Yosemite riots & the first ascent of Independence Pinnacle


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Barry Bates

Boulder climber
Smith River CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 3, 2010 - 07:24pm PT
I just realized that tomorrow, July 4th, will be the fortieth anniversary of the 1970 riots in Yosemite, something I had not thought about for years. I did a search of Supertopo and found only one brief mention of the riots by Werner (who was undoubtedly one of the prime instigators of the whole thing ). Surprisingly enough, there is a mention of the event in Wikipedia’s history of Yosemite.

On July 4th 1970 Matt Donahoe, Dave Hampton and I did the first ascent of the center route of Independence Pinnacle, located several hundred yards to the right of Reed’s Pinnacle. Although not destined to become a Yosemite classic, it seemed like a difficult route for the era and it ended in a free-standing flake of rock. We were excited to have been the first ones to climb it . I imagine we were probably also the last ones to actually climb all the way to the top, since it’s hardly worth the extra trouble. I would probably have forgotten about the date of our climb and much of the climb itself if it was not for the events that took place later that day.

Heading back to the valley from the Reed’s Pinnacle area we found a Yosemite Park maintance person standing at the intersection of Highways 120 and140, wearing a hard hat and holding an axe handle like a baseball bat on his shoulder. We stopped and Matt asked what was going on. Matt’s family owned Degnan’s Deli and one of the few remaining private residences in the park. Matt had grown up in the Park and knew just about everyone. The maintenance guy just glared at us. We were grimy and disheveled with somewhat long hair but he recognized Matt and said something like “You boys just better get home”.

Arriving at Matt’s house we found out that the rangers had tried to remove a large group of illegally camped people from Stoneman Meadow. Due to the large number of people camped there, they were destroying the meadow. The park service had asked them to leave several times, but they had refused to go. I don’t know all the details but from what I understand some of the rangers rode through the crowd on horses in an effort to disperse the crowd. In the processes, some of the rangers were pulled off their horses and beaten.

I spend the night at Matt’s family home. The Donahoe’s house no longer exists but it was several hundred feet from the chapel, on the other side of the valley from the village. We sat on the front deck of Matt’s house and watched dozens of cop cars from the Central Valley area pass by and each car had about four officers in it. From what I understand a full scale riot erupted that night: police cars were over turned and set on fire and a large number of people were arrested.

The next day I went over to the visitors’ center and the authorities were loading a large numbers of people into prison busses. Some of the people were severely beaten and covered with blood-stained bandages. A middle-aged woman standing nearby commented to her husband that she thought the police had gotten out of hand. I never heard if charges were filed against any of the rioters or how many people were really involved in the whole thing, but looking back on it certainly seems like a dark day in the history of Yosemite
Later that summer there was a letter published in the Berkley Barb, an underground newspaper of that period, suggesting that people should go to Yosemite on Labor Day to riot and burn the park down. In response, the Park service hired extra people for fire crews for the two weeks leading up to Labor Day. About half of Camp 4 signed up for the jobs. A bunch of us including Werner ,Mark Klemons ,Rick Sylvester , Dave and and Phil Bircheff Rod McKenzie Jerry Anderson Jim Pettigrew and I signed up to save the valley from an inferno that we all knew would never happen .

We spent about two weeks working four hours a day clearing brush from around phone lines and spending the other four hours goofing around. The park service split us into two crews of about fifteen people each; one crew wore silver hats and the other crew wore orange hats A rivalry quickly developed between the two groups mostly revolving around who could chop through an 18-24 inch log the fastest. One fellow, a non-climber would sneak off and chop down full-sized ponderosa pines just for the fun of it. There might have been less environmental damage from Berkley rioters than we created with our axes in two weeks of chopping down everything in sight.

When we weren’t chopping things down we spent the rest of the time napping and eating as much free food as we could at the cafeteria. On the last day we had a massive food fight throwing food at each other from two fire trucks driving through the valley at about 80 miles per hour side by side. The fire trucks, crews and all their equipment were covered with food by the end of the ride.

The government decided to enlist the help of the U.S. Border patrol to run the entrance stations and help patrol the park after the riots. This only resulted in people being hassled at the entrance stations by vehicle checks, especially if you were young with longish hair and driving a Volkswagen. The Border Patrol was finally removed when a U.S. Senator visited the park with his family and his long haired son was haled out of the family RV and questioned by the Border Patrol. It makes a fitting end to the story, even though the Senator and his son might just be an urban legend.


Trad climber
Jul 3, 2010 - 07:32pm PT
Ya know, Barry. . . I would LOVE to know more about those riots. I think the Park Police (from DC) were brought in for the fracas. . . but besides what you just wrote, that's about all I know!

Thanks for postin' up!


Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 3, 2010 - 07:59pm PT
Barry- Thanks for describing that day because it has a lot of bearing on the present day attitude towards climbers. We are little more than a law enforcement problem in the minds of many and it took Tom Frost singlehandedly filing suit against the NPS to even begin to change that institutionalized prejudice. Establishing respect was the point of the suit but it wasn't long before the rangers were even after Tom, pulling him over in the usual fashion.

Losing control of the Stoneman Bridge situation has never left the mindset of law enforcement, in my opinion, and still governs their heavy handed behavior.

No accident that the riots themselves have faded into obscurity after forty years.

Great route, by the way, I did it long ago.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jul 3, 2010 - 08:01pm PT
Great story Barry!

Seems I remember hearing about this when I made my first visit to Yosemite in 76, but by then it was already pretty "ancient" and seemed sort of irrelevent.

However, looking back, it does seem like a perfect reflection of the times in general.

A whole country, trying to sort out just how much power the people or "the man" were going to have.
And some of the "people" were of the highest standard of thinking, really trying to change things for the future.
Some of them were just free-loaders and users, looking for fun and trouble, like any era.

Anyway, the man won, in most ways, like usual......

Social climber
Telluride, CO
Jul 3, 2010 - 08:23pm PT
The Stoneman Meadow Riot did start a whole emphasis on law enforcement for rangers. There was a film crew in Yosemite that weekend - working for the NPS. They were planning to film a nature film in the high country but when the riot happened, they filmed the riot instead. This film became a "training" for the NPS. It was one the first films shown to my Albright Ranger Training class. We were told that causing riots was what we were NOT supposed to do. During the two years I was a Valley ranger, 76 & 77, a few days before the 4th of July each year, every Valley Ranger had to watch the film. The Superintendent, the Chief Ranger and the District Ranger all watched it with us. And they would lead a discussion after the film on how and why not to incite another riot.

I got very tired of seeing the film over and over. Now 35 years later, I can fortunately barely remember it. The ranger "legend" was the maintenance crews had been angry with the hippies in the campgrounds. When the initial attempt to move everyone out of the meadow occurred, the rangers had the maintenance men help and a lot of fighting started. I wonder if the patrol rangers are still shown the film each 4th of July?

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jul 3, 2010 - 08:39pm PT
Not all of them have learned.

More than 20 years after the riot one of the climbers there, John Cleary, became AMGA President.
paul roehl

Boulder climber
Jul 3, 2010 - 08:48pm PT
Spent most of the summer of '69 in the Valley and I have to admit things were getting a bit out of control. It seemed like the moment that the old park order could no longer deal with the changes in contemporary society. Camp four had the look and feel of a hobo jungle where you could drop down a tent or tarp just about anywhere and stay just as long as you damn well wanted. A guy I knew had stolen a mattress from CC for his tent and I'm sure he wasn't alone. It was a pretty crazy time. I remember watching a nice family arriving and setting up their camp and just as they all finally sat down for dinner some drunken transient stumbled up to their picnic table, sat on the end of the bench and barfed his guts out.

I was out of the park when the riot went down, but the change when I returned was palpable.
No doubt there was an over reaction on the part of LE. Things became super harsh. Going in, especially if you were young and looked at all scruffy, meant you were going to be hassled. 1970 was the first year I got ticketed for sleeping illegally and man it came as a big surprise. And, yeah, the harshness is still with us.

No doubt that riot was an important and very negative turning point in park history... too bad.

Trad climber
Jul 3, 2010 - 08:48pm PT
I was workin' the "other end of the hall" (like. . . if you looked really closely at my badge you'd see the buffalo didn't have balls). . . during the bicentenial summer, and I never got to see that movie!


Just heard stuff that never came together and made any sense!



Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Jul 3, 2010 - 09:14pm PT
I remember that day well. My partner Dave Collins and I had spent the afternoon nailing up what became known as Churchbowl Tree, with a tension traverse to the crack to the left and some shakey aid with nuts (new at the time) to the ledge above. At the time we thought it might have been a first ascent, but Tom Rohr is reputed to have climbed it to the point where the belay bolts are. In any case, we had a splendid time, but darkness fell before we got finished. As we fumbled our way towards the road, I tripped over a bench and whacked my face into something solid. I was bleeding like a stuck pig, so we decided to go over to the Visitor's center and clean up. When we got there, there was a cop circus going on, with sheriffs from Modesto, and Fresno and all over the place, hung with guns, clubs, handcuffs, leg irons, and other implements of destruction like overweight versions of Rambo.

We inquired as to what was going on, and a beefy specimen who would have fit well into the Police department of some Southern town in the 1950's started ranting and raving about how the hippies were trying to take over the park, and how much he hated the damn long haired freaks, and how he was planning to shoot one (REALLY!!). This was sobering, and it occurred to us that we might be safer on the INSIDE rather than the OUTSIDE of this fiasco. In the end we got deputized as assistant deputy marshals, and spent an interesting evening eating donuts with the cops, and observing the poor, harmless, drugged out specimens that they were arresting. We ended up bivying in the back of a pickup truck parked in front of the Visitor's center and departed the Valley as soon as practical in the morning.

Opinions at the time differed as to the actual precipitating event, with the rangers on horses running amok in the crowd as the consensus cause. I had been living in Isla Vista, at UC Santa Barbara during all of the riots in the late 1960's and early 70's where the Bank of America burned (I had a fireside seat...) and subsequently, and from the viewpoint of many years I tend to cut the LEOs a bit of slack for some of the abuses of the times. These were the early days of a major shift in social ideas as to the role of government, the rights of citizens, and what constituted appropriate behavior. There was massive fear in government and judicial circles over what seemed to be anarchy at best, and Communist inspired destruction of the America that had become the default social condition at the worst. Many people genuinely feared that the end of America was imminent. No one in law enforcement understood that protest could also be a form of patriotism, or that strong disagreement over the proper things for government to be doing was not necessarily either threatening or treasonous. Fear can be a terrible distorter of perceptions, and the unfamiliarity and fear that Law enforcement at the time had, coupled with very primitive (and brutal) ideas about crowd control and demonstration dispersal led to many unfortunate events, such as at Stoneman meadow. Collectively, however, these events had a major impact on the US and also the world as a whole. Young people who have not lived through that period cannot imagine how much social consciousness, and governmental paradigms have changed as a result of the music of the era, the demonstrations, the riots, the Vietnam war, and the huge kink that the youth of the 1960's and 70's put into the established order and way of doing things. It was, in retrospect, one of the pivotal periods of American history, and I am very glad to have been priviliged to see some of it very close up.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 3, 2010 - 09:24pm PT
Thanks, Barry et al - fascinating stuff. It does seem to have been a microcosm of the times. That was the year of the Kent State shootings, and a lot of other unsettling things. There's an account of this in the NPS' own history:

In the summer of 1970, a riot in Yosemite and a young boy's death in one of Yellowstone's thermal pools brought greater focus on lawenforcement and safety issues. The widely publicized riot by mostly countercultural youth in Yosemite Valley's Stoneman Meadows on the Fourth of July in 1970 emphasized to Park Service leadership that the bureau's lawenforcement capability needed serious attention. [10] The riot created a crisis atmosphere that made Congress more receptive to increases in lawenforcement funding. Russ Olsen, then assistant superintendent in Yosemite, later observed that Hartzog "parlayed" the American public's concern about law enforcement "into big bucks"; and in March 1971 the director announced the establishment of a law-enforcement office in Washington. He also announced a wider deployment of the U.S. Park Police, a Park Service unit previously engaged in policing parks and other federal properties in the District of Columbia and environs. Hartzog planned to increase the Park Police staff by 40 positions (from 371 to 411), the bulk of the new positions to be assigned to the Service's regional offices and to parks most in need of police authority.

In addition, the director began a "comprehensive" law-enforcement training program, to include 225 entry-level rangers and selected management personnel. He anticipated that by the beginning of the 1971 summer travel season, 50 rangers from throughout the national park system would each have completed 540 hours (17 and a half weeks) of police training. Furthermore, an "intensive" eight-week program was to be conducted for supervisory park rangers from the areas most impacted by crime; and a minimum of 100 rangers hired only for the summer season would receive training. [11]

Exacerbating the situation, law-enforcement emphasis conflicted with the antiestablishment attitudes of the times, as evidenced in Yosemite. As longtime Park Service law-enforcement authority William R. Supernaugh recalled, a critical factor was that park rangers did not understand the youth of this era—their concerns for free expression and their challenge to authority. The rangers were "separated in years and point of view" from the youth of the 1960s and 1970s. Still, the Service's expanded law-enforcement effort would become increasingly important in park management, and part of the customary scene in national parks.

Not a lot new, but another perspective.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 3, 2010 - 09:26pm PT
From a history of the Ahwahnee hotel:

The Stoneman Meadow Riot
On July 4, 1970, overcrowding in Yosemite Valley led to a clash between Park Rangers and anti-war demonstrators. The mob dragged mounted Rangers off their horses, and overturned the Mariposa Sheriff's squad car. Shots were fired. The riot led to more than a hundred arrests, several injuries, and great destruction of property – and changes to Park Service access policies and training practices.

I wonder what documentary and other records were kept of what happened, and the aftermath? NPS archives may be quite interesting.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Jul 3, 2010 - 10:44pm PT
Hi Barry

Those were some interesting and often challenging times. My girlfriend back then was Carol Ottonello and her dad was the judge in Yosemite and he had been there since 1943. A wonderful man and great friend for years.

On the 4th, Carol and I were returning via Tioga Pass back to the Valley after a trip on the East side. The Rangers were hassling the sh#t out of anyone with an old vehicle and long hair as they entered the Park. They were refusing to allow many people to enter.

In front of me at the entrance booth window was an old van loaded with some fun loving folks, picture the Fury Freak Brothers, and Ferdinand was reading them the riot the act and telling them they could not enter the park. I had been a Ranger in the Valley in the mid 60s and had to deal with the police mentality that was prevalent back then. A large number of the seasonal Rangers back then were majors in Criminology. Rather sit in an office and look at their gun than have anything to do with the Valley. One guy to this day reminds me of Steven Colbert when he pulls out his handgun he calls "Precious" and caresses it.

I got mad, slammed my VW Van into the back of the van in front of me, shoved them forward and yelled at Ferdinand to quit f*#king with people and let them into the park. Ferdinand was boiling mad and started yelling at me until he realized I had the judges daughter in the car and I had been a Ranger..................................

"Go slow and beware of the deer."

I was reflecting on this incident last year and got in touch with some old friends to clarify a similar attitude problem with the NPS later that summer in Camp 4. A certain party of three of our established and respected elders ended up in jail one night. Somewhere, there is a black and white photo of the three lads modeling their togs.

The following is an exchange last winter: The facts mate, stay with the facts! From my old friend and climbing mate........

"Like I said Joe, I'm not too comfortable glorifying drunkeness but here's a modest version.

In the aftermath of the Yosemite rangers having recently summoned the assistance of every available cop in California to help them beat out the San Fransico hippies who has invaded the Yosemite meadows with the stated intention of liberating the park, naturally this event had excacerbated the "us agaist them" feeling that already existed amongst the freedom loving climbers. This came to a head one night in Camp Four when a group of us were drinking, singing and and having a good time as usual .Although it was late at night, it was also late in the season and there were few if any other campers around to disturb who were not already present. Suddenly the rangers showed up and started pushing people around , handcuffing and searching. Outraged climbers tried to protest, demanding an explanation.

"Singing after quiet hours " was the reply.

Apparently there was a bylaw limiting noise after ten o’clock at night. When I asked how many decibels we were allowed to make and how many had that truck made that just went by, I found myself handcuffed and thrown in the squad car too.

While three of us were being processed inside the tiny jail a crowd of climbers had gathered outside and to my delight were singing "We Shall Overcome Someday".

As well as being stripped naked, fingerprinted and mug shot, we were ordered to "bend down and open our cheeks!"
At this point “The Duke of Earl”, bent down and opened his mouth wide with his fingers.
We spent the night in jail, were let out next morning but had to appear before a judge a few days later. Fortunately for me he was decent enough to let me off with a dismissal from the park. Bugs and I left next day for Canada.

Having a hard time relating to all this virtuality although I agree a good story should stand whether it ever happened or not.
In that vain you can blog me or flog me or whatever turns your crank Frank or Wank.
Now you've got me into it whatever it is. In for a nickle in for a dime .

I agree things are more oppresive now and we were righteously bucking the thin end of a god almighty or more likely godless security wedge. Climbers drunk and disorderly playfulness in a public place is relatively minor compared to the institutionalized violence of the Rangers.

Guido’s response:

“Ah the sweet lady was Carol and her daddy, the non-hanging judge, was Geno Otonello

and the momma was Adrianne and after you were allowed back in the Valley we had you up for dinner with the non-hanging judge and we all set around the table with the never empty wine cow and talked and talked about how messed up this Viet Nam thing was and how things have to get better and how climbers are really not that bad as the non-hanging judge, good old Geno Otonello had two daughters in relationships with climbers and we drank more wine and solved more problems.

and we all lived happily ever after.”

Cheers your buddy


The Warbler

the edge of America
Jul 3, 2010 - 11:31pm PT
Didn't realize that you were the first guys atop Independence, Barry. I see in my green guidebook that Bridwell and Klemens climbed The Left Side in August, 1970, the month after your FA.

The Center Route had to be one of the hardest routes around back then, well harder than The Fringe. Nice work leading that BTW BITD.

Would like to hear about Lunatic Fringe sometime, if you feel like writing.

Thanks for the interesting history on the riots also. Those were crazy times to grow up in...



Jul 4, 2010 - 12:40am PT

Who else here was there?

The next morning it was police state. They came to the site and asked for ID.

I think I was the first one up and they asked me who's pile of sh'it vehicle sitting there belonged to.

I told them "Jim Bridwell" and he's our fearless leader.

They call our names over the radio and our names come back confirmed non hostiles, hahaha.

The food fight was awesome. I threw my cafeteria food trays at Klemens and it bounced off his helmet.

The trucks were wasted with food. We threw a lot of yogurt lol.

Then cases of beer back at the firehouse.

Don Cross made us clean the trucks afterwords.

Awesome period of time back then and soooo much fun.

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Jul 4, 2010 - 01:08am PT

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Jul 4, 2010 - 01:48am PT
Great historical thread, Barry.
The only information that I would like to add is that in my recollection the Rangers weren't pulled off their horses and beaten, but pulled off their horses and thrown in the Merced River (which might have been more humiliating).
I agree, it certainly seemed like a "police state" for days (weeks) afterward, with gestapo-like, black uniformed police standing at the base of climbs and yelling up to you: "what are you doing?" And I agree it probably had a profound and negative effect on climber-ranger relationships for years.
It's interesting how time changes the validity and importance of the issues then. Now, I believe, all parties involved would agree that we don't want Yosemite's meadows littered with busted, empty one gallon bottles of Red Mountain wine.

Mountain climber
Olympia, WA
Jul 4, 2010 - 03:19am PT
I’m mostly glad I missed the events that weekend. I climbed Mt Abbott on the 4th and 5th and then drove though the park back to Fresno late Sunday. I recall my feelings, unknowing of the events that took place on Saturday – it was smoky and sticky, and had the feeling of a worn-out, crowded and urbanized park. Far from the alpine wilderness I had just been to.

The riots were the result of an accumulation of tension brewing for a few years beforehand. During Spring break 1970 we camped in Upper Pines and the chanting, drumming, music and singing in the meadow went on all night. It was really wonderful and fun, but the rangers were watching us from the road. We weren’t disturbing anyone but them, and I guess they finally decided they would make their move on the 4th. Even during Spring Break, we were protective of our “party in the meadow.” After all, isn’t it a free country?

The next year they opened up Yellow Pines and relegated all the partiers there. I also recall these “party campfires” at Happy Isles that were sanctioned events, where I’ll bet they just watched us. Battle lines were drawn, and from then on, rangers and climbers were at odds. LEO was born, and the generalist ranger in Yosemite Valley was no more.

Are gallon bottles of wine still banned from the Village Store?

Trad climber
one of god's mountain temples.... ಠ_ಠ
Jul 4, 2010 - 03:35am PT
Great stuff, appreciate your sharing it.


Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Jul 4, 2010 - 03:47am PT
It's very interesting to look at all of this in terms of the inherent and internal push for change, the chaos of the transitional periods, and the forces of control ready to do most anything to anyone in order to assert their will. It's the human circus in crisis, and that's when aggression can run amok, especially with LEOs. Let's hope there will never be another riot, even though there always will be, somewhere, because that's just how we humans roll. Always have.

Per the Center Route on Independence Pinnacle. I always found that one to be the hardest of the "Bates" routes, which included the Fringe, Five and Dime, Vanishing Point, New D. free, and of course Indep. Center. Them are some great routes. All time classics.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jul 4, 2010 - 08:59am PT
It actually was the National Guard that was in charge of the Park after the incident. I even have a photo somewhere of this NG goon at the Arch Rock station then. I was trying to get into the Valley to solo Quarter Dome that weekend-- the few days I had off from my dismal job working for a moving company in Berkeley.

I was turned away hostilely as many up-thread were but then realized that if I slept down at Redbud outside the Park that evening and re-approached really early say around 5 am the next day I might find this nonsense at the entry had not quite set up shop yet for the day. And so I got to spend the big weekend up in Tenaya Canyon after all, in a Yosemite of my own actually.

Yeah, The center route of Independence was really hard for me; I actually couldn't do it at that point. Bridwell and I went up on it the late spring of 70 or 71. He successfully lead the crux pitch while Barry watched from the road, the bastard. Then I followed but the overhanging arching thin hands crack just repelled me; I couldn't get much going with it and also it was really painful with sharp nubbins and stuff in it. Great pitch, Barry. It probably is underrated also, at least for people with giant hands.
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