This is an excerpt story originally published for Sidetracked Magazine. For more incredible stories purchase an issue in our shop.
Exploring the Geology of Stories with Jared Leto & Jimmy Chin
Written by Tom Hill // Photography by Jimmy Chin
Produced in Partnership with Gucci & The North Face
Climbing amongst the rock towers of Joshua Tree National Park, Jared Leto and Jimmy Chin seek their place in the geology of stories that fill this ancient landscape – stories that inspire us, that fill us with a primal awe of the unknown, and that help us to understand the meaning of adventure.
The lip of the top-out is a single move away. The climber reaches behind his back and dips his clammy right hand into the chalk bag. His movements are slow and precise. Each point of contact feels so tenuous, so interdependent that even the slightest readjustment could break the spell. He carefully replaces the hand. The hold is no wider than a couple of matchsticks. Less than half the top pad of his fingertips. He positions one finger at a time, laying the next on top of the last, finally wrapping his thumb over the top. Remove the left hand; repeat the process. Breathe. The arid desert air combines with the rising tension in his body to leave his lips, mouth, tongue dry. The rope runs straight and true below him, a bright ribbon against mottled beige hues of rock. As solid as his last piece of protection is, it’s far enough away that he’d be lucky to avoid a groundfall if he makes a mistake now.The world rotates; shadows grow longer and blacker. The rock glows fire-red, radiating heat as the air cools. He can’t stay here forever. Or can he? Just become part of the rock. Watch a million more sunsets. Be climbed over by others. Feel the sweat of their palms. Hear their whoops of elation as they pull over on to the top of the crag. Why shouldn’t he stay here forever?He knows it is time to move. ‘Watch me!’The instruction to his belayer is half shout, half croak, but he moves with intent, bringing his left foot high and rocking his weight over onto a small imperfection. He slaps for the top with his right hand. There is no ‘thank god’ hold, just an easing of the gradient. ‘Trust the friction,’ he mutters to himself as he brings his other hand to meet it.A silhouette catches his eye as he swings a leg up. Then the stench. A rotting, putrid odour that fills his nostrils. The climber wretches involuntarily as the creature comes closer. It almost moves like a man, but the proportions are out – broader and longer limbed, each step somehow languid yet impossibly fast. In that instant it is standing directly above the climber. ‘Hello?’ coughs the climber. The Yucca Man simply growls.Fifty feet below, the belayer grows impatient. As if the climb weren’t hard enough, he’ll now need to second it in the half-light of dusk. And just what is the climber doing up there? It doesn’t take that long to set up a belay. Just as he is about to make his feeling perfectly clear, the end of the rope falls at his feet: a frayed mess, the white core stained blood red.An inhuman bellow echoes against the walls of the Joshua Tree boulders, the sound chasing the belayer as he flees.
For as long as humans have communicated, we have told stories – myriad tales, covering every conceivable subject, but it is often postulated that there are only seven types of plot. The protagonist, location, and details change, but we repeat the fundamentals over and over again from cave paintings to religious texts, comic books to literary classics. Yet we never get bored. We reread books, retell tales, find new ways of articulating the same basic messages of humanity over and over. Storytelling is part of what defines us as individuals and a species.
Whether it’s the Yucca Man or Sasquatch or Yeti, there are legends of half-man half-beast creatures wandering our mountains and forests the world over. They are more than simple monster yarns designed to scare us. Each taps into our desire for mystery and what-ifs. There is something appealing about the idea of an as-yet-undiscovered creature out there, regardless of how frightening it might be. The Yucca Man and his cousins symbolise the intangible danger that our wild places can represent. He bundles up our rational and irrational fears into a being: something that can be named, fled from, but never conquered. And, like all stories, they connect us. That connection goes beyond the emotions elicited by the story itself, but is inherently tied to the act of storytelling. In its most basic spoken-word form, we need to be together for a tale to be told. Sitting around a campfire, making eye contact. Listening. Confirmation that for all our differences we have the same basic fears and hopes.....