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The Vertical Frontier

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
4 min read

My posting frequency has gone down, I know — I guess I can blame it on the weather? I seem to be blaming a lot on the weather lately, so that works for me. Achy joints? Must be the weather. Crazy, uncontrollable desire for shearling boots? Must be the weather. Fatigue by 3pm every day that means all I can think about is curling up on the sofa with Hana? Must be the weather. Not posting to my blog?

I think you can guess where I’m going with that.

So, the updates from my world. Yes, ladies who have been involved in the saga (and Chris), I have decided that I am confident enough to pull off shearling boots.

Hana has been a stinker at work lately… so today I put in an emergency email to the woman we did our puppy obedience training with.

Work has been very busy, and very good. I just celebrated my first anniversary of becoming a lawyer, and I still love it, and I love where I work.

Climbing has slowed down for the year, which is good for those aforementioned achy joints. Our hopeful plans for outside trips keep falling away for various reasons, so the gym season has begun. Chris and I both have gym goals to work on, and are both pacing ourselves to try to avoid injury. So far, so good.

And now, this Friday night, we settled in for a snuggle on the sofa in front of the tube. A better than expected episode of Smallville lead to plugging in a DVD I’d added to our Netflix list awhile back — the show is Vertical Frontier, a heartbreakingly good 2002 movie about the history of Yosemite climbing, and as a result, the history of American climbing. I’m going to put the DVD in a padded envelope and send it up to Mom in the mail tomorrow. Mom — I’ll tell you right now. They do talk about people dying. And, the one thing you’re going to remember above all else, if you manage to watch the movie, is that two people a year, on average, die in Yosemite (I can’t remember if that’s just climbers, or if that counts tourists who wander off course and aren’t rescued). But aside from that, this movie does the best job I’ve seen yet of capturing why we do what we do. We watched this movie with the remote control in hand, because we had to stop it frequently to discuss and remark on how little and how much has changed in the world of climbing, throughout. It’s absolutely astonishing how much they pack into a feature-length film — they cover the birth and development of American climbing from its start to 2002, and in the process give insight into the development of climbing gear and technology, ethics, and highlight important specific events in American climbing. And just when you’re thinking to yourself, “gosh, I wish they would talk about…” not two minutes later, they do. It’s like the filmmakers were psychic.

Having never yet been to Yosemite, and being a climber who is not likely to ever do a big wall climb on the scale of Yosemite’s big wall climbs (for a long list of reasons), what surprised me most about the film wasn’t the climbing, or how astonishingly incredible Lynn Hill’s technique is to watch, or the risks taken by some. What surprised me most is learning just how lucky we are that the climbing greats came together at just the right time, in order to work to preserve Camp 4, the notorious climbers’ campground at Yosemite, and protect it from the kind of development that has taken place at other National Parks. Had these climbers not joined forces when they did, the global climbing community would have suffered an immeasurable loss; and climbers like us — those who came to the sport so late — may have only seen visitors centers and paved walkways and cabins and lodges and restaurants covering the ground where the men and women who gave birth to our sport had their labor and delivery. So many of the individuals who were involved in the preservation of Camp 4 have since passed away, leaving behind what can only be described as an incredible legacy.

So anyway, if you haven’t seen it, and you’re a climber, see it. You’ll have seen some of the footage in other films, but it’s still well worth watching.

For the non-climbers in the audience, it’s possible this movie will give you some insight into the way those of us who are climbers feel about what we spend our weekend doing.

For mom — no, we don’t free solo without ropes. We do boulder, so I can’t say I never climb solo, but my bouldering is incredibly conservative. I am not personally interested in ropeless free solo climbing on what we’d usually think of as rope-appropriate routes — that’s just not my thing. Also, while I am going to have to someday give up my stubborn aversion to multipitch routes in order to keep my favorite climbing partner — I mean, my husband — like I said up above, I’m not likely to become a true big wall climber. So while you watch this movie, for the vast majority of the film, don’t think, “I can’t believe you do this,” because I don’t. Those folks are doing difficulty and endurance and time on the wall way beyond what we do in our little weekend outings. But, out of everything I’ve seen on film, I think this movie does the best job yet of showing non-climbers some insight into the ethos of climbing and the pathology of being a climber.

Enough. Time for the shout outs. Here’s a quick one to my two- (or was that ten?) martini lunch eating New Orleans friend Elizabeth who is painfully missed up here in the soggy pacific northwest. Charleydog – your spiderman costume is adorable. More, hopefully, soon!

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.