TWO HISTORIC HARDING LETTERS FROM WALL EARLY MORNING LIGHT

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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 9, 2009 - 10:30pm PT
Two historic Warren Harding letters have emerged just now, sent to me in jpeg format from Joe McKeown (our Guido) an old friend of more than forty years. Roger Derryberry and Mary Lou apparently have these two missives or have photographed them. They are now in frames matted and hanging on a wall. I have retouched these rather small files and realize that they aren’t going to be readable on ST. So I have transcribed them here for our use and for the future. And of course post the images as well.

The two items were mailed/dropped from the Wall of the Early Morning Light during the first week of that controversial ascent, Thursday, October 23 through Wednesday, November 18, 1970 and we now look at them 39 years later! It is unclear if there are additional letters somewhere covering Warren’s and Dean’s next 2-1/2 weeks that followed ont that month-long effort. I have to think there are. Roper notes in his Camp Four book that after this climb, Dean retreated from the climbing community forever and his relationship with Harding was completely ruined.

The ascent, later partly erased by an outraged community notably lead by Royal Robbins and his willing partner Don Lauria, took 27 days, involved 330 holes drilled all told for the 2800 foot climb, a holes-to-feet ratio never before seen and never seen again in Yosemite. A huge rescue effort was organized eventually in earlier November as the climbing party was hit by early winter storms and had to cease their activities for days at a time thus causing panic amongst the NPS staff, especially as more and more reporters arrived in the Valley. Perhaps 20 of us were alerted as well, with myself and others even driving from the Bay Area and elsewhere to stand at alert for the NPS. Although an actual rescue never was required and was refused, a few dozen people were put on the ready, in many cases at some expense. And the news people thrilled to all this activity while they waited for a top-out or a failure of some sort or other.

In these letters we notice it was clear an organized publicity plan was not in place, but there was clearly an offhanded hope that the achievement would bring both Warren and Dean financial reward of substantial proportions; also that they made efforts towards that goal. A month long ascent would have cost thousands of dollars of course. Communications and film were sent down on an almost daily basis by dropping containers off the wall, gathered then by Dave and Penny who formed a makeshift ground crew that hiked up every day to the base.

The Valley climbing community had never considered taking such an approach to what was considered an almost sacred perilous journey into the priveleged and the unknown; it was obviously scandalized and it took subsequent action. It was the end of the Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing as Roper states.

More importantly today, more poignantly now 39 years later--- almost half a century--- is evidenced Warren’s companionship and passion he shared with legendary Beryl Knauth who had partnered with Jim Harper, Mort Hempel, Rob Wood and so on over the years.

Letter One, October 27, 1970
p.1
Oct 27, 1970
“Birdland”, Wall of the Early Morning LIght

Dearest Beryl,
(it’s 10:30 AM---- Dean is leading 6th pitch---on rivets--- Dave Hanna and Penny were just at base of Wall...)

So---- things have finally shaped up enough for me to concnetrate on some sort of letter.

After a most un-auspicious beginning, we’ve finally got it going! Penny and Dave filled you in on all the details in his telephone conversation with you last night.

Our morale had really gotten very low last week and (Friday) started out in a rather apathetic state of mind. But now, we’ve snapped out of our depression and are in fine spirits--- we’re even making progress up the wall!

p.2
We’re at work on the 6th pitch; which will end about 900 ft. up--- in that prominent right leaning crack that we’ll follow part way, before heading acrtoss the blank area to the dihedrals. “Climbing this far has been difficult in the extreme--- vertical or overhanging, and many blank areas. The 3rtd pitch, which I lead three days ago, required 23 rivets, 3 bathooks, 3 bolts and assorted piton and bashie placements.

Hey--- Dean just yelled down--- he’s about 60 ft above me--- that he can see past the “bulge” and the rim is coming into view! It’ll be much better psychologically for us to be out from under this overhang area--- to be able to see where we’re going.

I’ve got to get busy doing some things---- so, I’ll continue this tonite. love you, “Batso”

B


Thing got a bit frazzled last night--- I arrived at the bivy site well after dark--- getting set up was a bit of a hassle!

It’s about 6:30--- time to move out--- I’m leading today so I’ll wrap this up to throw down to Dave. He’ll be here between 11:00 & 12:00. Will write again tonite or tomorrow.

I love you,

Warren

[envelop] “Batso”, Top of 6th pitch, Wall of Early Morning Light, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Calif postmarked Oct 30, 1970



Warren letter #2 to Beryl Knauth Nov 1, 1970

p.1
“Top of 7th pitch” about 100 ft below top of El Cap Tower

Mi Q???ih Berylite


seems we’re trying to get organized for the days activities. I’m still in Bat Tent waiting for Dean to shoot some photos, take crap, etc---”Wall of the Early Morning Shit”???

Anyway--- we’re moving along; heading into the “black area” About a pitch and a half from the small eldge from which we’ll traverse into the Dihedrals. and of the wall is lessening somewhat. So far, it’s been vertical or overhanging.

Both Dean and I are holding up quite well---in fact, we’re in much better shape than when we left the Valley floor a week ago!

We celebrated “Halloween”

p.2
last night by indulging in a few nips from our bottle of Brandy--- “Christian Bros” of course!

{Dave sent out wire photos to C.B.--- says they sound quite interested!!)

I’ve got to get ready to belay Wizard as he continues with the rivet pitch he started late yesterday afternoon--- more later.

Later--- 10:30AM

B


Wizard is happily rivetting away at 8th pitch--- I’m belaying--- in slings of course---- all our bivys/belay spots have been of the hanging type since we left the lodge where we shot the Christian Bros. Photos.

Before start of climbing today,

p.3
we shot some good (I hope!) Christian Bros Brandy Photos--- maybe we can sell some of these! we’re gettin more and more ideas for advertising photos---$$$$!!

We took sort of a rest day yesterday--- gained only about 50 ft and moved camp one pitch. Dean went through the bolt gear--- our most ciritical item--- found that we still have about 20 drills; so we should be ok in this deparatment. Food & water are holding up qutie well--- could probably stretch it to 10 or more days in need be!

[envelop] “Batso”, Top of 6th pitch, Wall of Early Morning Light, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Calif postmarked Nov 3, 1970.
So--- it looks quite within the realm of possibility that we actually will make it. Best guess time-wise would be next weekend--- but Dave will keep in close touch with you--- if it’s

p.4
at all possible, I’d sure like you to meet us on top!

Ya’ know love--- this thing is real good for me! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so strong--- content--- happy!! --- and you have so much to do with all this!!! It seems that everything I’ve ever really wanted in life is happening or is very close at hand


Well--- Dave will be coming soon to pick up the “mail”--- I imagine this is the last letter that will reach you before the weekend--- oh Hell, maybe I’ll try one more tomorrow!

I LOVE YOU!!

Warren

[envelop] “Batso”, Top of 6th pitch, Wall of Early Morning Light, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Calif postmarked Nov 3, 1970.



Ihateplastic

Trad climber
Lake Oswego, Oregon
Nov 9, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
I forwarded this over to Dean Caldwell... see if he has any comments to chime in with!
Norton

Social climber
the Wastelands
Nov 9, 2009 - 10:54pm PT
My wife and I stopped at Roger and Mary Lou's two years ago to see
Roger's really good effort at putting together Warren's request that he
build a "Shrine to Buffoonery" after Warren died.

We saw the two letters on the wall and squinted to make some of it out.

Roger said more than once that Warren was "soooo funny". I liked that!
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Nov 9, 2009 - 10:55pm PT
Darn, Peter. . .


I thought it was gonna be another of your art works. . .


hee hee hee. . .

But thanks for the letters!!!!!
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
Will know soon
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:01pm PT
I was blessed and so fortunate to meet and talk to Beryl at the Nose Reunion a year ago. What a super woman with great wit and a fine brain. It became apparent to me that it is a difficult task, maybe above all on this planet, to care deeply about a crazy climber.

So lynnie, perhaps you should escape now.....:D
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 9, 2009 - 11:06pm PT
I keep telling you Lynnie you have to score that 1967 psychedelic school bus, outfit it with beds, bongs and batik curtains. There is NO OTHER WAY to make it to the OTHER SIDE, dear heart!!

pt
dogtown

Trad climber
JackAssVille, Wyoming
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:08pm PT
Let me quote: A rescue is unwarranted, unwanted, and will not be expected… Period !


Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:12pm PT
I agree with Lynn's assessment of Beryl ! Not a little of the outrage directed at Warren had to do with jealousy over the fact that such an outrageous character had managed to score such a memorable woman while others went without!
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C. Small wall climber.
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:13pm PT
Thanks - that's fantastic stuff. Ken would undoubtedly love to have it for the museum. I wonder if they kept the cans, too?

The first ascent of the Dawn Wall. (I put that in to help Simon search for it.) A fine bit of history.

Climbers in the Valley from 1968 on seem to have become a bit obsessed with it, as a sort of last great problem. A group climbed the right side of El Capitan Towers and started to traverse into the big corners, and Bridwel and Schmitz in 1970 were apparently so territorial about it that they scared Davis and Kroger into doing the Heart Route. It seems like the old guard were a bit fixated on the Dawn Wall, even myopic, but the younger climbers perhaps not. (Peter has mentioned he had a bit of interest in the Heart Route, too.) The thing being that the Dawn Wall was by all accounts a stout route, notwithstanding the circus and drilling, but that very soon after other routes started to appear by contrast. Still, there were other fine and feasible lines visible that don't seem to have been seriously considered, apart from Robbins' half-hearted attempt at a solo of Tangerine Trip.

Only two years later the brilliant Shield was climbed. Yes, only about half the climbing on it was new, but it was visionary, and a 'last great problem' of a kind perhaps not even considered by Harding, Robbins etc. Other routes at that time - Cosmos, Magic Mushroom - followed worthwhile lines, and then in the next year or two Tangerine Trip, Mescalito and Zodiac. Hindsight (perspective) is an interesting thing.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:26pm PT
Ah Anders, the ranks are thinning among those with whom these ancient tales resonate.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C. Small wall climber.
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:31pm PT
Harding reports in Downward Bound that Caldwell spent $60 on food for the two of them for the ascent. He also reports on talking with Dave Hanna (support team), Pete Thompson (ranger), 'Penny' (a waitress from the bar and friend of Caldwell's), T.M. Herbert (once), Harding's mother (!) (once), and Beryl Knauth (weekends - in school at UCSB).

It sounds like Hanna was the 'regular', coming to the base every day, picking up the notes, even borrowing a bullhorn from the NPS to communicate.

Harding refers several times to "daily notes thrown down", so maybe there are more around. Also, "All our notes, which clearly stated we were not in any trouble, were recovered".

An entertaining and idiosyncratic story that I haven't read for a long time.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
Will know soon
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:32pm PT
Does Beryl ever post on ST? Does anyone have her email ? If you do perhaps you could connect her with lynne. I need some romantic advice ....:DDD about climbers .... in general of course. Peace, hehehe
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:36pm PT
Lynne-

Run for your life - unless of course you want to have a particularly interesting one - and probably a lot of heartbreak along the way. Sensible, stable, and routine they're not!
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
Will know soon
Nov 9, 2009 - 11:45pm PT
Yah, that's what my gut is telling me. Thanks Jan. So lets go for the pain and pleasure and forget normal everyday ho hum....maybe ??? Smiles, lynne

ps, Beryl said it was a darn special time. Gotta go with special rather than endless boring....whaddaya think ?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 9, 2009 - 11:51pm PT
Lynnie, Guido (although traveling for another few days) probably has Beryl's contact. And in regard to Jan's well-pointed advice just now, you should write me directly, Lynne.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Sport climber
Will know soon
Nov 10, 2009 - 12:07am PT
LOL, ok Peter.....but like FaceLift.....what happens at FL stays at FL same with Haanlift, Yah ???!!! lynnie
hoipolloi

climber
A friends backyard with the neighbors wifi
Nov 10, 2009 - 12:26am PT
That is so cool to read!

Something that has always struck me about Warren Harding's writing is the character and enthusiasm that comes through. These letters and in his book have (to me at least) a giddy, sort of childish element to them, something I would have NEVER expected from Harding.

I think its that you always see Harding looking so grim and determined, you think of his hardship and suffering, then you read his book or these letters and realize he loved it! He absolutely loved what he did, he was in his element.


Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 10, 2009 - 12:36am PT
I agree Hoipolloi. You are looking at the kind of guy he was. In heavy construction--- his real life experience--- there are sometimes these men who are phenomenally energetic and energized by being on a project--- see it as completely exciting and horizon-bound--- "yeah, that is where we guys are going!!" Among others, it also takes guys like this to build the future.

But as Dingus notes right off the bat here above, we have to also take in account, how funky he must have felt after the WEML when it was so universally condemned. Holy Christ.

I was basically raised by RR, worked for him and Liz, lived in their house off and on and mentored to him like crazy and still hold most of what that camp holds dear today--- to me their/my view is vital. But as I age.... I think of Warren (and of course many others in other aspects) and reconsider their experiences with us. And I rue the thought that we contributed to his troubles.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 10, 2009 - 12:52am PT
Outstanding historical documents from the mother of all climbing controversies! Thanks to Joe and Roger for sharing such gems! And to Peter for making them readable.

Royal's side of all this is really going to be interesting reading, I have a feeling.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:01am PT
Yes Peter, a belated thank you for making these letters available and also for creating a place and atmosphere where Warrens's life can be reconsidered with more good will and charity this time around.
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