One weekend Kristin and I climbed Matterhorn — following the footsteps of Jack Kerouac, Japhy Ryder, and Henry Morley.
We started the drive Friday afternoon, through the traffic of Tracey and into the twisting Yosemite hills. On the way we read aloud from the Dharma Bums, watched the heat wash over our car, and laughed about Morlean foolishness. We stopped every now and then to stare out across huge pine forests or watch the radient orange moon rise up over the hills.
We pulled into twin lakes around midnight, got out, and fell asleep on the ground. Even through Sylvia's incredible sleeping bag, I could feel the cold earth underneath me - and for a moment I too saw the stars as icicles of mockery.
We woke up before dawn Saturday morning to begin our hike. We climbed up through the foothills and watched the lake change colors below us. We hiked along the creek which was so cold that just standing near it was chilling. We got lost a few times, and I wondered what it must have been like for Morley to make the climb alone.
We found the beautiful park where Morley spent the first night, the valley of boulders, and the huge rock where Jack and Japhy camped.
The valley of boulders was almost never-ending. We climbed up the "cliff of insanity", past snow caps, and over huge ridges of giant rocks. The scenery was completely surreal. Past the treeline, it felt as if we had walked into the Jurrasic period. Enormous boulders covered everything, lying everywhere like giant carcasses. The river ran under underneath the boulders, so they would hum and roar as you climbed over them.
“With my sneakers it was as easy as pie to just dance nimbly from boulder to boulder, but after a while I noticed how gracefully Japhy was doing it and he just ambled from boulder to boulder, sometimes in a deliberate dance with his legs crossing from right to left, right to left and for a while I followed his every step but then I learned it was better for me to just spontaneously pick my own boulders and make a ragged dance of my own.
'The secret of this kind of climbing,' said Japhy, 'is like Zen. Don't think. Just dance along. It's the easiest thing in the world, actually easier than walking on flat ground which is monotonous. The cute little problems present themselves at each step and yet you never hesitate and you find yourself on some other boulder you picked out for no special reason at all, just like Zen.' Which it was.”
We tried to reach the summit in one day, but threw in the towel at the base of the peak. Exhausted, with bruised feet, and the sun setting - I could not take another step up the scree canyon. I was absolutely amazed that Jack Kerouac had made it 100 ft short of the summit on his first mountain climbing trip.
We did the whole climb with only the book as our map and guide. The accuracy and detail of the writing was incredible, down to the smells. All of the landmarks were still there “waiting for us to stop all our frettin' and foolin'.”