Rock Climbing

Remembering Fred Beckey

The above trailer is for a documentary: Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey.

Fred Beckey died on Monday, he was 94. Beckey was one of the greatest mountaineers of all time and he was also quite a character.

Robert McFadden at The New York Times does a great job of summarizing Beckey’s amazing life in climbing: Fred Beckey, Conqueror and Chronicler of North American Peaks, Dies at 94.

In the late 1970’s I went to a presentation/slide show that Beckey gave at REI in Seattle. It was amazing, less for the number of first ascents he’d done at that point (and since then he’s done a lot more), more for his lifestyle which was the epitome of the climbing bum, known among climbers as a “dirtbag” lifestyle.

At that point Yvon Chouinard and Royal Robbins, two other pioneers from Fred’s era had already moved away from climbing into business startups (Patagonia and Royal Robbins clothing). But, Fred was all about climbing. He wasn’t a people person either, he was rather gruff during the Q&A after the slide show I went to.

These days climbing is a totally different sport than the sport Fred Beckey took part in: he didn’t compete, he had no sponsors, and he didn’t really care if he was well known beyond the world of serious climbers. He definitely was well known in the world of serious climbers who know the history of their sport and he will be sorely missed.

Here’s Fred Beckey’s Wikipedia entry.

Update: I heard from my friend Chris Jones who shared a Beckey story:

I once got one of Beckey’s famous I-need-a-climbing-partner calls, while he was on his way from Seattle to Smith Rock. This was one of his things – he’d head off somewhere with a climb in mind and go through his call list on the way, and by the time he was there he’d have at least one (sometimes several, just in case) partners lined up. I somehow ended up on his call list for Smith Rock, and he wanted to climb Monkey Face by the Pioneer Route (he would have been 82, though at the time I thought he was closer to 70).

I met him at Smith, but it started to snow. As it started to snow, he asked “What do ya think about the weather?” This was exactly one of the lines he was famous for, heard by many climbing partners through the years. I had read about his penchant for this particular line, and recognized it as he said it. But oblivious that I might have this recognition, he was just asking (for real), what I thought about the weather. We decided the weather was too poor (I pretended this wasn’t completely obvious), so we didn’t do the climb. Right about then a second potential climbing partner showed up, so he had arranged a backup in case I didn’t work out (or maybe I was the backup and I just got there first).

So, I didn’t actually get to climb with Fred, nor did Fred get to climb Monkey Face that day, but I did get to hear him say “What do ya think about the weather?”. And that was better than doing the climb.

Valley Uprising

Valley Uprising is a well produced, entertaining, and informative history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley, California.

I climbed there in the mid to late ’70s, know this history well and I think they got it right which is amazing for an old “trad” like me to say.

Excellent archival images and footage, great interviews with many of the historic figures (Steve Roper is hilarious), toward the present show extreme free climbing and free soloing on big walls, timely given what Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson have just accomplished on the Dawn Wall on El Capitan.

If you’re a Yosemite climber from any part of it’s history, you’ll enjoy this excellent documentary. Even my wife watched the entire thing and I was pretty much done with climbing by the time I met her, although we visited Yosemite Valley in 1990 as a family.

You can buy the DVD from Sender Films or on Amazon.

Rooster Rock, Julia King, and a climbing trip that changed my life

Preface

I recently scanned over 400 slides. I shot most of them on movie reversal film I bulk rolled to save money. The upside was I saved money. The downside was and is, they’re not in great shape compared with the (few) Kodachrome slides I shot. I recently had them all scanned with ScanCafe and while my slides were a mess (very dirty) the service did a good job on them.

This is the first of many posts telling some of the stories the slides illustrate. What I’ve learned in looking at these scans is that in order to tell a story you don’t need a perfect image, just a good enough image to illustrate the story. Of course, it’s only in retrospect that a story can be built out of images like these. Interesting to think about going forward.

Backstory

In the late 1970’s I got deeply into rock climbing. I started small and local in Eugene, Oregon and eventually did quite a bit of climbing all over the Northwest and in Yosemite Valley, California. Those were great years and I’ll be posting lots of images from many of the climbs I did back then. I shot most of them with one of two Olympus XA cameras I had back then (a fixed prime lens clamshell compact rangefinder camera).

I taught climbing classes for the Eugene, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and did a bit of private guiding on routes too remote or difficult for classes. In 1981 I dropped out of the climbing scene and pretty much everything else for a while to try to get to the bottom of a problem I’d had my entire life: dyslexia. In those days I wasn’t much of a multi-tasker: I found it difficult to do the work I was doing researching my reading and writing problems and at the same time carry on the rest of my life, so, I stopped everything until I got a handle on the reading and writing problems.

Richard and Olympia typewriter

Richard writing on his Olympia manual typewriter.

One of my most significant early tools was an Olympia manual typewriter. It solved my handwriting problems completely and for the first time in my life I could read my own writing. And, it allowed me to write without pain in my hands from bearing down too hard. But, the typewriter was just the beginning.

Julia King

When I came up for air in 1982 I decided to put an ad up at the local climbing spot that I was guiding again. I needed money and for me, this was a way to make some.

Richard's climbing instruction flyer

Richard’s climbing instruction flier.

Not long after I put up the ad I got a call from a women named Julia King. She had been on a mountaineering expedition on Mt. Jefferson in the Oregon Cascades and had watched as her then boyfriend slid down a snowfield to his death. That had shaken her up so badly that she got out of climbing. She wanted back in and wanted a gentle instructor to take her up a climb to break the ice.

We made a plan to drive up to a climbing spot called The Menagerie which is a collection of odd shaped rock formations in the western foothills of the Oregon, Cascades. The formations have names like Rooster Rock, Chicken Rock, and Hen Rock. The most well known climb there that I’d done numerous times was on Rooster Rock and that’s what Julia and I planned to start off with to see how she did.

Rooster Rock

Rooster Rock

We drove up to The Menagerie and hiked in to Rooster Rock. To be honest, even though I made this trip many times I have no memory of the various logging roads, trails, or route finding to get to this place. But, in those days I knew it all well. I carried a rucksack with a small rack of gear and we probably only brought a single rope as the rappel off of Rooster rock is short on the uphill side.

I have no particular memory of this but it’s a long enough drive so after picking Julia up, we had a few hours in my VW bus to get to know one another. Knowing what I know about her now, my guess is the conversation was wide ranging. Even though I’ve not seen Julia in 25 or more years, she remains one of the most interesting and brilliant people I’ve ever known (my wife has met her and agrees), but, I didn’t know any of this then, just that we were off for a climbing adventure and I was hoping to make it as much fun and as easy as possible for her.

Julia King under Rooster Rock

Julia King sorting slings and flaking rope under Rooster Rock.

The climb was uneventful as I remember it thirty two years later. Julia had climbing experience and knew about rope handling and belaying. Still, she was nervous and that meant I did a lot of talking to reassure her that I was well aware of her and taking good care of us while I led and she followed.

This climb was probably two pitches with a belay on a ledge between them although there are many routes on Rooster Rock and I don’t really remember which one we did. No doubt an easy one.

My foot and Julia King on Rooster Rock

Looking down at Julia belaying while I led the first pitch.

Julia King belaying on Rooster Rock

Julia setting up the belay for the second pitch.

At the top we sat on a ledge and had some food and water and talked both about her experiences climbing in Oregon and trekking in Nepal and my experiences of the past few years coming to terms with dyslexia.

Julia King on top of Rooster Rock

Julia on top of Rooster Rock.

The connection

In our discussion Julia mentioned that she thought that given the types of problems I was having with writing, writing with a computer would solve some problems for me. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard about the effects of editing text electronically, but Julia explained what she thought would make it work for me in a way that was both clear and convincing. She said that her then boyfriend Greg Estes had an IBM PC and I should stop by their house when we got back to Eugene to try writing with it.

I don’t remember talking much more about this on our walk out and drive home. Climbing is an exciting thing to do and the purpose of our trip was to get Julia over her fear and it seemed like we’d done that. She was extremely happy which made me happy. And, I was happy that after a period of time away from climbing I could still climb well and safely lead someone up up a moderate climb. Most importantly, I’d met an amazing person who would remain my close friend for many years to come.

programmer's journal

I can’t remember if I went to their house and tried Greg’s computer that very day or a day later but it was very soon after we returned to Eugene. Greg Estes was a DBase programmer who wrote and published a magazine called Programmer’s Journal which Julia helped edit and lay out. They’d both trekked extensively in Nepal where they met and they were both my kind of people: informal, well informed, easy going, and worldly.

After meeting Greg, he booted up his IBM PC (no hard disk or PC AT yet) and put in a disk with a simple writing program on it. He typed in the command to launch the program and backed away from the computer, leaving a green screen with a flashing cursor and a keyboard.

He told me to sit down and type something out on the keyboard. At this point you should know that even though I could tell right away that there was little chance of humiliating myself in front of these people, I was petrified, not of the computer, but of exposing anyone else to my spelling and writing. Even though I’d spent the previous two years hunting and pecking on a typewriter and my writing had improved tremendously during that time, it was still crude and I was still sensitive about it.

I wish I could remember the first sentence I wrote but it might have been something like, “hello my name is Richard.” Whatever it was I made a few mistakes which was good as it gave Greg something to teach me with. He told me to use the arrow keys to back the cursor up (the term cursor was new to me at that point) and put it just after the problem I wanted to fix, then use the backspace key to delete the problem letter and type the correct letter, fixing the problem.

Anyone reading this in 2014 takes all of this for granted and has for decades, but back then only a small number of people had experienced electronic editing and they tended to be of the nerdy persuasion. Greg talked me through a bit more writing and editing doing a few different things, then he sat down and demonstrated some other things which blew my mind.

We’re talking rudimentary word processing here, nothing fancy. But in those days just a “block move” (cutting and pasting) was a big deal.

Then he and Julia walked out of the room to fix dinner leaving me with the computer and writing software. I continued to experiment and pretty soon formed a thought that has stuck with me to this day:

Writing with a pen or a typewriter is very much like sculpting stone, the consequences of making a mistake involve a complete rewrite. Writing with a computer is very much like working with clay because writing/editing and printing are separate pieces of the process, the consequences of making a mistake are eliminated because the writing remains plastic and editable at all times.

Note: I have both a BFA and an MFA in ceramics and while I was pretty much done with ceramics at that point, working with clay remained and remains an important piece of my life.

I would later go on to write numerous articles about “mistake tolerant tools and processes” comparing older analog tools with their newer digital counterparts. I had a gut feeling about this that very first day but it was unformed, just excitement and wonder.

We had dinner, talked more about it and about lots of other stuff and Greg offered to help me if I decided to get a computer. It was an incredible evening.

In the next few days I went to my local bookstore and did some research and poured through The Whole Earth Catalog which was just beginning to mention computers and got a copy of Peter McWilliams’ The Word Processing Book. In the end, I decided to get an IBM PC, MS DOS and WordStar mostly because I had Greg as a local resource and I really liked him.

Richard and IBM PC

Richard writing with his IBM PC, image by Gary Sharp

Writing with my computer

Once I got set up using my new computer one of the first things I did was a lot of enthusiastic writing on what it was like to write with a computer.

whole earth software reviewsoftalk for IBM PC

I did a piece for The Whole Earth Software Review, Issue #1, Spring, 1984: Word Processing Computers as Remedial Writing Tools. I also did a piece for the June, 1984 issue of Softalk for the IBM PC Personal Computer: Bridge to Clarity, the computer as a compensatory writing tool. And I did various software review pieces for Greg and Julia’s magazine, Programmer’s Journal reviewing various writing and editing software for the IBM PC.

I did a lot of other writing as well, some of which was published in both tech and learning related magazines I’ve long since forgotten.

Here are two later pieces that were posted online describing that early process:

Tools for People With Writing Problems

How computers change the writing process for People with Learning Disabilities

Greg was a member of the Eugene IBM PC user’s group (he may have started it) and I joined up for a while as well.

During this time a woman named Norma Fuller who lived near Anchorage, Alaska read one of my pieces and called me up to see about bringing me up to Alaska to do a series of workshops for a group of dyslexic adults there. I taught there numerous times and made a great connection with her and others in Alaska (that will be another post with more scanned slides).

During the first few years I got involved with computers I was not only writing about my experience as a dyslexic writing with a computer, I was also trying out lots of writing and spelling/grammar support software which was pretty crude in those days compared with what it’s like now. During one of my trips to a computer store in Eugene, I got to play around with Apple’s new Lisa computer. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but it was definitely interesting. At $10,000 it was far out of my reach but it did get me thinking about another way of using these new tools.

IBM PC to Macintosh

In mid-1984, Greg and I decided to go down to San Francisco to attend the West Coast Computer Faire. Greg was trying to drum up new subscribers to Programmer’s Journal and I was always up for a trip to San Francisco and I’d never been to a computer trade show which were relatively new.

I don’t remember much about the trade show except that at some point I lost Greg and stumbled into Apple Computer, Inc’s booth which consisted of a fifteen foot 128K Macintosh with a projector in it such that a person operating a real Macintosh on a podium off to the side could demonstrate on it. The Macintosh had recently been introduced so it was new but the booth, amazingly, wasn’t all that crowded.

The person running the demo was Andy Hertzfeld and much of the first Macintosh team was hanging out in the booth, including Steve Jobs who I recognized immediately.

I watched the demo for a bit, then I walked up to Jobs and told him I was planning another trip to Alaska to work with adults with learning disabilities, I was taking twenty Compaq computers and I thought it would be great to have a Macintosh along so that we could see what LD adults could do with its mouse and graphical user interface.

Jobs loved the idea, called Mike Murray over (Murray was the first marketing manager for the Macintosh at Apple) and told him to send me a Macintosh immediately. Jobs gave me his card (with AppleLink email address) and told me to get back to him with whatever happened in Alaska.

I eventually found Greg and told him what had happened. In those days it was still possible to meet Steve Jobs in an Apple trade show booth and while it sounds amazing in retrospect, I did have small a sense of how important that encounter was. But, I had no sense of what was to come: my eventual migration from PC to Mac, starting the Eugene Macintosh User’s Group, presenting at numerous conferences for Apple on the Macintosh and LD in the next 6 months, moving to Connecticut to start the first Mac lab in the country for dyslexic high school students (with Apple’s backing), writing, editing, and publishing The Macintosh Lab Monitor with international circulation (also with Apple’s backing), meeting my wife at that school, continued consulting for Apple for the next twenty years, a few more meetings with Steve Jobs, many hundreds of workshops and presentations on the Macintosh in education all over the world, and much more.

Julia King, Richard Wanderman

Julia and Richard after the Rooster Rock climb.

Epilogue

Looking at these pictures of Julia and me on that climb brings back a flood of memories and what’s almost telescopic about it all is that the tool I’m writing this on and viewing the digital images on (a computer) is one that she helped lead me to and one that she and Greg were very early adopters of. They were both out in front of the digital revolution. I caught up fast but these two people were my introduction.

Julia also taught me how to make “sherpa tea” (she guided treks in Nepal before we met) and to this day I think of her when I make it. Of course, like many things, she was out in front of the wave: now chai is everywhere but back then…

Wherever you are Julia, thank you. You too Greg.

El Capitan, the film

El Capitan, the film documents three climbers doing the classic Nose route in 1968 on the largest rock formation in Yosemite Valley, California: El Capitan.

This film is not full of hero shots, not full of free soloing and is humble compared with many modern films on Yosemite climbing (see embedded videos below). But, it documents in amazing detail what it’s like to climb the Nose route on El Capitan, still one of the classic big wall rock climbs on earth by three (four including the cameraman) pioneering and excellent climbers.

The cinematography by Glen Denny is incredible as is the sound reproduction. This climb was made before the invention of “clean climbing” so the climbers are carrying pitons and hammers and a lot of heavy gear and that gear clanks around, and all of those clanks are recorded and in the movie. Of course, Glenn Denny also did the climb with a lot of heavy film and sound gear which was and remains a feat in itself.

Here’s a great history of the project and review of the movie by Michael Ybarra for Alpinist: El Capitan: The Movie. Highly recommended.

I’ve owned the VHS (videotape) version of the movie El Capitan for a long time and I was extremely happy to find that the film was painstakingly transferred to digital video including blue-ray.

I climbed extensively in Yosemite ten years after this movie was shot. For more on my climbing history, see A Climbing Story. Yosemite was a magical place before it got overrun by too many tourists and too many climbers. No doubt it’s still magical but I like to think I experienced it during a more innocent time.

Yvon Chouinard and Glen Denny’s book: Yosemite in the Sixties has photographs of many of the pioneers of Yosemite climbing who were active just before this film was made. You can see more of Glen’s photographs here: Glen Denny.

Buy the DVD or Blue-ray of El Capitan

Western Eye Press
Amazon

A more modern El Capitan climb of the Nose route by Mark and Janelle Smiley:

The Nose on El Capitan from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

A french team does the Nose route (the GoPro footage while a bit dizzying is useful for seeing what a climber sees):

The Nose – El Capitan from Capexpe on Vimeo.

Here’s Mark and Janelle Smiley on the Salathe Wall route on El Capitan (a more difficult climb):

Salathe – El Capitan, Yosemite from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

A Climbing Story

Climbers at the Columns, Eugene, Oregon

Climbers at The Columns, Eugene, Oregon, 1975. Left to right: Pete Pollard, Jude Pollard, Chris Jones, Dale Allyn, Richard Wanderman. Picture taken by Faye Nakamura.

Note: This piece was written in 1999 and originally posted in 2004.

In 1975 I hung out at The Columns, a local climbing place in Eugene, Oregon. The Columns is an old quarry of columnar basalt that’s right in the middle of town and was cleaned up and turned into an outdoor climbing gym. It’s a great place to climb.

One day I was there with a bunch of folks, talking, climbing, resting. It was a busy day as Columns days went; there were people on many of the climbs, some leading, some top-roping.

An old Datsun pickup pulled up and I noticed because it was beat up, rusty, and had the back cut off with a small flatbed on it. A middle-aged guy got out. He was in city clothes and did not look the part of a climber. He reached back in behind the seat and pulled out an ancient looking pair of old, beat-up EBs with duct tape all over them. EBs were early climbing shoes that did not have sticky rubber on them which made climbing with them much harder than current shoes. Even 15 years ago anyone owning, let alone wearing EBs for climbing was from an earlier generation of climbers. I had had a pair of EBs myself as well as the earlier “klettershoes” which were like modern day hiking boots: stiff, non-stick soles not so good for friction although decent for edging and aid. I appreciated what climbing in EBs was like and the situation with this guy and his EBs looked interesting so I continued to watch him. Note that now (1999) shoes are like suction cups compared with EBs.

He sat down on the berm separating the parking area from the climbing area and took off his shoes and put on the EBs. He hardly looked up at the rock or the folks around him.

This was definitely interesting.

There were some very good climbers up on the rock with hardly any room for another rope or for this guy to play around on the bottom of the rock. None of us knew it at the time but some of the climbers up on the rock that day were to go on to become some of the best rock climbers in the world. That day they were agonizing over relatively easy climbing problems.

The guy waited until some folks moved, then quietly, with no eye contact with anyone else, left his shoes on the berm and walked over to one of the harder climbs at The Columns. He stood under it for a second, contemplating or planning or praying. He had no ropes or any equipment except the old shoes on his feet, no gymnastic chalk or harness. Nothing. And, he was in city clothes.

It should be noted that a few of the very best climbers free soloed climbs at The Columns in 1974. This means that they did the climbs without the protection of a rope. At that point no one had ever seen anyone free solo the climb that this guy was under. This added to the intensity of the moment.

This particular climb was a near vertical crack that started out about finger-width and ended up too wide for a fist. Because it was columnar basalt there were no other holds besides the crack. Climbers use a technique on cracks called “jamming” in which they insert fingers or hands and toes or feet (depending on the width of the crack) in the crack and twist the inserted body part so that it will hold body weight until another body part can be jammed in higher. In this way a climber moves up cracks. For the uninitiated it can be an awkward and sometimes painful technique. The closer the crack is to vertical the more weight there is on the inserted body part. The climb this guy was doing was about 40 feet long, very close to dead vertical and it leaned a bit to one side. Even harder.

All of us regulars at The Columns had tried this crack. Few of us had done it at that point although many of us, myself included, would go on to do it eventually. It was what climbers routinely call a “test piece” in that once you did it you were initiated into a more select group of climbers called “hard men” (yes, women were initiated into that group too).

The other significant piece of history about this crack is that many years after this event I tore my left rotator cuff leading it and ended my semi-serious climbing career.

So, the particular crack that this city guy decided to have a go at was significant and by now others had noticed the disaster that was about to happen.

Many of us felt responsible for the place and for the safety of the people who climbed at it and I know a few minds, mine included, were trying to figure out how to stop this guy without causing a fight.

Then without warning he was moving up the crack. I’d never seen anyone climb like him before: smooth, effortless, the best jamming technique I’d ever seen. He moved up the crack as easily as walking on level ground. It was almost like levitation.

My jaw had dropped and I noticed quite a few other open mouths as well.

He never stopped moving. When he got to the top he walked off the side of the cliff and back down to where his shoes were sitting, took off the EBs and put on his shoes and was back in his truck and gone. This entire event took all of 10 minutes from the time he drove up until he was gone.

I turned to my friend Chris and asked if he knew who this guy was? Chris said the guy was Wayne Arrington, a climber who had been a pioneer of Oregon rock climbing over 10 years earlier and had dropped out of sight, helicopter logging in Alaska or something like that.

Arrington was legendary in Eugene climbing circles as one of the few people who was crazy enough to fly a helicopter upside-down in Vietnam. I have no idea if this was true but the thought of it coupled with some of the climbs he had put up was enough to make him a legend.

All I can tell you is that what I witnessed that day was spectacular. Not just the climbing but the way he drove up, was so calm and unconcerned, did the climb easily, and left without a word.

This was the definition of cool.

I knew I wasn’t a good enough climber, nor secure enough personally to do what he’d done. But, I secretly wished it had been me.

Arrington had done his early climbing in Oregon with a guy named Bob Ashworth who, after pioneering hard rock climbing in Oregon had gone down to Yosemite and stayed. Arrington had done some walls down there, including a very early solo of El Capitan, but had then dropped out of the climbing scene. Ashworth had stayed around and had become a guide and teacher at the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Ashworth had been my first climbing teacher five years before. I knew the names well because I had climbed many of their routes in both the Cascades and in Eastern Oregon. To us at The Columns these guys were legendary and larger than life.

Ashworth, my teacher, was also a legend in climbing circles because while he was guiding in Yosemite during the summer he was also running the ski rental place there in the winter. One winter a small plane carrying a very precious (and illegal) cargo went down in a lake in a high canyon east of Yosemite Valley. It is said that Ashworth along with another climber went out and bought a load of equipment (scuba gear, metal cutting chain saws…) and went up to “salvage” the cargo. How much of it he got (if any) or what he did with it none of us knew. We did know that he continued to work in Yosemite and live out of the camper on the back of his pickup truck. Still, the story helped make him a legend.

Arrington had put up a climb I had done recently in the western Cascades called “Barrad Dur.” This climb, which I had done with a much better climber than me (I went along for the ride, so to speak) was so scary and so intense that it really made me appreciate what Arrington had done so many years ago.

So, seeing this guy at The Columns, even as an old, retired climber, was a cherished moment.

And, most importantly, the way he had done this hard crack climb, a climb that he had been the first to climb, helped cement his status.

15 Years later after I’d stopped climbing, had settled down in Connecticut far away from real mountains, and had a family and a new life, I found myself on a family vacation (not climbing) in Yosemite Park. There was my family: my wife and two step-daughters, and lots of friends, including two friends with severe physical disabilities. One of these friends was on crutches and one was in a power wheelchair. In all there were about 15 people in our group and we were definitely not climbers.

I was the tour guide for this group because I’d spent so many summers in Yosemite in my youth climbing and living out of the back of my VW bus.

I thought it would be a good idea to show this group Toulomne Meadows and I thought the place to go would be where I had done one of my first climbing classes with Bob Ashworth many years earlier: a small dome near the highway called Puppy Dome.

To get to Puppy dome is an easy walk for an able-bodied person but our friends with physical disabilities needed a bit of help to get in there. When we all finally got settled on a small river near the dome it was about mid-day. It was a wonderful day and various members of our group scrambled around on the rocks and swam in the river. No one mentioned anything about climbing and I thought it best, for some reason, just to enjoy the day without boring everyone with stories of Bob Ashworth and my first free rappel off Puppy Dome.

Eventually a group of real climbers showed up and started bouldering around on low stuff near the dome. I watched them from a distance, jealous of their youth and the fact that they didn’t have a bunch of “city slickers” with them.

They spent much of the afternoon working on a short boulder problem which looked quite hard. One of them would go up on it, struggle, yell some profanity, then fall off onto the dirt below.

As members of my group dropped off into afternoon naps I wandered over to these climbers and watched the action more closely. They were so graceful and I had little memory that I’d ever been able to move my body that well.

While watching I remembered something very clearly: I had been on that boulder in years past. Not my first time to Puppy dome but on a later trip after I was already a more experienced climber. As I wracked my now forgetful brain for what the solution to this boulder problem was, or, if I’d actually made it to the top, the climbers noticed me (I must have looked like a kid looking into a candy store window). They looked at me the way I must have looked at tourists when I was young, in shape, had all the right climbing clothing and paraphernalia, and was just plain cool.

I got the thought in my head that it would be fun to try this boulder problem and I very politely asked if I might have a go at it. They seemed to not hear my question but I thought I heard one of them snigger and of course, knew they were sniggering at me for being so ignorant to think that I could even get off the ground, let alone do this problem. After all, I was in Bermuda shorts, a polo shirt, socks (not knee socks thank god) and hiking shoes.

As they were packing up to leave I decided that I might as well give it a try, I had nothing to lose and I might enjoy myself although I too thought I had little chance of even getting off the ground on this very hard problem. I was also worried that I’d hurt my out of shape body by putting too much effort into doing this thing to look good in front of these climbers.

I walked over in my hiking shoes which they noticed right away, rolling their eyes and now sniggering more. I looked at the problem for about 30 seconds, and then, somehow, levitated up the rock like I had every move memorized. To this day I have no idea how I did this and I doubt I could ever do anything like it again.

When I got to the top I just kept on going off the back side toward my napping family.

As I looked back I saw that their jaws were dropped, just as mine had been when a similarly middle-aged Wayne Arrington showed up at The Columns and free soloed one of the hardest climbs there in his old EBs.

Ain’t life wonderful.

Glen Denny Photography

Glen Denny Photography

Back in the day (1960’s) when Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt, Yvon Chouinard, Warren Harding and many others were putting up big walls in Yosemite Valley, Glen Denny was not only along for the ride but was photographing Yosemite climbing and culture. Anyone who’s read about this era in rock climbing history has seen Denny’s photographs in various books. Here they are online.

Yvon Chouinard is Patagonia

Patagonia’s Founder Is America’s Most Unlikely Business Guru

This is a great piece on the history of the clothing company Patagonia and a mini-biography of its founder Yvon Chouinard.

I happen to have a few original Chouinard pitons I bought from him in the Camp 4 parking lot in Yosemite Valley in the 1970’s. I’ve followed his climbing and mountaineering career as well as his business career and I must say, he’s done well with alms everything he’s touched.

[via Dale Allyn]

Bringing millions along for the ride on an El Cap climb

On Ledge and Online: Solitary Sport Turns Social

Social media and handheld devices for posting is invading what used to be solitary adventure sports. Many have mixed feelings about this.

As one who posts hike progress on Path and Instagram who am I to say that this is a bad idea. It will be interesting to see how it affects the kinds of things climbers and other adventure sports enthusiasts do: will they push themselves unreasonably to do ever more daring things for their online audience and to gain Page rank? Probably.

Richard climbing in Yosemite

Richard climbing in Yosemite

Mid-1970’s, Yosemite Valley, California. This picture was taken by my then girlfriend and climbing partner Faye Nakamura. I’m not sure which climb we were on but it’s not a wall since I don’t have a haul line or aiders.

You’ll notice a few “Friends” (expandable protection) on my rack on the right. These were original pieces made by and bought from Ray Jardine who invented them long before expandable protection became popular and generic.

Most of the photographs we took on climbs in those days were slides and I have yet to scan my extensive and unfortunately deteriorating slide collection. I hope to get to it before it fades away.

Yes, I was a serious climber for about ten years and climbed quite a bit in Yosemite Valley including some walls. These days my knees knock cleaning my gutters on an extension ladder and hiking is what I do for adventure. I’m glad I experienced the climbing scene when I did; I never got into the indoor climbing gym scene, competiions, or speed climbing with and without equipment. I was what modern climbers call a “trad” (traditional).

For those of you interested in climbing (and entertaining stories), you might enjoy this (true) story I wrote a while back: A Climbing Story.