The night before, I struggled to fall asleep with such excitement and anticipation for my first “big wall” and first day of jugging. A big wall is defined as a multi-pitch climb that takes most groups multiple days. Jugging is a method of pulling up a rope with jumars or some other piece of gear intended for ascending.
Only a week before, I learned to jug, up a tree, barefoot, rising less than twenty feet from the ground, in the company of friends. Now, I was planning to climb 11 pitches, all by means of jugging, starting at 5:30 am.
I tossed and turned all night, occasionally opening my eyes to use the outside light to determine the time of morning. At 4:40 am the sound of wind chimes, my alarm, prompted me to awake from my restless slumber. I rolled out of bed, grabbed my bag that I had packed the night before, and rode my bike a couple miles to meet my climbing partner for the day, Ben. I was greeted with locally raised sausage and eggs- although I am able to cook at my tent site that I currently reside in, a cooked breakfast is a treat, especially at this hour. We ate and headed out along the bike path, looking for a less than obvious climbers trail that leads up to the base of Washington Column; 1200 feet of granite climbing awaited. We laid our bikes discreetly behind a downed tree, and headed up the path as the sun began to lighten up the deep Yosemite Valley. Owls and crickets sounded our hike as we gained elevation from the valley floor to the base of the rock. The forest awoke as the sun beams shined in. Criss-crossing in and out of tall trees and low bushes, bouldered hillside and loose leaf covered forest ground. We arrived at the base of the climb as the sun breached the sky behind Half Dome directly across the valley.
We stood at the base looking up. We put our harnesses on and the climb began. Being new to this process, I spent the first couple pitches figuring out how to use the systems I recently learned- how to attach to the rope, how to step in my ladders, how to maneuver upward, and how to find enjoyment in this new challenge. I was filled with excitement as I made my way up a new route, in a new way, in a place I just recently came to call home- Yosemite Valley. At times I was hanging by the rope, more than leg length from the rock, spinning, wondering how to make forward progress from this stance. Other times, I moved efficiently up the rope, not hesitating to clean gear from the crack, just cruising my way along the steep granite face. Emotion shifted from anticipation to excitement to frustration, each feeling distinct yet underlined by happiness.
We spent the next twelve hours ascending the rock and ropes, making our way to the summit of Washington Column as the sun set. A long day was rewarded with the glow of Half Dome in nearly reachable distance. Ive never felt so close to the face of this beautiful, glacier carved monolith.
The significance of this climb serves as a test piece to my long term goal of climbing the face of Half Dome. Two years and five months ago, I learned to climb and became seriously passionate about climbing. I have since then let it consume and dictate my being. I choose my travel destinations as well as living situations based on proximity to favored climbing areas and mountains. Learning this new skill, working through the challenges, and being here and now in the shadow of Half Dome, I could feel my nearly three year goal coming to fruition. While I still have many more routes to climb and skills to learn and systems to improve, I feel an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and joy knowing that I set a clear goal for myself and am progressively working toward it, despite challenging days.