Chuck Pratt

Tuesday March 2, 2010
[I wrote this in the months after Chuck died, in Thailand early in the Millenium. It was published in Mountain Gazette. I always wanted more climbers to see it.]

Chuck Pratt was the finest human being I ever met.

What does that mean? I’m not sure, and so begins the stammering and the silence. It’s hard to say much about the “little round man,” as he called himself, at least to me because we looked enough alike that sometimes we were mistaken for brothers. And it was impossible to say very much while he lived without offending Chuck’s privacy. Now the words come haltingly in these first days after his death. Here and there a sparkle of understanding in the middle of the night, extinguished by dawn.

During the magical Sixties in Yosemite, Chuck was the pivotal character. The climbing scene revolved around his presence like a kingpin. If Robbins and Harding propelled the vision of those fruitful times, Pratt was its moral force, or maybe its strength of character. He was like the calm at the center of that whirlwind of creativity, a little quieter than the rest, withdrawn even. The rest of us were drawn to him, to his picnic table in Camp 4, and not just because he tended the notebook of beta.

I carried his friendship like a badge, because he was such a leader in the thing we were all trying to do, climb rocks, and deeper than that I carried it like a beacon because I admired him so. His life informed mine in the kind of way that a guru seems to, by example, by osmosis. He was no saint in the usual ways; he lived an earthy life, drank too much and knew his way to the red light district. So then, what? He inspired by a great questing integrity. He was deeply curious about the way of the universe and the meanderings of men. He was pretty unflinching about what he saw, cynical even, as a habit or a general viewpoint. Surely from that you could sense the scars on his psyche, though he wore them so lightly and with the same ironic humor that he treated everything, evenly, that I could not know what they were.

Or did I learn the outline of some of those scars after all, glimpsed in the depths of those whirling nights of drink? And might I have absolved him the hurt, as he seemed to do for others, just by some moments of clear-eyed acceptance that burned themselves clean then vanished from memory? My time with Pratt had more of that sense to it than the drunken revel it probably appeared from the outside.

The end of one of those nights clings oddly to memory. We came out of a bar in Wilson, Wyoming, at the foot of the Tetons, headed back to Chuck’s hut in the Exum guides camp. Except that he drove off the wrong way without knowing it. Lost in the valley where he lived. And I the outsider had to take the wheel and find our way out the back roads. Chuck half-reclined; there was a bed in his VW where the passenger seat might have been. Up the gravel road, the long way home, the flow of his words lubricated to a magic pitch, laughing out at ironies made clear. “Where are we?” he raved, “And why is it so dark?” Safe at any unspeed, and crossed by no Moose, we made it clear to throttle down and stepped out into a night of Teton stars.

I recall another evening at Roper’s house in Berkeley. Cozy at a table in the big kitchen. Chuck’s latest enthusiasm is to become a Volkswagen mechanic. This is no great trick for a guy who had been a promising physics student at the University of California. But as usual he is mostly milking the situation for ironies. “I know it’s bad when I go to bed with the Snap-On tools catalog instead of Playboy.” He’s warmed up now, and going for the big one: “I used to think it was this,” he said, tilting his head to one side and tapping lightly with a finger on his skull. “But now,” and that half smile is spreading with wicked delight under his twinkly gaze, the one that says we’re all the butt of the same joke here, “I know it’s this.” The tool man is slowly flexing his opposable thumb.

The first time I climbed with him was in 1966. The Kor-Beck route on Middle Cathedral Rock had just been freed, and Chuck invited me along to have a look. I struggled with the 5.9 free climbing—cutting edge then, it sounds pretty moderate now. But so-called “old 5.9” has become one of the most feared and respected of grades, especially in Yosemite. This comment is typical, from a modern master of 5.14, Tommy Caldwell: after making a free ascent of Chuck’s magnificent Salathe Wall on El Cap, he sounded surprised to notice that Valley 5.9 and 5.10 are so often harder than rated. Anyway, on our second free ascent of the Kor-Beck, after a while Chuck did most of the leading.

His climbing had a quality of quiet assurance…Let’s try that again: Chuck was so understated and devoid of flash or flair, making it impossible to tell whether he was on something easy or pushing the edge of what anyone had ever climbed. He wasn’t even so flamboyant as to be offhanded, but was always humbly attentive to the rock. Hard or easy, every stretch of stone got Chuck’s full attention and care. He seemed to squeeze delight out of 5.5. It was all climbing. And climbing, somehow, was the one thing that made sense.

And the harder stuff: I watched him work the east face of Higher Cathedral Spire for a first ascent. An inside corner, steep and smooth, he was getting some purchase from not much of a crack, but mostly chimneying the dihedral. Trying to find moves that would keep him from being forcibly ejected into space. I had clambered over talus all the way up from the Valley to witness this, but now it seemed like there was nothing much to see. Here was maybe ninety feet of rock, vertical and smooth, and starkly unmarked by features. It was as if the climbing were not before my eyes but somehow internal, like Chuck’s private musings, revealed to us only if he chose to point them out. He would make a move, positive but modest, then there would be a long pause. Examining the rock. At intervals he pounded a pin, which looked awkward even though he was truly ambidexterous and made the most of it. Once in a long while there was a laconic comment, some bit of trivia about rope handling that belied no effort, let alone strain. This went on steadily for a good hour. Then he was up.

A couple of years later I found an 800-foot buttress in an obscure canyon near Tuolumne Meadows, and invited Chuck to do the first ascent. There was one interesting section right off the deck to gain a huge chimney, which we followed to the top. We named it Crowley Buttress, for the satanist, magician—and climber—Aleister Crowley. Chuck was fascinated with Crowley, who set an altitude record on K2 in 1902, but seems to have pulled a revolver during a dispute with team mates, then came home to defy most of the Victorian conventions in a quest for knowledge that swept through sex, drugs and the occult. Pratt quoted out of Crowley’s text on Magick: “Every intentional act is a magical act,” and “Every man and every woman is a star.” Although scrupulously honest, Chuck had liberated from the Denver Public Library a rare copy of Crowley’s most serious and difficult work, a slim volume entitled 777 that contained charts showing interrelationships among all branches of arcane knowledge. In it you could follow threads between, say, Tarot and the Cabala, or the I Ching and numerology. Chuck just figured that this key to knowledge was more useful in his hands than in the collection of a frontier oil town.

In the spring of 1969 we took a classic trip to climb in the desert. California climbers had been making that pilgrimage since David Brower’s first ascent of Shiprock back in the thirties, and for Chuck it had become an annual spring ritual between renting skis at the Ski Hut in Berkeley and taking up residence in the Valley. We camped, alone in the campground, at the end of the road in the Arches. A battery powered record player—the boom box of the sixties—sat on the end of our camp table. I played John Mayall and the Rolling Stones; Chuck played Mahler. We climbed a scary and unprotected line on the end of one of the Courthouse Towers. Hiked further out to make the second ascent of Dark Angel tower. One day we drove up the Colorado River to a tower Chuck remembered, only to find Layton Kor’s car parked under it. We hiked up to say hi, celebrated with Kor that night, then went back the next day for the second ascent of Dolomite Tower.

Then we went to Indian Creek. Its walls were not a destination then; this was still the era of reaching summits, so we hiked out to North Six Shooter Peak. That had already been climbed, and Chuck was beginning to nudge us beyond summits by going back for an enticing offwidth crack. After an hour’s walk across the desert and scrambling up the talus fan we found ourselves staring up at a flawless six-inch slot, rising thirty or forty dead-vertical feet off the deck with no compromising features. “Oh well,” Chuck said with a shrug, and we turned our back to the wall to eat lunch. The master had rejected it, but I was curious and began bouldering the crack. At first I could get only enough purchase to lift a foot off the ground. Then, scrape a few moves upward. Chuck put his shoes on too. Soon he was twelve feet up. “Throw me the rope,” he said, and pumped out the rest of the crux. Abruptly the crack widened into a chimney, where Chuck could finally pause to haul his swami and hammer and the rack.

Driving out later, afternoon sun highlighted an endlessly parade of vertical cracks in the warm sandstone walls along the road. Glancing up, Chuck gathered in the miles of cliff face with the sweeping gesture of a callused hand and pronounced, “The future home of crack climbing in America.”

“There is a time on every desert expedition when the end of the trip is signified by subtle changes either in our own temperament or in the environment.” So wrote Chuck Pratt in “The View from Deadhorse Point.” It is a brilliant piece about climbing in the desert; and, it is far from being just about climbing. “To gain any lasting worth from what the desert has to offer, we had to learn to put our pitons and ropes away and to go exploring in silence, keeping our eyes wide open. It wasn’t easy. We wasted a lot of time climbing before we got the knack.”

The part of Chuck’s article dealing with our trip didn’t even mention any of our climbs. We had reached that end point in our desert expedition, with one thing left to do: visit Deadhorse Point. “Approaching the edge of the world,” he wrote, “we separate to experience the view in solitude.” That solitude was crucial to him. He was very private. “He was basically a loner,” is the way Steve Roper put it. And Roper was, for awhile at least, probably Chuck’s best friend. But that very privateness highlights by contrast the things he chose to share with us. When he spoke, we were primed to listen. He published just four articles. They are all gems. “We all wish he had written more,” Roper said wistfully. It is nearly a response, and perhaps close to reproach, when Chuck writes, “For a while we stand on the summit, experiencing sensations that are nobody’s business but our own…”

For a stretch in the early Seventies Chuck joined a few of us to guide in the Palisades. It was a good time—he could make the most of almost any situation—and it offered an irresistible opportunity for many of his trademark raves against cold and snow. In Camp 4 he always had the biggest down jacket, and in the Palisades he usually found something else to do while the rest of us taught the Tuesday snow school. Over the weekends he often hiked down to Bishop, and a certain amount of partying ensued. A couple of incidents stand out.

One Sunday morning recovery took the form of a drive up Pine Creek, where Chuck suddenly spotted 200 feet of offwidth crack splitting a huge corner. With commanding directness he simply said, “Stop the car.” Headaches forgotten, Pratt’s Crack was born. Maybe at 5.8 it isn’t difficult enough to bear his name, but then again there was only one point of pro, a loose chockstone that later rolled to pin the arm of a less wary suitor.

Another time we had spent Saturday helping to frame Jay Jensen’s new house. In the evening with fiddle music we found ourselves with forearms locked, whirling like dervishes. The next thing I knew, Chuck was flying out of a newly-framed doorway into the darkness. I must have been the one to let go; Chuck’s balance and coordination were so good that he could juggle 4 balls—or flash 5—while walking a slack rope.

But after a couple of years, and without truly complaining, Chuck simply moved on for the summers to the Tetons. And for the winters he shifted too, from hovering around Berkeley to stretching out in Thailand. At least that choice was warm.

It was a living irony for him to go to the Tetons. With icier weather, he had more opportunity to voice a favorite mantra: “Clouds mean death.” I would go there to see him at the end of one of my guiding trips into the Wind Rivers. Once I hiked up nearly to the top of the Grand just to walk down with Chuck and his clients. He paced out his attention to the three of us, switchback after switchback that afternoon. Later he gravitated toward teaching daily rock climbing classes closer to the valley bottom in Cascade Canyon, where he wouldn’t have to go up into the snow zone. So on another visit I dropped in on that class. Beginners, or barely more than that, his students soaked up his focus and offhanded wisdom, with maybe just a glimmer of what a special man was their humble instructor.

It sometimes seemed strange that he did not return to guide in Yosemite, the crucible he had helped to mold and to give direction as a climbing center. He would certainly have liked the weather better. Maybe he had to leave to escape the adulation that would have bugged him there. Or the inevitable degradation of the art form he had molded, seeing the big walls opened into effete highways just by better tools and familiarity, or those stark and bold crack climbs of his trivialized by the mechanics of wide protection. Merely repeating the moves with an oversized cam sliding alongside for assurance, completely masks the startling boldness and steady mind that Chuck brought to those wide slots with the rope arcing free below him and the next move all of two inches gained with great quiet effort.

It is nearly impossible today for anyone to appreciate how little help Chuck had from gear, how much of the advance came straight out of him. About the only similarity with a modern climber racking at the base of the Twilight Zone, which was arguably his finest climb, is a nylon rope. Wider than a hand jam, steep and unrelenting it shoots upward. Hard to imagine now that offwidth was his choice for a frontier. Oddly he and those around him did not see the cracks thinner than a hand jam as a climbing challenge. That was a perceptual shift for the next generation. His rope was knotted with a classic bowline to a swami belt around his waist, a nearly trivial few loops of nylon webbing. Shod in Pivetta Cortinas, the exact same boot my mom chose for hiking, he started up into the fearsome unknown. Technique solid but totally without flash. He would climb with just as much care and respect on something as easy as the Royal Arches. And Smoke Blanchard loved to tell the story of the great Chuck Pratt humbly accepting a top rope on The Big Slab, a barely roped climb in the Buttermilk, simply because Smoke as the local expert had suggested it.

I did not see Chuck much in the last twenty years. Just five times, including a few moments and a bearhug at the 1999 Camp 4 gathering: two little round men, fit and balding, share a sweeping grin before being absorbed by the surge of the crowd. Someone said that he only reluctantly returned, which seems about right. He didn’t look that great, and missed the evening event with food poisoning. And he was missed at what there was of a campfire, way outside the Valley. I had been holding the dream that Chuck would be in the circle around a great fire, perhaps shoulder to shoulder with Peter Haan, Peter Croft and maybe Cedar Wright. I anticipated hearing what the lights of many Valley generations would share. But in the end the celebration had been organized for politics, and that part, at least, worked. But as our numbers and enthusiasm swelled in anticipation to six hundred, the organizers and the Park Service panicked. Neither of them was experienced with large gatherings, and both feared our collective power—or anarchy. In the end they splintered the venue, people were shuttling all over the Valley, and a millenial convergence of climbing never reached its climax.

Yet without seeing Chuck, from a distance I continued to cherish his presence. There was a palpable kind of reassurance in just knowing he was there. I relied on it and often said so to friends. His presence on the planet was a support to me even in a ten-year stretch of not crossing paths. Surprisingly so, maybe. I considered him a best friend even though I never moved to go see him. Family and kids and distance, and I just never went to the Winds, which was always my springboard to drop by Jackson for an evening with Chuck. On his side, he never seemed to go out of his way to see anyone. That passivity was part of his game, to wait, to see what life brought to him. It was, at least, a sure test. Too late, I now wonder if I failed Chuck by my absence. Knowing he was there was enough for me, a great comfort, and still ever a beacon. But did it serve him? Or was I just another old friend who effectively disappeared?

In the end he chose not to return to Yosemite, and not to the Tetons. Some say asking emphatically that his ashes not be brought back here. On the morning he died, after a breakfast with laughter and stories of those very spots, and before excusing himself from a hike and going quietly to his room, he instructed again that his remains be thrown into the Mekong River.

Goodbye Chuck, Prince of the Valley. Besides our serious play on the granite itself, life was sweetest there when you held court at a campfire. Goodbye king of conundrums, master of stone, respectful cynic, delighted of riddles, fond enigma laughing at the darkness. We are ever grateful of your presence.

  Article Views: 30,580
Doug Robinson
About the Author
DR is a trad climber from Santa Cruz.


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  May 18, 2009 - 05:05pm PT
Doug- Thanks a ton for the post! A wonderful insight into a real original. Pratt will be long remembered.
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
  May 18, 2009 - 05:10pm PT
Good stuff Doug!
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
  May 18, 2009 - 05:14pm PT
Doug - this is great. Thanks for posting.

A long way from where I started
  May 18, 2009 - 05:37pm PT
Thanks Doug.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 18, 2009 - 05:40pm PT
Thanks Doug for this masterpiece on Pratt, I was hoping you would someday place it on ST.
Wade Icey

Trad climber
  May 18, 2009 - 06:16pm PT
thank you.
the Fet

  May 18, 2009 - 06:23pm PT

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  May 18, 2009 - 06:24pm PT
Magnificent, Doug!
I never got to meet Pratt, but, as Russ put it at the time, "he truly climbed the wide with pride!"

Hope to meet you one of these days, Doug, maybe at a wide Wednesday @Scuffy's but any time would be fine, life is short.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California, now Ireland
  May 18, 2009 - 06:40pm PT
Outstanding Doug. I didn't know Chuck Pratt, I've only met you a couple of times (perhaps more at Indian Rock) and Smoke I only knew from the week course I took at Palisades School Of Mountaineering. But all of you are an inspiration.

Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  May 18, 2009 - 06:41pm PT
I met him once in Jackson you guy’s did look a like a bit! Both have nail keg calves.


Trad climber
Tunneling out of prison
  May 18, 2009 - 06:44pm PT
Wow Doug, incredible writing.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 18, 2009 - 06:48pm PT
A little souvenir from that momentous day at the Climbers Ranch, you can tell it has been authenticated by the red wine stains. Pratt would have been proud.


Social climber
Echo Parque, Los Angeles, CA
  May 18, 2009 - 07:00pm PT
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
  May 18, 2009 - 08:26pm PT
Well written, well said, Doug

Social climber
  May 18, 2009 - 08:26pm PT
Beautiful writing.


Trad climber
  May 18, 2009 - 09:32pm PT
I've sometimes thought that someone ought to write a book on Pratt.

You, Doug, seemed like a candidate, or Roper or Ament.

I even thought of trying to write one myself. Maybe the fact that no book has appeared shows that you all understood Pratt better than me.

Trad climber
Carson City, NV
  May 18, 2009 - 09:32pm PT
Thank you.


Trad climber
Living Outside the Statist Quo
  May 18, 2009 - 09:50pm PT
What a great read. Thanks for sharing some wonderful times with us.

goatboy smellz

Gulf Breeze
  May 18, 2009 - 09:53pm PT
Thanks Doug, great insight!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 18, 2009 - 10:02pm PT
Doug, you well know my feelings about Pratt. But I might add that you too are one of the finest people any of us has met.


from out where the anecdotes roam
  May 18, 2009 - 10:04pm PT
how can we appropriately say thankyou doug? it may qualify as a remembrance, but i, though i got to tip a few with him in moose, consider it an introduction. would that we all have such a friend as you, that we not go darkly.

Trad climber
  May 18, 2009 - 10:21pm PT
Thanks for sharing

Trad climber
  May 18, 2009 - 10:33pm PT
Thank you for the story DR.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
  May 18, 2009 - 11:03pm PT
A non climbing tribute: Chuck taught me to juggle. He was extremely good, could do five. After some tribulation I got the ability to do two in one hand, three and then four which is two in each hand. Adding a ball is like an order of magnitude in difficulty.
His lesson revolved around the idea of a cycle, tossing each ball once. Once you could do one cycle, try for two cycles.
A corrollary lesson was that a good place to practice was the beach.
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  May 19, 2009 - 12:08am PT
Thanks, Doug - a poignant, sad eulogy. Chuck contributed a great deal to the world of climbing, and to climbers. A gem.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 19, 2009 - 12:12am PT
Hennek's classic photo of Pratt


Trad climber
  May 19, 2009 - 12:24am PT
Thanks Doug. That piece deserved another life here.

A remarkable figure. Those Denny photos of Pratt, juggling high above the Falls, strike me as far more memorable than any I've seen of him climbing.

But I'm still curious.

How does a man notoriously averse to snow and ice end up guiding the Tetons? How does a figure so legendarily congenial spin out his life without wife or partner or children?

Where did he pick up the enthusiasm for classical music? More specifically, modern classical music? Berkeley?

How does a climber so gifted with prose (by period standards, certainly), write one remarkable article and then never write another memorable published piece?
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
  May 19, 2009 - 12:54am PT
I had a piton that was stamped CP that I pulled off of Spyder Rock in Canyon de Chelly; was one of my most prized climbing trinkets....I donated awhile back to an access auction, and it was mounted , displayed, and , I believe, sold for maybe 125 dollars.......I miss my CP was a powerful object, and it made me think of an awesome climb, and an awesome man (whom I , unfortunately, never met....or at least that I can remember meeting....).....but I like to support access and all the good things they have done for climbing and no whining....Thanks, Doug,for the cool writing.......
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 19, 2009 - 01:10am PT
Klk, really cogent questions, those. And there are tons of anecdotes that go with your queries too. (Note Jan's post just below here) Imagine a biography but could you get enough information to make a book? Certainly not Chuck’s idea.

While being deeply quietly charismatic he also did not have all the answers, though many of us then and now would assume he did.

Here the above image tweaked:

and then in the year 2000 before his end.


Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 19, 2009 - 01:10am PT

More than anything written so far, your tribute captures the spirit of Chuck as I remember him. I too counted on him always being there and from a distance I too continued to cherish his presence. He was one of those people I most looked forward to spending time with when I retired and returned to the U.S. Alas, it was through a climbing magazine and the tribute written by Pat Ament, that I learned it was not to be. If only I had kept in touch, I could have visited him in Thailand since I live in Asia already. Because Chuck seemed to project such a sense of quiet invincibility, we mistakenly assumed he would always be with us. He seemed as solid and resilient as the landscape in his beloved Valley.

As noted in the Chris Fredericks thread,, I first met Chuck in the winter of 1964-65 in Boulder. I’m not sure why he and Fredericks decided to spend the winter there, especially given Chuck’s well known hatred of the cold. His legs shoved up to the knees in my oven until the rubber on his boots smoked, is one of my enduring images of him. And of course there were the numerous rants about “this cold frozen hell”.

Also mentioned previously was the famous peyote trip that Pratt, Fredericks and I took together that winter, long before it was a household word, let alone illegal. It was Chuck’s idea since he had already experimented during his winter visits to Baja, California. It was also his record of Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, that we three listened to hour after hour that night and which I still listen to nostalgically from time to time. It was thanks to his recommendation that I also went to see the Rio Carnival movie Black Orpheus, which sparked a number of prophetic dreams about the various Valley climbers with whose antics Chuck and Chris had been entertaining me. We didn’t have much money in those days so we spent a lot of time talking and soon the two of them had persuaded me to move to California and spend the summer of 1965 climbing in the Valley. As karma would have it, I broke my wrist the first week in the Valley and had even more time to visit with Chuck that summer.

Only four of us spent the entire summer of 1965 in the Valley – Chuck, Chris, Tom Gerughty and myself. If only we had known how precious that historic time would turn out to be! Hardly a day went by that Chuck and I didn’t spend at least an hour visiting. He always included me on his grocery shopping trips and gave me invaluable tips on sneaking into the showers and the best monetary deals in the Valley. It was also through him that I learned of many hidden and interesting places I could visit in the Valley with my arm in a cast, and he also sometimes gave me a ride to the trail head. I agree with one commentator (rgold) on Frederick’s thread that “you sensed immediately that Pratt was interested in you (or not) as a person, not by virtue of your climbing c.v.”

Chuck and I often made dinner together and during these times I learned even more Valley lore, as we laughed together over stories of both tourist and climber foibles. His keen insights never failed to amuse. From him I also learned valuable bear lore – including how to distinguish between the harmless and the dangerous. Of course he had given names to all the Camp 4 regulars, and soon under his tutelage I too could recognize Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad, and the formidable El Cid. I also learned from him how to train the young ones to leave my table alone when they first raided camp, and to pick on the tourists instead.

As noted in the Fredericks thread, Chuck intuited my interest in Frank Sacherer early on, and without commenting on it, managed to arrange for a joint camping trip at Half Dome which he and Frank planned to free climb. The climb was a bust, but the previous night’s campfire conversation between Chuck and a lady friend of his who worked for Curry, Frank and I, was the beginning my relationship with my soon to be husband. A party attended by Chuck, Chris, Tom, and others, but not by Frank who could only visit the Valley on weekends, was the famous celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn. This took place in Frederick’s camp where we gathered together to sign Sheridan Anderson's beautiful hand drawn poster which was later mailed to the mayor of Zermatt.

After much drinking we began a series of hip hip hoorays for Whimper and the boys, which eventually brought the rangers. As luck would have it, the rangers stopped to inquire about noise from a tourist who was friends with Chuck. Loyally he denied hearing anything until interrupted by more shouts of hip hip hooray. Probably we would have been in greater trouble except for this encounter which helped the rangers understand that not everyone in the “normal world” disliked climbers and their antics. The rangers were also visibly impressed by Sheridan’s art work which he demanded they too sign before breaking up the party. Afterwards they directed us down to a beach on the river.

Chuck was still spending summers in the Valley at the time that Frank and I departed for Europe in early 1969. However, my last encounter with him was a strange one which may have indicated lurking demons previously suppressed, or the beginning of a new drug and alcohol induced trend. We were at a climber’s party up in the boulders behind Camp 4, staged there to avoid visits by rangers. It was October and a beautiful full moon night. I was sitting on the edge of a large flat rock when suddenly Chuck began screaming about full moons, vampires, and werewolves. The next thing I knew he was sitting on my chest with his hands around my throat. It took both Frank and Tom Gerughty to pry them off and four other guys to haul him away while I was left with bruises on my neck. Needless to say, I would rather have had different memories of our final encounter!

Rick L

Trad climber
El Dorado Hills, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 02:44am PT
Doug- what nice thing to find tonight. I think you expressed, very well, the feelings of many who knew Chuck- if only from a distance. Clearly, the world is a lesser place without him.

The following excerpt is from an "Old Geezers" post I made several years ago. He truly was a man who was interested (or not) in people without particular regard for their climbing abilities. To me, he always seemed to love the movement and corresponding intimate relationship he had with the rock- be the climb easy or difficult.

It was the summer of 1966 or 1967. I was a teen spending as much time as I could steal in Camp IV. Looking back on it, I am amazed that lowly neophytes could meet and even climb with the luminaries of the sport. I hope that is a tradition that has continued- but I doubt it. Anyway, the summer I am speaking of was the first time Bugs McKeith showed up in the Valley. For those of you who do not know of Bugs, he was a Scotish madman who brought with him a repertoire of climbs in the British Isles and in Europe. I think he might have even climbed the notorious Eiger and someting the Nepal. The guy was a trip. He was a fairly serious drinker and it was his custom to don a down-filled high-altitude suit early in the evening before the serious drinking began so that he could "bivouac" where the mood or blood alcohol level inspired slumber. One of his other pastimes was to gulp a mouthful of kerosene or gasoline and the spray the fuel into a candle- producing spectacular results. That evening, Bugs was up to his tricks and came to the attention of Chuck Pratt. Previously, Bugs had suggested that we go to the base of El Cap the next morning. Chuck, apparently curious about Bugs, asked if he could join us. Unbelievable then and now.

The next morning we marched up to the base of Little John, Chuck having suggested the R side would be a good introduction to the Valley for Bugs. Unfortunately, Bugs was wearing mountaineering boots- a pair of LePhoque (sp?)Harlins I think. They had a fiberglass midsole and would be akin to climbing in ski boots. Bugs took off on the first pitch and had a desperate time on the slick granite and thin cracks. He literally ran in place, burning rubber before returning to the ground. He asked if there was any other approach. Chuck mentioned there was a vague face climing approach to the left. So, Bugs took off to my wide-eyed amazement. He skated and slipped, desperately gaining altitude with little or no protection. Chuck looked at me with a WTF? expression as we held out collective breath. Bugs eventually made it to the belay and cheated death. The rest of the climb was relatively uneventful for everyone but me. At the time, I had no idea how to hand jam so the cracks proved a bit elusive. Climbing with Chuck was pretty special. I had absolutely know idea where the "hard parts" were because he climbed with a fluidity that I have not really seen since.

Bugs quickly got the hang of Yosemite granite and was on the Nose with Charlie Porter in short order. I saw Chuck off and on during my years at Berkeley. The last time I saw him, he, Tom Kaufman and I were the only white guys at a party in East Palo Alto. We were guests of "Grapes", a black Adonis who dabbled a bit in climbing. It was a trip to watch Chuck line dancing with a group of women to some Diana Ross and the Supremes songs. Chuck would talk of "figuring it out" (happiness, life or peace of mind, I guess). The last words he said to me at that party were "If you ever figure it out, let me know". I never did, of course. Tom and I took off because we heard the "Gypsy Jokers" were coming and that scared the Hell out of us. Chuck, ever curious, stayed. Both Bugs and Chuck are gone now and, in my view, the world is a lesser place. I wish I had spent more time with both but cherish the time I had with them.

Thanks, Doug, for the post.

Best to all

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 03:40am PT
I thought about this a long while. Should I throw it in? Would it be disrespectful of Doug’s tribute?

More of Pratt’s life has been revealed – but there’s not that much more that any of us could have known.

Yes, he visited Jeanne Walter‘s place in Bishop just about every year and we sat around and reminisced. We sat at the bar in Wilson and drank into the wee hours. But there was so much more to know.

At his memorial in the Tetons, a bunch of us were lined up – Foote, McKeown, Millis, Chouinard, Swedlund, Robinson, et al –a bunch of us listening to the tributes and memories of those that knew him best.

There were many adoring women in his life and more than a few of them showed up. At least three of them rose to the podium one after the other to reflect on their remembrances of Chuck. All of them fought back the tears – as did we all.

Now this is where it gets edgy. The last gal to speak had obviously been seriously in love with Chuck and was sobbing incessantly as she related her times with him. She went on and on at length, the tears flowing. It was touching and sincere, but as we stood there the length of her outpouring began to reach the limits of our propriety – not an unattainable goal. As we stood there anxiously shifting our weight from one foot to the other, Swedlund leaned in and in his inimitable voce sotto uttered, “Now there’s one he should have never f%$ked”.

With all due respect to the woman, we did our best not to totally destroy her moment and muffled our impending outburst, but man did we roar later. I think maybe Chuck laughed too.

I hope this didn’t offend anyone.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California, now Ireland
  May 19, 2009 - 04:59am PT

Great stories.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 19, 2009 - 06:03am PT
Part of the line up Lauria was describing at the Memorial: DR, Lauria,Guido,Swedlund, Fitschen and Foott. Herb is well know for his wit and we are all holding back with the greatest of pain and respect. Pratt would have loved it.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 19, 2009 - 09:10am PT
Here is a little-seen image of Chuck. I don't know where it came from but it was online. Unfortunately it is tiny and very low resolution. I always thought Chuck was really interesting to look at. And this holds true to the end.


Trad climber
Golden, CO
  May 19, 2009 - 09:11am PT
Friggin' beautiful.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 19, 2009 - 09:59am PT
Superb writing, Doug!

The humble Titan!

Still one of my favorite shots of these two guys!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 19, 2009 - 10:28am PT
And for those of you wanting to archive, plus a relentless bump:

with Roger Breedlove in the background, right.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 11:36am PT

Amy Brennan took that picture of Pratt in the summer of 2000. She sent it to me to be published in the Winter 2000-2001 issue of the Bardini Foundation newsletter.

I inadvertently posted this on the Don Jensen thread. Ooops.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 11:41am PT
By the way, Dick Dorworth wrote a lengthy article on Pratt: Glimpses of Pratt - A Remembrance. We published it at the same time as Amy's photo.

It's long, but maybe I'll dig it out and post it here.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 12:28pm PT
GLIMPSES OF PRATT: a remembrance
by Dick Dorworth.
Chuck Pratt laid down and went to sleep and never woke up. It is impossible for any of us to know what it is to die until we do, and none of us will ever experience another man’s death, but from this side of things Pratt’s doesn’t sound so bad. He made even that final, most difficult move of life with great personal satisfaction and what seemed an effortless grace and a quiet mystery that touched everyone who knew him. Three days before he died he wrote
these words to a friend: "I haven’t felt this happy since I got out of the army 40 years ago…..Did you know a man can die of pleasure overload?" As I wrote via e mail to one of Chuck’s friends a couple of days after he died: The thing we need to ponder is this: What was Chuck dreaming when he checked out?
YOSEMITE 1968-1974
By the time I arrived in Yosemite in 1968 as a novice climber, Chuck was an established master of big wall and hard technical rock climbing, regarded by cognoscenti with a respect verging on reverence. I watched him climb but did not know enough to realize what I was seeing. He free climbed like a magician, a man born to vertical stone, comfortable where others struggled. There was another reason Chuck’s pains were so difficult to perceive, a reason many in the climbing world completely overlooked when thinking about, relating to and (alas) judging Chuck Pratt. It was most aptly summed up by Joe McKeown who observed after Chuck’s death that he was "Certainly the most humble and creative of the old gang." He was also deeply intelligent, wildly talented and inherently shy.

It was Pratt who first strung a rope between trees in Camp 4 and walked it to practice balance. And Pratt rode a unicycle and juggled to hone coordination and concentration, balance and gracefulness. He made a discipline and game of finesse as John Bachar and other later Yosemite climbers would do with power and endurance. And he was one of the few climbers, then or now, with the patience and concentration to detail to climb 5.2 with the same craft and precise attention with which he climbed 5.10 or 5.11. Such care and respect, verging on reverence, for what he was doing, set Chuck apart from his contemporaries in more ways than in the complex convergence of qualities, skills
and deeds that constitute a climbing reputation.

And he wasn’t fooled for a second by those old charlatans, fortune, fame, worldly ambition or tempted by the psychic violence that is the path of upwardly mobile social respectability. Above all, Chuck Pratt was his own man. He is quoted as having said in 1965: " I feel that my enemy is anyone who would, given the power to do so, restrict individual liberty, and this includes all officials, law officers, army sergeants, communists, Catholics and the house of
Un-American Activities Committee. Of course, I am prejudiced, but I cannot imagine a sport other than climbing which
offers such a complete and fulfilling expression of individuality. And I will not give it up nor even slow down, not for
man, nor woman, nor wife, nor God." As mentioned, Chuck was his own man.
In general, it is fair to say that the Yosemite/Berkeley climbing scene of the 1960s and ‘70s explored and indulged in
mind/mood/emotion altering chemicals with at least as much fervor as it explored and expanded the climbing possibilities of the fine rock walls of the valley. Climbers’ parties in Yosemite were as wild and frenzied and fun (i.e. interesting) as any I’ve ever known, and I knew a lot of them. To see climbing legends on their knees in the dirt of Camp 4 howling at the moon or at the park rangers sent over to quiet things down usually elicited one of two
responses among the uninitiated: change camps or do a little howling yourself. With the same quiet intensity he brought to rock climbing, Pratt immersed himself into whatever party was at hand. In the way such things tend to evolve for some people, in later years Chuck was at times a one man party all his own. His demons were always there, kept in marginal control most of the time with skepticism merging into cynicism, a careful thoroughness to order and restraint in those matters (like climbing and the precise disposition of each stick of firewood outside his cabin on Guides Hill) that he could control, and, of course, keeping busy with chores and work, projects, and the maintenance of tools. Drugs were a necessary release, but they also released the demons. Alcohol in the form of beer was his drug of choice to the end.
Except for guiding together in the Tetons, I climbed only once with Chuck. He showed up at Lovers Leap after driving across the desert from somewhere….the southwest or the Tetons most likely. He had rolled a car along the way but survived with only a sprained or dislocated left thumb which hung uselessly and could not close with the first finger. Still, he wanted to climb so we did The Line, a classic three pitch route neither of us had done before. He led the first and hardest pitch with a hand and a half, and whether his impairment hindered or pained him could not be discerned, and he did not dwell on the pain or inconvenience or whatever adaptations he needed to make. The Line was a hard
route of that time, and it was the first time I was able to see the creativity McKeown later noted. Because of his injury I
expected him to struggle. When he did not, I was made aware of Pratt’s amazing power of focus by which he guided his life and which allowed him to tap deeper and climb higher than others. Climbing The Line with Pratt was, for me, an education in climbing as something beyond and quite different from brutal struggle, though, when necessary, Pratt struggled with the best. I remember that route as a turning point in my own climbing, and from that day on I knew Chuck to be graceful and gracious, funny and serious, and a man who both knew what he was doing and what he was about.

Pratt was the most creative and humble of his peers. About the time we climbed The Line he also came up with a typically wry definition of the greatest climber in the world as "Someone who solos a difficult new route from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim at night, and never tells anyone about it." Only now that Pratt is gone does it occur to me that he may have done just that on one of his many trips to the Southwest. It is exactly the way in which Pratt would have obliquely referred to his own talent and to having done something that no one else would or could
do. More, it amuses me to think that he might have done it as much as it pleases me to contemplate his personal
satisfaction and pleasure in guarding such a secret treasure. It would be very much like him to measure up to his own
definition of the greatest climber in the world, and never tell anyone about it.
Well, yes, of course. Always. Pratt loved (he also lusted after) women in general and a special few in particular. Pratt was humble and shy, but he was a hedonist with a heart at heart and women loved him for it. He was also interesting as hell and interested as well.
THE TETONS 1993-2000
As an Exum guide fortunate enough to spend summers living on Guides Hill at Lupine Meadow beneath the east face of Teewinot, I was Pratt’s neighbor for part of each year. From that time I offer a few word portraits of Pratt, perhaps something in prose like the hundreds of photographs he took in the last years of every and any woman willing to pose for his camera, his eye, his imagination and fantasies.

…Guiding a group of adolescents up Cube Point early in the season we had to cross a section of snow. I fixed a rope and we got our charges across the snow with no incidents. Pratt, dressed in his trademark balaclava, hated snow, cold, ice and winter with a neurotic fury that was amusing to others but which was painfully serious to him. He came across last with characteristic precision and a scowl on his face. I grinned at him, and he knew why. "I can’t believe we’re bringing these poor, innocent children here and actually teaching them to walk on this……stuff", he said, indicating the steps cut in the snow. "I always avoid it and consider stepping in it the same way I would consider stepping in radioactive dog sh#t. We’ve sunk so low in life that we’re making our living teaching innocent children to walk upon radioactive
dog sh#t."

…The Pratt cabin at Lupine Meadow was a marvel of order in the small community of Exum guides whose places of residence, for the most part, appear more disorderly than Chuck’s, though in general they are not. His firewood, stacked around the cabin with the precision of considered thought to each piece, looked more the work of a master stone mason than a readily available source of fuel. The wooden clothes pins on his clothes line were impregnated with linseed oil and looked like small pieces of fine woodwork made by a patient craftsman. It always seemed to me that, for Pratt, every stick of wood in its exact place, every clothes pin made to last, every move made precisely right, helped keep the demons at bay. When he couldn’t hold them off, he all too often closed the door to his cabin behind him and drank in privacy, just alcohol and Chuck and their private demons.

…I sometimes talked with Chuck about the things of our lives….Yosemite days and people, writing (Chuck’s few efforts as a writer are among the best climbing literature I know. He once explained why there isn’t more: "Writing about climbing is boring. I would rather go climbing."), women (of course), guiding (we seldom spoke of climbing), the humor (because laughter is preferable to tears) to be found in the cornucopia of man’s follies, the weather (on cold mornings the balaclava clad Pratt loved to point out that global warming had to be a myth, a conspiracy by
environmentalists and other wackos, among whom he included me), and Thailand (his favorite topic). The Exum
community and Guides Hill was his home and his extendedfamily, but his heart was in Thailand.

…Chuck behind the wheel of his vintage and unmistakable white/gray and then green Volkswagen squareback on the road between Dornans and Lupine Meadow. He was a study in concentration on the return drive from Dornans, as safe and thoughtful and attentive as any man has ever been in the long, sad, unsafe history of drinking and driving. He was certainly less a threat to himself and his fellow man than half the tourists driving that stretch of road looking
for elk and antelope and the occasional moose. I would not hesitate to take my chances on the road with Pratt in the bag any day rather than with the average tourist on the loose and intoxicated by his one week a year of vacation, demented by a momentary view of the unrestricted glimpse of a world not delineated by officials, officers, ideologies, priests and politicians and the economic interests they serve.

…In 1998, for various and sound reasons, Chuck made the decision not to drink at all during the guiding season from June to September. This was a sudden, not a long thought out decision. It was a cold turkey that, in Chuck’s case, made a solo climb up a new route out of the Grand Canyon at night seem, in comparison, as easy as driving to Dornans. Everybody on Guides Hill watched Chuck to see whether his resolve would crack, but those of us who had been intimate with obstinate chemical excess and dependency and with the equally difficult, uncompromising, coldhearted cold turkey watched with the particular interest of the experienced. He never flinched. With the same unqualified intensity he brought to his climbing, Chuck looked the cold turkey in the eye and he did not blink. For the last three years of his guiding life he did not drink during the season, though the rest of the year was another story. But our hearts dropped the first time he came back to his cabin from Dornans with a brown paper bag under his arm that looked the size and shape to hold two six packs. Sometime later he came out of his cabin holding a bottle of nonalcoholic beer. I think he did it to relish the effect as much as to enjoy the taste of bogus beer. The recently retired serious drinker suddenly finds an abundance of time and energy in his life that he has forgotten existed. One of the things Chuck did with that time and energy the first summer was to split wood each evening. Cords of rounds became
stacks of the most meticulously split and arranged firewood in the history of Guides Hill. I found myself some evenings just watching Pratt split firewood because it was beautiful to see. He split wood with an ax on a tree round chopping block. He swung his ax with grace and a respect for minimalist efficiency that I saw as a reverence for finesse. It was masterful work and I will never forget the sight of Chuck Pratt splitting wood with complete focus and all his being. Several of us on Guides Hill are students of Zen Buddhism, and watching Chuck in the evenings always brought to mind the Zen maxim "Chop wood, carry water," pointing the Zen practitioner toward each moment and task with completefocus.

Pratt could have been a fine writer, but it bored him. He would have made a great student of Zen, but he didn’t need it. As it was, Chuck Pratt just might have been the greatest climber in the world by his own definition, and he was definitely one of them by anyone’s definition. I’m glad he was here. I’m sorry he is gone. ... I wonder what he was dreaming when he checked out.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 12:30pm PT
Just remembered that Millis aka Dennis Miller wrote a short anecdote for the Bardini newsletter: Pratt - A Day in the Life.

I'll dig it out.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 19, 2009 - 12:41pm PT
Trying to place Chuck as a friend and an icon is difficult. We all have different approaches shaped both by our memories and what, I suppose, are our sense of what was left undone. Some of us tilt towards the hero end of the scale and want to leave out the unheroic bits of Chuck's life and personality; others of us want to remember Chuck unheroically and struggle with how to convey that sense of a fine friend.

Doug’s piece has a nice nuanced weave with the bits that stick in our minds—a preference for Mahler or a knack for pithy, humorous aphorisms, a private life, a calm, smooth climbing style. Jan’s piece adds the dissonance of Chuck’s private demons, perhaps alcohol or drug induced, but, more truthfully, the demons were only released by alcohol or drugs.

TM tried to explain how Chuck climbed to me once in the Meadows where we both guided. He was making a serious attempt, miming mantles and sideways pushes, stepping under his cupped hand, twisting and contorting as only TM could. It was hilarious to watch; all the more so given that TM was serious. It also captured it pretty well. As does Doug’s descriptions.

I only knew Chuck after his best climbing days were behind him, in the early 70s. For a time he lived in Roper’s house in Berkeley, working as an editor on Ascent, and tried to find a life after climbing. This is the peroid, away from climbing, when we became friends. (We did sort of get to climb together as guides at Royal's RockCraft.) It was a heady time for the Berkeley based 60s climbers. Roper’s new guide and Ascent magazine were successful and conferred a status beyond climbing on Steve and Allen Steck, and Chuck. Allen, I think, had just left The Ski Hut and was working full tilt on Mountain Travel (he bought a new convertible.) Galen finally decided to sell his auto repair business and try his luck as a photographer, for 'at least' one year, uncertain of his prospects.

Steve’s house was a wonderful place to hang out. Lots of climbers would come by, Chuck lived in the little bedroom porch, and I really enjoyed learning the art of writing (when I asked, Steve graciously allowed me to write a couple of book reviews for Ascent) and learned to edit in someone else's voice. Telling, funny story: Steve had purchased 250, maybe it was 1000, bottles of wine with his own label, “The Incubus Hills,” ever true to his humor and sex crazed sub-plots. When he traveled to Europe (spawning the story of climbing in East Germany in Ascent), he left Mort Hempel as the house sitter. Mort and Steve’s friends drake something like 50, maybe it was 250, bottles of Steve’s wine in his absence.

Steve had a Cessna 210 which was a 6 seat, high-performance, retractable-gear single-engine general aviation plane. Steve would organize flying trips ranging from practicing hair raising cross-wind landings on farmer’s strips in the Central Valley on really windy days; to flights over the Sierra, down 395 and back across the southern Sierra to the Bay Area, also hair raising; and longer trips, such as to South America, landing on beaches and camping. Steve was a very serious pilot and it was fun to go flying with him. Chuck was on a lot of those flights with Steve.

Although I wasn't there, when Steve was learning to fly, he landed on a farmland airport in the Central Valley. Steve remembers it as a pretty smooth landing, and was surprised when he opened the door and the plane was too close to the ground. He had forgotten to put down the landing gear. An airport employee who watched confirmed that it was a pretty smooth landing although he was pretty nervous since he could see the land gear was up. Steve's propeller was bent all to hell and the bottom of the plane had to be fixed up.

To give a flavor of flying with Steve, once, when I was recovering from a bone biopsy on my hand—-a bone in my hand just decided to grow to three times its normal size, interfering with my hand jamming and, of concern to my doctors, possibly interfering with my life expectancy. I had little use of my hand as it healed, but gladly took the co-pilots seat for a look-see of jets taking off and landing at a military base near Sacramento as well as some practice landing on farmer's strips in strong cross winds. (Talk about terrifying: landing side ways to touch down on one wheel then whipping the plane around straight on the second wheel; taxi to the end, turn around, take off and find another strip.)

Above the airbase, Steve assured me that as long as we didn’t fly right over the base we would not be shot down. I was curious about the operation of the plane and Steve took me through the first lessons: flying complete circles with decreasing radii while maintaining altitude. This requires looking at the instruments to maintain pitch and altitude while operating the controls. With the first few wide circles I was fine, essentially flying with my one good hand.

Then Steve ordered me to increase the pitch and the plane started to dive.

As we were barreling for a certain death of either hitting the ground or being shot from the sky for attacking the air base, Steve started yelling at the tops of his lungs: “Pull up Breedlove. You’re going to f*#king kill us. Pull up, for Christ’s sake.”

He was slapping his thighs and yelling at the top of his lungs and laughing manically.

I was drilling us down.

Finally I croaked, “I cannot pull up. My hand won’t work!”

Steve calmly said, “Let go.” I did and the plane righted itself instantly.

During this time Chuck was working to reinvent himself. He didn’t have the interest, for reasons that I do not fully understand, to pursue writing, except he was hell bent on moving away from any hero status. Unfortunately from the perspective of making a living, his other interests were mostly cultural--music and literature--and a pursuit of wine, women and Mahler, so to speak. Raffi would always offer him labor work if it was available, but Chuck was not interested in that. He was in his mid-30s and adrift. The stories about him becoming an auto mechanic were borne of this period. He had purchased my VW station wagon, for reasons that I have forgotten. I had rebuilt the engine in that car at least once, and Chuck, after he had taught himself mechanics, rebuilt it again. After he had it apart, he was very disdainful of the quality of my previous handiwork. I don’t think Chuck had any intention of working as a mechanic, but I suppose if Galen still owned an auto shop, he could have worked for Galen.

Here is a note that Chuck sent me just before Christmas in 1974. For folks not familiar with late 20th century communication, a note was written and mailed to the recipient using a service the US government provided. They actually delivered the physical letter to a street address or a post office box. It was also written on a mechanical contraception called a typewriter. If you made a mistake you had to use whiteout from a little bottle. Strange isn’t it?

Remembering Chuck presents a quandary. You can see it in Don’s telling about the memorial: The women brought to tears remembering Chuck represents the idealized Chuck that some folks have created, including some of his friends from the 60s and 70s. Herb’s comment represents the Chuck that comes closer to the real person, the one that folks who knew Chuck remember, not as a hero but a complete, if somewhat hidden person. This is not to say that Chuck didn’t love the women who was missing him and (for sure he would not have wanted her to hear Herb's comment even if he agreed), he just would not have liked the drama and what it signified, at any level. Thanks Don. Great story.

By the way, Steve, the picture that you posted of Chuck and Sheridan also includes me in the background, on the right.

In re-reading this I realize that I can bring a little of Chuck to life. In the second paragraph, I say, "...a knack for pithy, humorous aphorisms." If Chuck had seen that, he would have winced. And then pointed out that all aphorism are pithy.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 12:53pm PT
PRATT - A Day In The Life
By Dennis Miller

In May of 1974, after three previous failed attempts, I finally climbed the Salathe Wall Route on Yosemite Valley's granite monolith, El Capitan. My partner and I scaled the route in four marvelous days, in grand style, and somehow managed to make every ledge for our nightly bivouacs.

On the second day, we noticed a climbing team ascending the Shield Route just to the right of us. It was Chuck Pratt and Steve Sutton. They were about six hundred feet below us and climbing quite fast. By the time they actually got up the shield itself, we could only see them part of the time, but we could hear them calling back and forth to each other during their climb. We were the only climbing teams on El Capitan during those warm days of May.

The day my partner and I got down, we drove to the base of El Cap to see where we had been and to watch Pratt and Sutton finish their climb. I had a brand new spotting scope, and it was pretty cool to see where we had climbed and to watch Pratt and Sutton finish what I believe was the second ascent of the Shield.

Two days later, I was offered a full time job as a fire fighter in the Park Service's Helitack Division of the Forestry Department. All I had to do was cut my hair, purchase a uniform, and clean up my act. The Park Service actually gave me five days to sow the rest of my summer oats and report to the firehouse for my job instructions.

The next day, Chuck Pratt, Steve Sutton, Hugh Burton, and I bought two cases of quart bottles of Coors beer, and headed out of the Park to the Merced River just west of the small town of El Portal, just outside the Park's west entrance. We had sixteen quarts of beer between us, and we planned on drinking every last drop by nightfall.

By mid day we were pretty well toasted and decided to head back to the Valley and see what was kicking at Camp Four. We piled into my blue and white 1969 Volkswagen Van, named Herb Blueness, and started the slow motion journey back to the Valley and awaiting friends. We were fearless, drunken heroes returning to the scene of our gallant exploits - warriors, explorers, scoundrels, misfits, beer connoiseurs. We were on a mission!

We made it all the way to the Tuolumne Meadows turnoff before we needed to make a pit stop and opted to pull of at the small conversion dam turnout. After raising the level of the Merced River by at least seven inches, we piled back into Herb Blueness and continued our journey up the canyon toward Yosemite Valley.

I started hearing some sort of clanking noise coming from the rear of the bus, and looking in the rearview mirror, I saw Chuck perched on the rear bumper, his belt in hand, whacking the top of the van like a mule skinner would crack his whip over the backs of his mules. It was a hilarious sight!

Suddenly, Steve screamed out, "Pratt's down, eh!" Sure enough, there lay Charles Marshall Pratt in the middle of the road his gut full of beer and a smile from one side of his face to the other. Traffic began to pile up behind us.

Steve and Hugh were instantly out of the van standing over the fallen hero. I pulled over, yanked the parking brake, and joined them. Pratt seemed to be talking in tongues, some sort of language none of us understood, but we understood him well enough to know he was okay.

A man came running up from one of the stopped vehicles behind us, "I'm a doctor. You shouldn't move the victim!" We laughed at the absurdity of his comment, and the three of us picked Chuck up, somehow managed to get the rear door of the van open, and tossed our damaged goods in like a sack of Idaho potatoes. Pratt continued to speak in tongues as we drove off - our destination now Lewis Memorial Hospital - leaving a stunned and confused young doctor standing in the road scratching his head and mumbling something about the Hippocratic oath.

On the one way portion of the road, I drove the entire way to the hospital in the wrong direction without hitting another vehicle or being pulled over by a Park ranger. Truly, the four of us were invincible that day. Well, except for Pratt!

The following day, with a metallic drumming in my head and a stomach full of barking Chihuahuas, I went to see Chuck at the hospital to assess the damage he suffered in his fall. When I entered his room, Chuck was propped up in bed, looking like the Bruised Buddha in his pearly white gown, drinking something through a straw. His injuries amounted to scrapes, bruises, and a broken collarbone. It could have been far worse.

I said I was sorry for what had happened, and he raised his hand and shook his head, Chuck's way of saying it was okay. I said I was sorry again, and he just smiled. I came to try to make him feel better, but instead, he was trying to make me feel better. Chuck, with a frown and in a raspy but very firm voice, said, "You guys finished the beer didn't you?" I said we had and he, with obvious relief, smiled and added, "That's good news, you should never waste good beer!"

Editor's Note
Some readers may find this story just slightly distasteful in that it relates illegal activities and some obviously poor choices in civic conduct. Without condoning their behavior, one must remember the context. These guys were young and were all big wall climbers - they had just been thousands of feet above Yosemite Valley, matching their skill as climbers against the ever present dangers of scaling one of the most imposing granite monoliths in the world. Mistakes in the vertical world can be fatal. They hadn't made any – they "were invincible". Living for days on a Yosemite wall is not a picnic. It has been described as "... entail[ing] awkward climbing, difficult piton placement, hanging belays, heavy hauling, hammock bivouacs, scraped knuckles, numb feet, coughing, cramping, torturous sun, threatening clouds, never enough water, rurps, and skyhooks - all the ingredients of a great Yosemite adventure." These guys were happy to be alive.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 19, 2009 - 01:02pm PT
Breedlove ... Breedlove ... where have I heard that name before?

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 19, 2009 - 01:35pm PT
Funny picture, Don. I don't remember it.

This, folks, demonstrates the original meaning of "spray," when applied to climbers. We still had to work out the kinks.

So, Don are you commenting on my posting--trying for a effervescent ‘pop’ and getting soaked instead?

Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  May 19, 2009 - 04:18pm PT
An amazing thread!

Dennis Miller's article notes Pratt and Sutton as doing the second (third?) ascent of the Shield, in May 1974. Yvon Chouinard and Bruce Carson did the Nose hammerless in 1973 (?). Were those the last ascents of El Cap by the leading climbers of the mid 1950s to late 1960s 'golden age'?

Of course, Tom Frost returned in the last decade or so, and climbed the Salathe and North American Wall (and more?) with his son.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 19, 2009 - 04:20pm PT
OK, this is cool. We're starting to get a better view refracted from all our directions. Thanks, compadres.

Peter, good catch posting up the shot at Chuck's chopping block. It was taken by Jim Herrington, who is amassing portraits of the Golden Agers. He's good.

Notice his clothesline in the background? Someone at the memorial mentioned that Chuck would oil his clothespins. Perfectly in line with his (pithy?) aphorism "Take good care of your equipment and it will take good care of you." It also echoes something Chouinard said that afternoon, about how lightly Chuck lived on the earth -- "a hell of a lot lighter than I do."

With full respect for your CP pin Todd (bet it fell right out in your hands...), I wish I had one of those clothespins to remember him as I hang out my fleece.

Don, thanks for posting up the Millis piece. I was starting to fret about where I could find it. Classic! And absolutely essential.

Carry on, we're getting somewhere here.

Edit: Hey, could one of our digital archivists (Clint? Dr. Ed?) sort out a list of Chuck's FAs?


  May 19, 2009 - 06:32pm PT
What a remarkable thread, a touching memorial tribute and wonderful writing all together. Thank you very much!

Trad climber
Boulder, CO
  May 19, 2009 - 08:22pm PT
Here is an incomplete list of some of Pratt's FA's in the Valley. I put this together for myself, but as there seems to be a demand for something like this, I'll post. I'm sure someone else can put together a better list that includes more obscure routes, and his aid routes.

1958 The Cleft 5.9 R, Chuck Pratt & Wally Reed
1958 The Cookie 5.8, Chuck Pratt & Dick Sykes
1958 Lower Cathedral Spire Northeast Chimney 5.8, Chuck Pratt & Steve Roper (No topos)
1958 Split Pinnacle, East Arete 5.10c, Chuck Pratt & Krehe Ritter
1959 Astroman (to be) 5.11c, Chuck Pratt, Glen Denny, Warren Harding
1959 The Crack of Dawn 5.9, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins, Tom Frost
1959 The Ski Jump III 5.7, Chuck Pratt, Bob Kamps
1960 The Rostrum, West Base Route 5.10c Chuck Pratt,John Fiske
1960 Chounaird-Pratt 5.11 Middle Cathedral: dirty, no topo, not done anymore?
1961 Crack of Doom 5.10a CP, Mort Hempel
1961 Salathe Wall, CP, RR, TF
1964 Lost Arrow Chimney V 10a, Chuck Pratt & Frank Sacherer
1964 Crack of Despair, CP, FS, Tom Gerughty
1964 Midterm 5.10b, Chuck Pratt & Tom Frost
1964 South Face Mt. Watkins, WH, YC, CP
1964 North America Wall, YC, RR, TF, CP
1965 Chingando 5.10a, CP
1965 Crack of Redemption 5.9, CP, Chris Fredericks
1965 Cross-Country Crack 5.9, CP, Tim Kimbrough
1965 Entrance Exam 5.9, CP, Chris Fredericks, Larry Marshall, Jim Bridwell
1965 Higher Cathedral Spire, Southeast Side, East Corner 5.10a, CP, Tom Gerughty
1965 Juliette's Flake, Left Side 5.8, CP and Jim Bridwell
1965 Kindergarten Crack 5.8, CP & John Evans
1965 Lower Cathedral Spire - Pratt-Faint variation 5.9
1965 The Slack, Left Side 5.10b, CP & RR
1965 Twilight Zone 5.10d, CP & Chris Fredericks
1966 The Sequel 5.8, CP & Joe Faint
1967 CS Concerto 5.8 CP, YC, Mort Hempel
1967 The Mummy's Revenge 5.9, CP & Tom Kimbrough
1968 Flatus 5.9, CP & Tom Bauman
1968 SW Face North Dome 5.9 CP & Bev Clark (No topo, arrow for route start)
1970 Galloping Consumption 5.11a, CP & SR
1972 Capital Consumption 5.8, Chuck Pratt, Bruce Price, Jerry Anderson
1973 Deception Gully 5.9, CP, Tim Auger, Jerry Anderson
1973 Inner Reaches 5.7 CP, Tim Auger, Jerry Anderson
1973 Knob Hill Rapist 5.8 R/X ditto

I dream of one day completing all of these climbs, but the prospect of doing so frightens me deeply. Thanks everyone for the stories and shared memories.

The Wastelands
  May 19, 2009 - 09:13pm PT
1964, South Face of Mount Watkins

It was not Tom Frost, rather it was Harding, Pratt, and Yvon

edit, no disrespect intended, great list, just to set the record straight!

Trad climber
Punter, Little Rock
  May 19, 2009 - 10:39pm PT
DR, you have a wealth of tales to tell. Keep them coming. This is some sweet history. Thanks.
dee ee

Mountain climber
Of THIS World (Planet Earth)
  May 20, 2009 - 01:19am PT
What a remarkable man and great thread.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 20, 2009 - 04:40am PT
Does anyone know what Chuck did during his winters in Thailand (other than the obvious R & R for which the country is famous)? Did friends from the U.S. meet him there, did he hang out with tourist types, non female locals? I was curious about the statement earlier on that he talked with friends about cremation and scattering his ashes in the Mekong a couple of times in the days leading up to his death. Does anyone know with whom?

Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  May 20, 2009 - 05:28am PT
Oliver Wrote; But I might add that you too are one of the finest people any of us has met.

I second that statement! And a true Alpinest if there ever was one.

All the best Doug!

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 20, 2009 - 11:41am PT
Notes on the letter Chuck sent to me.

"Barney Bruin," et al, is the bear that trashed Chuck’s car.

Here is a picture of my car after a similar attack.

”Elizabeth” was the Valley’s reining beauty who worked for the Curry Co and had a large apartment behind the Post Office. Chuck met her once and could barely contain himself—like a gaga teenager. He when on and on later about what beautiful lips she had--embarrassing. Elizabeth was very charming and he, as I had been, was dumbstruck that such a poised, beautiful, and clearly above-our-station woman would take an interest in climbers. I have no idea who he discussed my relationship with, up it does point up the coursing surges we all had in relationships with beautiful women.

Chuck didn’t think much of my apparent plans to climb the Zodiac in winter: it was cold, forcryingoutloud, and, apparently, he wasn't sure I knew what I was doing. This letter is the only evidence that I was contemplating climbing the Zodiac. Maybe it was related to breaking up with Elizabeth. As has been noted from the beginning of time, the ability to forget is key to human progress, at least until you can recall low moments as if they belonged to someone else and post about them on ST.

"Pacific Stereo" was one of the early discounted electronic stores. Chuck had a huge record collection and getting better gear was always necessary. Nowadays, with computer designed speaker and low cost electronics, stereo equipment is mostly all good quality and very inexpensive. As far as I know, stereo equipment magazines are no longer published—folks are even happy with the very low quality sound production of iPods.

Anyone know what Chuck did for music in the Tetons?

I don’t think that Chuck and I would have had hot toddies for Christmas. We both liked red wine. And he like sake and I liked scotch.

"Williams/Bream" refers to John Williams and Julian Bream, both British classic guitar performers who collaborated. Chuck is correct: they did make two recordings. After I returned to college, I received my degree in music and played classic guitar. Then I got a real job. And a suit. And. And. And.

"Jani" is Jani Roper. She and Steve had recently divorced. Anyone know where Jani is these days?
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
  May 20, 2009 - 12:28pm PT

I haven't heard anything of Jani Niece (Roper) but thinking of
a great photo of hers.

Somebody leading the 2nd pitch of Reed's Direct, black/white,
typical angle, from the parking area, I guess.

Not much of a white strip of rock next to the crack.
It was used on a catalogue from DMC as I recall. I'm not sure if
it was published in a magazine or book.

DMC (Donner Mountain Corp.) was one of the Ski Hut offshoots.
Ski Hut=retail, Trailwise=manufacturing, DMC=importing/wholesale
George Rudolph held onto DMC when he sold Ski Hut and Trailwise.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 20, 2009 - 12:41pm PT
I too have a very nice B&W photo by Jani hanging in my sunroom. I have had it since the mid-70s. Maybe we should post both of them on another thread and try to draw Jani out.
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
  May 20, 2009 - 12:59pm PT
That sounds great except for the fact that I don't have one
to post.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 20, 2009 - 01:35pm PT
Roge, I am thinking you and Chuck had matching VW squarebacks....pls advise.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 20, 2009 - 02:30pm PT
Frankly Peter, I am a little confused about the sequence and don't remember all the facts. Some time after the bear torn into my VW and after I had replaced the doors (and installed locks--it's only $7.50!) I bought a 68 VW van, probably in 1975. I think I sold the car in the photo to Chuck, but I don't recall the details or what happened to Chuck's station wagon. I do recall that Chuck rebuilt the engine after I had rebuilt it and had the timidity to criticize my mechanical skills and my workmanship quality. I thought it was pretty cheeky since he had just learned mechanics by reading library books!

In any case, I think my car was close to the same year as Chuck's original VW station wagon.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  May 20, 2009 - 03:21pm PT
Pratt was my hero from the time I read Roper's Red guide book, with his description of the left side of the Worst Error and the Crack of Doom. Perhaps because of this, when I finally met him, it was like meeting a god.

I was lucky enough to buy a couple of old-style Bugaboos from him, with the CP still visible. They are, without a doubt, my most prized climbing possessions.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 20, 2009 - 05:19pm PT
Last I heard Jani was married and living in Moab? With Clyde Deal(sic)? Ran into her in a coffee shop in Moab in 86.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 20, 2009 - 05:52pm PT
Max, Thanks for the FA list. It says volumes all by itself.

I think the last entry is slightly off, in an error that has been repeated in guidebook after guidebook. I'm pretty sure Chuck's intention was to name it Nob Hill Ropist, making it a pun off the phrase you'd expect.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
  May 20, 2009 - 06:03pm PT
How about the real Twilight Zone first ascent story. The way I heard it, CP was in hiking boots, chuged up part of the route, then got a knee good and jammed and went off belay and sent his belayer down to the car for more gear. He hauled up the new gear on the rope, and finished the lead.

BITD, you couldn't get much in the Zone to begin with - maybe a couple good pieces for the entire pitch. But I've always wondered exactly what went down when Chuck first led this thing.

PS: What gets rarely mentioned is that last pitch of the Zone. It used to have a big dirt hummock at the end of the lead with all these rope marks grooved into the dirt, and you had to sort of pinch the hummock/grooves to get over the top. Dicy . . .

And did you know that Chuck climbed the Steck/Salathea like thirty times, or maybe even more.

Talented guy. A legend.

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2009 - 07:14pm PT
Here's what I think is a complete list of Chuck Pratt's FAs and FFAs. It only adds 10 routes to the list already posted by MaxJ.

190. The Cookie - Original 5.8 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Dick Sykes, 1958
202. The Cleft 5.9+ R * 4 FA: Chuck Pratt, Wally Reed, 1958; FFA: Chuck Pratt, Chris Fredericks, 1965
1078. Split Pinnacle - East Arete 5.8 ** 5 FA: Chuck Pratt, Krehe Ritter, 1958
2235. Lower Cathedral Spire - Northeast Chimney 5.8 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Steve Roper, 1958; FFA: Tom Kimbrough, Roman Laba, 1966
2295. Penny-Nickle Arete 5.7 A2 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, George Sessions, Krehe Ritter, 1958
1562. The Crack of Dawn 5.9 1 FA: Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, Tom Frost, 1959
1666. Astroman 5.11c *** 11 FA: Warren Harding, Glen Denny, Chuck Pratt, 7/1959; FFA: John Bachar, John Long, Ron Kauk, 5/1975
2225. The Ski Jump 5.7 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Bob Kamps, 7/1959
2344. Middle Cathedral Rock - North Face 5.9 A4 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Bob Kamps, Steve Roper, 1959
1495. Bishop's Terrace 5.8 *** 1 FA: Russ Warne, Dave McFadden, Steve Roper, 12/1959; FFA: Chuck Pratt, Herb Swedlund, 1960
1843. Mt. Broderick - South Face 5.8 A3 7 FA: Bob Kamps, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, 5/1960
2282. Higher Cathedral Rock - North Face 5.9 A4 1 FA: (partial) Chuck Pratt, Yvon Chouinard, Bob Kamps, 7/1960; FA: (complete) Chuck Pratt, Dennis Hennek, 1968
2318. Chouinard-Pratt 5.11 1 FA: Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Bob Kamps, 1960; FFA(first 5p): John Long, Pete Minks, 1976
2580. The Rostrum - West Base below bench 5.8? A2? 4 FA: Chuck Pratt, John Fiske, 1960
878. Salathe Wall 5.10 C2 35 FA: Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, Tom Frost, 1961
2653. Crack of Doom 5.10a * 4 FA: Chuck Pratt, Mort Hempel, 1961
2654. Crack of Despair 5.10a * 4 FA: Frank Sacherer, Galen Rowell, 1962; FFA: Frank Sacherer, Chuck Pratt, Tom Gerughty, 1964
2406. Lower Cathedral Rock - North Face 5.9 A3 15 FA: Royal Robbins, Chuck Pratt, Joe Fitschen, 1963
66. Midterm 5.10b *** 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tom Frost, 1964
730. Ribbon Falls - East Portal 5.9 A4 1 FA: Al Steck, John Evans, Chuck Pratt, Dick Long, 6/64
916. North America Wall 5.8 A2 29 FA: Tom Frost, Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins, 1964; FCA: Dougald MacDonald, Chris McNamara, 1997
1435. Lost Arrow Chimney 5.10a 10 FA: John Salathe', Anton Nelson, 9/1947; FFA: Chuck Pratt, Frank Sacherer, 1964
1740. Mt. Watkins - South Face 5.13a or 5.11d A0 ** 19 FA: Warren Harding , Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, 7/1964; FFA: Brooke Sandahl, Steve Sutton, 1999?
60. Entrance Exam 5.9 * 3 FA: Chuck Pratt, Chris Fredericks, Larry Marshaik, Jim Bridwell, 1965
83. Cross-Country Crack 5.9 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tom Kimbrough, 1965
84. Kindergarten Crack 5.8 2 FA: John Evans, Chuck Pratt, 1965
95. Juliette's Flake - Left Side 5.8 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Jim Bridwell, 1965
164. Twilight Zone 5.10d ** 3 FA: Chuck Pratt, Chris Fredericks, 9/1965
526. Chingando 5.10a * 2 FA: Chuck Pratt, et al, 6/1965
776. The Slack - Left Side 5.10b 3 FA: Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins, 1965
2238. Lower Cathedral Spire - Pratt-Faint var. 5.9 * 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Joe Faint, 1965
2255. Higher Cathedral Spire - East Corner 5.10a * 5 FA: Tom Gerughty, Chuck Pratt, 1965
2635. Crack of Redemption 5.9 4 FA: Chuck Pratt, Chris Fredericks, 1965
2261. The Sequel 5.8 * 5 FA: Joe Faint, Chuck Pratt, 10/1966
1061. C.S. Concerto 5.8 * 3 FA: Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Mort Hempel, 1967
2184. The Mummy's Revenge 5.9 4 FA: Tom Kimbrough, Chuck Pratt, 1967
568. Flatus 5.9 * 5 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tom Bauman, 5/1968
1678. North Dome - Southwest Face 5.9 1 FA: Bev Clark, Chuck Pratt, 4/1968
2554. The Mosstrum 5.8 A3 1 FA: Bob Bauman, Chuck Pratt, Bruce Kumph, 1968
2153. Gobi Wall 5.8 A4 9 FA: Chuck Pratt, Ken Boche, 1969
1211. Galloping Consumption 5.11a * 4 FA: Chuck Pratt, Steve Roper, 1970; FFA: Don Reid, Alan Roberts, 1987
2279. Higher Cathedral Rock - Northeast Corner 5.8 A3 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Joe Kelsey, 10/1970
895. New Dawn 5.8 A3 29 FA(to El Cap Tower and partial traverse): Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Dennis Hennek, Chris Jones, by 1970; FA(full): Charlie Porter, summer/1972 [Edited]
246. Capital Punishment 5.7 3 FA: Chuck Pratt, Bruce Price, Jerry Anderson, 1972
472. Nob Hill Ropist 5.8 R/X 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tim Auger, Jerry Anderson, 1973
473. Deception Gully 5.9 1 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tim Auger, Jerry Anderson, 1973
608. Inner Reaches 5.7 2 FA: Chuck Pratt, Tim Auger, Jerry Anderson, 4/1973

The number at the start of each line is the guidebook sequence number (maybe helpful if you are not sure where the route is). The number between the rating and FA: is the number of pitches (it is inaccurate for many of the climbs).
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 20, 2009 - 07:32pm PT
I doubt it, but I can't say with absolute certainty. So ST campers, who knew what Chuck was doing in the late 70s? I was in SF, going to school, and working for the SF Symphony.

navblk4 is on a mission here. Sort of a National Inquirer inquiry.

navblk4, what was your teacher's first and middle name?

Frankly, the whole concept that someone looked like Chuck therefore might be Chuck is sort of funny. Doug and Chris both looked sort of like Chuck. But even if they all dressed alike, stood still, and didn't say any thing, I think we could still tell them apart from 25 yards.

If it were me, I'd throw snow at them and watch them react.

Doug: "Oh boy, let's go.

Chris: "What is the meaning of snow since no two are alike?"

Chuck: "F*#k you Breedlove. I'm outa here."


  May 20, 2009 - 08:33pm PT

What is this? 895. New Dawn 5.8 A3 29 FA: Charlie Porter, Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Dennis Hennek, Chris Jones, 1974

Last I remember watching Charlie Porter solo the FA of the New Dawn. What are all these other guys doing pertaining to 895?

Mudcat Spire
  May 20, 2009 - 09:10pm PT
Awesome thread.

Edit: Looks like Pratt ticked the north face of each Cathedral Rock.
the museum

Trad climber
  May 20, 2009 - 09:43pm PT
I met Pratt at Devil's Tower. That was a big deal for me. He and one of his cronies were climbing Soler.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 20, 2009 - 09:49pm PT
Hey Ryan, got any untold stories about Chuck in your channeling mode?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 20, 2009 - 09:49pm PT
Yo Roger

Funny, the concept of Pratt, DR and Fredericks all looking alike. All short, all had great beards and all super climbers. Intellectually gifted, deep thinkers and known for periods of solitude and sometimes strange and aberrant behavior. The real question is which of the three is the real Checkered Demon? PH will have to clean up the image of Pratt again, I can' find one of Chris but here is one of DR at one of my weddings.


Mudcat Spire
  May 20, 2009 - 10:31pm PT
I feel a little out of place on this thread, so I should stat with my only personal Chuck story as a disclaimer. I'd grown up on a pile of "Chuck as icon" stories, a couple of which will follow, and so the man had grown larger than life as can happen when the tribal myth machine gets rolling.

I'd always wanted to meet Chuck and finally got my chance at the Camp 4 shindig. There he was, just a little gnome of a guy. Approaching to be introduced I had a monologue going in my head repeating a loop of "you're going to meet Chuck Pratt, he's a legend, this is AWESOME." Working myself up to meet royalty.

After the actual introduction: he stuck out his hand and might have said "hunh" or "glurp." I grabbed that hand and pumped it like a salesman and semi-shouted, "I can't believe I'm shaking your hand! You're Chuck Pratt, you're a legend, this is AWESOME!!!" And that was when time stopped and I saw him and me frozen as if memorialized and I saw the look on his face and finally realized that my whole fantasy of meeting Chuck Pratt just went pffffft.

Story #2 repeats what Largo mentioned above. I'd always heard the FA story of Twilight Zone as follows. Pratt soloed up a ways and said, hold on, maybe you should toss me the rope. Hehe, wait, maybe that's Six Shooter. On the Zone Pratt shimmied up an inconsequential ways, like say 50 feet, and hemmed and hawed and decided he might actually want a piece of pro after all. The piece that's in the car.

The car. Down the first pitch. Down the talus. To the road. The piece he wants is in the car.

The belayer sauntered down, had a soda, hobnobbed with some beauties down at the river, scurried back up, sent the bong up to Chuck who, apparently, was chilling halfway up Twilight Zone (????!!) and the rest is history.

(For realz?)

Story #3. (Repeated just as I've always heard it with zero to minimal embellishment.) Back in the day, as the earth cooled, Camp 4 was peopled by two sorts of wild beasts: the climbers, led by Royal Rockwalker and the five-foot shaggie Chewinard; and the bears of the forest, led by their immortal king Spartacus. Spartacus was the size of nine Volkswagens. He'd gained strength as a cub by snacking on Miwoks. One time he roared and Sentinel cracked in two and created the Steck-Salathe.

Climber and bear co-existed for centuries. The climbers plucked many a cherry line. The bears hunted for the climbers' snacks. One day Chuck returned to camp (maybe after a six-hour armbar on Twilight Zone) to find his humble pup tent ransacked. Chuck was a gentle soul but this was too far. This breached the rules of engagement. This was an insult. The culprit? Chuck found a paw print the size of Delaware - Spartacus had grown too arrogant. He no longer respected the climbers as fellow forest denizens.

Spartacus must be taught a lesson.

Chuck assembled his equipment: his down jacket, a bottle of wine (perhaps pinched), and a rock weighing in the vicinity of 400 pounds. Chuck trundled this rock to the top of Columbia Boulder and sat down to wait. Darkness fell. The universe swung overhead. Chuck was as still as a gourd.

Then, monstrous footfalls and the sound of great pines being felled. The ground trembled. Spartacus emerged from the treeline and cast his head about and sniffed. Perhaps he could find some more goodies here among the climbers. Ponderously, Spartacus wandered past Columbia Boulder. Chuck stood without a sound. He raised his boulder above his head and cast it down with all his might on the skull of the great Spartacus.

Doink. It bounced off like a superball. Spartacus blinked and shook his shaggy head and said hrmph. Then wandered off to see what was cooking in Harding's Jag.

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 20, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
The bear story with Columbia Boulder is my favorire Pratt story. I'm having trouble remembering the bear's name. Spartacus?
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  May 20, 2009 - 11:52pm PT

> What is this? 895. New Dawn 5.8 A3 29 FA: Charlie Porter, Yvon Chouinard, Chuck Pratt, Dennis Hennek, Chris Jones, 1974

> Last I remember watching Charlie Porter solo the FA of the New Dawn. What are all these other guys doing pertaining to 895?

Oops. I've edited it now. The other 4 guys climbed the right side of El Cap Tower and traversed partway to the Dihedrals on the Dawn Wall before realizing the cracks there were closed and would require too much bolting.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 12:18am PT
Since I didn't get any takers the first round, I'm going to ask again. Does anyone here know anything about Chuck's time in Thailand? Where did he stay, who did he hang out with, did old climbing friends visit him there? Who was with him the morning he died?
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 21, 2009 - 01:34am PT

Chuck returned year after year to a place in the highlands in northern Thailand on the banks of the Mekong. Same guest house bungalows where he always had the same cabin for the winter. The breakfast the morning he died was hosted by the Thai owner of the bungalows who knew Chuck pretty well after all those years. Others from the States were said to have been present. I've heard the name of the place and of the proprietor, but it meant nothing to me and has slipped away.

Chuck was cremated, as he had asked, on the banks of the Mekong. The Buddhist monk tending his funeral pyre offered the opinion that Chuck was a Bodhisattva, one who was on his way to becoming a Buddha.

This was all related to me by way of Millis, but told by a woman who Chuck had been especially close to during his last years. Her name has escaped me too, but she lived over Teton Pass on the Idaho side, and had visited Chuck a number of times in Thailand, and went there immediately after his death to gather his things. When she returned home, there was a postcard from Chuck waiting for her, written 3 days before he died.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 21, 2009 - 01:41am PT

The more addenda the better. Keep it up.

I'm still waiting for someone to confirm that damn bear's name.

  May 21, 2009 - 01:44am PT
When Chuck left his body was there a monk in his presence?

If so that would be auspicious ......

edit: Awesome post, yo
Todd Eastman

Social climber
Putney, VT
  May 21, 2009 - 01:59am PT
We are climbers, our sport is in part based on climbing but from that, grows the friendships, loves, stories, and legends that are what climbing means to us. Thanks to all for your contributions and memories.
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  May 21, 2009 - 02:06am PT
Roper's Camp 4 says (pp 156 - 157): "Pratt had names for some of the distinctive bears that called Camp 4 home. Beauregard, Spartacus, Caligula, Lancelot, and the looming El Cid. These animals were clever enough - or satiated enough - not to make forays every night; sometimes they would lie low for a week and then catch us badly off guard, destroying our possessions. To this problem we addressed ourselves often, plotting and scheming. Sometimes we would tree a poor bear and, with well-directed rocks, force it to stay up for hours, peeing and panicked. This did little good and we really didn't enjoy the torture. One evening TM Herbert had endured enough. He sat patiently atop the Wine Traverse Boulder cradling a huge rock, waiting for El Cid, who often ambled by this particular boulder at dusk. Sure enough, along cam the creature and down crashed the stone onto Cid's skull. A perfect knockout strike! A small "click" resulted; El Cid looked around, shook his massive head twice, and then waddled into camp to see what was cooking."

Then he tells a story about a non-climber catching and skinning a bear in the boulders behind Camp 4.

These are the sorts of tales that grow in the telling, and are all the better for it.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 21, 2009 - 02:12am PT
Finally ... I knew it wasn't Spartacus - it was El Cid!

I guess it's whoever told the story first.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 21, 2009 - 04:43am PT
Now, Pratts hospital episode, after falling off the car, while drinking too much beer, and ending up in the hospital under the care of the talented Dr Sturm and his able staff, just wasn't all that BAD. There were some great perks in the old hospital, with antiquated paraphernalia such as circa 40's wheel chairs more a curiousity than a problem, but, "oh la la", the nurses were something to die for. Fortunately we did not, but, for many of us who spent time there,(Powell, Roper myself,Kamps, etc.......) recuperating from downward bound flings, whether auto or granite born we had an interesting experience. Alas, you can see why Chuck was reluctant to check out before complete recovery was certified or the smuggled beer depleted.


Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 05:45am PT

Thanks for the Thailand info. That really helps complete the circle for me. Interesting how all three of us from that winter in Boulder and summer in the Valley got interested in Buddhism but at different times and different ways. If I find out that Tom Gerughty got interested too, that will make it unaminous for the Camp 4 regulars of 1965.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 21, 2009 - 08:34am PT
Hi Jan,

The connection between Buddhism and rock climbing is grounded in "flow," the mental state that can be achieved by both Buddhist meditation and rock climbing, especially the sort of "quiet" style practiced by Chuck. Climbing has been identified as one of the few activities that creates ‘flow’ and any climber who has experienced it—it is additive—and had any interest in religious (speaking loosely) contemplation would gravitate towards Buddhist contemplation practices. A large proportion of Valley regulars, at least in the early seventies, practiced Buddhism of one sort or another. "The Three Pillars of Zen," edited by Kapleau was a common sight. It also provided the name for Phil Bircheff's brilliant route, "The Third Pillar," on the Dana Plateau.

It is interesting that Chuck may have taken an interest in Buddhism later in life. I don't remember him having any truck with any established method of thought--a "beat" baby--when I knew him. We never discussed it as far as I remember, and Chuck was disdainful, in private, in any ‘imposed’ religiosity or ‘secret’ meaning to anything. That said, Chuck was also disdainful of speed climbing because for him it disrupted the flow and ‘flow’ of climbing: “It takes as long as it takes.”

On the other hand, in Thailand, I can imagine Chuck being close friends with a Buddhist Priest would then, naturally, project Buddhist thought onto Chuck's calmness and quietness, both of which are Buddhist traits. I also suspect that Chuck probably lost his mocking sense of his life and just focued on the tasks at hand, which is the point of Buddism, even if it is not called that. (In good faith, a Tibetan Buddhist priest projected his tenets onto my sister after her death. But my sister had no beliefs to support it.)

(Of course these are all idle observations on a sunny early morning.)

I would not be surprised if Tom would have gravitated towards Buddhist thought. I wish we could locate Tom and get him to join in.

Hey Joe, nice socks.

Cool to know that Chuck clobbered Spartacus and TM clobbered El Cid. I wonder who clobbered Grendel?

I am in the middle of reading Fagle’s translation of the ‘The Iliad.” Idle time. Our history should only be told in the same style, preferably written by Ryan (yo).
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 21, 2009 - 09:20am PT

As usual you are skirting the issue and we are not impressed. How many times can you read "rosy-fingered dawn", "swift-footed Achilleus" and his other epithets and still go with Homer on this tale? You probably even have the papyrus edition.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 09:41am PT

I agree that Buddhism, at least as it is often interpreted in America through Zen, goes very well with rock climbing. What interested me was the idea that Chuck might finally have become interested in it. As you say, he was disdainful of formal religion or secret meanings in the early days, and from what I could make out, regarded our peyote experience as just an interesting entertainment whereas Chris and I (and many others) would relate psychedelics to the beginning of a serious search.

It's possible that the Buddhist priest extrapolated from Chuck's personality or also possible that Chuck had some very interesting thoughts and conversations with him about Buddhist philosophy in his later years. It's one thing to experience a new philosophy as a novelty and another to see it as part of an ancient and organic way of life. Few who live in Asia for a long time fail to incorporate at least some of the indigenous mind set.

This was of course one of the many things I hoped to discuss with Chuck when we ever got together again, in part because I too would like to try to balance the individual freedom of the great American outdoors with the more complex philosophical traditions of Asia. Living with the Sherpas provides both, but becomes harder to do as one gets older and needs more amenities. Thailand looks like a good alternative.

Meanwhile, I could believe that the Buddhist priest saw Chuck as a kind of Boddhisattva because he observed that many people in Thailand as in the U.S., sought him out in order to sort themselves out. Chuck had a wonderful gift of talking to you and leading you to your own self hidden conclusions. And of course Boddhisattvas don't necessarily have to be Buddhists. Personally I think Chuck fits very well with the crazy wisdom Boddhissatvas of the Tibetan tradition.

As for bears, I vote for the rock throwing incident to have involved Chuck and El Cid.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  May 21, 2009 - 09:53am PT
I have to side with Peter if I can stop laughing...Climbing history is closer to the script of "It' a Mad, Mad World" or, if only the classical will do, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" than anthing Homer would care to concoct. LOL

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 10:01am PT
Speak for yourself!
Some people took it seriously.
(Back in the primeval times when the gods still walked the earth).
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 21, 2009 - 10:46am PT
Make no mistake, Jan. Steve Grossman, with more than two dozen El Cap ascents and a full life of great excellence, is personally completely serious. However his comment above is simply that our collective history is chaotic and has many fascinating characters running into all kinds of trouble in high drama.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 21, 2009 - 10:57am PT
Story #3a. (Repeated just as I've always heard it with zero to minimal embellishment.)

Back in the day, as the earth cooled, Camp 4 was peopled by two sorts of wild beasts:
the climbers, led by Royal Rockwalker, lord of walls, son of Salathe, born of Hephaestus
and the five-foot shaggie Chewinard; son of Salathe, born of Hephaestus, pounder of chromium steel.
These climbers shared the Valley floor with the bears of the forest, sons of Ares, garbage eaters all,
led by their immortal king Spartacus, the size of nine Volkswagens, raging across the Valley floor,
gaining strength as a cub by snacking on Miwoks and, when he roared, opened the cracks of
Sentinel which bore the modern age of Salathe with Steck, his let’s-just-have-a-look sidekick.

Climbers and bears co-existed on the Valley floor for centuries. The climbers plucked many a
cherry line created by the roars of bears, who raged the Valley floors, garbage eaters all.
Amongst the bears lived the god like, El Cid, who taught his kin the arts of stealing snacks and
the razing climber’s camps, waging their destruction, mighty mixmaster paws, ripping and clawing
the very fabric of the climber’s fragranced homes, spilling their food across the Valley floor.

On the day that the twilight was pushed back by the mighty Chuck, who hung steady and calm
from his strong, live giving, arm bar, waiting for the protection of Chewinard, recovered from his
chariot, he returned to his fragrant camp to find his humble pup tent ransacked. The culprit had
no shame, nor fear, nor a bath in years. Chuck found a paw print the size of Delaware –
Spartacus, the size of nine Volkswagens, the maker of new cracks, had grown too arrogant.

He no longer respected the climbers as fellow forest denizens. The gentled souled Chuck cried to
the gods, “What crime have I done to deserve this assault? I burn the Oxen’s fat in your favor
and offer the finest of honeyed wine. Why, why me? Why do you strike this war between the bears,
sons of Ares, garbage eaters all and the peaceful climbers, who hang by arm bars. This is too
far. This breaches the rules of engagement. This is an insult. But if the Gods who never die call
us to war, we cannot refuse. I will overcome my peaceful nature and attack at night using the
strength of my arm bar and the weapons at hand. Spartacus must be taught a lesson.”

Chuck burned the oxen fat and offered honey sweetened wine to the great Valley gods and then
drinking well of the remaining honey sweetened wine, balanced on Coke bottles one toe at a time.
The peace loving, strong arm bar Chuck assembled his equipment, placing his down jacket over
his bulging chest and thick shoulders, nestling a bottle of wine (perhaps pinched), in one strong
arm and lofting above his head a rock weighing in the vicinity of 400 pounds. Thus ladened,
the strong arm bar Chuck trundled this rock to the top of Columbia Boulder and sat to wait
as darkness fell. The universe swung overhead and honey wine soaked Chuck sat still as a gourd.

Then, monstrous footfalls and the sound of great pines being felled filled the air. The ground trembled.
Spartacus emerged from the treeline and cast his head about and sniffed for the fragrant camps
of the climbers. Perhaps he could find some more goodies here among the strong arm barred
climbers, who slept peacefully with their beautiful lovers in pup tents of bright colors. Ponderously,
Spartacus wandered past Columbia Boulder. Chuck stood without a sound. He raised his boulder
above his head and cast it down with all his might on the skull of the great Spartacus.

Doink. It bounced off like a superball. Spartacus, the size of nine Volkswagens, who opened new cracks
with his roar which bore the modern age of climbing, blinked, shook his shaggy head and said “hrmph”.
Then wandered off to see what was cooking in Harding's Jag.

We were all born 2700 years too late, my chubby fingered Haan.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
  May 21, 2009 - 11:04am PT
Et tu Rogelius?
This has and contiues to be a most moving and amusing tribute.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 21, 2009 - 11:16am PT
Well-put Rog. Clearly you know who to listen to. See below a never-before revealed shot of Chuck as he hurled the 4799-talent boulder at Ursus Spartacus. Second century BC. a little after the earth cooled.

And Rog, about the fingers again, they are not chubby, Roger, they are HUGE, see below.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 21, 2009 - 11:49am PT
If we had skirmishes with the bears, the larger war was against the the heathen hordes, the tourists whose irreverent tides surged into our sacred Gulch, and with their appointed minions, the Rangers.

Chuck the clear-eyed was the first to see that in the bigger conflict the bears could be our allies. What he said was, "A coalition of a dozen climbers and a dozen bears could hold this Valley against all comers."

I've always thought that was one of the two best ideas (the other one being the mandatory entrance requirement of a 5.8 mantle move somewhere above El Portal) for maintaining an atmosphere appropriate to the sacredness of the place. Which of course rightly includes not only humble reverence but also the wildest of partying.

And yes, I know that I too am skirting here the larger question of the flow state that arises while climbing and its relationship to the most subtle psychology of the stages of enlightenment ever articulated that is found in Buddhism. More on that in a bit.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 11:54am PT
Peter and Steve-

I was joking!

This theme has already been discussed on the Sacherer thread - the relationship between hyper maleness, hero worship, and chauvinism.

Obviously the great climbers such as yourselves and Roger, who walked the earth after the gods had departed, were endowed with a much better sense of humor than the originals!

What makes Chuck unique is that he was one of the gods of the primeval age, yet even then had a well developed sense of irony and humor, much of it directed at himself.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 21, 2009 - 12:10pm PT
Kim Carlson is the woman who was such a special friend of Chuck's, who lived over Teton Pass in Idaho. Just noticed her name on that program from the Memorial -- thanks for posting that Guido, appropriately anointed with the sacramental wine.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 21, 2009 - 12:43pm PT
During his last years Chuck took up photography. Somewhat surprising when you think of Royal's comment somewhere in an article during the Sixties to the effect that taking a photo of Chuck seemed too invasive. I'm winging the quote here, but the sense of it is, "It would be like asking a Navajo to pose, and I would never do that."

What I remember of his shots are beautiful women. Besides American women, there were lots of lovely and delicate Thai women. Candid, anonymous, poised and full of grace.

Chuck loved women. Guys were OK, but the company of women brought him closer to the great mystery. Before heading to Thailand that autumn, he made his annual pilgrimage to Devils Tower in the company of Amy Brennan, who largely organized the memorial, and another beautiful young woman. They climbed every day on the Tower, and Amy mentioned that Chuck was fit and sure on the rock, climbing with his old grace and command. No hint of demise.

She also said that in the local bar they got plenty of stares, the grizzled Pratt walking in each evening with beautiful women on each arm, and had to make up the story for the quizzical locals that they were Chuck's nieces.

But the company of women wasn't always possible -- never seems to be quite available enough in the greater scheme of things -- and the longing and its despair must have somehow brought on the unleashing of Chuck's demons that led to Jan's last encounter, with Chuck's powerful hands at her throat.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 21, 2009 - 03:33pm PT

My interpretation of the event was that Chuck had recently had an unhappy experience with a woman I didn't know about, and under the influence of alcohol was feeling bitter toward all women. I just happened to be there. Nothing personal. If I had ever seen him again I would have teased him about it for sure.

The secret to Chuck's general success with women was that he was a great listener and totally nonjudgemental. I think for these reasons, he had many more platonic relationships with women than he had lovers, though there were plenty of those.

Fredericks and I were once at a party with him in Boulder where we were all laying on the floor listening to music as there was no furniture in the apartment. Next thing we know, a woman lying next to Chuck, whom none of us had met before the party, starts making very obvious moves on him. We barely extricated ourselves from the apartment before she had all of his clothes off.

Of course I always brought this up when Chuck would start to complain about being unloved. He always had to agree that it actually happened in just the way he had always fantasized it would, and no man could have asked for more.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 21, 2009 - 05:24pm PT
Largo... I remember a piece you did on Chuck. It was in Rock and Ice. Can you post it? If you don't have it at hand I can scan in for the crowd to enjoy.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 21, 2009 - 07:26pm PT
Just spoke with Largo and he is swamped with some sort of Stonemaster book thingie so I will post his story tonight/tomorrow AM once I get off this Crackberry.

Mudcat Spire
  May 21, 2009 - 09:59pm PT

I am slowly steeling myself for the depressing thought that neither Pratt nor TM chucked a stone off Columbia, and there was no bear of any name, and everybody was tucked in bed that night by ten.

(hahaha at Breedlove's post)

Trad climber
Cheyenne, Wyoming and Marshall Islands atoll.
  May 21, 2009 - 10:14pm PT
Nice read you all.
Sir Robinson an American Alpinist!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 22, 2009 - 02:04am PT
About two months before Chuck passed away, he and I
had a conversation that lasted approaching two
hours. He seemed more open than he usually was
and freely spoke about his ascent of the Twilight
Zone, some of which I have included in my history
"Wizards of Rock" (Largo, the whole story is there
about his retreat. You have a little of it right). I'm
not sure if Steve would want to post that account.
Chuck also told me about his interest in photography,
and he was, of course, very humble about it. He
seemed like a kid with a new toy. I asked him point
blank if ever wanted to do more writing. He said,
"I wouldn't have a life if I took the time needed to
write." It was a very curious answer, but I do think
he found it difficult -- even if he did those fine
pieces. They weren't simply scribbled out but took a lot
of hard work.

Jan, I could tell you a lot about his "doings" in Thailand,
maybe by email. One thing Chuck emphasized was
that it was much cheaper to live there than in
America, through the winter. But there were other
attractions. I'm not convinced of his commitment to
Buddhism, though he naturally possessed some of those
mentalities and the kinds of human qualities Buddhism
at its best is intended to inspire (poorly worded, sorry).
But I think he remained a bit of an outlaw and wasn't
a ready cast for any clear or obvious definition -- much
beyond Doug's fine, simple comment that he was about
the finest person you could know. Chuck wasn't at all
times "fine," however. He had his "eternal" struggles,
his torments, his lack of patience at times. He could be
downright mean on occasion if someone pulled the wrong
string or said something. He was good at instantly
recognizing the phoney. But a few things said about him
were imposed upon him in retrospect, to some degree.
I don't know if anyone other than you, Jan and Doug,
saw my lengthy tribute to him. But also years and years
ago I wrote a small piece in my book Swaramandal, and
Chuck particularly liked it. He showed me his personal
copy on his bookshelf at his place in Berkeley, once
when I visited him there. It might be nice to put
together all the different writings for him and by him.

Kerwin, your thread is way back, but Chuck wrote more than
one article, I'm sure you know. Two great ones, the
South Face of Washington Column and the View from
Deadhorse Point. A nice smaller classic was about
that Ribbon Falls/Gold Wall climb...

I could spend a long time on some of your questions, but
late at night, very tired, I will say for the moment that he
deeply desired a real and powerful relationship. He wanted love
and certainly had some close encounters with it. But I'm not
sure he ever was blessed with what his heart truly envisioned.
I know his heart was broken a couple times, and he was a
bit wary, all the while he was very open and searching.
At times I really felt his loneliness, even when he
was surrounded by friends.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 22, 2009 - 02:50am PT

Thanks for jumping back in. You have some key perspectives here, and I've been hoping that you will post what you've written. You mentioned that "It might be nice to put together all the different writings for him and by him." Seems to me this is it, right here in real time, and it needs a few finishing touches like your piece about the Twilight Zone from Wizards of Rock, which as I've already told you I consider one of the finest and most transcendent passages in the whole underappreciated book.

I never saw Swaramandel so I'm curious what you had to say about Chuck there. And please post up your tribute. I'd like the read it again.

And to get back to the elephant in this room, I agree that his loneliness and wistful hope for a big relationship were likely defining. You can see that in my post this morning. I also think that his wariness out of loss could have contributed to blocking that from happening, but I hesitate to go too far in that or any direction where it's easy to speculate and hard to be sure.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 22, 2009 - 03:33am PT
from A History of Free Climbing in America by Pat Ament

September 1965. Chuck Pratt, with Chris Fredericks, climbed the awe-inspiring Twilight Zone, an eerie, wickedly steep, 5.10+, off-width crack up a sheer wall of Yosemite's Cookie formation.

The second pitch of this route was one of the boldest leads ever done, and entirely without protection. The Twilight Zone is arguably the greatest free-climbing achievement of the '60s era. Perhaps only John Gill's Thimble route in the Black Hills of South Dakota, done four years earlier, compared to it in boldness.

Pratt had a remarkable gift for off-width cracks. A loner, never for sale to the media, he found certain private realms in which to play--including a number of paranormal, dark, scary climbs so ultimate in seriousness that even in his humble manner he was inclined to give them names such as Crack of Doom and Twilight Zone. Whereas John Gill had all the strength, had a mathematical/gymnast mind, and knew how to work up to such an achievement as the Thimble, Pratt, on the other hand, was more spontaneous. He simply found himself there, do or die.

On the second pitch of Twilight Zone, Pratt reached a point well up the crack, hanging there unprotected amid difficulties that were alien and unimaginable to most climbers, who would not be able to do more than claw and gasp for the next inch. Yet there Pratt was, quiet, enduring, as cool as a circus wire-walker. At this fateful moment, he asked Chris Fredericks to use their extra rope, rappel down the first pitch, go to the car, look for a bong-bong (a large piton), and return. It was an amazing effort on Chuck's part, to stay there so long. Chris took what time was required to rappel, hurry down the Cookie road to the car, fetch the largest bong he could find, come back up the road, and use prusik knots to ascend the rope 100 feet or so back to the belay. Chuck then used one hand to pull up the bong with the climbing rope, risking a death fall if he lost his hold of the crack. Below, on the belay ledge, several spikes--actual blades--of rock jut upward that would act as guillotines if someone fell onto them.

We wonder what Pratt thought, during the long wait for Fredericks to return. It must have been quiet. Pratt might have been able to hear himself breathe or hear his clothes press against the granite. We imagine he may have had to shift his feet a time or two, or alternately kick his feet against the granite to drive some of the pain out of them. Did he think about a girlfriend? Did he ponder the possibility of climbing down what he had led? Or envision himself coming off and having to jettison himself out away from those sharp spikes of rock pointing upward out of the belay ledge? Perhaps it was best not to think such things. Perhaps he did not and instead kept his thought focused above.

Chuck found the bong to be too small! His famous calm words: "Well this bong doesn't fit. Do you mind if I go ahead and lead upward?" It was said in soft Pratt-like style, as though if he fell his belayer would be the one to suffer. The difficulties inherent in a true climb provide a creative climber with ideas. Pratt, with his typical nonchalance, arrived at the top of this mangnum opus.

Pratt's technique was characterized by a marvelous economy of movement. Yet he must have experienced an eloquent chill when he arrived at the top. As unsafe as some say it is to climb unprotected, for a few individuals a climb inspires in them the necessary strength, and hidden powers to succeed with reasonable security. To climb in such a pure way, alone essentially, tends to destroy egotism, encourage care, awaken unknown abilities, and bring one in deep touch with the surroundings.

Today's best climbers who have repeated the Twilight Zone are often photographed placing large, high-tech, spring-loaded protection devices in the wide crack. They slide up their big "Friend," as they go, and keep almost a top-rope for the whole distance. They have chalk and good shoes, and all the protection they want. Yet even today, a lead of the climb now rated 5.10d, generally brings deep feelings of accomplishment. Pratt simply rated it 5.10 but it was certainly more difficult psychologically than any other 5.10 in Yosemite at the time.

In fact, Twilight Zone will never be repeated. It was a work of art and thus virtually impossible to duplicate. It was pioneered by a man the cracks of Yosemite were fundamentally unable to stop. The Twilight Zone was an odd quest of a private and brilliant soul. On a certain pitch, a particular climbing artist achieves his or her true form. We continue to see Pratt up there, in that crack, stoic, in tune with the relative solitude such a place affords, and true to the purest free ethic.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 22, 2009 - 12:21pm PT
A correction to Pat's recent posting... Pratt's article was, of course, on the South Face of Watkins (not Washington Column.)

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 22, 2009 - 01:32pm PT
There are a few nice shots of Pratt on the YCA site. Some I have never seen before. Well worth a look!

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 22, 2009 - 02:21pm PT
Here is the Article John Long wrote in Climbing May 2002. It belongs here...

Think I got it readable now after a few failed scans!


Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 22, 2009 - 03:23pm PT
I am humbled by all these wonderful glimpses of Chuck and by the writing talent in the climbing community. My appreciation to all those writers so much better than myself at conveying the essence of the man.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 22, 2009 - 03:28pm PT
Thanks for posting that piece; I missed it the first time around.

By adroitly juggling unrelated scraps, Largo mirrors the magic of what Chuck at his best could do, an ordinary enough looking guy in a clearing in the forest doing things that actually turn out to be elusively tricky even with the best of focus and skill.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 22, 2009 - 09:06pm PT
I always loved that finish, John:

"...I imagine every Yosemite climber ever born huddled around a fire in El Cap meadow, in the great shadow of the Captain itself, and in the dead of night, as one by one we fade away, others will wander in to replace us..."

Mountain climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
  May 22, 2009 - 09:51pm PT
I was fortunate to do a bunch of climbs with Charles Marshall Pratt in the summers of 1966 and 1967. They would often start with my realizing he was standing next to my sleeping bag, draped already with a rope and a rack, saying “Are you interested in ...?”

[This was about the time Beck started calling everyone by their middle names: Marshall, Arvid (Beck), Shannon (Robbins), Willard (Morton), T Charles (Gerughty), Charles (Dozier), Kirk (Thompson), and so on.]

One feature of his remarkable ability was that Chuck climbed at about the same speed regardless of the difficulty. Also, when a climb got its FFA, he often wanted to go do it, in a spirit to celebrate the achievement of the folks who did the FFA. In 1966, we did the East Buttress of Lower Cathedral, which Thompson and Fredericks had freed a year earlier. I was belaying him on the hard pitch, the one above the Fissure Beck; he was out of sight and the rope was steadily paying out.

Chuck’s voice came down, “I think I’m at the hard part.” The rope continued to slide through my hands with no perceptible change in pace. “Yep, that’s 5.10,” the voice said, and the rope continued at the same rate as he climbed through easy terrain to the belay.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 22, 2009 - 09:58pm PT
Pohono Pinnacle summit register:


Social climber
flagstaff arizona
  May 22, 2009 - 10:47pm PT
what strikes me right now is the incredible wealth of truly transcendent writing that climbing -- and the people who do it -- has inspired.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 23, 2009 - 12:05am PT
from Climbing in North America by Chris Jones

Among the newcomers were Berkeley residents Chuck Pratt and Steve Roper. Pratt had tremendous talent and quickly climbed at the top standards. He partnered with Harding on the final push on Washington Column...

In 1959 Pratt and Roper joined Bob Kamps in an attempt on the massive 2,000-foot north face of Middle Cathedral Rock. Fast on aid and skilled at free climbing, the newcomers completed the route in a rapid two and a half days (VI, 5.9, A4).

Pratt was the natural successor to Powell. The route that haunted him was the Worst Error. From a swimming hole in the Merced River, he gazed up at this imposing crack on the side of Elephant Rock. Harding had used aid from a bolt, but he had to do it without. After his all-free ascent (5.9), he became obsessed by the two 400-foot cracks in an alcove just to the right. Unlike the big walls, where several climbers shared the physical and mental strain, everything here depended on just one person, the leader. He twice climbed up to the base of a shallow, overhanging jamcrack that is the final pitch of the left-handed crack, but both times his seconds were unable to follow. On his third attempt in the fall of 1961 he led Mort Hempel up the fearsome pitch. Crack of Doom was the first 5.10 in Yosemite.

At high school and in society at large the key factor was "fitting in." At school organized sports were the thing, together with the car syndrome, and all that it stood for: drive-in movies, soda fountains, and "cruisin' Main." Almost without exception the Yosemite climbers rejected this version of life, and just as surely it rejected them. At a time when it was virtually unthinkable, many of them dropped out of school. Pratt's case was typical. A physics major at Berkeley, he detested mandatory ROTC with its uniforms and parades. When he changed out of his uniform one afternoon, all the frustrations of school life came to a head. To hell with it, he thought, I'm off to Tahquitz. He never looked back.

Before Kor's onslaught got underway, Californians Kamps and Pratt made the second ascent of Spider Rock. According to Navajo legend its summit is littered with the bones of children the Spider Women devours. After an uneventful climb, Kamps and Pratt entered the town of Chinle, curious to see if they had caused at stir. At the ranger headquarters they learned that the Navajos were furious over the desecration. He should have known better, but on the way out of town Pratt stopped at the local trading post. It was full of Navajos. The conversation died away, and all eyes were fixed on him. The only sound was his quickening heartbeat. As he moved toward the door, a massive Indian loomed up out of the shadows and demanded:
"Did you climb Spider Rock?"
"Why yes," returned Pratt reaching for the door, "now that you mention it, I did," But worse was to come.
"What did you find on top?"
Every ear strained for the reply, His mind raced.
"We found a pile of bleached bones on the top."
The silence was absolute. He began to ease open the door. The huge Indian took a step toward him,
"What do you take me for--a fool?"
The room burst into uncontrolled laughter, and the humbled Pratt slid out the door.

The Californians attached a ritual importance to their cross-country trips. Beat writer and sometime mountain climber Jack Kerouac was one of their heros, his On The Road one of their favorite sagas.

Late one fall Chouinard took off from the East in a drive-away car. It was in bad shape, and he had spent all his money on gas and repairs when he reached Boulder. There he met Pratt, and with help from a borrowed credit card they coaxed the car into Albuquerque, New Mexico. Unknown to Choinard the car had been stolen and later recovered in New York. By the time he delivered it, he was a month late. The owner was furious and refused to pay his expenses.

Flat broke, Pratt and Chouinard started to hitch hike home. In Grants, New Mexico, they were picked up by high school kids joy-riding in their parents' car. The local police hauled the car over and were suspicious of the down-at-heel climbers. They were hauled off to jail for seventy-two hours while the police checked their fingerprints.

After their release they took a bus to a nearby town and tried to catch a ride. No one stopped, so they stole into the railroad yard. They spotted a car transporter headed west and made themselves comfortable in a pick-up truck playing the radio and laying low while the miles slipped by. In Winslow, Arizona, a security guard noticed the pick-up's steamed windows, and the luckless pair were again hauled off to jail. The judge offered them ten to thirty days if they pleaded guilty. If they pleaded not guilty, they would be charged with trespass and get six months. They served fifteen days. When Pratt arrived home, the sky had fallen. His army induction notice awaited him.


Social climber
  May 23, 2009 - 10:45am PT
I love reading this every day.
I have been thinking about time and life and how we spend ours.
So much of what I think is bogus is held dear by our society. And there is no quarter given in any arguments suggesting alternatives

"At high school and in society at large the key factor was "fitting in." At school organized sports were the thing, together with the car syndrome, and all that it stood for: drive-in movies, soda fountains, and "cruisin' Main." Almost without exception the Yosemite climbers rejected this version of life, and just as surely it rejected them. At a time when it was virtually unthinkable, many of them dropped out of school. Pratt's case was typical. A physics major at Berkeley, he detested mandatory ROTC with its uniforms and parades. When he changed out of his uniform one afternoon, all the frustrations of school life came to a head. To hell with it, he thought, I'm off to Tahquitz. He never looked back."

It's funny how sometimes life is seredipitous-maybe its always that way and I'm just too thick to get it.

And how is it that a group of mal-adjusted, ne'er do wells, on the fringe- whose reason for sharing with each other was because we like to climb on rocks-has so much insight?


Bronx, NY
  May 23, 2009 - 01:45pm PT
So one day we were hanging out in Camp 4 in the dust of August, and a Winnebego pulls up down below. A woman hops out of the back with a yapping little dog. Pratt snaps. He grabs two slices of white bread from a loaf on the table and heads for the dog. One has to imagine Pratt, shirtless, a beard down to his nipples in a day when only climbers and beat poets had beards, and closing fast. The woman can't get Fifi back in the van quick enough and her husband spins rubber getting out of the campground.
Alas for the Pratt legend, it really was TM dropping the large rock on El Cid (I was there), and I never heard of Pratt repeating the stunt, although I'm sure he wanted to from time to time. Another bear not yet mentioned was Sedegrin (sp?), named after a former chief ranger in the Valley who had no sympathy for climbers or climbing.
And for the record, we (Royal, Chuck, and I) did N Face of Lower Cathedral Rock in 1960.
Thanks for all the stories, and hi Roger and Doug.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 23, 2009 - 02:23pm PT
I had forgotten how much Chuck hated little yappy dogs until I read the story above. Chihuahuas were always at the top of the list and any kind of small dog with a rhinestone collar made him absolutely apoplectic. I remember both he and Chinourd spent several sessions together dreaming up dreadful things to do to small dogs obviously done for melodramatic effect. In any case, Chuck did on several occasions threaten campers with killing and eating their obnoxious little dogs if they didn't get them under control. I think he threatened to throw a few to the bears as well.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 23, 2009 - 03:16pm PT
Hi Joe,

One can imagine, without too much of a stretch, that Pratt's white-hot hatred of tiny dogs inspired that Indiana Jones line. "Dogs...why did it have to be yappy dogs?"

I liked seeing you in the lineup Guido posted.

I bet you have more. Tell us about Chuck leading the Gong Flake on the NF of Lower. Roper says,

"This provided no ordinary obstacle...Several hundred feet high, forty feet wide, and varying from three to ten feet in thickness, the gigantic flake seemed to vibrate when someone struck it with the heel of his hand. Yet the only route lay behind the flake, inside a claustrophobic chimney. Visions of roadkills flashed through the climbers' minds as they toiled up this slot; all three would be road pizza if the monster decided to choose June 3 to exfoliate."

Is that flake still hanging in there?
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
  May 23, 2009 - 03:21pm PT
Hi Joe,

Glad to have you posting. I think that your presence was missed when you posted on the Dolt Photo thread.

So, here's an introduction ST campers: oldguy is Joe Fitschen, and he means ‘oldguy,’ as in fought in the Trojan wars.

South Face, Liberty Cap 1956 Mark Powell, Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen

South Face, Mount Broderick, 1960 Bob Kamps, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt

Arches Direct, Royal Arches, 1960 Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen

North Face, Lower Cathedral Rock, 1960 Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins.

Welcome to ST.

BTW which side were on, Priam’s or Agamemnon’s?

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
  May 23, 2009 - 05:31pm PT
thanks for the intro roger, i was just about to chime in that us early 70's kids were too young to swing at some of the inside baseball you old guys are pitching.

one of my first routes at tahquitz was fitschen's folly!

Mudcat Spire
  May 23, 2009 - 05:52pm PT

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 23, 2009 - 06:35pm PT
Well Joe, since you are now "Oldguy", I can finally, after all these years, drop the "Little Joe" and move on to "Young Joe"?

And wasn't there a bear called Beauregard? Think I remember you on a motor scooter chasing it around Camp 4. First time I saw how fast a bear could run.

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 23, 2009 - 06:45pm PT
You will always be "Little Joe" in my heart, but my eyes tell a different story.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 23, 2009 - 07:21pm PT

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 23, 2009 - 07:30pm PT
Got it, thanks for stooping to the literal. One more case of inflection-sensitive texting. I've heard the expression issued with an FU tone. Made me want to see your reading list...
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 23, 2009 - 10:28pm PT
American Alpine Journal, 2001, p448

Ah, Chuck, Chuck, so lately here, so soon gone. How can I be writing this? You, gone? Yes, irrevocably. Your death sudden and shockingly unexpected. It seems not real. Somehow...wrong.

Only a few weeks ago you had phoned me, out of the blue, from Lafayette, a small community nestled in the hills east of Berkeley. You called about the speech I had given last November at the Banff Mountain Summit.

Before putting the phone back in its cradle I told you of a slide show I would be giving the following week in Danville, a town just over the hill from Lafayette. I hoped you would come. I would be proud to have you in the audience. It would be a pleasure to introduce my old climbing companion and to have you actually there when I paid my usual tribute to you as “the best climber of our generation, and the best climbing writer as well.” Back when I saw you at the Yosemite Camp 4 Reunion in September, 1999, after an interval of many years, I told you I had been saying that in my talks for a long time, and I noted that you, even you, Chuck, though ever alert to the stealthily cat steps of Pride, seemed pleased, even touched, by the accolade.

I didn’t really expect you to come. If you had, you would have been, for a few minutes at least, the center of attention, and you had always treated the limelight as if it were poison gas. You were very consistent that way, Chuck, always wary of allowing a chink in your personal honor. And so it was, when I called a couple of days in advance to invite you to dinner with friends and then to the slide show, you couldn’t come. I didn’t argue, Chuck. I just knew I couldn’t drag you to that show with a team of wild horses, especially if you thought all eyes might be at one point turned on you.

So I let it pass. I never thought this would be the last time I would speak to you, the last time I would hear your voice. And I had vague plans of following up, of getting together.

Some of the greatest moments of my life were spent with you. We were together with our buddy Tom Frost on the first ascent of my favorite climb of all, the Salathé Wall. I will never forget it. Such beauty. Such a grand and pure adventure. And you never hesitated. You were at the top of your game, as smooth as glass on all of your leads. You could have led the Ear with a lot more aplomb than I did. But you got the last pitch, and the last word, so to speak, with a brilliant lead up the final overhanging crack. Such a perfect expression of your genius. Those climbs became the glue that cemented a lifelong friendship among all of us.

But I thought of a third reason for the sense of vacancy, of something irretrievably missing because you are gone, Chuck. And that is this: that the people we love the most and miss the most when they are gone are those who are irreplaceable. We all sensed that about you; you were one of a kind. You were uniquely, irreplaceably, absolutely yourself. You never tried to be anything or anyone else but yourself. You never tried, you only did. You were always the master. We love that which is truly itself. We never miss posers. We miss that which is real.

And then back on El Capitan again, the North America Wall, 1964, ten days, the “hardest technical rock climb in the world.” Our companions were Frost and Yvon Chouinard. Another truly memorable climb--once again, total commitment, “hard rock, thin air, a rope,” the most splendid aid climbing we had ever done, storms, mystery, fear, discovery, joy, and triumph. And one other thing: fellowship, as good as it gets. We did so much laughing. The combination of the piled-up stress and your sense of humor had us rolling in helpless laughter on whatever ledges we could find. That’s one thing that comes back strong, Chuck, is how much laughing we did together. It was a good life.

And there were all your other climbs, Chuck, among them the East Face of the Washington Column with Harding, the South Face of Mt. Watkins with Harding and Chouinard, the second ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome with Fitschen and Frost, the north faces of Middle, Higher, and Lower Cathedral Rocks, and the second ascent, with Kor, of the Arches Direct.

But your shorter free climbs inspired just as much fear and respect, especially your string of brilliant crack climbs, surely the hardest in the world at the time-routes supplied with names that aptly attest to their character: Crack of Doom, Crack of Despair, Twilight Zone. There were many others, but those were three of the fiercest. I later thrashed up them with great effort, and my admiration for your gifts and mastery rose with every vertical foot I scraped my way past. One fear we all had, Chuck, was you going off with someone and making a first ascent and then we hearing the horror stories from your still-trembling partners of a terrifying lead you had done up some slippery unprotected ogre of a jam crack. We would look forward with deep anxiety to the prospect of leading these pitches to say we had done your route. One great advantage about being with you on first ascents, Chuck, was that you could lead the most daunting offwidth cracks, and we could follow with a top rope and still get full credit. We wouldn’t have to lead any Pratt test pieces.

But you weren’t just a crack specialist. You were at home on any sort of rock, using any sort of technique, free or aid. Nothing ever stopped you, and I never saw you become stumped or even slow up. Yes, Chuck, you were the best. We were often following you, and not only on those appalling crack climbs. There were also boulder problems. Especially confounding were the mantleshelfs, of which you were the preeminent artist. When we heard the phrase, “Pratt mantle,” we knew to expect the worst in a corkscrew boulder problem.

The Valley, Chuck, was particularly your home, even more so than for the rest of us. And you amassed the best record of first ascents in Yosemite. But one thing drew you from Yosemite, from the vertical crucible of smooth granite, and that was the red crucible of the spare and lonely south-west desert spires. This was adventure to your liking--the solitary sandstone pinnacles of Utah. There was something that suited you about the desert, something beyond the welcome heat. Did it speak to your soul, Chuck? Did something strike the severed cord of Faith? Did you see the divine in the arid and cruel beauty of the desert?

And then you went at last to the Tetons, as a guide--an honorable profession, and one that allowed you to again and again rediscover, in the delight of those you taught, the joy of those early moments when you first came into contact with the wonder of climbing. How artistic, in a way. I sometimes talked to people who had been your clients. They uniformly spoke of your friendliness, your skill, and especially of your patience. It was always a special memory to them to have climbed with and been taught by Chuck Pratt.

I learned later that it was exclusively Thailand where you spent the winter months in welcome heat. You did that for years and years. What a shame you stopped writing. As I said before, you were the best writer of our generation. We all wished you had written more, much more. A couple of your masterpieces come to mind: “The South Face of Mt. Watkins,” and your magical essay on desert climbing, “The View From Dead Horse Point.” I know you could have penned marvelous stories of your adventures in Thailand. You always did have a gift for spinning a tale. I know you could have done it professionally. Why you didn’t we will never know. You kept to yourself.

Then, someone got the bright idea of having a Camp 4 party to celebrate the success of the effort to save Camp 4, traditionally the Yosemite climber’s camp, and the target of plans for obliteration and replacement with employee housing. Of course, our buddy Tom Frost led that effort. This party would become a remarkable reunion of many of the players inyosemite climbing in the 1950s. ‘60s, and ’70s.

When I saw Pratt at the Camp 4 reunion, after all of these years, it was like a barrier had been broken through. I walked up and gave him a big hug. He hugged back. It was something we had never done before. We had been friends, companions, but not bosom buddies. But this was a special occasion, and I wanted Chuck to know how much I loved him. I was struck, as I embraced him, by how slight he was. I had always known that Chuck was small. He was one of the little big men of Yosemite. But I never thought of him that way. I was aware that he was frustrated at being small. He made jokes about it. But I never saw him that way. He always looked “regular” to me. So it was a bit of a shock to realize he was not only small, but also slight. He had lost what bulk he had in his prime. But, as Tom Patey wrote of Joe Brown and as Chuck showed so often on his fearless leads, “His heart was as big as the mountain, and his nerves were made of steel.”

The Camp 4 reunion was, indeed, a special occasion. So many of the old gang were there. Together again for the first time since the North America Wall, Pratt and Frost and Chouinard and I hung out, talking, getting our pictures taken, hiking, and joking and laughing. And it all came back; it all came back in the laughter. My friends, now as before, took life and its tears, and turned them into laughter. And it was so wonderful, so refreshing, so freeing! And I remembered why my best friends were climbers, why I loved them. Because in them burned the joy of life.

And Pratt, with his cynical and mocking air, hadn’t lost a step in his sense of humor. We had a good time together, and when it came to an end we four found ourselves talking together in the parking lot. We talked and then we kept talking, past the logical point to split up and go our ways. We didn’t want this to end. We had grasped something, something precious, something that hadn’t been in our lives for a while, though we were not aware of it having been missing. And we didn’t know when we would be together again. It had been 35 years. And here we were, back there again, just like that. Sentimental old fools. Yes, but for me at least the sentiment was a new thing. I realized how precious my friends were to me, and had been. I think we all had a sense that we four might never be together again. But I don’t think any of us guessed that a death of one of us in the near term would be the defining reason.

I was never that close to Chuck. I don’t know if anyone was. He had a lot of friends, and a lot of admirers, and no enemies. But I did not have a special relationship with Chuck, other than having been on the greatest climbs of my life with him. He was probably closer in spirit to that other artist, Chouinard, and that other maverick, Harding. But he was my friend. At least I can thank God that I had had the opportunity to see Chuck near the end, and to let him know of my abiding friendship and admiration. I paid honor to him in my talk for the Banff Mountain Summit, included in the book, Voices From The Summit. It seems fitting to close this tribute with an excerpt from that article:

“But beyond and above these deeds and talents, Pratt is my hero because of the kind of person he is, because he was, among other things, the very best of climbing companions: jovial, keenly witty, with a sense of humor that has a laser beam focus on the absurdities of the universe and the hands we are dealt to play in the cosmic poker game. I once heard the phrase, ‘Only the pure climb gracefully.’ I know Pratt would wince at being called ‘pure,’ being as much a sinner as the next man. But when it comes to climbing itself, well, that is almost sacred to Chuck Pratt, more than perhaps anyone I have known, has always climbed, first and foremost, and last and finally, for the climbing experience itself, for the rewards that come directly from the dance of man and rock. Climbing, for Chuck, is a life-giving elixir, and he has always wanted to keep it as pure as possible, uncorrupted and unalloyed by gain, fame, or ambition, or any sort of debasement. Chuck has kept his integrity.”

He was a man; he was a climber; he was a guide and teacher; he was an artist; he was a friend. Thanks, Chuck, for being with us, for joy and laughter, for your achievements, for setting an example of how to live with integrity. Thanks, Chuck--but damn, I wish you were still here.



Social climber
flagstaff arizona
  May 23, 2009 - 10:35pm PT
see, that's what i'm talking about. every word in this thread is a gem. i think pratt's writing was so damn good that he inspires all of the unbelievable people who have posted to this thread, many of them my favorite writers for decades, to just keep coming up with more off-the-cuff gold.

god bless chuck pratt, and god bless whoever founded this unique forum that has brought so many legends to life for me.

Trad climber
  May 23, 2009 - 10:35pm PT
I about crapped my drawers,

I hit the last page feature and saw the bottom of the last post,

Royal Robbins, I scrolled up to see Ed had posted a writing by Royal.

What an amazing thread, keep it alive
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 23, 2009 - 10:36pm PT
Oh my, thanks for that correction. Of curse
I meant Watkins, not Washington Column, but
sometimes I am writing these at three or four
in the morning, when I can't sleep, and I haven't
been able to now for about a month and a half,
so if I say anything coherent at all it will be
a miracle.

Nice stuff above. I had never seen John's article.
Always good things from our Largo. I will find
some time soon to enter both my tribute (which
someone somewhere, one of the mags, asked me to
write, as a kind of eulogy. And I'll post the little
sketch from Swarmandal that Chuck told me several
times he really liked. The Rearicks told me they
thought that little piece was the best sketch of
Chuck they had read. It turned out rather well, since
I was more or less a beginning writer, and completely
by accident did I say some right things. Swaramandal was just
a series of short impressions... But Chuck left
big impressions. I'll have to type that thing in,
because I can't seem to find the old file anywhere.
The piece was published in that British anthology
"The Games Climbers Play," or maybe it was the second
in that series, "Mirrors in the Cliffs."

What I love here is that we are all Chuck's friend,
and through our various voices and spirits he lives
still, lives with us, and in us, and he helps us to
connect and to enjoy the spirit of those times and
the great people we all knew. How blessed we were to
have our Chuck, and our Royal and our Fitschen and Lauria
and Long and Higgins and Hahn and Bates and Gill and
all the names that we all know and with whom we are
somehow spiritually united.

Trad climber
  May 23, 2009 - 10:58pm PT
I'm sorry I never got to meet him, but I did get to meet you, Doug. How is Santa Cruz? I moved away from there and now live in the East Bay. By the way, check out the thread on "ice climbing primer 1968" someone posted your article from the seventies on running talus- super classic! I never run the stuff, but I did smash my knee on it in the palisades! Ha Ha!
Take care, Bob
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 23, 2009 - 11:30pm PT
Hi Okie,

Wasn't Royal's piece good? Heartfelt and revealing. He's one of those people like Lauria who is mellowing out beautifully, such a pleasure to be at ease with. Any number of line's I'd underline, pull out to watch them sparkle. But most poignant was his sense of some distance from Chuck -- "We were never bosom buddies." -- and how that was bridged again and again by laughter. I can't wait for his autobiography.

Santa Cruz is OK, probably better than the East Bay. Only three traffic jams a day on Highway 1. I never go in the Ocean so the whole Surf City thing is lost on me. It has movies, some good friends, and my kids live here, sometimes with me, which is an anchor -- grounding. I like the redwoods and the golden grassy hillsides, and Pacific Edge feels welcoming with outdoor-like route setting.

But overall the Eastside is still home. Every time I go over the pass and start down there's an involuntary sigh; surprising because I didn't even know it was in there. I pull over and tear off a sprig of sage to put on the dash. Soon I pull over again to boulder on some volcanic tuff.

It's my life and I'm sticking to it.
Mighty Hiker

Outside the Asylum
  May 24, 2009 - 12:21am PT
Pat: Your tribute to Pratt is in Mirrors in the Cliffs - page 435 of the paperback edition. It says it's an excerpt from Swaramandal. I may be able to scan and post it - it's about two pages.

ps What's a Swaramandal? I once had a copy, mail ordered from remote Boulder Colorado USA. Lost somehow somewhere.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 24, 2009 - 01:31am PT
Pat Ament

Tom Higgins and I are at the base of El Cap, set on doing a 400ft. exfoliation crack called The Slack, a Chuck Pratt masterpiece. This will be a vendetta climb, since we have failed on it before.

After two rope lengths, the flaring section of the crack is in sight. Memories of previous vain motions flash back at us.

It can't be that hard, Pratt did it years ago ... on first try, Bridwell hauling me up it my first attempt at it. Oh well, Chuck hauled Robbins.

I lead. Pratt. Plastic Man ... or Poe. I grunt and gasp, swing into a layback ... Kor on the Bastille Crack ... I mantel on a ledge above the crux. Higgins follows. Following this one is just as hard. Having the rope in front of you is tricky. You can grab it. Sometimes coming second is harder than leading. You don't have the adrenalin flowing. You have to match the leader's show, but Tom makes it, and we shake hands, grinning at each other as if we hadn't seen each other for awhile.

"I'm tired of being social director of Camp 4," I hear Pratt say to someone pestering him for information. I see Pratt juggling wine bottles at Church Bowl, the clearing east of the lodge. Royal tells tales of Pratt's bouldering drunk, in the dark, in army boots, nobody able to come close. Descriptions of Pratt: a "tragic figure..." or "...born in the wrong time..." yet no climber is more respected or liked in Yosemite. Inimitable, enigmatic. He is hard to figure out and doesn't want to be figured out. "Actions speak for themselves," he says. We hike in the night in the Valley floor. On climbs such as The Slack, one is able to sense the workings of Pratt's mind.

Divergence of contemporary judgments on him. With those he loves, who see him in repose, he is gentle, affectionate, and obliging. He is devoted. Others, who happen to meet him in moments of excitement, find him irritable, arrogant, self-centered, sombre, rebellious and go as far as to accuse him of lack of principle or conscience.

His sensitiveness to the beauty and purity to be found in nature, his writing, an account of the South Face of Mount Watkins... The View From Deadhorse Point... At times, one gets the feeling that Pratt's imagination has taken him away from this earth and the material world into a lonely, personal flight to meditate on ultimate cause and a last climb.

His silence, for some, throws a sullen cloud over his disposition. But, he is truly modest. A cat inclined to fits of laughter, to party, or to vanish for weeks. A weird and wily storyteller ... "Nothing worse than a hungry bear," he says. He walks wires. He has nightmares. A soul afflicted with a susceptibility to the effects of beer. The attraction toward it, he does not resist. I have memories of delirious shouts in the Yosemite dark ... shouts coming from a short, bald-headed man with a beard.

Fighting to keep his genius clear, to reveal the elements that give the true depth an intensity to the total sheen or dismal glow ...

He is a soul with feverish dreams to which he applies a faculty of shaping plausible fabrics out of impalpable materials, with objectivity and spontaneity.

He takes, in my mind, a prominent place among universally great men.

Our first big climb together: the North Wall of Sentinel Rock, Pratt's eleventh time up the 1,600ft. face, my second. As he begins the overhang, the fourth pitch of the route, I hear him say softly to himself, "Grown men." We finish the sixteenth pitch in a light, blessing rain.

from Swaramandal 1973
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 24, 2009 - 02:21am PT
Thank you so much, Ed. I guess it holds up
relatively well after about 37 years since I
wrote it.

The delirious shouts... they happened more
than once. Sometimes he would go into
mad rages.

Other times he was completely cool.
On one occasion, one night, and I was with him,
some little dogs tied outside a big winnebago
were yapping and keeping everyone awake, and
Chuck simply walked over and untied them. They
were happy then and stopped barking. The dogs
didn't even run away. Can you
see that smug little smile on Chuck's face?

Another time, I was sitting at a picnic table
in the middle of day in Camp 4. Chuck strolled by
and sat down with me. He had brought something
he found that was supposed to kill flies. It
was some sort of little block, about half an inch square or
smaller, and it had some kind of insectiside in it,
whereas flies would land on it, suck in, and die.
Well Chuck was eager to try this out and placed it
neatly in the center of the table. We watched and
waited for a fly. At last one buzzed around and
landed on the little block. It took a drink, and
suddenly it rose up on its hind legs, as about to
give a big speech, spun around fast
about fifty times, like a ballerina doing one of those
spins, seemed to "sigh," and dropped over dead. Chuck
looked at me with one of those grim glances, as though
to say "Sick." He was quite impressed, and walked away,
chuckling, as I would say, and off to his camp...

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 24, 2009 - 02:26am PT
what really struck me, Pat, was the universality of the feeling of being on one of his climbs, probably more than once, and eventually getting through the crux with a sense that you did get a glimpse into what he was thinking when he did it...

...but as you also pointed out in the other piece on Twilight Zone, pushing a big cam up makes the climb quiet a bit different, indeed.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Author's Reply  May 24, 2009 - 02:27am PT
Thank you for hand copying this, Ed, like an act of devotion to the master of wide.

A jewel turning in the hand, it flashes from light to dark and back.

Grown men. He said that often.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 24, 2009 - 02:29am PT
I can't recall if the piece below is the finished
draft or an earlier one of my piece in "Everything
That Matters." Anyway, though it's a bit long it might
be appropriate to include it here.


The Short and the Tall of It

One day amid an orderly universe, the towering Layton Kor stepped onto rock and moved upward. Almost immediately there was no other method than himself. It's a foreshortened world, and Kor had no idea how far he'd climb or how much rock there was.

It's strange, with Layton seeming always to go from one place to another, and using such force and speed to do so, that memory should affix him now, cause him to freeze, on a move of climbing in some arrested gesture of reaching for a hold. Perhaps it's my desire to make stop for one moment that frenetic, upward movement that made him one of the world's great climbers.

Kor was capital letters, while others around him were a lower-case idea. Sitting on the exulting ledge, he made that ledge seem small. Yet somehow, if you were his partner, you knew where his liver was, smelled his sweat, loved his giant, lonely, lovely fingers. To fit with such ease into the world, at six-foot-seven, made Layton a marvel. Indeed, in the 1960's, he was perhaps Colorado's most wonderful madman. There aren't words to name the beauty of his face, with a somewhat square jaw-line, his long, sleek eyebrows, and penetrating eyes, like those of a young Clint Eastwood or James Dean without the angst.
Relatively devoid of humans at this time, sandstone and its promise of adventure were Kor's to explore. Imagine extremely long legs, knicker pants loose around each knee, a ripped crotch from making too wide a step, an upper body tapering from a thin waist to broad shoulders, arms long and having their own natural swing and daring — in view of the spare few holds that often supported them. Climbing at this time in the world was no dream that appealed to the general public. For Layton, there was nothing of comparable vibrancy and love — every climb an effort to possess an alluring breadth of rock if not to remain permanently a child.

During the early and mid-'60s, as a boy in Boulder, Colorado, I was partner to such joyous fury on various occasions. With Layton's affinity for rock, he became an elemental force himself — like wind, or rain. The storm was sometimes unpredictable or even reckless. In his presence I felt defenseless. Now and then he wandered upward into an area of seemingly unstructured rock, a kind of dream that violated sense, and this was where his gift truly came alive — to work out the sequence, find a line, create a solution, do it quickly. To this day I see vividly his troubled expression. He communicated fear, passing through a section by some unknown levitation, then from a safer place above gazed down with a shudder followed by a mischievous chuckle. He could coerce anyone up into those dangers with him, needing a partner as he frequently did. He never was a climbing instructor, though. Had Kor taught, I imagine he would have said little about balance or technique. He would have put his students on rock. To be understood, rock has to be climbed.

It wasn't Layton, to be too careful or too responsible. On occasion he simply fell, luckless, stopping, as the rope came tight. His long body was brought to a hanging halt like a jack-knifed truck. A story would fit into the long instant of his sailing past me one afternoon on the Bastille Crack, a fall he took from above me that I'm grateful to have miraculously held. Both of us were preserved, to climb again, and he continued with the same hurry, even in winter with snow lying like white sable on Eldorado Canyon ledges. In my memory my fingers are frozen in a borrowed pair of Layton's bricklayer gloves. Or sun beats down, with no water to drink.

He suddenly could neutralize your terror with the most inane of puns: "Sandstone is very rotten, and you should never take it for granite." His smile alone made you laugh. You could anticipate one of his amusing insights, or see into his mind. I recall, coming from above, a rushed, "I've got you on belay, but don't fall, my anchors aren't very good."

On another climb, the Wisdom, after he led over a huge overhang, he got in a couple of anchors and, while hanging in slings, belayed me up. The thin pitons he'd placed behind flakes and that held his weight under that overhang scared me nearly to death. I was too frightened to look back and retrieve a few them as I shifted my weight from one piton to the next. With both of us together, above the exposed lip of that overhang, he said somewhat frantically, "These anchors are shifting. I've got to get out of here." He traversed away, to get his weight off the anchors and find safety somewhere — anywhere. About ten feet to my right, hanging from uncertain holds, he moaned, "My arms are giving out. We're both going to die." I remember dangling there, saying nothing. He took on a stern demeanor and fought his way impressively up the rock. Burned into my memory as he made those moves were the reds, purples, and yellows of Eldorado rock, the cold air and snow-covered canyon. It had snowed the day before, and we'd chosen this climb because it was too steep to have any snow. The sun started to come through a cloud, as though the world were being transformed from winter gloom to a celestial spring.
Layton's shrieks and frightened comments were no laughing matter at the time but served as wonderful lore later among friends.

So many are like clones of so many others. Kor stood out as entirely different than anyone. He was separate from society — his own energy, his own look, and his own diet. He ate lots of carrots and celery — somewhat off-and-on vegetarian. Rumor was that he suffered from a lung condition. A bricklayer by trade, his huge hands always seemed to have on them a trace of dried, gray-white mortar. I watched him lay brick one day. He did it with the same efficiency and determination as in climbing. It was a good profession for him, as any single job earned enough money for the next climbing weekend. There were plenty of days off. He might have been out of money one night in 1967 when he siphoned gas with a friend. Shuffling down an alley with a gas can and hose, Layton was cornered by the police. My father, handing me the small police report, didn't seek my privileged interpretation. Both my dad and my mother were fond of my tall friend. Years later, as Layton settled down greatly, it would seem a certain essence had been lost.

Kor was the subject of his own story, gesturing, laughing. His eyes widened with nervous excitement, as he conversed or while clinging to a climb and at the same time seeming to encircle it vastly. I remember each tambourine-jangle morning I followed him, from the shadowy, vertical wall of X-M, in Eldorado, to Tiger's Tooth, a ferocious crack in Estes Park, to the icy rain of Overhang Dihedral on Longs Peak, or giant roof of Exhibit A in Eldorado, and to a day I skipped school to follow him up Rogue's Arete, a wall above Boulder’s Bear Canyon where he led vertical rock brilliantly.

A man liked by women during the 1960's, Kor rarely was without female friends. Probably he was very lonely at the soul of himself. A pervasive intensity about him, he sometimes intentionally oppressed me with his silence, or his gaze, seeing at certain instances my own inner troubles.

No one could guess what powered Kor, fast always, mildly fanatical, but also graceful and well mannered in his climbing, mostly. Some unique kind of cosmic miracle commands each man, and often a certain mentor is responsible in part for one's success. Kor's climbing, though, could not be taught. Rock couldn't entirely hold the spirit it had conjured up. The speed at which he moved was exceptional. Many of his techniques, however, were make-do: a knee awkwardly on a ledge, a quick reach, risking a fall, to get past a tiring section. He had no pride in the way it looked.

While I don't like to compare climbers, in my imagination I often place Kor alongside another great personality, Chuck Pratt. Certainly they climbed together quite a number of times, but they create an intriguing contrast of temperaments and styles.

The only other climber with the mystique to rival Royal Robbins during Yosemite's golden age, the 1960’s, Pratt was the short, stocky genius of Yosemite's smooth, off-width cracks. Though bald at an early age, Pratt’s bearded face was clear and striking. His eyebrows seemed to lift slightly, as though he were about to smile. In much of life there was cynical amusement for him. Though Chuck didn’t look directly at people very often, when he did focus on you his eyes penetrated to secrets even you didn’t know.

While Kor seemed to move upward at times as though in an agitated hunt for his own originating mystery, for Pratt the mystery occurred as he emerged himself in an atmosphere of artistry and agreement between himself and rock. The climbing of Chuck Pratt had something to do with the reality of a place and the metaphysics of grace. A difficult Yosemite crack always seemed to succumb, its dark reaches illumined by Chuck's disparagement of the world and rare, astute mind.

As a young climber in northern California, in the late 1950's and early 1960's, Pratt adapted immediately to the art of climbing, a natural. A detailed history might reveal the individuals who inspired him or were, in some sense, his teachers. As I suppose, he picked up certain points here or there, a seed and season at a time. I believe all by himself he came to his gift and to the quiet that followed a storm or the light that drifted down to him from the grandeur of Yosemite's walls. There may have been a particular friend or mentor who helped him, yet soon enough he was alone, going on without further mediation, his ability obvious. I'd stake my life on the fact that climbing came with him to this life.

These same things I believe to be true about Kor. A gift is always the inadequate word to explain something beyond more usual patterns of human development. If it were possible to trace every step of Chuck's life, in an attempt to comprehend how his extraordinary genius came to be through the years, and analyze his upbringing, and know to what we might attribute his mastery, the results would be insufficient. There would be more to him: something of which no information serves as a convincing explanation.

Perhaps for both men, climbing was a stylizing of identity. Each in some sense simply inhabited his life, answering to his solitary story. Both dropped out of mainstream society, Kor leaving high school, and Pratt, a promising college student, leaving to climb. Both suffered from an inability to cope with forces that compelled them to conform.

Kor rarely held anything back, quickly following landmarks of hand and footholds, to be at the center of a moment, his six-foot-seven body bursting upward into sunlight that seemed shaken a little or loosened by his presence. Pratt, like a snake, acceded to the shape-subtleties of a difficult crack. He saw from his mind and heart. Kor rode that crack like a bucking bronco or slithered up it, in a race, like a kid up a pole. Layton’s thoughts at any other time than climbing seemed to be carried away, toward some kingdom of thought, or woman still in mind, or climb, a clustering of past and future possibilities too difficult for him to bring to order. He seemed to ascend toward the elusive answer, as though it were clouds and air. I followed him many times, acting out my tale of concern. The sooner I was given my share of the leading, the more control I felt I had. Some of these are seasonal memories, yellow and red in fall and rich green in spring.

Kor often selected climbs solely for their line, an act of getting from here to there. The sinister beauty of certain cracks was the appeal for Pratt, as he contemplated what qualities and techniques might be drawn from his being by serious necessity. Chuck often chose the most preposterous, difficult, and unprotected climbs, a single tiny mistake away from a death fall, and he climbed them with watchful docility, stopping casually to speak to an ant, mutter "Grown men," or calmly admire the rock's decoration and simple, geometrical form.

Kor had a terrible possessiveness toward experience, seeking it out. On the obsessive-compulsive side, he was easily irritated with friends too slow. His complaint most often took the form of an increased intensity, and he climbed faster, or the facial grimaces became more pronounced. There were stories of this or that person suddenly being pulled up, by brute force, without warning, in mid-move, while taking the time to solve an appealing free move. Or Kor might yell down rudely, "Climb the rope."

Kor went through partners like a chain smoker goes through cigarettes. Those various partners might be likened to a group resentful of one another, as in a kind of battle for apostolic succession. Dozens were ready to go even to their doom to get into the magic of Layton's dangerous, assured success. Their sense of the myth of which they might be involved in part propelled their dwarfish enthusiasm. For me a climb with Layton was an impassioned freeing of spirit, though not necessarily one of wisdom.

Pratt had no such Pied Piper effect, no group of young he perpetually recruited. He held himself distant, emotionally restrained. One senses his coolness of spirit in his fine writings. They point inward to the unspeakable, for example in an article where he describes a quality of comradeship with Warren Harding and Yvon Chouinard on the South Face of Mt. Watkins, in Yosemite. He tells of an eagle that stayed near the wall the several days of that thirsty ascent. A reader gets a view of Pratt's deep appreciation for Yosemite and his friends, as he depicts heat, moon, and granite and reminisces about Valley climbing history.

Chuck didn't always give much visible or verbal evidence that he was warm. I felt his warmth, though. I longed for his company. He was more of a loner than Kor, with a particular revulsion to the tourist masses. He never exploited his fame and would go to the end of his life, as do many great artists, a stick of firewood short of utterly poor. Strange, the little things we remember about people. If there happened to be a bottle of Worcestershire sauce around, Pratt quickly swigged a capful. I watched him juggle wine bottles a sunny day, in the later 1960's, at Church Bowl, in Yosemite. Another day, he easily balanced, like a veteran tight-wire walker, on the slack chain I strung between two trees in Yosemite's Camp 4. A little shorter, and he might have slightly resembled a circus midget. Drunk one night, he took to the Camp 4 boulders in army boots and pioneered a steep, smooth, lichen-covered slab on Columbia Boulder. In my best bouldering shape, it was no laughing matter to repeat this route. Quite high off the ground, I found the route anything but easy, in broad sunlight, in a clear, rational state of awareness. I could imagine a relaxed, uninhibited state might assist one in being tranquil and weightless, and perhaps fearless, qualities that might translate into mysterious power for an already brilliant talent. Most boulderers dismissed as nearly impossible Pratt’s famous mantel problems around Camp 4, badly sloping and smooth. I never personally witnessed anyone other than Royal succeed at all of these. Royal’s mantel ability was aided by flexibility. He could dislocate his shoulders and touch his elbows together near his face. I took great pride, with my gymnastic pressing ability, in repeating these mantels. It remained, however, that Pratt hadn't trained in any formal way.

Whereas Pratt knew every element of his perfection, Kor was like a new butcher experimenting with a side of beef. These were different kinds of temperament. Pratt's view was to a life importantly lived, whereas Kor's life was urgent. Bodying forth, Layton pulled the rock down past him. Moves came and went, almost without cognition, whereas Chuck was aware, seeing the little place to put his fingers or set the edge of a boot.
Both were marvelous pioneers, each able to take off in his own direction, Kor perhaps more of a pioneer than Chuck. Not quite so driven, Pratt had a secret grip on the situation. Kor didn't always benefit from such control and double-stepped away quickly toward each new, wild thing. Pratt strolled toward the next challenge — everything in its place. I see Kor moving assiduously toward his fate and Pratt serenely in the middle of his. Chuck used no protection on his unimaginable, calm first ascent of Twilight Zone, a preposterous off-width crack up a vertical, gloomy, Yosemite wall. That climb was a premise taken to its metaphysical limit.

When Layton and Chuck climbed with each other, Pratt was perhaps more impressed with Kor than the other way around — even if Chuck was in certain ways, such as off-width climbing, the master. Pratt, quiet, extremely insightful, and very funny at times when verbosing under the influence of a slight bit of beer, had no more ability than the rest of us to intrude into the form and actions of the indomitable Kor. I imagine the two together on a ledge, ravens quothing.

I wouldn't call Pratt introspective, so much as a man sentient in a private way. I never enjoyed climbing with anyone more. A day in Yosemite in 1968 on the North Wall of Sentinel, he and I found the right spirit of friendship, saying mostly nothing at all but knowing and trusting a connection of feeling that unites comrades on rock.

My first reaction isn't necessarily regard for supremely strong and powerful climbers. There has to be something more, a classic spirit hovering behind the form, individuals with beauty and conscience, as opposed to the chrome attitude and plaintive sigh of the muscle-bound, self-loving athlete. Neither Kor nor Pratt had any such self-love. Yet they were, on rock, visual phenomena, artists of ascent — Kor madcap and Pratt pure mastermind. Neither arrived at any summit in a great ecstasy of recognition. The climb was alive in them, though, and would remain so after its many vanishings.

We knew the gumball, harried Tarzan behind Layton's handsome, impish, straight face. On almost any climb, he ascended with a kind of violence — as though to race to life's brink, or to sanity's edge, and look over. He then raced to the next desert rim. He risked his life and everyone’s at times in ways so humorous and compelling that no one could help but love him, that child in such an imposing frame.

I see Layton fall through the air because he raced up the rock too fast to realize he'd moved into unclimbable territory. On the other hand, he could be methodical. His winter ascent of the Diamond, with Wayne Goss, was a brave, mountaineering achievement. They worked their way up that frigid granite with precision. A definite maturity characterized his ascent of the Salathé Wall of El Capitan, with Galen Rowell. Layton seemed to hold rotten sandstone together as he climbed past it.
Pratt and Kor differ, as I've noted, but in ways were alike. Both had integrity. The person Layton Kor enters, and the rest of the surroundings diminish. Surfaces of stone grow more distinct at the presence of Chuck Pratt. The climbing of these two continues to speak, from decades away. Maybe it was a great emptiness, within, that each felt the need to fill. They did so in part by climbing. Kor and the rock would settle their differences by force. Pratt made his existential way by a gift of inner strength.

I could recapitulate the well-told stories, Pratt's "ultra dangerous" lead of the Pratt Chimney, in June, 1959, on Middle Cathedral Rock, or Kor's bold foray up into the 1000-foot, unprotected, northwest face of Chief's Head in 1961, or…. The danger would be to drift toward hero worship. The two were heroes, but I didn't worship them. They had plenty of the despair, waste, unknown motives, lapses, delirium, imperfect sympathies, sweat, and heartbeat of humans. They both could be difficult. Both were prodigals to society, not extremely receptive to the ideas of others, and at best becoming themselves only apart from people in general.
I've saved letters Layton sent me from Yosemite and a note he once left on my car window in Eldorado, addressing me by middle name, "Oliver, will see you later today and work on the walls tomorrow." His words sparked excitement in my soul.
I see Layton hunched over the steering wheel of his blue Ford, or arching forward in his walk, eyes widening, face stretching down tight. I see him during that LSD year of 1967 from which a number of the strongest of us failed to come away unscathed. I see him shedding tears at the foot of the Eiger, upon discovering John Harlin's body. Layton painted pictures, a pastime with which he began to experiment, if I recall, in 1967. I have images of him fishing in the Black Canyon and becoming a Jehovah's Witness. He married, raised a family, divorced, re-married, with an occasional modest return to climbing. Stories had him sea diving and fishing in the Phillippines.

Yosemite and Pratt. Their roots seem to me entwined. I never would have imagined they ever would part. When the hoards of climbers began to infiltrate the Valley in the 1970's, it was clear the age of mystery was gone. Pratt quietly removed himself forever, but I always hoped he continued to live in Yosemite somewhat in his heart. I envisioned him among pines. In time, he settled for a job guiding in the Tetons. His loneliness and drinking were problems at times, and though he never would be fired his responsibilities became limited. Many felt the depth of his soul, all the same. Friends loved him in corners of the Jenny Lake bar or when they visited him at his small cabin, or stood with him in a meadow, or together ambled a ridge.

Likely by now you'll feel you know Kor better than Pratt. In real life it would be the same, Kor so hung out there to see, as he was, and Pratt more in shadow. Both appeared to be wounded in some way. I speak of a wound that existed throughout their lives, and that they'd never understand. Yet they kept their torments in reasonable subjection. I speak about two people in their prime, in the 1960's. Pratt stepped through the door of infinity, not long after the turn of the century. In his last years, living in his small cabin in the Tetons, guiding, wintering in the low-cost environment of Thailand, he remained a solitary person, or perhaps alcoholic ascetic, if such might describe the paradox of his tragedy and genius.
I've lost touch with Layton, though my friend Royal sent me an address in northern California. I sent a letter, but it was returned. He’d already moved on to another unknown place to live. I have the two climbers with me and speak to them, silently, often.

Always they had the saving laughter to break up a moment's philosophic argument. Such laughter echoes bittersweet through the rocks of memory, as though life had been a lovely Shakespeare play, and those two were incredibly believable in their roles as important characters in the plot. Wind spilling into pines holds for me the voices of those two great, gifted souls. A bright sun holds Kor's nervous, hypnotic depth. I see him in every brick wall, in every shattered heap of sandstone, sense his company in any magic-lantern adventure up rock. A wall of granite, with a crack slicing up through it, reminds me of how Pratt turned climbing into art. Both loved listening to music. Kor enjoyed Dylan's "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." A favorite of Pratt's was Judy Collins' rendition of "Who Knows Where The Time Goes?" Indeed.

Had I the power I would have made them young again, so that other new generations might discover and love them. Had I been some great mystic, I would have attempted to heal their wounds. I was little more than a sort of talented, fumbling friend. ð
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 24, 2009 - 02:44am PT
Sorry for another long one. This was a one-draft
thing I put together. It's kind of rough, but it
served the purpose of gathering some info. I think
the mag editor cut it to about one 20th its size. For
anyone interested,

Chuck Pratt

In certain philosophies, the development of the soul is thought to begin with art. Or the process of humanization of the soul completes itself in art, as opposed to religion. The mystical soul of Chuck Pratt seemed to take bodily form in the amazing, vertical and overhanging cracks of Yosemite. Those masterpieces of climbing that bear his name, such as Twilight Zone, Chingando, Pratt's Chimney, the Salathe Wall, and Lost Arrow Chimney… were the embodiment of a man. I speak of a time that is lost forever, the 1960's, when Pratt and Robbins spirited about in the cool of the Sierra forests and ventured up onto the walls of granite. The power of those individuals, especially Royal and Chuck, was perhaps what most made those times what they were. Even in all their transitoriness, those years linger in the memories and hearts of climbers who were there.

Chuck Pratt died recently, at the age of 61, a devastating reminder to his friends of how short life is and how precious life and friendship are. His death, we are told, occurred in Thailand, just after he arrived there for his annual winter stay. Chuck had a somewhat simple plan for his life: guide for Exum during the spring and summer, save up a little money, and then spend the winter in relatively inexpensive Thailand in a small hut along the north Meykong River. "That's all I need," he said to me in a conversation in late October of 2000 just prior to leaving for Thailand. I had phoned him at his mother's home in Walnut Creek, California. He was there to sell the house, since his mother had passed away. His father had died earlier. He mused about the process of selling a house, showing it, the proceeds from the sale then having to go through probate, etc. He told me he was developing an interest in photography. When I said I would love to see some of his work, he replied slowly, "Well these are not masterpieces. I'm more of a tourist." I needed to ask him a few questions about a book I was working on, and he reminisced with me. I had received a number of postcards from him during the last ten years but had not spoken with him for a while. It was great to hear his soft, wry voice, and the sound of it lingered in my thoughts for days after. Chuck had been one of my true heroes, one of the greatest inspirations for me in rock climbing. He was an inspiration to people all around the world.

No one, other than perhaps Royal Robbins, Layton Kor, or John Gill, made as much of mark on the American climbing scene. A young talent from the Bay Area and leading light of the University of California hiking club, Chuck climbed several of Yosemite's best routes in 1958 and 1959. An early free lead of Phantom Pinnacle, for example, and a difficult crack pitch midway up the north face of Middle Cathedral Rock were two of his first demonstrations of talent. He climbed the Crack of Dawn in 1959 with Robbins and Tom Frost. He made the first ascent of the North Face of Middle Cathedral Rock in 1959 with Steve Roper and Bob Kamps. A certain difficult crack on that route was given the name the Pratt Chimney. Royal later would write of this pitch, in the October 1959 Mugelnoos, "Chuck's lead of this chimney is certainly one of the most remarkable leads in the history of American mountain climbing…."

Also in 1959 (July), Chuck participated in the first ascent of the East Face of Washington Column, grade V, 5.9, A3, with Warren Harding and Glen Denny. This impressive big wall involved the infamous Harding Slot, an exposed, overhanging, flared chimney. The same year, with Joe Fitschen, Chuck led Worst Error, a strenuous chimney-crack system on Yosemite's Elephant Rock. It was at this time Chuck, Royal, and Tom Frost did the 5.9 Crack of Dawn. In May, June, and July of 1960, respectively, Chuck participated in three first ascents: Mt. Broderick's South Face, grade IV, 5.8, A3, with Bob Kamps and Joe Fitschen, Lower Cathedral Rock's North Face, V, 5.9, A3, with Robbins and Fitschen, and Higher Cathedral Rock's North Face, V, 5.9, A4, with Yvon Chouinard and Kamps. Then in September, 1960, from the 7th to the 13th, he joined company with Robbins, Fitschen, and Frost for the second ascent (and first continuous ascent) of the Nose of El Capitan. Only a month later, Chuck and Yvon put up the Chouinard-Pratt Route on Middle Cathedral Rock, a grade V, 5.8, A3.

In 1961, from September 18 to the 24th, Pratt, Robbins, and Frost made the first ascent of the virgin southwest face of El Capitan, an elegant and thrilling line they named the Salathe Wall -- the name being a dedication to John Salathe, the great pioneer of Yosemite rock climbing. Friends greeted the climbers at the top and crowned them with flower-wreaths. In the setting sun, the climbers tossed champagne glasses over the edge.

On October 13, 1961, Chuck led a very formidable, steep, and fearful crack system on Elephant Rock, the Crack of Doom. This was thought to be the first climb of a 5.10 grade in Yosemite until climbers later realized that Royal Robbins' shorter but slightly more intense East Chimney of Rixon's Pinnacle, led by Royal in 1960, was actually 5.10 and had been under-rated at 5.9.

In a 1986 Climbing Art interview, Mort Hempel, Pratt's partner on the Crack of Doom, described the first ascent of the Crack of Doom:

"Chuck Pratt had started this new route which came to be known as the Crack of Doom, and he solicited my help. Chuck and I climbed the first two pitches one day and came down. We went back a couple or three days later and finished the climb. I remember the chimneys. They were awe-inspiring. On the second pitch, you chimney outward, overhanging your belayer. That was spectacular. On the fourth pitch of the climb, I tried to push the 5.10 move, and I just couldn't do it. I came back down and sat on the ledge and said, 'O.K., Chuck, it's your turn,' because he was the better climber.

"I had climbed with Chuck on a number of occasions during that period, and here was the first time I'd ever heard him say, 'Watch me, man, I think I'm going to come off.' It was pretty impressive. Finally he did make it over the crux of the climb. When it came my turn to follow, I was so spent I told Chuck just to haul me over the hard part. I remember, just before exiting that slot at the top of the crux, Chuck had a horizontal piton and an angle piton driven in side-by-side (stacked) for protection -- which I think was more psychological than anything else. It was a climb I will never forget.

"I think the reason Chuck and I got along so great was that he had a certain form of creative insanity. He was a self-educated man, a pretty wise individual. And yet he was very earthy. I mean I could talk to Chuck, and we had some very good times. I do not forget Chuck Pratt. He was, more or less, my best friend at that time. When Chuck was climbing in Yosemite, it was the pinnacle of his own expression. His whole life was wrapped up in climbing, and he was pushing frontiers that had never been pushed in the entire world. His skill is greatly known.

"Chuck's philosophy of climbing was not that of the daredevil -- the I'm going to do it or die kind of situation. It was artistry. It is my feeling that Chuck has gone largely unsung. A lot of people climbing now don't know who Chuck Pratt is, partly because Chuck keeps to himself these days and did so to some degree in the 1960's. He was really a forerunner in pressing new limits in Yosemite Valley. His technique was incredible. There weren't any manuals out then to teach you how to do cross-pressure, or heel-and-toe. Chuck put a lot of thought, a lot of care, into his own specific style of climbing. His technique in jamcracks was flawless.

"I personally had a very difficult time with jamcracks. Chuck was really a master at that. The techniques he perfected for himself gave impetus to people in later years to push their own limits with techniques which started, basically, with Chuck Pratt."

In 1964, Pratt participated in several of the most important ascents in Yosemite. These included:

Ribbon Fall, East Portal, V, 5.9, A4 (June 1964), with Allen Steck, John Evans, and Dick Long; Mt. Watkins, South Face, VI, 5.8, A4 (July 1964), with Yvon Chouinard and Warren Harding; Midterm, 5.10 (August 1964), with Tom Frost; the second ascent of the West Buttress of El Capitan, VI, 5.9, A4, with Robbins; the impressive Crack of Despair, III, 5.10, with Frank Sacherer and Tom Gerughty; Lost Arrow Chimney, free ascent, V, 5.10, with Frank Sacherer; and in October of 1964, the North America Wall of El Capitan, VI, 5.8, A5, with Robbins, Frost, and Chouinard.

An article Chuck wrote about Mt. Watkins set a standard for quality writing. Chuck was a superb writer, although he did not often allow people the pleasure of his writing gifts. Notable in his writing is the way he focuses on the fine characteristics of his friends, "I thought of my incomparable friend Chouinard, and of our unique friendship, a friendship now shared with Warren, for we were united by a bond far stronger and more lasting than any we could find in the world below." In that article, Pratt reveals Harding's courage in sacrificing his share of water in the scorching sun of that climb…. In a later piece of writing for Layton Kor's biography, Chuck would speak directly to Layton, "I still feel that in sheer overall ability to step off the ground and climb to the top of a rock wall, you had no equal."

The Lost Arrow Chimney, done also in 1964, and all free, with Frank Sacherer, was perhaps the first free ascent of a major, Yosemite big wall. The climbing was sustained, with 5.10, and involved eleven pitches. Both Chuck and Frank were small enough in physical stature to finish by squeezing through the Harding Hole, a famous, claustrophobic passageway that gained access to the final spire.

The North America Wall of El Capitan, a bold ascent of over two thousand feet of vertical and overhanging rock was the culminating point of the golden age of big wall climbing. Pratt led the exposed overhang above the Black Dihedral, an aid pitch Royal described as "the most spectacular lead in American climbing."

Chuck led the Left Side of the Slack, at the base of El Capitan, with Royal Robbins, in May 1965. This very difficult (5.10+) off-width was another example of Chuck's extreme talent. The hardest move caught Royal unprepared, and he was forced to pull on a carabiner. Royal always was the first to acknowledge his friend's incredible ability.

In June of 1965, Pratt led Chingando, 5.10, a formidable vertical crack. In July, with Tom Gerughty, he put up the East Corner of Higher Cathedral Spire, III, 5.10. In August, he climbed the Entrance Exam, 5.9, with Chris Fredericks, Larry Marshik, and Jim Bridwell. He climbed the Cleft, 5.9, with Chris Fredericks. But the route that would forever establish him as the genius of off-width cracks was the Twilight Zone, led by Chuck in September of 1965. He modestly rated this virtually unprotected lead 5.10. It would be an understatement to say that Chuck Pratt was ahead of his time. The best climbers today, with their "Big Bros" (large metal chocks to protect wide cracks) and huge “Friends,” hardly would consider doing the Twilight Zone in Chuck's pure, unprotected style -- a style that characterized many of Chuck’s leads.

The Twilight Zone in particular may be the greatest free climbing achievement of the 1960’s, perhaps second only to Gill’s Thimble route in the Needles. Led without protection, without chalk, in a pair of old, crumply Cortinas, the Twilight Zone evokes a sense of Pratt’s gift, how he stopped at the crux far up the unprotected sheer crack, with several blades of rock rising like guillotines out of the ledge below, and how he held on while he had Chris Fredericks rappel off, go down to the car, and prusik back up with a big piton, and then how Chuck was able to let go with one hand at this difficult place to haul the piton up…. He found it didn’t fit, and then he calmly, quietly asked Fredericks and Herbert if they would mind if he went ahead and led upward. The astonishing statement was made as though they would be the ones to suffer should he fall.
To Pratt, the appropriate response to climbing was to keep quiet about it—especially in terms of speaking about his accomplishments. He had no agenda, no desire to become known.

Distant and solitary, that genius of crack climbing never was for sale to the media and was happy without recognition. Chuck seemed to guard his soul and keep it to himself, and he did climbs of such difficulty that it would be difficult for anyone to go there now to know him. In view of when the Crack of Doom and Twilight Zone, as examples, were done, in 1961 and 1965, it would be impossible to go there at all. How could one duplicate the sheer difficulty in relationship to those early years of Yosemite rock climbing? The standards of the 1960's, were in fact as high as any before or after, if viewed in context. Those were times characterized by talent. All the individual stars of the Valley were blessed with ability and vision. And while Royal stands out in most of our minds as the guiding light and remains an astonishing example of integrity, Pratt is certainly the secret hero of many of us.

Pratt continued to climb hard routes through the end of the 1960's, such as his July 1966 free ascent of Penny-Nickel Arete, III, 5.10, with Dean Caldwell. Chuck led Britain's Don Whillans up the Crack of Despair, in 1966, and Whillans was very impressed with Chuck's ability. Whillans visited me in Boulder shortly after and raved about how Chuck was the best. In August 1967, Chuck made a first ascent of the Mummy's Revenge, III, 5.9, with Tom Kimbrough, and in April and May 1968 made ascents of North Dome's Southwest Face, 5.9, with Bev Clark, and Flatus, 5.9, with Bob Bauman. In July of 1969, Chuck did a major wall first ascent, the Gobi Wall, on Sentinel, rated V, 5.8, A4, with Ken Boche.

In and around these years of climbing in Yosemite, Chuck visited other places to climb. Early in the 1960's, he came to Boulder, Colorado, and nearly free climbed without protection the first pitch of Country Club Crack. Had he made that difficult, crux start, it might have been the first undisputed 5.11, apart from John Gill's route on the Thimble in the Needles. Legend has it Chuck was past the crux and reaching with his right arm to feel up above the second bulge for the tiny key finger-tip hold that most people taller than he are able to reach. A fall meant a drop onto a dangerous flake of rock fifteen or twenty feet directly below, so he downclimbed! Although one small hold has broken off over the years, that pitch is now rated solid 5.11!

During the later 1960's, Chuck enjoyed the red spires of the southwest desert and climbed there with Steve Roper, Bob Kamps, TM Herbert, and others, including ascents of Spider Rock, Cleopatra's Needle, Shiprock, and Venus' Needle…. Chuck's brilliant article, the View From Deadhorse Point, in the 1970 issue of Ascent, chronicles his adventures in the austere and, in those days, relatively isolated desert. I recall a particular beautiful line from that article, "Retracing our steps out of the canyon we feel the temporary depression which accompanies an exhilarating experience that belongs to the past."

I must speak briefly on a personal level. The climbs Chuck and I did together, the Steck-Salathe on Sentinel, for example, and any number of those off-widths of his, remain among my most sacred memories. It was like painting with Rembrandt. I recall him leading up through the Wilson Overhang on Sentinel and saying softly, almost to himself, "Grown men." We finished that climb in bright sun, with rain falling from a cloudless sky.

When he led the long, vertical hand crack on Reed's Pinnacle, he used no protection at all except a small sling around a chockstone almost at the top of the pitch. At one point about 70 feet straight above me, with the rope hanging freely down toward me, he stopped, made a fist with his right hand, while holding onto the crack with his left. He bonked a red ant, watched it fall, and said softly, "You shouldn't be allowed to climb that well."

As a boulderer, it was a special test for me, in my gymnastic prime, to repeat Chuck’s famous mantels on the boulders around Yosemite's Camp 4. I had hollow-back pressing strength from gymnastics. Pratt never trained, to my knowledge. He simply had a gift and gathered whatever he had in the way of strength through actual climbing and contact with the rock. There remains one scary boulder problem, high up on the lichen-covered slab of the southwest side of Columbia Boulder. Pratt soloed the first ascent of it one night in his army boots after a few beers. In daylight, with good friction shoes, and in best shape, I repeated that route. The lichen covering made it especially treacherous. In doing that climb, I again was amazed by this friend.

When we think of Pratt’s austerity, his great ability, and mind, we hesitate to offer too much commentary. The spirit that I believe Chuck's friends came to equate with him is of less talk and more modesty, mingled with a little cynicism. He had has joy, and he had his bitterness, and he seemed to know who he was. I am certain he was aware of the super-real spheres, those disorienting and scary cracks and places his ability led him and that they were his, in relative isolation. I believe he was aware of his artfulness and technique and enjoyed them. They were a part of his own conception of himself. One day when he was following me up the third pitch, the 5.10 off-width, of Reed Pinnacle Direct, and moving more smoothly and solidly than I had led the pitch, he commented about the crack, "It lends itself to technique." In those words, said in the spirit of a true poet, I could sense the very beauty of the rock and the secret joy and rewards of technique. I have never forgotten those words.

The harder the climb, the more technique that flowed from Chuck. I think he appreciated, or was aware of, how a remarkable piece of climbing brought out his abilities. It also could be said that the harder pitches were more worthy of his natural gift and technique. The difficult cracks lent themselves to his technique.

Chuck was a loner. I have suspected at times that he perhaps had a type of social fear with which he struggled most of his life. Or perhaps he simply was deeply shy. That is only speculation. He certainly guarded his privacy. He could be edgy at times. "I'm tired of being social director of Camp 4," I heard him say to someone pestering him for information. He has been identified as alcoholic, and certainly he drank his share. I recall one night hearing shouts in the Yosemite dark, coming from this short, bald-headed man with a beard.

Born in 1939 and raised by Mormon parents, Chuck is said to be a distant descendant of a famous Mormon, Parley P. Pratt. Yet Chuck did not take to religion. He did not take to mainstream society. Said to be a promising talent in physics, he dropped out of school -- the academic world -- and was more self-educated. Once when I visited his apartment in Berkeley, I was amazed at his collection of books and his collection of records and music. He obviously loved beautiful things, which included strangely the somewhat vagabond life of a climber, living in Yosemite from spring through fall. He had an especially deep sensitivity to the beauty of nature. He was too much of a free spirit to follow a more conventional path, which of course caused him to struggle to make a living at times. He worked at various odd jobs, on automobiles, as a mechanic part time, or he guided. He served a couple years in the army.

He and Chouinard were arrested once for riding freight trains. This occurred, as I recall, somewhere in the south, perhaps Arizona or New Mexico. They were dressed in striped clothing and each day (for several days) were driven out to an open range where they were left to catch horses. The driver would depart, and they would make a feeble effort or two to approach a horse, which would simply run away, and so the two friends sat there together all day. They never caught a single horse during that week, and at the end of each day when the driver returned to get them no questions were asked.

In Yosemite, Chuck was well acquainted with the bears that roamed Camp 4 at night, and he knew them by name. I remember the name of one: El Cid. Each of the bears had a personality Chuck had come to identify. "Nothing worse than a hungry bear," I heard him say once.

There was something childlike about Chuck. He always had a good sense of humor and for play. When I first brought my wire walking antics to Yosemite, in the form of the slack chain, Chuck liked the new diversion. I was the best at walking the chain, but one day Chuck stood up on it in perfect balance and juggled three wine bottles.

Eventually as things became too hectic in Yosemite, with too many climbers, and nothing left of the quiet sanctuary of Yosemite's golden 1960's, he began to refer to the Valley as "the Gulch." In that statement, one could feel his sense of loss. I recall that period of time, when he more or less said goodbye to the Valley, when he bugged out, so to speak.
At last he found a means to live, and a rather acceptable environment, in Wyoming's Tetons as an Exum guide. He found the perfect hiding place in a small cabin in Lupine Meadow and there guided during the summers for 29 years. I am not qualified to speak about his relationships with his friends, clients, and fellow guides in the Tetons other than that he touched them greatly and they him.

I received a rare letter from him from the Tetons, telling me that he liked my autobiography…. Earlier, Chuck had personally told me he liked my book Swaramandal and my chapter entitled Pratt. There is a sketch I did of Pratt, in my autobiography, with him sitting at the top of Sentinel and rain falling through a clear, sunlit sky.

I will keep thinking about Chuck. As though it was yesterday, I recall when Royal first introduced me to Chuck in the cafeteria of Yosemite Lodge in September of 1964. He shook my hand warmly, although I detected a small push toward me with has hand as though to suggest that I not move too close or enter his "space." He didn't exactly let people into his life, or even let the world in. Or should I say he was not "worldly." He was a tough character. Yet I recall how generous he was to me in Yosemite every time I time I went there, that ascent of Sentinel, for example, and the various off-widths we did together, and how he was more than willing to rate my 1967 free ascent of Center Slack 5.11, never begrudging me that little triumph because I was young and immature or because I was from Colorado.

In my last conversation with him, just before he left for Thailand, he seemed more relaxed than ever about speaking on the subject of his Yosemite climbs. He told me all about his ascent of the Lost Arrow Chimney with Sacherer. He talked about the Twilight Zone, etc., and he was very happy to have me publish his Mount Watkins article in a new anthology. He told me to meet him in May in the Tetons, and he would show me around. I very much looked forward to that.

Now he has bugged out of the world altogether. There was only one Chuck Pratt. If I may borrow a phrase from Yeats, Chuck Pratt will remain, for those of us who had the privilege of knowing him, a “marble triton among the streams.”
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  May 24, 2009 - 02:47am PT

I've always been mellow.

When Allan Bard died and all those friends showed up in Bishop for his memorial, I was approached by someone - I can't remember who - he said he really regretted Allan's passing. He said, "Allan would have made such grand old man."

Boulder climber
Andy Cairns
  May 24, 2009 - 04:35am PT
I too sense phoniness in small yappy dogs.

As for being a human chockstone, not so much, but it is good to finally get an idea of where the attribution came from.

The Pratt legend has spread wide and it is good to see such an able crew wrestle it into better focus.

Since our lives may be mostly behind us, we can write without losing too much.


  May 24, 2009 - 11:23am PT
I encountered Chuck only that one time when Joe Kelsey and I were being snowed off a climb in mid summer. Chuck had hot soup for us when we got down. So I have nothing to add.

Sometimes I think we have it all wrong. We imagine we are like those itinerant bodies of matter from the Kuiper belt far out in the solar system. Our trajectory at least seems fixed within ourselves and is unaffected. But you read all that has been written about Chuck by people, each of whom is clearly more able than most to claim they have issued from themselves, and what do you see? They all were very much affected by Chuck.

Here is the question suggesting nature is mischievous. While we all might wish in some ways we were a little more like Chuck, is it possible Chuck was not at all convinced he wanted to be Chuck? And that was precisely what made him so appealing?

Is not our friend telling us, yet, answers are unimportant? That not having questions is quite a different matter?

Bronx, NY
  May 24, 2009 - 02:20pm PT
A little more. In 1960 I spent ten nights on bivouac ledges with Chuck, yet, as reflected in many of the posts, there was always some part of him that remained beyond reach. He was unusually sensitive to the absurdities of life, and usually, but not always, they would buoy his spirits, brighten his day. If not, the rage that some have alluded to.

After one night of spirited drinking at his apartment in Berkeley, he decided he wanted to ride his unicyle. We tried to dissuade him, but he hauled the thing out of his closet and headed downstairs. A street light hung over an intersection, and he chose that spotlight for his ride. But he couldn't get on. He would make the initial move and then crash to the pavement. We tried to get him to give up, but he wouldn't, convinced that on the next try he would have his old mastery back. Not that night. But this story is not a metaphor. Chuck learned juggling, unicyle riding, tight and slack rope walking because he thought of running away and joining the circus before he found out about climbing.

Younger climbers may need to know that in the fifties and a good part of the sixties, every lead was onsite. You simply climbed the route or you went down. You might fall, but it wasn't like the hangdogging that came later, just a momentary lapse of attention or will. Pratt rarely fell, and to my knowledge never more than ten feet. Usually a fall was the result of a pin coming out while on aid.

Tales of Chuck stacking wood at his cabin also reminded me that at one point he had rescued a gas stove that, after a few repairs, he intended to use instead of his Coleman that was ageless. The gas stove sat near his doorway for years and was still there, unfixed, unused, taking up space the last time I visited, while he brewed up on the Coleman.

Yes, there was a Beauregard. The bears, by the way, were fairly recent visitors to the campgrounds since the old garbage pit behind Camp Curry had been closed down.

Royal led the Gong Flake on Lower Cathedral. The first pitch involved traversing behind it. I went second and found to my horror that chockstones were shifting and sand was raining down from above. I whispered to Royal that this thing was loose, and he said, "I know, but don't tell Pratt." Royal then led two pitches up the side of the thing. It came off some time in the seventies, I believe, as did Psyche Flake on Half Dome.

By the by, I have written a book about all this and more that awaits a publisher. The more is part memoir of the guys in the Yosemite Climbing Club, part Tahquitz and initial desert climbs (Powell, Gallwas, and Wilson [and Dolt]), and part what it was like growing up in the fifties.

Finally, pace Roger, I really didn't take sides in the early war, but skulked around the wine cellar hoping for a chance to make a move on Helen (sometimes known as Janie Dean).
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 24, 2009 - 05:19pm PT
In my last piece above, I mentioned Herbert as being
present on the Twilight Zone, but that was a slip,
because Chuck had told me it was just him and Fredericks.

from out where the anecdotes roam
  May 24, 2009 - 06:42pm PT
with some reservation in the instance of the one in question, jstan you're ringing true, perspective born of many a mile. this is a proper tribute. though it stikes me, the living deserve the same, in time to chime in.

may we aspire to conduct ourselves in a manner that might have brought chuck to our desired unchecked revelation. cheers with high regard to those who came remarkably close, and then let us in
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 25, 2009 - 12:43pm PT
perhaps Chuck Pratt succeeded, after all, in his desire to avoid celebrity, a Wikipedia search on "Chuck Pratt" turns up no direct reference, though Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, Jim Bridwell, Yvon Chouinard, are represented there... also found in references to El Capitan, Salathé Wall, North Face (Fariview Dome), The Nose and under the "History of rock climbing" entry.

More from Royal Robbins [url=""]Standing on the Shoulders: A Tribute to my Heros[/url]
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 25, 2009 - 01:20pm PT
from Downward Bound by Warren Harding

Chuck Pratt - Zone 9

Potentially a zone 1 or zone 2 climber, Pratt has participated in and helped engineer some of the greatest climbs in Yosemite valley, but his general attitude and often unfortunate choice of friends relegate him to zone 9. It's possible that an ill-advised association with the unsavory Batso (early in his climbing career) may have gotten him off to a bad start, but there's no proof of this. It seems more likely that Pratt's inherent personal characteristics (which have driven him to squander much valuable climbing time in such dubious activities as hanging around the nurses' dormitories in Yosemite and guzzling copious quantities of cheap wine) are really responsible for the good chance that he may be reclassified in zone 10.

Downward Bound Zone System

Downward Bound has developed the zone system for grading climbers. It utilizes the same principle in evaluating personal characteristics of climbers as the photographic system of describing the ten shades (or zones) of gray between black and white. Since there seems to be such emphasis on high moral values and physical prowess, it's logical to assign the great climbers with lofty ideals to zone 1 (white hats, symbolic of good guys). Then the system continues to descent in order through to the most lowly regarded climbers to zone 10 (black hats, bad guys).

Tarnished supermen. Climbers of great ability but of questionable moral fiber. Potentially superclimbers who should be more discriminating in their personal associations and professional efforts.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 25, 2009 - 01:39pm PT
from A Night on the Ground, a Day in the Open by Doug Robinson

p 37

OK, having shamelessly mentioned Chuck Pratt I guess I owe him a word or two, but it's tough. For starters, he won't necessarily appreciate the attention. He is incredibly elusive for such a solid little man. I can cobble together some sort of an image, but his spirit would slip right through its crude shell, and the whole exercise ends up feeling futile and a little embarrassing. There is no doubt that he was the finest free climber of the era, and ahead of his time in even recognizing that free climbing spelled the future. We shared a similar build, and I was flattered when people took us for brothers. I have lost women to him, even one I was married to, without it damping my respect for the man. But it was Pratt the racounteur who left us most in awe. Normally rather quiet, when he finally warmed up to an audience, the result was a brilliant rave, sustained on its own energy, internal logic and moral force. The man became possessed, caught up in inspiration and subject, with listeners fading out of his vision. Something about those monologues made them very hard to recall afterward; maybe it was the lubrication of the audience.


Chuck Pratt, who was probably the first person to walk upright across Thank God Ledge, was once coiling his rope on the summit. He began to complain loudly to no one in particular or more likely addressing his monologue toward the heavens in general, commenting on the perversity of ropes, and the cheerful and seemingly willful way that they become caught under flakes, stuck in cracks at inconvenient times and distances, and generally make life miserable for the poor climber, who is minding his own business and just humbly trying to make a little vertical progress on the rocks of the world, thank you. All the while he was laying on neat coils and shaking out kinks in his meticulous fashion. Having finished both his soliloquy and a textbook mountaineers coil, and having made perhaps too convincing an argument to the fates at large, he flung the coil with all his strength out over the dozens of acres of gently-rolling summit slabs. It sailed directly into a deep crack parallel to and not far back from the Northwest Face, never to be seen again. Someday, in the geological equivalent of a glacier spitting out a climber swallowed by its bergschrund centuries before, Chuck's rope will fall out of the sky into the forest that replaces the meadow that in the next hundred years will replace Mirror Lake.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 25, 2009 - 02:41pm PT
some Sheridan Anderson sketches....

Chuck Pratt

Superhero irreverence

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  May 26, 2009 - 07:37am PT
Bump! This thread deserves more visibility.

Trad climber
  May 26, 2009 - 10:16pm PT
Beyond Pratt

I’m struck by how the best of supertopo comes with tributes and remembrances. Contrast this thread with one of the longest tangling, spitting, firefights on supertopo re the South Face of Half Dome. Both this thread on Pratt and the recent one on Frank Sacherer brought deep, honest outpourings of respect, love and admiration without pulling any punches on foibles and flaws. Chuck nearly strangling Jan. Chuck exuding an enviable union and calm on hard rock, and selflessness in the competitive, ego stoked climbing camp of the day. Chuck listening respectfully to women. Chuck drinking to oblivion. Chuck writing from the heart with incisive perspective on climbing and knowing and reflecting on the power of writing way beyond his years. Chuck saying, “I think I’m at the hard part.” O, the summation of his being in that line. And the parallels with Frank, himself besieged with his own devils, yet so driven and masterful and obviously taken by the mountains.

Me thinks there’s a lesson here for all of us about how to be with climbing and its community on line and off. We are at our best when caring, honest, humble but with critical facilities still cranked up; striving to walk calmly with both the wondrous and the terrible in climbing and in our other lives, eyes wide open, and glistening too along the way, just as we see Pratt doing in our memories and, of course, imaginations. And what else better can the gone figures of Chuck and Frank and more to come do for us than inspire and shape our own paths, our ways of being and thinking, and not just within the climbing world but outside it too? Turns out, if we take time to step back, reflect, share, respect, climbing teaches deeply. We shall not forget Chuck – nor, I hope, what remembering him means.

Tom Higgins
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  May 26, 2009 - 11:07pm PT
Tommy Higgins, if only all of us had just read all of you all along. Glad to see you surface like the fabulous Blue Whale, largest of our lives. Our very own Prince.

I would proffer your summary:

Happiness is cherishing others.

If we trace the outlines of what you, Tom, know, this is what we see.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
  May 27, 2009 - 12:29am PT
wonderful, thoughtful words, Tom

Here is the Amy Brennan photo grabbed from the Robbins' AAJ memory

Double D

  May 27, 2009 - 01:10am PT
Nice. Thanks for shedding some light on Chuck.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
  May 30, 2009 - 01:57am PT
And Chuck Pratt, the prince of this thread.


Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
  May 30, 2009 - 02:15am PT
There is a nice pic of Pratt I have never seen before on Tom's El Cap Pics site.

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
  May 30, 2009 - 02:49am PT
t*r: exactly. we are blessed.

Trad climber
Being held captive behind the Orange Curtain
  May 30, 2009 - 04:32am PT
Joe - Welcome to the campfire!

I've been reading this thread since the beginning and now that you are hear, feel like throwing in.
At age 16, after 3 years of climbing, my dad thought I should get some professional instruction. He booked me into a class at Exum. Joe, you were my guide. I remember a great day, perfect weather, fun climbing, and one of my heroes as my guide. After the session, someone pointed out Pratt sitting at a picnic table, cooking soup on an ancient Coleman. I said something about going over and having a chat. You gave me a look that told me not to. I appreciate that to this day.
I have come to know Pratt through the eyes of others. The second hand revelations I have consumed over the past 35 years tell me that he would not have appreciated my intrusion.
Those revelations continue in this thread which includes some of the finest writings and recollections I have had the pleasure of reading. Pratt may be gone from this existence, but he will live on forever in the words of those who knew and loved him.

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
  May 30, 2009 - 12:29pm PT
As they say... we stand on the shoulders of giants.

It's good to see all the memories coming out here where they can live and not be lost.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
  May 30, 2009 - 01:18pm PT
I like Larry's idea in the first 20,
who is writing the book?

beneath the valley of ultravegans
  May 30, 2009 - 05:50pm PT
The quotable Pratt: "I will not give it up nor even slow down, not for man, nor woman nor wife nor god."

Whose going to invite Roper over for stories and typographical advice?

Social climber
WA, NC, Idaho Falls
  May 30, 2009 - 06:08pm PT
Thank You!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
  May 30, 2009 - 07:15pm PT
Joe, aka Old Guy and other infamous names:

I am sure many of us await publication of your book which would be a rare look into the early days of climbing, personalities and living in the 50s and 60s. I remember watching the prep for the 2nd ascent of the Nose in Camp 4 and the high energy level and anxiety of the unknown that everyone felt at the time. I also remember you blasting off to Europe and coming back years later with vivid tales of vagabonding in that lively era. Wild things for a 14 year old kid hanging in Camp 4. We young lads quickly lost our innocence climbing and socializing with the real gypsies of that era. Hopefully we will get a glimpse into the real story behind 'Fitschen's Folly" and other adventures.


Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
  Jun 1, 2009 - 02:52am PT
Bon voyage Guido!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  Jun 1, 2009 - 11:28am PT
Here is that photo from Tom Evan's elcapreport site repaired (it had majorly faded and shifted)


Trad climber
Washington DC
  Jun 1, 2009 - 02:37pm PT
Only met Chuck one time in 73. I was getting ready to throw a tr on Chingondo after doing the Iota and Chuck, bald head and all came cruising up. I was young and in awe of the legend. I watch attentively on how he setup the belay.....

Social climber
  Sep 4, 2009 - 09:47pm PT
Bump for a great one...

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
  Sep 11, 2009 - 12:19pm PT
Here's a fun story posted to another ST thread which I think should also be here.

It was originated by:
Trad climber
From: Canoga Porn, CA

"Mom used to tell stories about goings-on in "Pratt's Camp" (C4 before it was C4) in the early days.

One of my favorite was the following:

Campers with pets were required to stay in the "climber's camp", and Chuck's idea of a good time was to wait until the middle of the night, then let all the dogs loose, climb onto a boulder and was the ensuing chaos".
Peter Haan

Trad climber
  Sep 11, 2009 - 02:10pm PT
Another fun Chuck tale was his draping bacon on the side of a large tall canvas tent that had been pitched right up against the mantle boulder opposite Columbia Boulder. This was in the days of El Cid, the uberbear of the sixties. Obviously stuff happened and the non-climber unfortunately oblivious tourists moved their tent or left immediately.

  Sep 11, 2009 - 04:13pm PT

Social climber
  Dec 22, 2013 - 12:08am PT
Last campfires never die bump

Trad climber
  Jan 30, 2014 - 12:44pm PT
i;ll drink to eternal flames,,cheers mates,,

Social climber
Lida Junction
  Mar 12, 2014 - 11:53pm PT

Social climber
Ridgway, CO
  May 11, 2014 - 07:19pm PT
Best stories bump.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Mar 22, 2019 - 03:22pm PT
overdue bump
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