My partner shouted at the top of his lungs, causing me to jolt to attention and look down to him and our hanging camp. We were high on El Capitan’s Shield route, and I watched helplessly as a yellow dry bag containing our garbage from the past five days – including twenty-four crushed aluminum cans – grew smaller and smaller as it plummeted toward the ground. After a full twenty seconds of airtime, our bag exploded at the base of the monolith, firing shrapnel in all directions. The blast sent echoes to Half Dome and back.
The yellow bag had been clipped in poorly and detached once I began hauling our supplies to the next station. (In climbing terms: the dry bag buckle was mistakenly clipped into the taut docking line and thus came loose when my partner lowered out the bags.) It was March and, fortunately, we had the wall to ourselves, otherwise the error could have killed someone. Our team was relatively inexperienced and also greatly relieved that we did not drop something vital, like a sleeping bag. Dark clouds lurked and when we finally reached the top we were pounded by a violent storm. We fought our way down the slippery descent in the dark, and somehow found our way to the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we slept on the floor next to a crackling fireplace. In the morning, we exited quickly, forgetting about the yellow bag debacle, and drove back to school without cleaning up our mess.