by Michael Kennedy
The Nose. High Exposure. Pinch Overhang. Yellow Edge. Cassin Ridge. Midnight Lightning. North Face of North Twin. Primrose Dihedral. Astroman. Dream of White Horses. Bridalveil Falls. Walker Spur. The best-of-the-best, every one a masterpiece, an outstanding example of its particular discipline, a line that begs to be climbed. A classic.
Each of us has our own list – climbs we’ve done and those we aspire to, routes we may never touch yet still dominate our most fervent imaginings. Mine tends to favor soaring mountain walls; yours may tilt toward prows of flint-hard sandstone set against sundappled forest floors or gossamer threads of ice veining high-country crags, singular lines of chalk-daubed holds on roadside overhangs or endless processions of cracks and corners up flawless spines of alpine granite. Classics are the makings of our dreams. Be it ten perfect moves or ten days of sublime effort, each embodies a near-impossible-to-describe blend of beauty, challenge and history.
Evening sun glancing across a lichen-stained buttress illuminates a delicate procession of flakes and incuts, a wisp of cloud reveals an icy arête amongst the jumble of a seracthreatened wall, a tiny edge reveals itself in the flat light of an afternoon snow squall. That first flush of infatuation draws us close enough to discover the deeper qualities we seek. The simple pleasure of fluid movement, each handhold solid and reassuring, ledges appearing just where you want them, the void a mere reminder to pay attention. The sense of infinity as the ground steadily falls away, ridges and valleys and peaks stretching out to the horizon. The marathon effort, hours spent figuring out a particular sequence, falling on the same move for days, finally letting go enough to put it all together. The pinpoint focus 50 feet out when you can’t – just can’t – contemplate falling. The inner struggle with doubt and fear and desire. The quiet moments coiling the rope at the end of the day, sharing a satisfied glance with a trusted partner.