Tioga Pass was Open
My father, Kevin Kelly, was one of the most amazing humans to walk on this planet, and I'm not just saying that. He radiated contentment and ease when he walked into a room, and this ease would spread from him to anyone that met him. He was a trouble maker, and he was a very animated story teller. My dad died on December 9th. Cancer took over his body faster than we could fight it. It snuck in, unnoticed, until it had what it wanted.
My dad's eyes were full of life. I think it was because during his short stay in his body, something clicked for him. He was the happiest, warmest person I've ever known. I'll never forget the first time I saw my dad dance. We were in Peru, and had just finished the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was an incredible trip with a lovely, lovely group of people. Our guide, Saul even came out with us (something he assured us he never did), because we all clicked so well. It was such a fun night, and even more fun to see my dad fully let go as the music took over and he lost all inhibitions to the dance floor. His shoulders kinda shrugged and he did this move where he moves his hands in sync with his rolling shoulders and kind of bobs his head with his eyes closed. 4:30 am rolled around and I (20 years old at the time) had to drag HIM out of the bar, because he was having so much fun. My dad found something that made him full on this trip, and that lasted for the rest of the time that he graced this planet.
Cathedral Peake in Tuolumne has always been a special place to me. I'll never forget the first time I got to see it. I had just driven across the country with a bunch of buddies, and we were staying in California in Tyler's Dad's old house. My dad decided to come out to visit for a week or so, and one of the things on his bucket list was to see Yosemite. I had never been either, but had spent hours of my childhood staring at Ansel Adams photos of Yos-uh-might with my dad, and wondering what that place was like.
The morning that we left for the drive from Applegate, we were all hungover, pissed off and tired. My dad had woken us by yelling "sleep when you're dead!" This phrase stuck with us for the rest of his life, and most certainly will for the rest of mine.
I'll never forget entering Yosemite. Seeing the sign for the first time and hearing my father's psyche on finally making it there after a lifetime of wanting to touch that earth was worth it in itself. We were already happy to be there.
We had come for a backpacking trip, and that's what we decided to do, despite the warnings from the rangers that there really would be no trail, as the path that we chose was covered in snow. They gave us some bear cannisters (?!) and we went on our way. It was late May, and besides, we were veteran backpackers.
Welp, the higher up we drove, the colder it was. We stopped into a tourist shop so that I could get a hat and a sweatshirt (t-shirts and shorts were not such a good idea... who would have thought the mountains were cold in the early summer?!). We got to the trailhead, and sure enough, there was snow. There were footprints though, so we'd be fine. We'd just follow those, and if all else failed, we had a topo map.
We spent the morning blissfully sliding down snowy hills on Tyler's drybag, and stopped at what I THINK was Cathedral Lake, and took a little rest on some rocks. Tyler's feet were frozen from his chacos and we were all in slow motion from a morning of goofing around in the snow. I'll never forget looking up and seeing what I later would learn was Cathedral Peak. My father and I were both in awe at our surroundings. How could a place be so beautiful and so pure? How could we be so lucky, so blessed to be able to stand on this ground, with no other people? Do you think anyone has been up there before? Do you hear that? It's the wind... and nothing else. That and silence.
Due to the shenanagins of the day, we had lost the footprint trail long ago, and had been using the topo map every five minutes, because my dad kept asking for the map so that he could make sure we were on the right track. As the sun was setting, we found a perfect place to camp, protected from the wind. We drank hot gatorade with frozen hands, and experienced one of the most amazing sunsets that we had ever seen. Clouds were slowly passing low in the sky over the trees, like silk scarves floating in the air. The pinks and purple shone through the orange undertones of it all. We slept well that night, and continued on the next day for another night of camping. When we made it back to the road, we were quite a ways from our car, and hitch hiked back to where we thought it was. We gave shoulder massages, devoured food, and then decided that we needed to drive into Yosemite Valley to stare at the walls that were so well known. It seemed like a zoo after an experience like the one we had just had, but we were still in awe.
Years later, I went back to Tuolumne with my new boyfriend (well, he had started telling our friends that I was his girlfriend, so I guess he was my boyfriend) for my first ever rock climb. The trail was familliar as we started into the woods and up that first little hilly section that reminded you that you were at around 8 or 9,000 feet. The stream was running and there was a lot less snow. We ventured off onto another trail, and made it to the base of that very same rock that my dad and I had stared at in awe... and then we climbed it. I knew that one day I would get to show this to my dad. Maybe someday, when I was comfortable leading, I could bring him up here!
Chris and I had an amazing trip that day (it was New Years Eve and Tioga Pass was open!). I didn't know it, but it was a miracle that the pass was open that day, and a miracle that we were able to climb, and a miracle that there was maybe only one other party on the whole formation. I was immediately hooked on the climb, on the place, on the boy, and so Cathedral Peake became even more special in my bank of memories. Since then, I've returned many times, and each time is just as magical as the first.
Recently, Chris and I took an amazing trip across the country. On the second to last day of the trip, we had made it to Bishop, spent a day climbing with Katie, went to our favorite hotspring spot and then found a new one all to ourselves, with coyotes seranading us in the background. We camped at the spring that night, and woke up to an OPEN Tioga Pass... and had to go, even if it was just to see the sign, because now my dog's name is Tioga and I'm completely obsessed.
We got breakfast burritos, ate them at the trailhead with a coyote watching us from 10 feet away. That guy or gal hung out with us for the whole morning while we got our gear together to climb. I took it as a blessing. I love coyotes and to get to see one so closely was extremely exciting and a very positive sign of the day to come.
We started up that oh so familiar trail, with some snow on it, with the stream running faster than I've seen it. It was sunny and beautiful, but brisk.
The closer we got to Cathedral, the more the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. By time we had completed the first pitch, we were in all of our layers, and my hands were completely numb. We were both climbing in approach shoes, because I could not justify taking my feet out of my nice warm socks and shoving them into tiny, cold climbing shoes. We sat on the ledge and talked about bailing. "What would Kevin do?" Chris asked, as we both looked at our green, rubber, WWKD bracelets? The answer was apparent (and etched on the other side), "sleep when you're dead" despite me arguing that he'd "think this sucks and would want to go down."
On the summit block, we huddled together to block the wind, and had some beautiful words about my dad, one of the most amazing people to ever walk this planet. We each took a handfull of Ashes and threw them into the wind, and watched as they quickly floated away in a fast swirl. We Stuffed some pieces into the rock, into the cracks, and cried together on that tiny little summit block, thinking of my dad and how much we miss him.
Now Cathedral has so much more importance to me. An amazing hike and introduction to natural beauty of this world, memories with my father, a beautiful first date and start to a relationship with one of the most amazing men I know, quality time with best friends, and now a resting place for my dad as well. It's a place that I hope to always go to, and a place that I am honored to be able to share with my father.