Having already climbed the 1000-metre-high overhanging granite monolith once, I stood in front of it for the second time and doubted whether I would be able to get up the wall on another, even more difficult route – doubt is part of climbing, just like fear.
Then we set off. The climb lasted seven days. There were no more quick movements. Close contact right down to our toes and fingertips. At night, we hung in hammocks, suspended from a single carabiner – the equipment was very simple back then. That’s how we dozed until the cold morning came. From sunrise to dusk in the evening, we were fully occupied with the work that took us a good hundred metres higher each day. Below us was the abyss that tugged at our nerves and threatened to pull us down into the depths at the slightest loss of concentration. At some point I lost my sense of space. Climbing was like a dance in slow motion, like a performance on stage. The spectators far away. At some point I lost my sense of time. Every movement an experience of eternity.
The great Goethe researcher Katharina Mommsen, with whom I once spoke many years ago about climbing El Capitan, said that for her the idea of people climbing this wall was simply hubris. And so it is, I’ve meanwhile come to think. But I did it and I walked away with a treasure. There is something like an erotic relationship to the vertical line between the ground and the sky, an almost tingling relationship with the atmosphere, even if that may sound puzzling. The world I was familiar with had taken on a new dimension and a mixture of attraction and stage fright never quite subsided in me, a surge of blood and longing in my body, accompanied by warmth in my heart and many new thoughts.
Sometimes I think my tentative exploration into the cosmos back then would defy representation through words. And then I think again that this is all quite normal and that all people would know this atmospheric state. Because we all live our unique and mysterious existence between the depths of the oceans and the highest peaks of the earth! The second time I climbed the wall of El Capitan, I became more aware of this for a few moments than at any other time in my life, that’s the only difference.
About the author: Dr Albert Vinzens is a freelance writer.