Kevin Jorgeson, on reaching the summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park this past week by free climbing the Dawn Wall with Tommy Caldwell, said of their feat: “I hope it inspires people to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will. We’ve been working on this thing a long time, slowly and surely. I think everyone has their own secret Dawn Wall to complete one day, and maybe they can put this project in their own context.” (Citation)
I’ve been pondering that assertion for a couple of days now, and I don’t agree that everyone has a secret Dawn Wall to complete. I mean, sure, I have an informal bucket list (and even a published one — see p. 14), and it includes returning to the ridge in the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area of Washington State that separates the McCall and Packwood Glaciers where Raven offered to me what turned out to be good counsel almost 25 years ago, but it isn’t really equivalent to a Dawn Wall — not even close in terms of risk, effort required, logistics support, or a unique experience. And that’s about as close as I can come to my own Dawn Wall. As an acrophobe, I’m in awe and somewhat stunned by Kevin’s and Tommy’s feat. And at the same time I feel a sense that they are nuts, and that there is no way I’d want to do that.
I’m happy for them. Their athletic skill, strength, and stamina is amazing. Their accomplishment is worthy of celebration. 3,000 feet on that sheer face in 19 days is remarkable. (I get vertigo just looking at the images of them clinging to the cliff. And at the same time, I can hardly look away from them.)
But it does not inspire me to take on such an improbable and difficult goal. I would not be pressed so hard for a record that I would endure the hardship, even if I was not fearful of heights. It strikes me as half (or more) crazy!
At one time in my life the idea of a solo ocean voyage had some pull. I have loved reading Life of Pi and The Plover and any number of Barry Lopez’ short stories, especially those in River Notes and Desert Notes. But I read them as allegorical natural mysteries, not as inspiration to literal emulation. And at one point I considered hiking all of the Pacific Crest Trail, but never very seriously. I’m so much more a plodding stroller than a through hiker, though I also stick to it once I am into something. (If I was a runner, which I am not, I’d probably be a marathoner.) And long ago I fantasized about a solo sail across the Pacific Ocean. But I think those former goals came more out of my introversion and active imagination than out of a real desire for their accomplishment as an objective.
And I’ve just finished reading Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, in which among other things, he lifts up the danger of getting so caught up in the quest to accomplish a goal that despite awareness of danger and prior commitment to safety, you might well decide to persist, even putting your life at risk.
So, no, Kevin, I don’t have a secret Dawn Wall inside me waiting to be accomplished. I don’t think I’m alone. But maybe I’m wrong and most people do have a secret Dawn Wall and I’m just an oddball who doesn’t.
On the other hand, I’m 67-½, retired, an old(er) guy. Even if I’m still relatively healthy, I’m no longer in a 20- or 30-something body (as it keeps reminding me). So no, there are no Dawn Walls in my likely future. I’m very happy with my life as it is. Little drama, no major feats, no huge goals on which to focus. I’d like to have a productive kitchen garden this year and to enjoy some exploration of the hidden corners of the Pacific Northwest. I want to enjoy many more years of happiness with my wife. And I want my adult children and their kids to be happy. I want there to be more love in our world. An end to violence. The capacity to embrace all that is unfolding and to bend the arc of justice in the right direction. It would be more than enough.