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Gripping mountain tales abound in ‘Yosemite Epics’

Gripping mountain tales abound in ‘Yosemite Epics’

Purchase a copy of “Yosemite Epics” at, or buy a copy in person at: • Hayward Library, 6 p.m. on Oct. 3 • Redwood City Barnes and Noble, 4 p.m. on Oct. 15 • Pleasanton Li...

POSTED September 9, 2011 10:20 p.m.

“And so there I was, exhausted on the last pitch in complete darkness. We didn’t have headlamps, of course. It was really hard to see where to go or how to place any gear. I had to feel by hand the shape of the crack…When I could use protection, the placements were so bad that I considered them pieces of decoration rather than security.

“I was so nervous, not only because it was run out and hard climbing. It was also over a ledge where a fall could cause a bad injury. ‘Don’t fall’ was the theme in those days. That’s where I learned that first rule of climbing wisdom.”

The previous passage is champion climber Lynn Hill’s recollection of her daunting effort on Yosemite’s Astroman in September 1983. Hill’s story, titled “Climbing Wisdom,” is just one of the 23 harrowing tales recounted in the book “Yosemite Epics: Tales of Adventure from America’s Greatest Playground” by Matt Johanson, and illustrated by Christopher Hampson.

In his third book Johanson, who is an avid hiker and can often be seen climbing the majestic peaks of Yosemite, brings rare stores of legendary climbers and adventurers to life.

The following is a Q & A with the Castro Valley author:

TJ: Your last two books were about the San Francisco Giants. What made you decide to write a book about Yosemite adventures?

JOHANSON: I love visiting Yosemite and have met lots of great people there. I realized that many of them had amazing stories involving rock climbing and other activities. Putting them on paper to share with others seemed like a perfect way to combine my interests in writing and the outdoors.

TJ: How did you decide which stories to include in the book?

JOHANSON: I looked for stories that reflect the spirit of adventure and also that ended more or less successfully. I stayed away from well-known stories that were already published elsewhere because I wanted the book to be fresh and original. My favorite is Noah Kaufman’s story, “Miracle.” His climbing partner fell and snapped his rope halfway up El Capitan. By all rights, he should have died, but miraculously he landed on a ledge unharmed. That alone would be a fascinating story, and Noah’s perspective on what the experience taught him make it even better.

TJ: The stories in your book all tell of harrowing experiences that had happy endings. Yosemite has seen a higher than usual number of fatalities this year. Do you think people underestimate the dangers involved in hiking and the power of nature?

JOHANSON: There are tragedies every year and underestimating danger is their common theme. I avoided fatalities in the book to make it pleasant to read though I tried to highlight the lessons learned to make the stories instructive and to promote safety.

TJ: What is your favorite personal Yosemite experience?

JOHANSON: That’s hard because I have lots of good ones, but I’d have to say the trans-Sierra ski trek I completed with two good friends in 2002. We skied 35 miles from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley over five perfect days in April. The snow-covered high country was exquisite and almost totally deserted. We had the mountains all to ourselves and felt like kings of the world. 

TJ: What will be your next project?

JOHANSON: I just finished updating my earlier book, “Game of My Life: San Francisco Giants” to include the 2010 championship season. The new edition will come out this fall. After that, I hope to write another book but haven’t decided what about yet. It may be on the Giants or Yosemite or maybe on something else entirely.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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