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Yosemite: Monkeys

June 24th, 2006

SATURDAY JUNE 24, 2006 – YOSEMITE This morning I awoke hung over, though not from drinking. Yesterday was hot, they were saying in the upper 90’s and today they expect it to break 100. (Monkey Nicolai napping on the job)

I am such a heat wimp. Yesterday, with another early wake-up (5 a.m.), I was down at the toe of the Nose jumaring up fixed lines to the base of the Stove Legs pitches. Even in the early morning, the direct sun and the workout from my inefficient jumaring had me drenched in sweat in the first 30 meters. Three pitches up I looked back to see Franz, the camera operator starting up. By the time I reached the next anchor he was ready to clip onto my line. The guy is a machine. He passed and I followed him at my pace, worked by the time I reached him at 200 meters.

(Franz films Thomas) The shooting was…ok. We were low on the wall at about 650 feet and the climbing wasn’t terribly spectacular. But it was cool to be up there as Thomas clipped into the anchor. It was his first day climbing since his fall; he was slow and in pain, but his main concern was his head. He was feeling a little scared. His mind, he reasoned, was trying to protect his injured body. I can relate; when I was hit by a car and had a similarly large bruise, I found could make my body climb but my mind was completely seized with fear. My body knew it was hurt and was protecting itself. But unlike Thomas I wasn’t running it out a week later on 5.11.

While I try to relax in the heat some of the ‘Monkeys’ are carrying 50 pound loads in the blazing sun up the East Ledges descent route from El Capitan. I can see it from where I sit, the granite shimmeringly white, a huge solar reflector cooking the juices out of anyone captured in its arc. The Monkeys are Valley climbers, typically local dirt baggers who surf from bivy spot to couch to cave to the infamous Camp Four, breaking as many rules as they can get away with and not get kicked out of the valley by “The Tool.” But they can also be more upstanding individuals; the ethos is simply that you climb. A lot. One guy, our cook and a trained mechanic, made $4200 dollars last year. Commitment phobic, he says, he just climbs and skis.

(Ammon rappels after shooting) According to the Monkeys I’ve spoken with they are a more ‘open’ evolution from earlier eras like the 80’s where elite cliques of the hardest climbers, such as the Stone Masters, set standards and ethos. Today’s Monkey’s have re-vitalized a deep, belly driven “Oooh!” as a call sign, a sound so ape-like and profuse it’s a little unnerving. But it’s an effective identifier for the tribe.

Ammon, the “Pirate” in Timmy O’Neil’s slideshow about taking his paraplegic brother up El Cap, has been running through the various Valley hangouts looking for Monkeys to schlep loads; the film crew is hauling a camera boom up to the top for a dream sequence shot in which Alex falls. Later they will rappel halfway down the face to shoot more scenes so a lot of gear and food has to be hauled up there. That means a lot of Monkeys earning $125 per load. One of the main Monkeys is Nicolai, a quiet Brazilian who was also featured in Timmy’s slideshow as the poor soloist aiding up beneath their portaledge as Timmy’s brother emptied his catheter bag.

(Director Pepo on his way up the Nose for a shot) Ivo is chief rigger who took the job in part because he’s friends with the Hubers, but largely because he gets to hang the boom off the top of El Cap. Sporting a shaved torso (he’s not the only well muscled, shaven-chested on the team) Ivo is arguably one of the most honed; that’s not to say any of the crew are slouches, he just happens to be able to pull off front levers on the door jamb and has recently lost every ounce of fat on his body. He also lost his girlfriend; apparently she was taking too much of his energy.

(Valley life has a lot of hanging out) I’m staying because I want the shot; the crew on the summit of El Cap with the boom and the cameras was what my editor and I had initially discussed for the story. I also built the time into my schedule. So today is a quasi office day at a picnic table in Yosemite, waiting for the heat of the day to pass; at six I’ll join the camera operators and the Huber brothers for the hike and jumar up the East Ledges.

Yeah, this pretty much makes up for all the time I spent in front of the computer “officing” and developing head and neck strains since returning from France. With one exception: there’s no climbing for me on this trip.

(Note: You’re not getting the best pictures, the magazine gets them first).

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