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Re: Front Row Seat

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Front Row Seat
July 10, 2008 07:11AM
Here is a photograph of the Vernal Fall precipice taken in 1913 by the pioneering Yosemite geologist Francois Matthes.

http://libraryphoto.cr.usgs.gov/cgi-bin/show_picture.cgi?ID=ID. Matthes, F.E. 61

Matthes was studying the exfoliation of granite and its contribution to the formation of Yosemite Valley. In this photo, you can see an enormous flake of granite in the process of exfoliation. Smaller flakes of granite are jammed into the crack behind the large flake. You can still stand on those smaller flakes and peek over the railing to try to see the waterfall crashing into the pool over 300 feet below.

Only trouble is, you just can’t see that pool below you.

But one time, many people knew of a way to see that pool.

I was up there with my family in the mid 1950s and saw a boy about my age climb up from a large hole among those squeezed granite flakes. He just popped out of the hole like a ground squirrel and scampered away. I went over to the whole and looked down. And Hey! Cool! Other boys were down there! So I climbed down into the hole and discovered the front row seat for viewing that magnificent waterfall.

Look at Matthes' photo. Behind that gigantic flake of granite is a large alcove similar to the ones you can crawl through in the Indian Caves. Eight or nine boys were in there enjoying the place. It was cool and dim in there. Impossibly noisy, with the rock walls echoing the thunderous roar of the waterfall, which fell just outside the large opening in the cliff face. There was no level place to sit. We all hung on for dear life to large chunks of granite that had exfoliated but were still held captive behind that enormous outer flake. All the rocks were drenched by the spray that flew off the falling water. It was like being on the Mist Trail in late May, but much noisier and wetter.

One by one, we took turns climbing out to the opening. From the opening, we could look straight down and watch the water all the way down into the pool. The fall roared at us and sprayed us, but that was worth it. The view was like nothing we had ever seen.

Several times a year for the next seven or eight years, I hiked up the Mist Trail and climbed down into the wonderful place. Every time, there were other boys in there. I never saw a girl in there. And I never saw anyone older than high school age. At the time, I didn't know what that meant.

OK, I know you're thinking: we were absolutely, positively nuts. You're right. We were certifiable Bull Goose Loony. But we were all between 10 and 17 and didn't think that kids could die.

By chance, we all wore canvass tennis shoes, which had a decent grip even on wet rock. (Later, in the early '60s, I made passable rock climbing shoes by slitting the soles of those shoes all around the edge and pulling the outer sole right off. The undersoles were remarkably "sticky" on granite and would last for a day's climbing. This was years before companies sold real climbing shoes with sticky rubber soles. This trick was invented by older climbers, who taught everything they knew to the younger climbers. Climbing was one of the few endeavors I've seen where the younger sought out the older for instruction and advice.)

I have one regret: I never shot a photo from that awesome place. I found Matthes' photo a few years ago and was delighted to see my old climbing place. My father had gone up there regularly since 1918, but had never noticed the wonderful place until I went into it. Surely, when he was a boy, other boys went down into that hole. Maybe he did go in, but never told me. He probably was not happy about me going in there, but never brought up the subject. It eventually became clear that some adults saw what was going on up there. Sometime in the early 1960s, those who suppose that they know what is best for you and me filled the entrance hole with a granite block. Only now, when I am much too old and wise to do something so egregiously idiotic, do I agree with that decision.

I hope that others who went down into that cool, dark, damp place will share their memories of the Front Row Seat.

Doug Parr
Re: Front Row Seat
July 10, 2008 02:03PM
Nuts. The URL in the message above doesn't work. Here's how to get the photograph.

Go to the USGS photo library at: http://libraryphoto.cr.usgs.gov/

Click Key Word Search.

Type Vernal as Key Word 1.

Type Matthes as Key Word 2.

Type 61 as Key Word 3.

Click Submit.

There's the photo.

Doug Parr
avatar Re: Front Row Seat
July 10, 2008 02:10PM
Re: Front Row Seat
July 11, 2008 06:19AM
That's great, eeek. Thanks!

That place looks downright scary to me. Wonder why I ever went in there.

Doug Parr
avatar Re: Front Row Seat
July 11, 2008 06:46AM
From where the railing is it looks like they WANTED you to go in there.
That certainly is not the case now. Darwin has taken too many out.
There didn't used to be a sign saying no swimming in Emerald Pool either.
The very first time we ever went to Yosemite we swam in there.
(along with 20-30 others).
Heres the railing now. You can see the rock in the picture. Next time
I'll look for the old railing holes.

Everything I know I learned from Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Front Row Seat
July 11, 2008 08:42AM
The hole used to be right up against the backside of that large flake. There was no railing to keep you out. I think the granite plug is touching the slab, and at the edge of the bush in the photo.

Exfoliation continues. Some day, that giant slab will fall into the pool below. On the day that happens, it will be like the day the slab fell off of glacier point. When the big slab goes, all the other granite blocks will fall too. They'll displace the water and shatter to powder on the granite pool bottom. The wind will be fierce, and filled with granite dust. Not quite as violent as the slab that burst behind Happy Isles, but every bit as terrifying. I wouldn't want to be anywhere in that canyon when it happens!

Doug Parr
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