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Does El Capitan House the Path to Enlightenment?

Kitty Calhoun

Seeking Enlightenment on El Capitan

Elaina and I were perched on a ledge the size of cot on El Capitan, 2,000 feet above off the Yosemite valley floor.

“I don’t know, Elaina.  I think we have too much stuff so the hauling sucks and this heat wave with 100+ degree temperatures is zapping my strength.  Plus, five crux pitches are yet to come”.

Kitty CalhounElaina, a pixyish girl, known for her sport climbing prowess and gregarious, up-for-anything nature, listened intently as I continued.  Although she had never done a wall, she trusted in our ability to get up the Muir Wall and was committed.

My goal is to climb an El Cap route every year.  Life had become bogged down with chores and responsibilities.  I needed to rise above the mundane – to see what I was capable of.  After leading most of Tangerine Trip last spring, the Muir Wall seemed like the logical next step.  Besides, this would be a good opportunity to get to know Elaina, who had become an owner of Chicks Climbing and Skiing, alongside myself and three other women.

“Tomorrow, we’ll come to a place where we could traverse to the Nose route, which would by-pass the hard pitches.  Trouble is, I don’t remember the Nose well and I don’t know how to get there”.  I was pulling my sleeping bag up around my waist – too tired to think.  This was only our second night on the wall but we had hauled and fixed for two days prior.  Looming above was a large overhanging corner with five of the next 16 pitches as hard as anything I ‘d ever led.  This step to the next level was just too big for me.

“I’ll text some friends and maybe we can get the topo”, Elaina suggested as I drifted to sleep.

Kitty Calhoun El Captian
Kitty Calhoun El Capitan
Kitty Calhoun El Capitan


At 5am the alarm went off and we sucked down some Ibuprofen, water, and granola.  With swollen fingers, Elaina fumbled with her iPhone and discovered that the topo of the escape route had arrived overnight.

Several pitches of traversing to the most prominent buttress on El Cap, known as the Nose, on a blustery day could have been epic.  Fortunately, it went well.  Three days later, after a total of 35 pitches, Elaina and I topped out on El Cap and celebrated with a couple of beers she had slipped into our haul bags.


As I drove home, I recounted the story of our El Capitan climb to a friend on the phone.  “Yeah, I dropped Elaina off in Vegas last night.  I had to get the oil changed in my Subaru this morning but they took me right away and didn’t even charge me. Now I’m on my way home”.

“That reminds me of a story”, she said with amusement.  “Of a guy who went to a monk and claimed to have meditated and found Enlightenment.  The monk told him that was great and to get back to work”.

Without periodic enlightenment, though, I would not be nearly as content with my chores.

Kitty Calhoun El Capitan
Kitty Calhoun El Capitan
Kitty Calhoun
Since 2000, Kitty has been guiding exclusively for Chick with Picks and Chicks Rock events. Her personal climbing achievements have centered around more technical rock and ice climbing – with other women. These ascents include five routes on El Cap in Yosemite and ice climbing expeditions to Norway, Scotland, and Iceland.
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