We had been getting hungrier and hungrier for days. The kind of hunger you can build up after 9 days spent working your ass off on El Cap. Hunger was mixed with the elation of finishing our first route, our first attempt on the big stone. The intensity of every waking moment suddenly lifted when the three of us pulled over the summit on a perfect morning in early May. We had been on a route, the Muir Wall, that was not frequently climbed in those days. Storms, loose rock, and inexperience slowed us down. We persevered, with little choice, inching our way toward the summit, awed by the air below our feet on the upper reaches of the wall.
After dragging our 4 haul bags onto the summit, we set about drinking a few beers we carried. Shortly we were digging though dirty food bags, searching for any remaining morsels of food. There was precious little left. The release of tension from reaching the summit only stoked the fires of craving. I felt empty in a way I probably never had, and probably never will again. With no relief, we finished a few crackers and a greasy wad of swiss cheese we had opened a couple of days earlier.
After a bit of rest, and checking out the view from the top, there was nothing to do but start packing our gear and begin the long hike and rappels to get back to the floor of Yosemite Valley. We moved our gear to the nearest clear spot, away from the cliff edge, and onto a perfect, flat granite slab. I sorted gear and coiled ropes. A sparkle caught my eye. Under a small boulder at the edge of the slab was something metal. I investigated. It was a standard tin can, tucked into the shade of the boulder. Clearly it had been left by other climbers for just this moment. It was kind of can that might hold corn or peas or beef stew! But there was a catch. The label was missing. The can was bald and shiny. A cylinder of smooth metal with a few rust spots. How long had it been there? What was inside?
My partner Jack wasted not a second, digging through our haul bag, grabbing the can opener and peeling off the top. A brown and orange mass was revealed, with peach colored globs of congealed fat speckling the surface. It was disgusting.
"I think it's dog food."
"Maybe it's chili!"
"It smells like some sort of meat."
And so Karen and Jack and I sat on the sunny slab, atop the best rock wall in the world, and with rusty pitons and swollen gray fingers we dug into the brown cylinder. We took turns so that each of us could savor the bounty of the can. I don't remember a lot of meals from that long ago, but I remember that one.