Reverence for the Grandest Rock
Words & photos from Josh Alameda
El Capitan, a three-thousand-foot vertical granite monolith of the natural world. An icon to outdoor adventure seekers across the globe. It stands alone, dominating the view of Northern Yosemite Valley, dwarfing the famous Half Dome in the distance, and flanked by the most magnificent waterfalls on the planet. If the wonders of the world were assigned based on God's creations, rather than creations from man, El Cap would stand alone in its wonder. No competition, this peak reigns dominant.
Standing at the base of the wall looking up, the mountain pushes a rush of conflicting emotions through body and soul. Its stance is one of emboldened intimidation–one can feel as though it has the self-awareness of its magnificence, a titan of nature, and its position of authority over the Yosemite Valley, the world's most beautiful basin. Simultaneously, one feels the overwhelming feeling of importance and motivation, the need to overcome obstacles, a reflection of life's journey thus far in a single frame.
The adventure ahead will not be easy; there will be no fanfare for completion, no audience to perform for–the journey is the reward, and the accomplishment is deeply personal. As outdoor adventurers, these are the ideals we search for; the chance to find ourselves through the toil and beauty of the natural world. The chance to stand somewhere few dare to dream, to see the world through the lens in reverse, through time itself.
The trail to the top was the most arduous of any I had set out on in my life. I lost count of the nearly vertical switchbacks at one hundred and twenty-five. The walls of the valley pressed tightly against one side, and the drop into infinity inches away on the other. There are no moments of reprieve from the brutality of the climb. The mountain instead offers motivation through the splendor of outlook, the view of the valley below, the ancient trees receding into a two-dimensional frame–increased altitude bringing increased awareness of my position in the world.
The mountain continues its practice of reflecting the lessons of life into this journey; increased work, toil, defeat, and accomplishment is yielding ever-increasing perspective and purpose. The typical civil stressors fade away completely; politics, finances, careers, self-loathing, fitness, family issues–all manmade dilemmas quickly become irrelevant. Focus zeros in on the present; perspective moves outward on the world surrounding you. Every step offers growth, every breath is worthy of gratitude, and the fuel to continue is entirely derived from spirit.
To quote the famous climber Alex Honnold, "Look, I don't want to fall off and die either, but there is a satisfaction to challenging yourself and doing something well." Somewhat cold words, but a beautiful expression of the importance of challenge and accomplishment.
The top of this menhir offers an experience one could never predict. The height and scale of the wall are hidden below your feet. Standing on top of this alien granite slab, one can hear the wind ripping up the face of the rock as if the mountain itself is welcoming you with its own breath. In an almost religious experience, the over one-hundred-degree heat was cast aside by an afternoon mountain storm within minutes of reaching the summit. This colossus of the valley relieved the pain of heat with rain and clouds. The timing could not be a coincidence, but one of connection to nature; its recognition of adventure, the reward of toil and effort.
I have never witnessed beauty like the view from this peak. Everywhere you look, you see not only the outlandish elegance of the environment, but a reflection of yourself and your journey beyond the climb that brought you here. Time moves outward in all directions, the decisions of your past becoming clearer and the path forward becoming sharpened. If everyone could stand here, it would undoubtedly change the world.
After having recently completed his time in the military, Josh Alameda is focusing these days on, "a newfound passion that I can freely exercise with my freedom." Adventuring for him is seeking out the perfect photo and writing about the emotional impact of the journey. He currently resides in Corralitos, CA.