[The following story is a Miwok creation story of Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La (El Capitan) as told by Julia Parker. Born to a family of the Coast Miwok and Kashaya Pomo tribes, Julia moved to Yosemite in 1948 with her husband Ralph Parker, an Ahwahneechee descendent. From 1960 to 2015, Julia worked as a cultural ambassador at the Yosemite Museum, where she shared stories of the Indigenous people of Yosemite and demonstrated the art of basketmaking.
This story originally appeared in a feature about climber Lonnie Kauk. The article follows Kauk from his childhood growing up in Yosemite to his journey to make the first redpoint of his father’s route Magic Line. The article appears in Issue 66, which is now available in newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Alpinist.com. Be sure to pick up Alpinist 66 for all the goodness!–Ed.]
LONG AGO IN THE YOSEMITE VALLEY, Mother Bear and her two little bears were walking along the river. Mother Bear noticed that her two little bears were getting tired, so she told them, “I’m going to go look for some berries and seeds. Sit on that flat rock over there until I come back.” When Mother Bear left, the two little bears played around and splashed in the water until they got tired. And so they sat on the rock to wait for Mother Bear to return, just like she had told them. Soon they fell asleep. But as they were sleeping, my goodness, the rock began to grow. And it grew, and it grew, and it grew well above the trees and up into the sky by the clouds. And the two little bears slept on and on; they felt so comfortable.
When Mother Bear came back to the river, she didn’t see her little bears. She looked on the rocks and searched in the bushes, but she couldn’t find them! She sat down and began to cry. And so all of her friends of the forest came to help her look around for the bears. Big Bird flew way up high near the clouds and saw the little bears on top of the rock. Then Big Bird went down and he told his friends that he found the two little bears.
“How could we get the little bears down?” Mother Bear wondered. Deer, who had sharp hooves, said, “I could climb that rock.” He ran for the rock and tried to climb it, but his hooves were so sharp that he kept sliding back down the rock. And if you look today you’ll see a lot of black marks at the bottom of the rock. All of the other friends tried, but they couldn’t climb the rock.
They were all feeling sad, and so Mother Bear said a prayer and sang a little song. And then Mother Bear felt better because music always made her happy. Then a tiny friend, Inchworm, came to her and said, “Well, maybe I can help you.” All the animals looked at him and laughed. “You’re too little,” they said. But Mother Bear said, “Let’s give him a chance. We all need to have a chance to do something and to help each other.”
And so the animals sang a song and did a prayer again. Little Inchworm went over to the rock. “Everybody tried to climb straight up the rock. I’m going to try it from the side,” he said. Then he started to climb. And as he climbed he sang this song: Tu-Tok, Tu-Tok, Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La; Tu-Tok, Tu-Tok, Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La. And he climbed that rock, back and forth, back and forth. He was afraid he was going to fall, so he sang the song and did a prayer. The song gave him his strength again, and he climbed up all the way to the top of the rock.
The two little bears had started to cry. But when they saw their little friend Inchworm, they were so happy. Inchworm said, “Jump on my back and hang on tight, and I’ll take you down to your mother.” And so he guided them down to the bottom, where all the friends were waiting. The animals were all happy to see Inchworm and the two little bears. And so the rock was named for little Inchworm, Tu-Tok-A-Nu-La, who climbed up the big rock and brought his friends down.
[This story originally appeared in Alpinist 66 as a sidebar to a feature story titled “Magic Line.” The issue is now available in newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Alpinist.com. Be sure to pick up Alpinist 66 for all the goodness!–Ed.]