Saturday, December 17, 2011

How Cairns Saved My Life
and our new group project

Many years ago, I was climbing in Yosemite Valley.  Ambitiously I had selected Royal Arches as my route of choice.  For many reasons it was simply the most perfect climb in the valley.  First, it was a number of levels beneath my skill level.  This means that I did not have to worry (constantly) about falling.  It was a long route, 16 pitches, which means that I would have to carry a lot of gear, food and water.  Being heavier is not a goal in rockclimbing! (lol!) For more information about the route, you can click here.  You can see things like the fact that the route is 1400 feet of climbing, and it shows which way to go and where to start, all vital information.  The photo below shows my crude sketch (in red) on top of my photo of the valley, it is to the left of the actual rock formation known as Royal Arches.
And, while the route may look a bit intimidating, the climbing is fairly easy, even with the extra weight of gear, and though the guide book says it's about 2-3 hours of climbing, that was not my experience.  It took about 8 hours to climb up.  There are huge pine trees all the way up the route.  Many of the belay stations were under the trees.  I had a view of Half Dome...all day long! I belayed my then-husband.  I am embarrassed to admit that I wanted to lead this route merely because I did not want to carry up our shoes for the hike down, and he happily agreed to let me give it a go!  Now, the crux of the story....getting down.

The guide book says to be very careful. DO NOT ATTEMPT AFTER DARK.  People HAVE fallen to their death attempting to get off this route.  We did not know when we started that if we had carried up two ropes, instead of just one, we could have quickly and safely rappelled to the valley floor.  We were left with the walk-off route which was not obvious.  We got lost multiple times, and it is not a place where you want to get lost.  And because we took so long climbing it, it was getting late.  And then I saw fresh bear scat and totally panicked.  The woods were filled with mosquitoes.  The exposed rocky descent was, well, exposed, and crumbly gravel...and we were up 1400 feet.  Not that it would make much difference if you fell.  After the first 50 feet of falling, it is sort of moot.... However, I didn't want to fall.  I wanted to LIVE!  And, someone, some very-nice-and-considerate-person (or persons) who came before us, left cairns to show the way.  This is the point of the story.  We are not alone.  We mentor those who come after us.  Show them the way. Teach, teach your children.  Be kind to others.  Learn from your history.
We have recently had an old member of our art quilt bee return to us, Susan Lewis Storey.  When she suggested a group quilt, cairns, I knew that it was right for me.  And in a way, a wonderful metaphor, because as in my last post I mentioned that art is a lonely business, as a group we support each other.  We teach each other new tricks and old tricks.  And so we move into our next group adventure!

Sherri McCauley brought a bag of polished stones for us to play with while we visited.  These slippery little rocks were difficult to stack.  See the Nilla Wafer box in the background for scale!


Nancy said...

Yikes... what a climb and what a story! The them for your upcoming groups quilt is perfect for you! I wrote a post about cairns a year or so ago when I saw some near the ocean in Maine. See some of them here if you get a chance:;postID=5123621790782390678

Kathy York said...

Thanks! I went to your link, but it didn't work. It said I needed a permission??? I can get to your blog. Will you write me and let me know what date to go to? I would love to see the cairns!

Mary Couch said...

My husband and I were backpacking in the northern section of Yosemite back in the 70's. We happened to be in the area where naughty bears were airlifted to from the valley. We got to the first lake, about an 8 mile hike and settled in to make dinner. After we hung our packs from trees. The next morning we were breaking camp and wanted to make sure our fire was dead. As we left the lake area we found a fire ring that had embers creeping under the ring of rocks. We stopped, got out our little shovel and carried water and killed all the embers. Satisfied, we hiked on. Later that day the sky clouded up and huge thunder heads formed. The sky rumbled... What were we going to do? We had only ponchos... no tent. We came around a bend in the trail and there lay a tarp!!! I have always thought that the careless backpackers who left embers, sat out the night in the rain. We were dry, warm and safe under our gifted tarp.
Yosemite is such a jewel.
Hugs from Mary

Rachel Parris said...

Kathy, this post is so beautiful in so many ways. I am such a believer in our duty to leave carins as we move along our journey. You said it so beautifully. Thank you.

Kathy York said...

Thanks for the story. Great serendipity. The idea of the unattended embers...scary. The tarp, well, you never know what the winds will do to your campsite! Glad it protected you! Honestly, I can never hear enough Yosemite stories, so thanks for sharing. It is an enchanted and spiritual place.
Thanks! Even though you haven't set out any literal rocks for me, you certainly have left many metaphorical ones for me to follow!