Tilting at Windmills: A Plea to Save the Soul of Camp 4
“It’s gentrification,” he says, shaking his head beside the Camp 4 kiosk, having just read the sign explaining the experimental reservation policy. “Why am I not surprised? They’ve been trying to get rid of us since Stoneman’s Meadow.”
Dressed in tattered military fatigues and looking tired from a lifetime of struggle, Lyle looks up to Sentinel as it cuts a cloud into ribbons. “I never settled down after the war,” he says, waving goodbye to the cluster of multi-colored dome tents, white wall-tents in the back corner, as two ravens fly overhead, chortling and chuckling, wings brushing loudly through the morning air. “This was the only place where I ever really felt at home.”
Shouldering his pack and limping away into the parking lot, he stopped right where the gas pumps used to be and yelled back, “You’ll probably lose but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight.”
Starting May 21, Yosemite National Park changed the way visitors have been reserving space in Camp 4 since the 1930s. Instead of the in-person pencil-and-paper approach, you are now required to set up an online account through recreation.gov and pay a non-refundable $10 fee simply to enter the daily lottery. The new pilot program is scheduled to run through early September, supposedly to be reevaluated this fall.
Computerized reservations might seem easier and more efficient, just like chicken bolts and chipped or chiseled holds. But just because something seems easier doesn’t make it better. Not everybody, for example, is still nailing their way up the Nose or top-down rehearsing their project, leaving pigs and fixed lines all over the wall. Some things are still sacred and worth preserving, like the sanctity of big wall Wilderness and the soul of Camp 4.
In a world where reality has become more and more virtual, the natural world is becoming increasingly meaningful, invaluable, medicinal. Camp 4 is a living museum, the birthplace and cradle of modern big walling. Its wild spirit deserves a simple respect.
It almost disappeared at the turn of the century to make way for employee housing. But Tom Frost and the American Alpine Club, with help from the Access Fund, sued the Park Service into honoring Camp 4 with inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places for its “significant association with the growth and development of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley during the ‘golden years’ of pioneer mountaineering.”
At that time, in 2003, American Alpine Club Vice President Linda McMillan said, “What makes this dusty little campground so historic and unique is its freewheeling, dynamic spirit and the people drawn to it over the decades. Camp 4’s spirit epitomizes the spirit of the American West—restless, unconventional, inventive, and filled with hope.”
In the name of preserving the pioneer spirit and a piece of the American frontier, is it time for another lawsuit, to honor Camp 4 as a National Landmark? Not if the Park Service can see the value in restoring Camp 4 as a walk-in campground, instead of outsourcing the process to an over-priced online computer system run by a non-governmental multi-national corporation.
The time has come to weigh these intangible spiritual values of an endangered sacred site on public land.
Is it necessary to destroy Camp 4 in order to save it?
It’s understood that the process of waiting in line overnight to get a site had to go. But why computerize and gentrify the one campground that most exemplifies wild and renegade independence? What will happen when the server is down or the internet’s not working or the website fails to cooperate? And how is it fair to pay $10 to join a virtual lottery?
This pilot program (passed with zero public input) advantages vehicle-owning members of the leisure class with a disposable income and makes Camp 4 inhospitable to spontaneous travelers, international visitors, and people who prefer an authentic, natural experience.
[Also Read Libby Sauter: Unsafe At Speed]
Here’s the equal opportunity solution: charge $1 per person at the kiosk at 8:30 a.m. for a chance to win a site for up to six people. Raffle tickets or numbered balls can be pulled out of a hat or a rotating bingo/lottery cage. No lines and no waiting.
Why did Quixote charge the windmills? Why did Thoreau encourage us to fight against unjust laws? Why did Anderson climb Half Dome? Why did Chouinard invent the RURP? Why did Lynn Hill free the Nose?
Are we wall rats or are we rats in a cage? Do you want to surrender to big brother and the telescreen? Or would you rather see Camp 4 restored to the real world, in real time?
“Over the line, mark it zero, next frame…”
“Her life is in your hands.”
To help restore in-person reservations to Camp 4, please write or call:
Yosemite National Park Superintendent
P.O. Box 577
Yosemite, CA 95389
Mash Alexander is a Climber Steward, art teacher, and co-director of Costa Rica’s Peaceful Mountain. In addition to 18 seasons of trail work, he has taught at the Montana Academy, Cornell University, and the Monteverde Friends School. For the last three summers he’s worked as a climbing coach at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Via Ferrata. This is his first contribution to Rock and Ice.