Sunday, August 29, 2010


Silent dark fades from a misty Yosemite Valley. Pine needles crackle under the tire of my cruiser as El Cap greets the rising sun. Half Dome sleeps in the shadows, icy cold gripping its broad north face.

At 3:45 AM I don my penguin suit, look in the mirror, realize again how silly the Awahanee's uniforms are, and pedal for eight hours of toilet scrubbing and laundry service. The mornings start the same, but the afternoons bring a variety of lightning bolt fissures, scalloped slabs, pounded out aid seams, and crimpy boulder problems. The granite accepts me as I am, but teaches with tie dye bruises and scabby cuts. My new friends Max and Carson also feel the joyful pain. Gouged hands and knotted muscles lead us to the Zodiac that afternoon. Excited anticipation rises in my gut as I imagine our furry fixed ropes dancing in the wind.

My usual tired ride to work seems magical, dark blue sky edging out the stars and giant streaked walls towering over meadows filled with frosty grass and grazing deer. Dropping off the bike path I swoosh down a section of smooth single track, gaining speed, smiling as the morning air whistles by my face.

Scorching mid-day heat smothers me up the talus hop to the base of the route. Carson and Max ascend the ropes ahead of me, jumaring with a grace I don't posses. Sure enough I struggle to climb the first of our three fixed lines, spinning nauseatingly while struggling to adjust my daisies correctly and ignore the laughter of the cray euros at the base.

"Frickin' sick man. This rules." Carson hands me the rack, his censored language bursting out around the crooked cigarette stuck between his lips. Although I barely managed to climb the first 600 feet of rope, I naively snatch the gear and charge upwards. Going down is not an option. We tossed the ropes just a minute ago. Unfortunately, moving quickly is not either. I labor up diorite cracks and seams above spikes before Carson relieves me for the night shift. A silver moon rises in the sky, it's blue light enhanced by a starry host of cosmic fireballs. The infinite wildness of dark below and above settles in our nerves.

Zodiac is one of my first big climbs. I'm dehydrated and tired. The night sucks Carson into its dark, pitch after pitch, and I stare at the belay, hanging in space, willing him upwards. My hips look like hamburger, my feet cramp at the arches, and painful blood oozes from my cracked fingernails. New exposure and daunting commitment offset the fatigue. Somehow we make progress.

When the light overtakes the dark, Carson relinquishes the rack to Max. He takes his duty seriously and charges for the top. "Let's get 'er done", he placidly remarks amidst his block of golden slabs and skinny cracks.

On the summit we high five and lay around eating a feast of disgusting canned foods. Our throats are dry and our muscles filled with lead, but it all feels good. Hot sun slams our perch. A falcon coasts through blue sky as the wall falls away below our weary bodies. The buzz of The Captain courses through our systems and before long we summon the energy to slip through the manzanita back to life on the Valley floor.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Holsten Family Vacation

Sitting out the storm...this is fun, right!?

"Get out of my way!" I loudly think to myself. A green swath of steep brush pulls and pushes me down with all its might. Aggression fuels my muscle as I push madly through a tangle of slide alder and fir. The pin point of a broken branch slices dirty skin and blood trickles down my arm. This is war.

Behind me I hear my father, like a bear in the woods, crashing and slipping upwards through the jungle of pain we have chosen for our yearly "vacation".

Ever since I was small I was taught that life, although beautiful, is a demanding journey where you don't always get what you want, but you always make due with what you have. When I was young I wanted my dad to burn the musty climbing gear and take the family to a beach. Hawaii, Mazatlan, hell, Florida. Take us somewhere sunny, fun, and relaxing.

Despite my tropical dream, Dad and I always chose to work with the world right out the front door of our Seattle home. "Vacation" meant days of walking, climbing, and shwacking our way through the Cascades. Those days taught mental toughness and physical tolerance. My passion for high places sprouted from the long approaches, blocky rock climbing, and glacier crossings the Cascades demand.

Pleasant terrain near Eiley Lake

My father and I still like a nice vacation every once in a while, so August 8th through 11th was set aside for an attempt on Mt. Challenger. Day one saw us cruising up Little Beaver Valley under partly cloudy skies. Days two and three were spent wandering in the mist and trying not to burn the tent down while making hot drinks. Rain pattered all afternoon and night. A sucker hole lured us out from our bivy, but before long the rain resumed as our time dwindled. A pleasant day was spent returning to the car, the emerald waters of Ross Lake lapping at the forest bank as we cruised the flat path through the moss carpeted woods.

Mt. Fury floating in the mist

Time spent in the mountains is always meaningful, especially with my Dad. Although we traveled far only to fall short of the summit, we still enjoyed the new terrain, the thrill of route finding in tough conditions, and each others company. Of course, we are dreaming of our next vacation already. A cruise, surfing in Costa Rica, or a sunny beach all sound nice, but I have a feeling we'll be working with what we've got. Deep valleys, big hills, and high mountains. I wouldn't have it any other way.

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