Mike's worried look captured my own thoughts exactly. Neither of us wanted to admit to the other that our psyche for a free attempt on Half Dome over the crazy July fourth weekend was fading in the light of sweaty tourists, LA like traffic, and over hyped tools in green.
I had asked Mike Collins to join me on another free attempt of the face Kyle and I had tried a few weeks previously. Hardened from pitch after pitch of California granite, I felt I could send the route this time around. I had worked hard to beat the weakness out of myself in the weeks between and I wanted to finish what I'd started. My heart warred between accomplishing the free climbing goal of my trip and the desire to feel the solitude of nature that is a defining factor for me in this vertical game. I was in no mood to deal with the Big Ditch and its soul sucking vibe. Half Dome could wait. I just wanted to have fun, to breathe clean crisp air, approach under the stars, and climb into the sunrise.
Dark Star is the buttress cascading down from the summit of Temple Crag. These beautiful shots were taken by my friend Leor Pantilat two days before our ascent.
"I'm over it man," I said, a wave of guilty pleasure washing over me. The feeling of guilt was due to leaving a project undone. The pleasure came from knowing that we were going to do something fun and beautiful, although at the time I didn't know what it would be.
Mike racing the clouds and winning!
Once we shifted our focus it was not hard to pick a line. The Sierra was wracked in a pattern of daily thunderstorms so we needed an objective that was manageable in a short morning. Of course, we wanted to go as big as possible even considering the weather. When Mike suggested Dark Star, one of the Sierra's longest technical routes (but technically easy at 5.10 b/c) I agreed wholeheartedly.
We packed a few cams and nuts for the pitches we would belay, and psyched up for a long simul solo of the rest. Stars poked at the blackness as we hit the trail. Soon we were at the base of Temple Crag, the massive chunk of granite that Dark Star cuts in half. I was blown away by the beauty of the line. Half Dome was beyond rad, but I knew we had chosen our route wisely. No one was around except a million mosquitos and a marmot or two. A blood red sunrise lit black clouds for only a minute before fading into the dull gray of an overcast morning.
The never ending scramble of joy!
The following hours blended into a kaleidoscope of twisting ridges, craggy gendarmes, and juggy climbing on chunky, quartz laced granite. Before long we sat on top, The Palisades cradling our airy position. I feasted my eyes on an array of mountains I had never seen before as cloud shadows raced across the desert miles below. Dark Star was no Half Dome in terms of difficulty, but it was bright enough to satisfy my desires.
No cigar on H-Dome (I'll be back very soon), but I am having fun and that's what counts!
Our descent was quick, but hot. The clouds constructed themselves with predictable order and by the time we were back at Mike's Bishop was falling into an afternoon of warm rain, while the mountains blacked out, drunk on thunderheads. Once again, I sat in Mike's garden with a cold brew and tired legs. Once again I let soothing nature wash over me. Once again, I drained the bottle.