The shuttles are running and the falls are flowing. It’s open season.
The campground has the feel of some manic jamboree. In the glow and smoke and trees I am quickly lost amidst coffin-sized iceboxes and palatial tents done up in Christmas lights and other states’ flags. The grimy bathroom reverberates with dueling blow-dryers; I yield the sink with my mouth still full of toothpaste, cowed by the unnerving reflection of teenage girls queuing up behind me to apply their mascara. It’s 10:45 at night. Where the hell are they going?
In the daytime the valley smells like barbecue smoke and there’s a baseball game underway at the base of El Cap. I watch a seven-foot-tall Nordic behemoth film his friend’s fast-food order at the register with an SLR. All this—Disneyland!—in the literal, creeping shadow of the most fantastic big walls on the planet. It’s bizarre.
What the crowds mean for me generally—no use pretending otherwise—is claustrophobic, misanthropic fury. This is aggravated rather than tempered by the acute awareness that in the next tent over is likely a world-class free-soloist with serious abs and a name like Nadia or Alessia, rolling her eyes and wishing I too would GTFO of her park. Who am I, anyway? Another wannabe in the wrong size puffy, flipping through the guidebook looking for, like, I don’t know, a 5.6 that I could maybe top-rope?
In the end, she’ll have to share with me just as I’ll have to share with tourists who don’t queue or recycle. If I wanted it to myself I could pay for it myself—except it’s 750,000 acres and not on the market so, no, actually, I can’t. In which case, what does it take to protect the backcountry, to convince the public to foot the bill for the 90 percent of that acreage that 90 percent will never see? It takes a (Curry) Village.
On the last two pitches the wind picks up to the point that it’s pulling the bag off my back. I can hardly hear myself speak, never mind our rope gun. This is why I brought radios, but as the static coalesces into speech it becomes apparent that we’re on the same channel as a gang of grade-schoolers playing in the valley below.
Mathew, you have 15 feet of rope—HELLOAlia, I’m safe, you can—HELLO-HELLO-HELLO, I’m in FOOOOOREEEEEST!Belay is—GERALD, GERALD, WEEE-OOO, WEE-OOO!NICOLE SMELLS! NICOLE FARTED!Belay is—I have TEN POKEMON!More like, POK-E-MOR-ONAlia, can you hear me?NICOLE FARTED, ROGER THAT