The Evolution Traverse is an idea. Beautiful in both its simplicity and myriad implications. The Evolution Traverse is a work of art in every sense of the word. It takes vision and perseverance, training and patience, confidence and daring. When I first read about the traverse 2 years ago, I knew I must try it. Slowly but surely I realized that I had to solo it...
As I crested Lamark Col, I got my first glimpse of the ridgeline, jagged and imposing, with spires galore and flanks of sheer dark granite streaked with bullet hard ice and sun cupped snowfields. The immensity of it hit me with the force of a thousand recollected dreams and conceived futures. I stood in awe, not paralyzed but stricken, not afraid but apprehensive. To realize such raw beauty is to realize your deepest desires. Only when we come face to face with what we cherish, can we begin to understand what we are truly made of...
The first time I saw her it was love...it was lust, it was fear, desire, wonder, hope, tragedy, triumph, and a never-ending burst of emotion, galactic in scale and human all at once. We shook hands and in her delicate finger bones I felt a tip of the frame upon which my rapture was draped. Even years later, the memory of that single hand shake remains omnipotent in my consciousness. I can feel the dryness of her palm and trace the lovely curvature between her thumb and forefinger. From that handshake I can rebuild her entire physique like a stop-motion film of a flower growing from a seed. And from that physique I derive the memory of the time we would spend together, the lessons we learned, and the various paths that would emanate.
The Evolution Traverse is momentum. The Evolution Traverse is momentary touch. I set up camp at Darwin Bench, the terminus of lake-studded Darwin canyon, where a lattice of streams and trickles pause briefly in a series of small lakes and ponds before the land steepens and drops into Evolution Basin. It is there that the snows of the Evolution Crest melt and flow before they make their way to the rivers and the ocean.
The Evolution Crest is an 8 mile ridge that connects a series of mountains named for the scientific giants who founded the concept of Evolution, with Mt. Darwin being the tallest and grandest. I started scrambling up the initial slopes at the Northwestern toe of the crest at 430am. Scrambling turned to climbing, and soon I was navigating my way up and down gendarmes, in and out of notches. I negotiated corners and arêtes as dawn set fire to the eastern horizon. My movement became fluid. I stemmed, smeared, and pulled my way across the rock, static moments blending seamlessly into the ecstasy of movement. And the movement became an extension of my breathing, my breathing an extension of my movement. I explored the dimensions of my surroundings from the minutia of granite crystals to the contour of the ridge itself, and those dimensions in turn highlighted my own. I was dancing with the ridge, somewhere between a waltz and the Lambada, and the dance was trancelike, focused and mindless simultaneously. I had attained an intimacy that I had not felt for quite some time, certainly never in the realm of the mountains...
The first time we kissed, I knew I had found a higher power. One hand cradled the back of her head, while the other drew her hips close to mine. A flick of the tongue, led to a bite of the lip, and back and forth until there was no distinction between action and reaction. Our hands groped for more than they could possibly touch and the contact high swelled and grew. Without music we swayed to the sound of our own hearts beating and spastic gasps of breath. My mind was elevated from a dimension of awareness to one of intimate bliss as we flitted and tripped the light fantastic. I had realized the potential of intimacy and would forever have a metaphor for success...a point along the circle of life, arbitrary as a moment, eternal in the realization that there are infinite points.
I arrived on the summit of Mt. Fisk in a state of pure joy. I had been climbing for 13 hours and I still felt great. The sun was retreating towards the western horizon, its glow becoming more and more amber. The shadows grew long across the valley floors as the range of light came into full spectrum. I had ran out of water about half an hour prior and now stopped to consider my options. With 2 mountains to go, I estimated I would need at least another 2 hours before I could summit and descend to a lake. I thought about tales of mountaineers going days without water, of men and women suffering through situations far more dire than the one I found myself in at the moment. But this was not a climb I wanted to suffer on.
I looked back at the vast ridge I had already covered, and I could feel the whole thing in the tips of my fingers and toes. I had traced the exposed backbone of the Sierras for the past 13 hours with my own body. The memory of those 13 hours will remain in my hands and feet as a series of delicate touches and fine balance. It will remain in my head as the sight of never-ending skyline, the smell of high granite and pine, the sound of intermittent breeze, the sun on my shoulders, the cool shade in my bones, adrenaline coursing through my veins, and the sum of all these feelings...a small step towards that feeling we all strive to attain. It’s the feeling we label as truth, as beauty incarnate, and the wonderful spark of meaning that flows through us when our minds and bodies are in tune at the cusp of their limits. I dropped off the ridge as a full moon rose to the east, down to the inviting lakes below, leaving the last 2 mountains for a future time.
Years later, the memory of that intimacy comes to me while I drive down a mountain road, while I stand in line at the grocery store, while I float in the Pacific Ocean. I have learned not to long for that feeling, but rather to recreate it. Never will I have to wallow in the thought of an intimacy lost. I can feel my fingertips traversing her spine, its confluence with her shoulders and the continuation of her shape along her collarbone and beyond. Her body is a landscape etched in my collective experience, her smell carries on the summer breeze, and her warmth envelopes me in the winters of my discontent. Such are the marks of intimacy, the fruits of a life lived at the expandable edge of love.
I sit in a coffee shop a week later writing this, in a chair in an office years later, watching the sunset with older eyes, admiring a predawn glow in the autumn of my years, examining the endless lines on my hands deep into my old age. I can feel the gendarmes and notches as if they were miniature carvings in the palm of my collected past. The evolution traverse is no longer capitalized. It is no longer a route in a guidebook with a grade or an approach. There is no beta, no start and no end. It’s a feeling to be cherished with all the tools available to my recollection, a feeling to be experienced again and again, it’s a goal and an ideal. The evolution traverse is an intimate spur to be touched, to be danced with, to re-visit in daydreams and next summer, when I will return to the sierras and crush!