Coming off of my first trad climbing trip just a few weeks earlier, Ben and I decided that we wanted to get another trip to Yosemite in while the weather was nice.  In those three weeks, the temperatures up in Tuolumne had dropped into the 50′s and 60′s and the park service had closed the Tuolumne campground.  So we set our sights on lower elevations and that meant Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite Valley is without a doubt one of the most well known natural landmarks in the world.  Known by most tourists for the largest waterfalls in North America, the steep granite faces of El Capitan and the towering presence of Half Dome.  While it’s quite obviously a destination for rock climbers, few know much about the history of climbing in Yosemite.

It’s not just a great place to go climbing, Yosemite Valley is and has been from almost the beginning of the sport the place to go climbing.  Advancements and movements tend to emanate from epicenters where the best and the brightest get together.  After World War II, Yosemite was the epicenter for the climbing community.  It was here where the present climbing style and ethics were all born.  The push to free climb routes instead of pulling on gear, innovations in rope management, the use of pitons to ascend harder routes, the rise of removable protection to avoid scaring the rock, the development of active protection and hundreds of other advancements.

Camp 4 Plaque

Photo: Flickr/hoipolloi

Not only did all of this happen inside Yosemite Valley, it was confined to one place, a campground called Camp 4.  Camp 4 is where the climbers lived and shared ideas, sometimes staying at the camp for months while working various projects in the valley.  In fact, Camp 4 was so central to the climbing community that it was here that Yvon Chouinard invented and sold his high tech pitons that allowed climbers to ascend new routes, that company is now called Black Diamond.  Chouinard also created a line of technical clothing under the familiar name Patagonia.  This is just one story of what came out of the community of climbers in Camp 4.  As a result, in 2003 Camp 4 was added to the national registry of historical places.

I’d stayed in Camp 4 before, but never as a climber and never for more than a couple nights.  The campground has room for about 210 people and is the only walk-in campground left in the valley.  Because of this, the sites there are extremely sought after.  To maximize it’s usage, the park service puts six people in every site.  This means that you’ll likely be sharing with some strangers.  While some might not think much of that idea, it’s actually an extremely cool experience.  It kind of forces you to hang around the campfire and hear what others have been up to and it’s a big part of what makes the tight knit community at Camp 4.

Because of the demand, Ben and I couldn’t get into the campground on our first night so we camped outside of the valley.  The next morning we got up before the sun rose and got ourselves a place in line by the campground registration window around 7am.  Because the window doesn’t open up until 8:30am, we got out our sleeping bags and took a little nap while we waited.  There were a number of parties in front of us but we managed to get a site.

We unloaded some gear and headed out for a climb (more about the climbing in a later post).  When we returned we got to meet our fellow campers.  All four of them were from the east coast but two of them will forever be in my memory, Dustin and Katie.  Dustin and Katie were in their early 20′s and decided to go on a mammoth road trip.  They left at the end of August and didn’t plan on going home until the end of December.  They had been climbing in Yosemite for the previous couple weeks and were very enjoyable to talk to.  To me, the two of them were so iconic of the lifestyle of so many climbers in Camp 4, in touch with the things that mattered to them and willing to make sacrifices to make it happen.

When the weekend rolled around a couple of new campers rolled into our site.  When Ben and I came back from our climb they were making themselves some dinner and asked if we’d be cool with some of their friends coming over to hang out.  Naturally we were fine with this but we didn’t quite realize what we were agreeing to.  About an hour later or so our campsite was filled with no less than 14 people in it.  One of them started a campfire and by the time we finished our dinner it was getting dark and we all hung out around the fire.

A bit later in the night some of our neighbors even joined us and brought along their guitars.  At this point we probably had almost 20 people huddled around the fire, singing, playing music and staying warm.  A park ranger even stopped by and commented on the fact that our site was the place to be that night, it was a very cool experience.

As the night progressed we slowly realized that all the extra friends were intending to actually stay at our campsite.  With a maximum of 6 people per site, 14 seemed like a pretty ridiculous stretch.  We were pretty cool with it until the group tried to setup a 7th tent, that was just making it too damn obvious.  So instead they crashed on their crash pads and in the vestibules of other tents.  It was all quite humerus in a way, however around midnight I was really wanting some peace and quiet so I could get some sleep.

That’s the way things seem to go in Camp 4 and I was feeling very fortunate to be a part of it.  I was wondering if I’d enjoy the climbing in the valley as much as I enjoyed it up in Tuolumne.  While the trip didn’t quite end the way we hoped it would, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it.

Day 3: Hermaphrodite Flake (5.8) on Stately Pleasure Dome

It was a Saturday and not only had our own group grown from two to four, the number of other climbers had likely increased by roughly the same percentage.  So we contemplated what we should climb.  Trying to balance difficulty, quality, escape routes and climbing traffic, somehow we ended up choosing Hermaphrodite Flake.

The lower half of Hermaphrodite Flake is rated as a 5.4 with a lot of 3rd and 4th class climbing to get to the start (I’d say a solid 300′ of it).  We thought this would give us some good opportunities to split up and do some top roping if we so desired.  But the idea of that much unroped down climbing wasn’t appealing to anyone so we found ourselves somewhat committed before even getting tied in.

There were a couple groups ahead of us and being a party of four we decided to let one party of two start before us as well.  So we had plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the view of Stately Pleasure running right down into Tenaya Lake.  During that time we decided that I’d lead the first pitch, have Ben follow behind me trailing two ropes for Tyndall and Linda.  Once Ben got to the belay we’d each take one of the ropes he was trailing and bring the others up.

The first pitch of the climb is what gives Hermaphrodite Flake its name.  About half way up the pitch you’re confronted with three options to get around the flake.  You can take the easy route walking along the topside, the moderate route by tunneling under the flake or get the most exposure along the bottom.  Yes, you read that right, the flake is so large and separated from the main wall enough where you can climb underneath it.  When you look at this huge rock that’s about 50′ wide and 110′ tall somehow clinging to the side of this dome you have to wonder how it is actually staying put.  One would think that as you get closer up you’d be able to solve this mystery but as it turns out, the closer you get, the more mysterious it is!

I’d never seen anything that big that you could climb through the middle of so I was leaning towards taking the tunnel route.  But we had two backpacks with us and we were worried about how difficult it could be with them on.  So I was talked into leading the 5.4 layback route on the bottom of the flake.  According to the topo, there was a 15′ section right at the bottom of the flake that couldn’t be protected.  As the leader, I was kind of curious to see how that section was going to work.  With a layback climb, you get purchase with your feet by applying an outward pull using your hands.  But if there isn’t any room for protection, there wasn’t going to be any room for hands either.

Thankfully the climb flattens out enough where you can pretty much friction climb through this section and right in the middle of it I actually found a very nice hand hold along the bottom of the flake that might be able to fit a #1 or .75 cam, not sure.  After this 15′ section the flake separates from the face again and the last 15′ feet up to the anchor is a real pleasure.

When I was getting up to the anchor (two bolts) the party that was above us decided that they had enough and were rappelling back down to the ground.  This is all well and good but they were using my anchor so I couldn’t clip into it until they were finished.  This wasn’t too big of a deal because I was comfortable clipped into a piton just to the left but it would have been nice to be able to share the anchor, at least enough so I could get myself clipped into it.

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

Looking Down at Hermaphrodite Flake

I brought up Ben and then Linda and Tyndall, all of them making the climb look very easy.  Tyndall was excited to lead the next pitch and the rest of us were happy to let him go for it.  The first 40′ is more layback climbing along the right side of the flake and then 150′ feet of 5.6 and 5.7 face climbing.  The face section is bolted pretty well but could use a visit from the ASCA pretty badly.

I followed Tyndall up the pitch and trailed the two ropes for Ben and Linda.  Ben had complained about how hard it was to trail the ropes on the last pitch and while I believed him, it was difficult to get a sense of it until it was my turn to do the same.  What a workout that was.  The ropes themselves don’t weigh all that much but the friction that the carabiners generate as well as the rope running over the rock is huge.  By the time I got to the top, it was requiring a solid 40-50 pounds to pull the ropes up, thankfully I didn’t find the climbing itself very challenging.

For the last pitch we had another decision to make.  We could continue straight up and make the route a 5.10b, traverse over to the left for 30′ along a 5.8R face section to an easy crack or rappel back down to the ground.  The 5.10b route seemed a bit out of the question and rappelling when you’re one pitch from the top isn’t a ton of fun so the runout 5.8 section was the way to go.

Above The 5.8 Runout Section

The gold areas are slick as glass glacial polish, avoid.

Tyndall took a good look at it and was comfortable leading it so we let him go for two in a row.  There was a healthy amount of glacial polish on the rock but it was fractured in enough places so there was actually a pretty healthy amount of foot holds.  Tyndall had no issues getting over to the crack and throwing in some pro.  At the top of the crack the topo said that there would be two bolts before a two bolt anchor.

Tyndall was getting close to running out of rope and could only find one of the two bolts and no anchor was in sight.  The wind was picking up a bit so we couldn’t hear each other and because he was on the top, we couldn’t see him either.  In these situations we use tugs on the rope to signal each other, but with all of the rope drag, we couldn’t actually feel them.  So after about 10 minutes of no activity, we decided that Ben would put me on belay and although Tyndall probably had me on as well, I’d climb with the mentality of a leader.  After about 15′ of the traverse it was obvious that Tyndall did have me on belay, but it was good to take the extra precaution.

Once we all got to the top we basked in the sun and our accomplishment.  Almost 600′ of climbing in three pitches with a party of four and it took us under four hours, far from being speedy but not too bad either.  It was also pretty cool to be 900′ above the the gorgeous Tenaya Lake.  From this height we could almost see all the way from the Western side of Yosemite to the Eastern.  You can even make out Half Dome in the distance. (Thanks for taking photos Linda :)

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake with Half Dome in the distance

With another day of spectacular climbing under our belt, we hiked down the backside of the dome back to the lake.  We had one more day left in Tuolumne before heading back and we planned on getting another multi-pitch climb in on Medlicott Dome, Left but ended up getting horribly lost not once, or twice, but three times.  We ended up at the base of Medlicott Dome, Right and did some sport climbs but were kind of bummed that our plans didn’t quite work out.  But I guess that’s the way it goes, it will just have to wait for another trip.

The day after we got home Ben asked me if I was hooked on trad climbing.  I was.  So we decided to plan another trip a few weeks later to Yosemite Valley.  That turned out to be quite an adventure so expect this series of posts to continue.

Tuolumne Climbing: Zee Tree

October 26, 2009

Day 2: Zee Tree (5.7) on Pywiack Dome

After the previous day of fairly intense climbing on West Crack, Ben and I were thinking that something a little bit easier might be nice.  After tossing around some options we decided that Zee Tree looked like fun.  The route is actually quite visible from highway 120 and Ben recalled seeing what he believed to be “zee tree” while passing many times.  We were excited to be getting an earlier start than the day before and hoped to be the first ones on the route.

When we pulled into the trail head parking lot, it was nice to see it fairly empty.  While we were getting our gear together another group pulled up with plans to climb Dike Route (5.9R) which starts in the same location as Zee Tree.  They had done both routes before so we decided to follow them to the start of the route.  However, along the way and quite unconsciously, we stopped following that group and continued walking along the southern edge of the dome to where we thought the route started.

From the road you can see this huge tree growing out of Pywiack Dome, many times larger than any other tree on the rock.  With such a large tree we assumed that it was “the tree”, it simply had to be.  So we climbed up the 3rd class slope and setup an anchor when it turned into fairly steep 4th class climbing.  The previous day I discovered that I’m pretty comfortable with low angle climbing so I decided to lead the first pitch up to a pair of bolts.

I managed to place a few pieces of protection but after 200′ of climbing I ran out of rope and there were no bolts in sight.  After a few minutes of searching around, I made myself secure so Ben could check the topo to see if he could figure out what the deal was.  With only a glace at the beta, it was obvious that we were very far off from where we should be.  This presented us with a little problem.

I was 200′ up a mystery route if it was a route at all and needed to get back to the ground.  This gave us two options, Ben could climb up to where I was with another rope and we could find something to rappel off of or I could down climb the 200′ back to Ben.  Given that the climbing was very easy, I was pretty comfortable down climbing.  When I got back to the ground we packed up and headed back towards the road and the start of the real route.

During the hike back we laughed at how fixated we were on that big tree.  It gave us such tunnel vision that we diverged from the group that actually knew where they were going.  I’d love to know if I was on a known route but we joked about my first ascent.  Our mistake ended up costing us a good amount of time and we found ourselves getting our real start at about the same time as the day before.  So I declared the name of our mystery route “almost noon”.

Zee Tree

The real Zee Tree route

Feeling somewhat confident that we were on the right track, I prepared to lead the first pitch again, hopefully finding the bolts this time.  After about 100′ of climbing without a single piece of protection, I enthusiastically reported to Ben that I had found the bolts and that we were on the right path.  Ben joined me at the anchor and prepared to lead the next pitch.

Zee Tree is a face climb and in Tuolumne face climbs usually translate into massive amounts of runout.  Because there isn’t any crack systems in face climbing, these routes are usually protected with bolts but the first ascent parties tend to be a pretty brave bunch and only lightly bolt the routes.  Amazingly the second pitch featured 9 bolts for 180′ of climbing, this is very heavily bolted by Tuolumne standards.  The section between the first anchor and “the tree” featured climbing through 20′ or so of glacial polish.  Thankfully the polish is broken up in a few places enough to get an edge for your feet.

For the third pitch it was my turn to take the lead again.  This pitch was an easy 100′ section of 5.3 climbing that I pretty much ran up (almost literally).  I think we managed to complete this pitch in less than 15 minutes which felt really great.  Up to this point the entire climb had been bolted and we didn’t need our rack of trad gear but that would change on the next pitch.

For the fourth pitch there were a couple bolts leading up to a layback crack where some traditional pro could be placed.  But instead of taking the entire rack we decided that Ben could simply take a few cams and the set of nuts.  This would have worked out great except for one small problem, we thought there were bolts for an anchor.  When Ben ran out of rope and discovered that there were no bolts in sight he had no option but to build a traditional anchor with the few nuts that he had left over.  Thankfully he had enough and the climbing was so easy that there was very little chance of falling, but it was an excellent reminder that it’s a good idea for the leader to have all of the gear.

The final pitch was this very fun looking 5.7 layback crack.  I was having so much fun on the route that without even hesitating I said that I’d love to lead the pitch.  It didn’t even occur to me that I’d never been on the sharp end for a pitch this difficult or the fact that I didn’t have much experience with layback cracks.  But I just went with it and it went off without a hitch leaving me feeling quite proud of myself.

Standing on Top of Pywiack Dome

Peace out from the top of Pywiack Dome

Compared to the day before where I followed Ben for the entire route, this day I managed to successfully lead 3 of the 5 pitches, what a fantastic feeling that was.  The view from the top of Pywiack Dome was also an incredible one.  Overlooking Tenaya Lake as well as all of Tuolumne Meadows was such a treat.  After spending a solid half hour on top looking around and eating we rappelled back down to the ground.  Back at the parking lot we hung out a bit before taking off.

Ben’s wife Linda as well as our friend Tyndall were heading up that afternoon to spend the next couple days climbing with us and we thought it would be fun to run into them alongside the road.  After about an hour or so of chatting with tourists and hearing their various reactions to our chosen recreation, we headed back to camp and waited for them outside the campground entrance.  With resupplies from Linda, the group of us relaxed at the campground and prepared for the next days adventure, Hermaphrodite Flake.

Day 1: West Crack (5.9) on Daff Dome

As excited as both of us were, we had some things to attend to before we could start climbing.  Little things like, paying for our campground and getting enough cash to do so.  Then there was the bigger thing of teaching me some trad climbing skills.  As I mentioned in the last post, I started top roping last January and have been lead climbing since June but trad climbing was something that I hadn’t done before but was about to embark on.  On top of that, I’d also never done any multi-pitch climbing so some quick lessons close to the ground were very much in need.  We found a short 5.6 crack that I could get some practice on and right after placing my first piece of protection, I fell.

Talk about a humbling experience.  How could I fall on something so easy?  This question was so humbling that it really shook me up a bit and I wondered what I was getting myself into.  This crack was 15′ high and about as easy as they come.  I found myself looking up at the 800′ tall domes that surrounded me and all of a sudden the meadow didn’t feel quite so open anymore.  Massive feelings of doubt washed over me as I questioned my climbing skills more than I did when I didn’t even have any.  But I finished the “climb” and we packed up our gear and headed off to our actual destination for the day, Daff Dome.

Base of West Crack

Base of West Crack

We found the trail head and from the road we could actually see the route called West Crack that we were intending to climb.  I looked up at this mountain of granite above me with this sliver of a crack running up it and couldn’t help but almost laugh.  So I was pretty nervous but also incredibly motivated and really curious to know if I could do the climb.  So we headed off to the base of the route with me mostly keeping my doubts and emotions to myself at this point.  When we got to the base we found that there were two parties in front of us.

Having a bit of time to look at the route, I started to feel pretty anxious for the climb to begin.  I wanted the feeling of some success to build up my confidence a bit more.  When it was our turn to head up, Ben took the lead and made the pitch look pretty easy.  Once he finished with the pitch it was my turn to climb up behind him, clean the protection that he had placed and join up with him at the belay.  The length of the first pitch was 165′ and by the top of it I was breathing pretty damn heavily.

I distinctly remember two things while standing at that first belay station with Ben, the length of time it took me to put all of my weight the anchor (minutes) and Ben asking me if I wanted to keep going.  This was a very good question of Ben to ask because after this point the climb gets pretty committing and if we continued on, there would be a lot of pressure to get to the top.  I didn’t share with him the fact that I was questioning if I was cut out for this.  Instead I replied with “you bet I want to keep going!” which yielded a response of “I knew you’d want to”.  What Ben didn’t tell me was that his question was kind of a leading one and that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue.  But my enthusiasm kept him going.  So when you boil that down, the experienced guy was kind of motivated by the enthusiasm of the newbie who was questioning himself.  What a pair of climbers we are :).

So Ben took off on the second pitch with me once again cleaning behind him.  This pitch intimidated me because the guide book labeled sections of it as being off-width.  Off-width climbing is not one of strongest skills but it actually wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  The beginning of the pitch also featured a slightly overhanging section which was quite awkward with the backpack on.  Thankfully there were huge jugs on the left hand side and while awkward, it wasn’t too difficult.  Ben ended up loving the pitch and it was clear from the smile on his face that he was glad we kept on climbing.  While I was happy to have completed almost 300 feet of climbing, what I saw ahead of me made me swallow pretty hard.

Third Pitch of West Crack

Third Pitch of West Crack

Looking up at our third pitch I saw nothing but and endlessly long (about 200′) finger crack.  While it was an amazing and beautiful sight, I was having a hard time imagining myself being able to climb it cleanly.  So when Ben asked me if I wanted to lead it, I laughed and said hell no.  So Ben took off again and after about 40 feet of climbing he paused for a moment, looked down at me and said “it’s harder than it looks”.

Shit.  Without even touching the rock I was thinking that it looked pretty hard and Ben’s telling me that my eyes are fooling me. Given the fact that Ben is a much better climber than I, the possibility of having to ascend the rope with prusik loops seemed almost like a certainty to me.

By the time Ben finished the pitch I managed to get the thoughts of failure out of my head and instead focused on taking it one step at a time.  In reality I really didn’t have anything to fear because if I came off of the rock I’d only fall a few feet.  But I was trying to put myself in the position of the leader and gauge if I’d be able to safely lead the pitch.  My conclusion?  Nope.  While I didn’t fall, I wasn’t comfortable enough physically or mentally to have pulled it off.  When I reached Ben I congratulated him on a superb lead.

We hung out at the third belay station for a good while.  There was a great ledge that I took a seat on and finally had a moment to absorb my surroundings.  Up until that point I was so fixated on doing the work that there was no space left for observation.  Ben once again asked if I wanted to lead the final pitch and once again I declined.  While the climbing looked easy, my mind was not in the right place to be on the sharp end.

While the climbing on the last pitch was easy, there were few places for protection.  I think over the last 200′ of climbing Ben was able to place maybe 4 or 5 pieces with sections of at least 50′ of runout.  But we both reached the top without any incident leaving me exceptionally relieved.  Great sections of the climb were kind of a blur to me, overshadowed by the questions running through my head.  But I had answers to some of the questions, answers I was very satisfied with.  I was able to do the moves, stay safe, not get freaked out and finish the climb (a hard one at that).

There were still many questions left in my head but the next two days of climbing would continue to answer more of them.  Next up, Zee Tree (5.7) on Pywiack Dome.

Looking towards Hetch Hetchy from the top of Daff Dome

Looking towards Hetch Hetchy from the top of Daff Dome

You know you’ve had a good summer when the adventures have been so huge and so tightly packed that there wasn’t time to share the details in a timely fashion.  Climbing has been the recreational focus for me this summer and has made for one of the most adventure packed, enjoyable and interesting summers I’ve ever had.  Last winter I picked up the Tuolumne Free Climbs book on a whim and kind of jokingly set a goal to do some of them by the end of the summer.  Well last September that joke turned into a reality when my buddy Ben and I decided to go on a four day climbing trip to Tuolumne Meadows.

This climbing adventure was so monumental for me that it’s hard to find words that I’m satisfied with, perhaps a photo will help.

300º view from the top of Pywiack Dome

300º view from the top of Pywiack Dome

Nope, that doesn’t quite do it either.  Everything is just too damn big.  To get a slightly better sense of things, click the above photo to see the original.  Even though it would take two 30″ displays to view the entire photo at once, it still doesn’t do the scene any justice.  Not only were the views on this trip huge, the experience as a whole was huge and one that I couldn’t even imagine doing just a year ago.

In fact, it’s too big for one blog post.  So as a warm-up I’ll give a bit of an overview of the area as well as some of my thoughts going into the trip.  Then I’ll throw up a separate post for each of the three big routes that we climbed (West Crack, Zee Tree and Hermaphrodite Flake).

Tuolumne Geology

Tuolumne Meadows is located in the northern half of Yosemite National Park and is accessible during the non-winter months via Highway 120.  Through these meadows flows the Tuolumne River which carved out Hetch Hetchy valley over millions of years and presently fills the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir providing water and electricity for San Francisco and surrounding area residents.  While there is great sadness downstream, the Tuolumne area is breathtakingly beautiful.  Situated at 8600 feet above sea level, the meadow is surprisingly large and surrounded by dozens of domes, peaks, spires, lakes, and valleys.

While the main attraction in Yosemite Valley is naturally the valley itself along with the waterfalls, Tuolumne is a bit more subtle in its beauty.  For its elevation and surrounding peaks, the meadow is very large.  Rising up around the edges are these wonderfully smooth looking domes of granite upwards of 1000 feet tall.

Around the time of the dinosaurs, what is now the Sierra Nevada mountains was deep underground and in the form of magma.  But plate tectonics started to force the area upwards and very slowly, under huge amounts of pressure from the rock overhead, that magma cooled and turned into various types of granite.  Over the next 150 million years or so, the tens of thousands of feet of rock above the granite were pushed upward and eroded, creating the fertile central valley.  Around 4 million years ago the area started to undergo massive tilting and the range that we see today was pushed upward.

As the rock above the granite eroded, pressure was reduced on the magma and it started to expand upward to form domes of solid granite without any layers.  As it expanded it formed joints along the curve of the dome, making each dome similar in structure to an onion.  As glaciers moved into the area, the lack of vertical and horizontal joints in the domes made them quite resilient to glacial plucking (pulling out large chunks of rock).  Instead the glaciers ran across the domes, slowly sanding them down and creating what is known as glacial polish.

This glacial polish is easily seen today when viewing one of these domes up close.  It isn’t too hard to find rock that has been polished as smooth as a granite counter top and reflecting the sun like a mirror.  You can also see long tiny lines in the polish, these lines indicate the direction that the glacier was traveling over the rock.  I find comfort in this humbling knowledge.  To think that water and ice could remove so much material in just 4 million years puts the earth’s 4.5 billion year history into greater perspective.

Such beauty is more than this climber can ask for.  The challenges and variety of climbing that the area offers makes the views from the top sweeter than I could have imagined.  Being able get far above the tourists and see just how rolling the domes are, how huge the meadow is and how things flow into one another is addictive enough all by itself.

Thoughts Before the Trip

I’d been climbing for 10 months before embarking on this trip, lead climbing in the gym for 4 and a handful of sport routes outside.  While I’ve put a lot of time and energy into climbing and made fast progress, in Yosemite terms, I’m far from an experienced climber.  In fact, looking back on things, the set of things I didn’t know was larger than the set of things that I did.

But Ben is a fantastic climber, extremely great guy and a good teacher.  So while this trip had a bunch of firsts for me, I had a lot of confidence that I’d get the instruction that I needed.  Even still, I was nervous and for good reason.  In trad climbing the leader places protection (nuts, cams, etc) into the rock as they go and the follower removes them.  All new to me.

On top of that, I’d never done any multi-pitch climbing either.  We were looking at doing climbs that were 700 feet tall and I wasn’t sure how I’d react both physically and mentally to that.  To quote comedian Steven Wright, “I’m not afraid of heights, I’m afraid of widths”.  While that’s a joke, it’s actually pretty damn accurate for a lot of people.  Being high isn’t the problem, it’s the contrast between high and low and when you’re hanging off of the rock in the middle of a climb you’re a part of that contrast.  The fear of looking down at the air below you and the intimidation of what you have left to climb.

But I was excited and highly motivated.  For years I’d looked at rock faces and thought about how amazing it would be to climb it without ever believing that it would actually be possible for me.  It seemed like my dream could actually be coming true and what scared me the most was walking away from the trip having failed to achieve it.  Being forced to look at future faces without the ignorant bliss of no data but with nagging memories.  I find that I’m somewhat prone to negative stigmas and I didn’t want one surrounding such beautiful structures.

Given that I already mentioned the three big climbs that we did, you can guess that I didn’t walk away with any negative stigmas from the trip.  In fact, it was one of those trips that continued on in my mind, constantly getting better, long after we returned.

I was going to throw some thoughts up on Twitter about the “Internet Freedom Act of 2009″ that John McCain has introduced but my thoughts were too plentiful for 140 characters.  Upon reading this article on Mashable about the bill, my first reaction was hardly a reaction at all.  It doesn’t surprise me to see the telecommunication industry is still trying to battle against net neutrality.  What started to bother me was the fact that John McCain introduced this bill and gave it such an inaccurate name.

So why does it bother me that John McCain introduced this bill?  Simple, he knows next to nothing about the subject.  In an interview last year he stated:

I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need.

I applaud him for learning and making progress, but if you’re going to propose a bill that changes a core principal of how something functions don’t you think you should have a bit more experience with the subject at hand?  This isn’t a Holiday Inn Express commercial, you can’t jump into the scene and be an expert.

Another thing that bothers me is one of the reasons McCain states for introducing the bill.  He fears that forcing the telecommunications industry to treat all information (requests) online equally will “stifle innovation”.  This just flat out doesn’t make any sense to me.  Can anyone honestly believe that the online industry is having problems innovating?  Look at how much has changed in the last 20 years in regard to information dissemination.  Somehow we’ve managed to fundamentally change communications across the globe while having net neutrality in place and McCain fears that the innovation will stop if net neutrality continues?

Another thing that bothers me is the use of “Freedom” in the title of the bill.  I’m a believer that the title of something should be somewhat indicative of its contents.  Handcuffs aren’t called “freedom cuffs” because they are the antithesis of freedom and for all of the companies and individuals that operate on the internet this bill would be the equivalent of handcuffs (in that your movement is hindered).

I suspect that bills today are given titles that busy people have a hard time going against when making a knee jerk decision.  “Internet Freedom Act”, “Patriot Act”, “Marriage Protection Act”, they all conjure up emotions while masking their true intentions.  So if someone hasn’t read the details of a bill, the hope is that they will just vote based off of the name.

Being someone who is working on an internet based startup, it brings me great comfort that (for the time) I won’t have to pay the telecommunications industry to prioritize my traffic.  What enters your mind when you think of an organization saying, “if you don’t pay us more money we’re going to make it hard for your business to operate”?  I don’t know about you but I get this image of the mob or a gang demanding “protection” money.  And to think, senator McCain would like to make it legal for the telecommunications industry to do just that.

Anyway, enough ranting, I’ve got innovating to do.

Update: According to this Reuters article, John McCain is the largest recipient of campaign contributions made by the telecommunications and ISP industries over the last two years.  Coming in with a total of $894,379, he has been given more than twice the amount of money than any other legislator.  Please excuse me, I just puked on my desk.

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