Nobody Will Die, Maybe—Scaling El Capitan

The flickering headlamps halfway up the wall of El Capitan caught our attention as we stopped to look at the full moon shining across a meadow in Yosemite Valley. It was Saturday, January 3rd, 2015, and the climbers appeared to have covered about a third of the 3,000 foot wall since they started eight days ago.


If you haven’t been following the story in the New York Times, two climbers have been planning and practicing the free climb ascent of El Capitan for the past ten+ years. This is now the real thing. If you’d like a better perspective of the size of this monolith and their undertaking, the NYTimes article provides a terrifying composite image showing the climbers on the wall.

Anyone see a parallel between this ascent and writing a book? Our advantage over climbers?


We can’t see the size of the wall in front of us.

We’ve planned and practiced and tried and failed on numerous attempts. We’ve achieved smaller goals. We’ve said that if we don’t make it this time, there won’t be another. We’ve faced odds that would make a grizzly bear shudder, and still we are on that wall, refusing to give up. OK, so maybe we’re not facing death should we make mistakes with our climbing harnesses. For we climb WITHOUT harnesses.

We’ve got shredded fingers reminiscent of carcasses put through the meat grinder. We’re swaying in gusty winds. We’re facing the uncertainty of our uncertainties in the blackness of bitter, star-filled skies.

The night we saw the climbers, the moon underscored just how insignificant their goal was to the universe.


But it was important to THEM.

So that’s what I take away from this effort. A refusal to give up. A determination to do something that leaves others shaking their heads in disbelief.

Why climb the wall? Because it’s important to ME. When it’s no longer important, I’ll stop.

Until that happens, you can find me taping my fingers, casting a shadow, tapping away, and laughing at the man in the moon and his distorted sense of reality.

That’s MY new year’s resolution.



Filed under Howling at the moon

35 responses to “Nobody Will Die, Maybe—Scaling El Capitan

  1. Yes, I love this post, and yes, many times when I’m writing, I feel like I’m climbing Half Dome with no rope to catch me if I fall. (And by the way, I’ve been to Yosemite lots, and always shake my head in consternation when I see people trying to climb up that thing – yet here I am, doing the same thing – metaphorically…)

  2. And didn’t one of the guys do it with only 9 fingers? Imagine typing a novel with only 9 fingers? That might be the end of my quest… 🙂 It’s good to have this perspective along the journey, though, to know that what we’re trying to accomplish is an amazing feat. If we aren’t feeling the pain, then we’re not doing it right.

    • Yes! Can you imagine hanging off a wall with only nine fingers?! My journalist father-in-law typed at a fierce speed, using only two fingers, so I’m not sure he would have thought having only nine fingers for typing was an inconvenience. 😀

      Who was it, Jane Fonda? who coined “no pain, no gain?” or maybe she was the “go for the burn” lady. I’m terrible at attributing quotes to the right people. In any case, type however many fingers you have to the bone, I say! Cheers!

  3. Mrs. P

    How cool that your trip coincided with the climb. I think I’d rather exercise my mind and bleed from tapping keys. Either way, getting there is pretty heady. And hopefully it won’ take ten years. Bouncing from project to project is not a problem, in fact it ads diversity,,,but doing all of this while being a parent…now that’s a challenge!

    • My mother used to tell me that I never did anything the easy way. To prove her point, I delivered my master’s thesis with a six-month-old strapped to my body. Now, I find myself working in the car with a wifi hotspot as I drive my son from activity to activity. Perhaps I thrive on this type of situation. Who knows? I’m with you about the preference on how I use my fingers. Tapping away….

  4. It’s an apt comparison, that’s for sure. At least typing doesn’t make your fingers bleed.

  5. Great resolution. I’ve been under a rock, because I just heard of the climb the other day … when they made it. We can all make it. Write. Write. Write? Hope you have a great year of writing!

  6. Climbing without a harness, a perfect metaphor for our creative endeavors.

    • Thanks for reading, Letizia. Between the lack of harness and not knowing the size of the wall, maybe we could say that creative endeavors require the willingness to climb Bright Angel Trail in the pitch dark, not knowing how far you’ve got to climb. Holding on to a friend’s hand (or hearing words of encouragement) can help keep us on track. 😀

  7. Nicely put! And what a great New Year’s resolution. Happy tapping, my friend!

  8. Yes! That’s so true. You also have to be slightly crazy to attempt such things, but it’s an adventure. Every tiny step we take brings us a little closer even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. We’ll get there eventually!

  9. Those climbing guys are amazing, I had heard about it on the radio, but hadn’t seen pictures till I clicked on your link. I think I’ll take writing over that! I’m like you, too many projects going at once (not just writing) – I’m an ideas/starter person, not so much a competer/finisher!

  10. Dang! I was wavy with vertigo just looking at the NYT photos! But what a fitting metaphor for what we writers go through, Jilanne. Gonna hang a photo of El Capitán on the wall above my desk. So what if it takes 10 years to get to the top. It’s all about the climb anyhow.

  11. Definitely keep tapping, because I have no doubt you’ll get there!

    • Thanks, Carrie! Part of the problem is that I tap in too many directions. I can’t count the number of projects I’ve got going right now. Awhile ago, I worked on a video for a medical school and research hospital, and I’ll never forget the advice that one prominent and highly successful doc gave to a younger fledgling researcher: “Focus,” she said. “Don’t spread yourself too thin.” That’s my biggest problem. I have too many El Capitans. I need to put that advice into practice.

  12. Pingback: A Blog in the Wilderness | Jilanne Hoffmann

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