My last foray into Yosemite Valley was summer, 1968 or 69. A couple buddies and myself thought we wanted to be real rock climbers back then. We scared the holy crap out of ourselves within a few short days, and retreated back to the Cascades of Washington State.
A few years passed when I heard that a climber I had briefly met died in Yosemite somewhere around that time, going to the aid of two others who had gotten themselves into trouble up on one of the granite walls. I recalled him as a big and strong guy both in his physique and personality, a big ego to me back then. I had heard repeatedly of his solo accomplishments on some of these sheer 3000+ foot rock faces. He was a very memorable, outgoing character. I had only met him once but never forgot his presence or the stories of his climbing accomplishments or of his death.
Having made the quick half-day return trip here to Yosemite following the IVRPA Conference in Berkeley on June 20th, I still needed to find a good 'Community' pano to shoot. I came across this small band of young, energetic upwardly-mobile characters, sharing snacks, beer, high tales, and waiting in repose as they nervously observed 5 other teams of climbers ascending various routes high up on 2300 meter high El Capitan. El Cap rises 3600 feet from the valley floor, not your ordinary day trip. It can be a 3 to 5 day climb.
I struck up a conversation with the fellow in the red plaid shirt. He invited me to take a look through one of his scopes, two roped figures, one in an orange T-shirt setting the lead up a small vertical crack, invisible to the naked eye. I related my story of the Cascades climber I had met so many years ago, the one who lost his life here that fateful late 60's summer.
"Jim Mattson, summer of 1968" he revealed without hesitation. He rattled off the name of the rock wall, the route they were on, the names of the two climbers Jim had set off to assist. "He rappelled off the end of his rope, trying to help those guys"..."that was a huge loss to the community here", he said. "Everyone loved Jim"..."he was a big burly guy, so talented, an amazing climber, really strong, really outgoing...". I asked their permission and started shooting...'Community' for this World Wide Panorama event.
I admitted to myself, "This is living, breathing evidence of a very strong and enduring community, the community that climbers build together and share. Tremendous values of trust, teamwork, commitment, loyalty, integrity, and concentration are all taught and exchanged here. Communities here form a foundation as solid and yet as fragile as the amazing granite monoliths this valley is made out of.