The Hidden Importance of Clouds – Issue 25: Water

John Muir was an idiot. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” he wrote in his 1901 book Our National Parks. “Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” Muir is my hero, his eloquent defense of the natural world an inspiration and the reason the wild places I love are still around. But as I hang here, thousands of feet above the ground on a sheer cliff face in Yosemite watching the onset of an angry and fast-approaching storm, it is difficult to think charitable thoughts about the man. I climbed this mountain in search of the salvation Muir promised. Instead, I find buzzing mosquitos, unprotected traverses across uneven ledges, and salt-crazed marmots intent on eating my socks.

Worse, there are clouds. Friendly and “fleeting mountains of the sky,” Muir called them. Now they are a malevolent force. Sky that was blue 30 seconds ago is thick and gray and rumbling. Condensing air rises and spreads into an ominous anvil above our heads. Lighting encroaches. Rain—or is it hail?—rattles against my helmet. My climbing partner and I set up a rappel line for a hasty retreat. As we slither down the rope, I am keenly…

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