Yosemite's First Aventure Sportsman, Part I

in #nature3 years ago (edited)


This is a two-part post. Please check my blog for the second half, coming soon.

This week brought news that a 10-year old girl summited El Capitan, the famous vertical rock face in Yosemite National Park. Of course, she used ropes, but that does not lessen her achievement. Kudos for completing something that most adults would never attempt, myself included.

Just a few months ago, I watched the movie Free Solo, which chronicles the free-climbing ascent of Alex Honnold, who climbed the 3,000 foot rock face with only his own strength and skill. Honnold’s free solo ascent of El Capitan was a truly remarkable athletic feat. In my humble opinion, it should rank high on the all-time list of not only sporting accomplishments, but of all human endeavors.

Poster from Free Solo, a National Geographic film. If you haven't watched it yet, please do!

Recently, I have been watching another film that made me think of Free Solo again. This one is Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, which was released in 2009. The first episode contains a heavy dose of John Muir, which should be no surprise, given that it traces the origins of National Parks in the United States. Muir was the naturalist who championed Yosemite National Park and led to its establishment as a federal park. I have blogged about Muir in the past, since he is a hero of mine.

Nevertheless, The National Parks film taught me more about Muir that I hadn’t known before. I knew that he was an avid outdoorsman who spent many days on his own in the back country of Yosemite and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains. And I knew how much he loved nature’s cathedral of Yosemite Valley. I also knew how in tune he became with nature in those mountains and how the rocks, trees, streams, and animals there became his lifeblood. And knew he was hugely responsible for advocating for its protection as a national park.

But I had not known to what extent Muir sought out thrilling adventures in Yosemite. Today, rock climbers and other thrill seekers challenge themselves on Yosemite’s mountains and rock faces. But more than 100 years earlier, John Muir blazed that trail. He was Yosemite’s original adventure sportsman. And he set the tone that others have followed these many years later.

For example, Muir was not content with standing at the bottom of 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls. Even climbing to the top of the mountain and watching it pitch over the edge was not enough. Muir wanted to be intimate with that water when it plunged over the cliff. So he climbed down into the rock face and wedged himself behind the falls. At night! Remember, this man had no modern climbing gear; all he had were shoes, the soles of which he had studded with nails to help him grip.

John Muir (beard) with President Theodore Roosevelt, who he guided through the park at the president's request.

Muir described it in his grand prose:

"I went out on the narrow bench close alongside the wild rushing waters and began to admire the rare beauty of the thin gauzy waters ... which formed the edge of the fall. I could see the most delicate threads of its fairy tissue by noting the moon behind it. Wishing to look at the moon through the meshes of some of the denser portions of the fall I crept farther behind it while it was gently wind swayed without taking thought about the consequences of its returning when the wind would change. The effect was enchanting. Wild music above, beneath, around the moon apparently in the very midst of the wild waters flashing. Out in ... among the denser waters now darkened by a rush of comets.

"I was in fairyland between the black wall and the well illumined waters but suffered sudden disenchantment for I was stricken by a hissing down rush of water that felt hard as hailstones shot from a gun.

"By that instinct that we call ... presence of mind I dropped on my knees, laid hold of an angle of the rock, rolled myself like a ball with my face against my bosom and submitted to my terrible baptism.


Wow. Climbing out on a rock ledge thousands of feet above the ground, alone, at night, guided only by moonlight, wearing no gear but shoes with nails pounded into the soles, to get pounded by the waterfall as it plunged downward, just so he could experience its spirit, its very soul? Muir was the real deal, more than 100 years before today’s adventurers, and for him this was a spiritual quest.

(This was Part 1 of 2; please follow my blog for the second part of this post, coming soon.)

Images public domain unless otherwise credited.


My girlfriend had a chance of meeting Alex at some climbing/caving school - while he was just a prodigy child, he was still the very best if not THE BEST in the world at that point, but he didn't have any "achievements" in free soloing.
She said he was really down to Earth guy and a bit lost in his world, but a great guy.
There was some competition climbing the rock with ropes, 3 fastest climbers took about 30 minutes with a difference in their time about half a minute. Alex, showed up at the end, and asked if he can try...
Guess what - He climbed that rock with only chalk in his hand in 5 minutes. The winners were devasted. :)

Anyways, great write up.
And John was really one of a kind!

Great story! Alex seemed very down to earth (if slightly lost, as a lot of good people are) in the movie as well.

Growing up in California, Muir is a hero of mine as well, and along with Thoreau and Emerson, one of my favorite writers of the period.

We owe him a debt far greater than could ever have been repaid. What an amazing mind and spirit!

Muir Woods is a favorite spot of mine, one of the loveliest of the coast redwood groves, which we would likely have lost had it not been for his tireless efforts.

Indeed, had it not been for Muir, we might not have any remaining redwoods at all.

I'll make it a point to seek out Free Solo. Sounds like something my husband and I will love, and as he's from Poland, a great way to introduce him to the wonders of Yosemite.

Thanks for this post, and your recommendation.

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Yes, definitely try out that movie! The scenic wonders of California span from coast to mountains and from Oregon to Mexico. I'm glad people have spared a few good spots for nature.

Yeah, somewhere around I still have a VHS film of California from the air, which covers the most beautiful places along the coastline and across the whole state. Amazing film.

That might also have been put out by National Geographic.

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@donkeypong, After short break I see very interesting blog from you. What a bigger news. 10 old year girl???? Climbing rocks very risky and probably someone's very interesting task. More adults never participated to highest rock's climbing because it's very hard working and tired task. But participated teen girl given big brave answer to adult community. If mind be strong can do anything.
I watched only movie trailer of Free Solo film. So I couldn't take bigger advance from it. But your information enough to understand what type topic inside story. See you again with next.

The trailer is enough to get a sense of it.

Hello @donkeypong, how are u doing? Speaking of national parks and rock mountains, your country is very lucky have it. And it can be a great land for mountain climbers. I often watch Koboy films from America where the background is a sturdy rock mountain. Actually I was horrified when I saw the mountain climbers climbing high mountain rocks. That is very dangerous. I did not know Muir. . I just know him now after reading your writing. I think he's someone who is very great. Have a nice day, sir.

Every country has its beautiful places, too.

A ten year old!! That's incredible. I have been slightly obsessed with rock climbing since I myself watched Free Solo a few months ago, finding every documentary comparable, plus reviewing countless interviews. I have not seen America's Best Idea, so thanks for the recommendation!

If you haven't seen the Dawn Wall, definitely check it out, also Meru :)

Yes, those are good also. I am not a climber, and definitely not comfortable that far off the ground, but I do live somewhat vicariously by watching some of those movies.

The place! the place this is my dream place. how i wish i am there to see the beautiful nature. thank you and have a nice day!.

It’s amazing that how an 10-year child can climb an mountains, I recently completed 21 but still don’t have enough willpower to go and climb mountains. Great information sir , hope in future I have enough will power in coming year so that I go to climb mountains located near my city

An interesting review @donkeypong and I am very impressed with these rocks in the Yosemite National Park, because I can’t even imagine how to climb almost up a steep rock without any equipment. I have not seen the films listed by you, but I must look at this human feat!

Wao what a beautiful mountains. Natural beauty always attracts the peoples. Very interesting story of 10 year old girl. She is very hardworking girl and going to the beautiful park alone. I m also watch the solo movie. Really ful of adventure movie. Captain achieve his task very wonderfully. This movie is very popular in the world. Good shoes are not available to this man. Wear simple shoes and going to the mountain. Thats so difficult. And wellcome back sir. Your stories are always interesting and valuable. Waiting for your nest post. Thanks for sharing. @donkeypong.

Awesome mountain my friend,a place suitable for rock climbers @donkeypong

I have heard of this sportsman, I really salute the action in this sport

this is new to me, i am hearing first time about him,the photos are awesome. great man and great shots.

john muir is known as "john of mountain" and also ""Father of the National Park"
i am the big fan of him i read about him he was fearless...

Currently new climbers have big technology and equipment for hiking every highest mountains. But past day's people's never lose efforts. They goes go ahead. But no wonder to listen students climb up highest mountains. Because current technology more powerful with human's courage.

Some people are just brave, bold and courageous than others that is why. Bravo to the little girl

John Muir was a man's man. His appetite for adventure paved the way. And such a beauty of nature is the park. Thanks @donkeypong.