. It’s nowhere near vertical and only 10,300 feet or so. The approach is easy and the point at which you change from approach to climbing shoes is vague, nonexistent for some. I change shoes, consult Adam on the line and we break.


This is the first strike of freedom- to see he who is usually either above or below me, he whom I can always call in silence by a tug on the rope, he is off to my side, wandering his own line. We do not disturb one another, but climb in silence. I climb into my own world. Completely inside myself, but progressively more a part of the rock, wind and sky.


I look up occasionally, but my focus narrows. My thoughts, preoccupations dissolve. The visceral part of my make up awakens and my fingers, toes, and entire body feel weightless. Motion syncs with breath. I wait for no one. My path crosses Adam’s like a braided river, weaving across the rock face.

It is so freeing to not carry gear, to not wait on other parties or your partner, to move with complete confidence. The momentum of free soloing builds and expands a space inside me. The closer I get to the top the more I want it to go on, the lighter I feel, but the top arrives at my feet and I am flying. I’m released from boundaries I chaffed against just hours before. The expanse inside me has left room for my heart to open wider. I open my hands to the sky and feel my freedom.


I had more energy than I did at the start, so I led the way down at a full run. Sliding down the trail, then leaping over boulders, then running down the slabs back to the lake.

The climb may have only taken a few hours round trip, but the constant flow of motion was cathartic. It was the perfect way to bring together 10 days in the mountains. From the Palisades with Erin, to Prayer Tower with Adam and back into Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. It washed away the anxiety of climbing loose rock on Temple Crag and the frustration of getting stuck behind slow climbers and frozen off Prayer Tower (We later learned that everyone left after we did because of the cold.)

The following morning the catharsis continued with a yoga class provided by the Parson’s Lodge Summer Series on the bank of the Tuolumne River. Over 30 people showed up, including a National Park ranger in full uniform, to participate. Yoga, in Tuolumne Meadows, by the river, with an amazing guitar and violin player/singer with views of Sierra Peaks surrounding us, on another perfect day. Does it get any better?


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