Ancestors & Archiving: Crossings of California - T.R.


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Social climber
Polynesian Paralysis
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 20, 2010 - 07:19am PT

In the middle of this past August, driving southward toward California from Seattle and Mt. St. Helens, I stopped for a night at Rick and Carol Ponte’s homestead, Doubletree Ranch, on the bank of the Rogue River in S. Oregon where my brother, Philip, and his family were staying during their preparations to kayak the Rogue. Rick had been a wrangler for Curry Co. during the 60’s, and his family had homesteaded the Doubletree site way back. Carol had grown up in the Valley as the daughter of Gene Ottonello, the Federal Magistrate (judge) there during the 50’s & 60’s. Rick is especially knowledgeable about history of the Yosemite & Rogue River areas, and as we all were talking about the area, he mentioned that the first white men to visit the area came through in 1828.

I knew that date because my brother, Philip, had researched the McCoy branch of my family tree. Philip discovered that we have a great, great, great, great uncle, Martin McCoy, who was a member of the Jedediah Smith Expedition which, in 1826, made the first crossing by whites, early mountain men, from the Rocky Mountains to Spanish California. In 1828, Smith’s expedition, including Martin McCoy, made another early crossing through California, this time from south to north, exploring the interior of California all the way into southern Oregon where they were ambushed by the “rogue” Indians of the area, killing all but three. Jedediah Smith, but not Martin McCoy, was among the survivors. Thus, the Rogue River got its name.

My brother, Philip also discovered that we have a great, great, great aunt, Rebecca McCoy (niece of Martin), who had married Yosemite Guardian, Galen Clark; however, she died in 1848 after which, he moved to California, eventually settling in Wawona. I visited his gravesite in the cemetery in the Valley two weeks later, and Yosemite remains a part of his legacy.

From southern Oregon, I flew to SFO where I visited with my sister, Barbara, and her husband, Frank, and they kindly lent me a car so that I could make my own crossing though California. My first jog was to the south where I stopped at Guido and Nancy’s place, near Santa Cruz, for while. I camped out on their deck, and we made plans to meet in Tuolumne later, then continue on to Bishop where we’d meet other old climber friends. Interestingly, Guido’s hammock on their deck is suspended with two different model Chouinard biners. One is the old, small radius “Alcoa” model, the other a newer one.

Speaking to Guido about his personal and climbing legacy, he told me that, having moved to NZ, he’d taken care of most of his material possessions and was planning NOT to burden his daughter, Kali, with a lot of STUFF. Rather, he is planning to give her a set of DVDs which documents his life. Still he has a storage room with lots of historical STUFF in it that needs a place to reside, and he’s still undecided about where it should go…

We had a great time at the Cruz gym, climbing with Kali for part of a morning.

After leaving the coast of California, I began my west to east crossing of the state and spent the next week visiting friends in the Sierra foothills. My first stop was a visit with Ira Estin, an old UCLA Bruin mountaineer friend and a former land partner of mine when I lived near Mariposa before moving to Hawaii. He has an extensive library of natural history and photography books as well as other artifacts and no children. Like Guido, me, and others, he hasn’t decided what will happen to his collections when he passes on. Clearly there is a need for a place to archive some of his personal legacy.

Eventually, I went to the Valley where I met with Ken Yager to hear first-hand from him about his vision for a climber’s museum in the Valley. He told me of the bureaucratic barriers facing the Yosemite Climbing Association and how short-handed he is within Y.C.A. to get organizational tasks accomplished. He also shared with me his vision for satellite museums & displays and rotating or traveling exhibits which can help tell the Yosemite climbing stories. He personally spends lots of time organizing Facelifts to which climbers readily respond, but he needs to spend time with his family, and he needs help with the many tasks it would take to see his vision become a reality.

I would like some feedback on this idea: If there were a list of prioritized tasks, posted here on SuperTopo and on the Y.C.A. website, would you be willing to take responsibility for one of the tasks, assuming that you could choose one that would match your temperament, time availability, and skill-set? Please post-up or PM me if you would be willing to help in an effort to create one or more spaces and an organization that will help preserve and interpret, for the public as well as for your/our own children, the material STUFF of our climbing community.

Leaving the foothills and the Valley, I headed up toward the high country, stopping for a walk to Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. I hadn’t visited a grove of Big Trees in a long time, so it was a lovely, peaceful morning when I walked down the old road into the Big Trees. It reminded me that Galen Clark had discovered the Mariposa Grove, and because of his commitments, much that we enjoy today in Yosemite has been preserved. And hope rose in me that the climbing community would find their own ways to make their own commitments to help preserve our own personal and our community climbing legacies.

Moving up to Tuolumne, memories flooded back of more leisurely days and years when our group of climbers spent weeks and months living our climbing lifestyle among the domes and meadows of the unequaled Yosemite high-country.

I secured a campsite for Guido and me in the T.M. campground and went for a walk to reconnect with the place where I’d spent so much time in years past. Later that afternoon, Guido arrived and we set up our tents and made dinner and plans for an ascent of Mt. Dana the next day. I hadn’t climbed Dana for 50 years since I did it with my father and brother in 1960.

Up not too early, we ate our breakfast and were off to Tioga Pass and on the trail at a reasonable time. Passing through the upper sub-alpine zone, it was mid-morning when we took a rest stop on Dana’s shoulder.

Even tho Guido had a touch of nausea, we both felt strong as we slogged upward, with rest and water stops along the way, to Dana’s summit. The weather was perfect, clear, still and warm.

After an hour up there, we began our descent, finding the many default “trails” more confusing on our descent than they had been on the way up. Back near timberline, we watched a marmot watch us.

Then we continued downward, following the trail back to Tioga Pass.

The next day, with some stiff muscles from our previous day’s excursion, we made a leisurely breakfast and, during a phone call with Guido’s daughter Kali, agreed to meet her in a short while at the Lembert Dome parking area; she was passing through from the East Side. After meeting her and her friend, David, we walked with them toward Soda Springs and the old Sierra Club campground which was where we’d camp in the “old days.” Memories flooded back, and we told Kali & David stories of the times we’d had there; the Joan Baez dance contest; the bear stories, the destruction of the old, historical footbridge, good times BBQing when Mike and Valerie Cohen were caretakers there and much more. It’s a part of our personal legacy that perhaps Kali will not remember, but at least she’ll have a sense of who her dad is and was…

We walked back to Kali & David’s vehicle, and they went on their way. Guido and I headed back to our campsite, ate some lunch, and decided to go for a drive down to Fairview Dome and Lake Tenaya. We found a place to park near Fairview and followed a now well-worn trail up to its base. There were several climbing parties above on various routes; we took a few pictures, then left for a swim at Tenaya Lake.

That night, Jeff Dozier came up from his home in Mammoth and joined us for a laugh-fest during dinner in the Tuolumne campground.

Next morning, Friday before Labor Day, we broke camp and drove down to Tioga Pass Resort where we had a delicious, hearty breakfast and by coincidence met Lynnie and Hossjulia and enjoyed our conversation with them.

Driving down toward Bishop, we stopped in Lee Vining and then in Mammoth for another visit with Jeff. Later, we continued on down till we got to Mill Creek Station, just past Long Valley, where we stopped at the Warren Harding Museum. Fortunately, Roger Derryberry and Mary Lou Long, custodians of Warren’s legacy were there, so we had a great visit with them. I hadn’t seen them since I’m not sure when, so it was good to renew our friendships. Old-timers might remember seeing pictures of Roger, making Sheridan’s caricature of Robbins a reality.

I asked them about what was the status of Warren’s legacy, and the showed us the Harding Museum as well as the other spaces that they’ve created there. They told me that they owned the Mill Creek Station property, and I began to wonder if that location might be a suitable one for a satellite museum of Yosemite climbing such as Ken Yager envisions.

When we finally arrived at Don Lauria’s house, we found that he was home and that Dennis Hennek and Russ McLean and his wife, Lori, had arrived from S. CA and that Bill St. Jean and his friend, George-Ann were visiting there as well. Hugs all around! The party had already begun! We ordered pizza, and it went on until the wee hours...

Saturday dawned and after breakfast, we broke out Don’s stash of old hardware; Dennis had also brought some interesting relics of his career as the forge guy for Chouinard Equipment Co. and for Dolt’s pitons after his passing. We had a wide-ranging conversation about what each of us was planning to do with our material climbing legacies. Mostly, none of us have a plan in place for where we want our stuff to go when our time comes to pass onward. Dennis had previously given much of his stuff to John Fischer many years ago, yet he still has some historically interesting things. While Dennis’ and Guido’s kids are now active climbers, most of their stuff is not useful in this modern age. Don’s and my daughters really have no interest in the stuff. Russ is child-free. What to do with the STUFF??

Legend has it in North Wales, that the first nuts that were used for protection were those that were picked up from the Clog railroad while climbers were walking up to Clogwyn du'r Arddu. Dennis brought one of those nuts up to Bishop as part of his show and tell.

In that tradition, but less well-known is that early Tuolumne climbers removed nuts from the Tuolumne River Bridge in the Meadows and strung them with slings in a similar manner. However, manufactured chocks came along so quickly and were so much better suited to climbing that the Tuolumne Bridge nuts stayed fairly well in place, tho this picture was taken during our stay in the meadows.

Dennis also brought a Dolt blank and one of the extra long dongs that he forged from the blanks into nut-cleaning tools.

Dennis also brought a complete set of the Chouinard LAs that he’d forged by the thousands while working for GPIW.

Don’s collection is quite varied and interesting:

The question for all of us remains: What should become of these rare and/or interesting items? Don’s collection of books alone is a great resource. I have books autographed by Shipton, Rebuffat, etc. as does Dennis. Guido’s library probably surpasses all of ours combined. It does seem that they should be archived by someone and preserved by an organization that will outlive all of us and will be maintained in such a way that they can be appreciated by future generations of climbers and the general public.

Around mid-day, Guido and I went shopping and to visit Galen Rowell’s gallery for my first time. Meanwhile Mike and Valerie Cohen arrived, planning to stay for our evening BBQ. When Jeff Dozier got there a while later, all six of us “younguns,” Guido, Dennis, Russ, Mike, Jeff, & me, from our 1974 Afghanistan trip were together for the first time since then. More reminiscing and catching up. Bill & George-Ann and Roger and Mary Lou also arrived for the BBQ. We had a lovely evening with more sharing of stories and ideas, looking both forward and back.

By mid-Sunday morning, only Don, Dennis, and I remained, and we spent the day continuing to tell stories of our climbing pasts as well as those of our families. The following day, Dennis and I departed; I headed to Davis where my sister and husband were visiting their daughter Robin. She had taken on our family’s responsibility for archiving my father’s legacy of his career in science research.

On the drive back through Yosemite, knowing my home in Hawaii was my ultimate destination, I resolved to try to help organize ways and means for archiving our community’s climbing heritage. It seems like Ken Yager has an achievable vision as well as good start on making it a reality. But with his personal limitations and his organizing of the Facelifts, he needs help with this archiving and educational project of creating a museum and an effective supporting organization. I would like to help brainstorm a list of ideas and tasks with Ken, Tom Frost, and others who are interested in working on this project. In Hawaii, we have a saying, “A’ohe hana nui ka alu’ia” which translates into “No task is too big if done together.” Literally, this means, “Many hands make light work.” So if you have any ideas at all or are feel moved to assume responsibility for even one small task, please post up here and lend YOUR HAND to the others who are working to archive what our climbing ancestors and ourselves can leave in perpetuity for those who will follow us.


Buzzard Point, TN
Sep 20, 2010 - 08:15am PT
Neat stuff, lots of climb time in these pix...

Trad climber
Sep 20, 2010 - 09:55am PT
Just wonderful. Thank you, Boodawg. I'm sorry to have missed you when you were in Seattle.

Sep 20, 2010 - 10:24am PT
Incredible post!

Trad climber
Sep 20, 2010 - 10:37am PT
Great post. Interesting stuff.

from where the anecdotes roam
Sep 20, 2010 - 10:54am PT
you make us look good boodawg. we can anticipate waves of hawaiian tourists
now that word is spreading across the islands.

when i see photos of the old guard in gyms, i relish the irony of some whippersnapper running guys like guido through his belay checkout. i guess dropouts can take remedial classes if they need orientation on new fangled stuff like gris-gris.

now how would i know that?

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Sep 20, 2010 - 01:22pm PT
very wry nice!
Yeah, let's get that list of achievable tasks!

I'm sure I can do, something.

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Sep 20, 2010 - 01:48pm PT
Boodawg- Thanks for the great trip report!

I wonder if the managers of the hundreds of climbing gyms and gear shops scattered across the US would agree to dedicate some space for display cases for some of the wonderful historical "stuff". The Belmont Planet Granite gym has one such wall-mounted case, which I think was put together by ASCA.

Regards, Phyl


Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 20, 2010 - 02:46pm PT
Great TR Ken! That is so cool that you are related to the McCoys. I have read just about everything about Jed Smith, one of my heros from a magical era of our history. The rest of your report was very cool also.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Sep 20, 2010 - 03:00pm PT
Great Great Great!!!

History abounds, the road delights and the arctic blonde coffin dodgers RULE!!!!

What a great trip. Geez, you know a lot of famous guys. Oh wait, you're a famous guy.....

You all look great. Guido's twice the man he used to be. KIDDING!!
Don't kick my ass for that mmmkay?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Sep 20, 2010 - 03:29pm PT
Here is Ken Boche in his pre-”arctic blonde coffin dodger” phase as Lord Survival would have it. I am thinking this is about 1975 roughly. When I first met him. He hung out a lot with the wretched child Guido and always a hit with everyone whenever he was at the house.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Sep 20, 2010 - 03:40pm PT
Survival, you could be easily be renamed lucky survivor.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Sep 20, 2010 - 04:13pm PT
Just don't hurt me Guido. I'll scrub the barnacles off the Shanachie.
I'll swab your deck in Santa Cruz....
Here, you can have my rack.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Sep 20, 2010 - 04:33pm PT
Thank you very much for that report, photos, memories and history.

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 20, 2010 - 04:33pm PT
Nice TR Ken. I loved seeing current pictures of Dennis, Russ, Valerie and Michael. Greetings from Copenhagen and Gothenburg--if you gotta work, it might as well be someplace cool.
scuffy b

Eastern Salinia
Sep 20, 2010 - 06:56pm PT
Beautiful, warm, joyous report.
Sorry I missed you in Santa Cruz.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Sep 20, 2010 - 09:00pm PT
Thanks for the great trip report!

It's amazing what can be turned up with genealogical research. Many of us didn't invent the life style we thought we did, but are merely repeating the adventures of our ancestors in slightly different form.

I've already told Ken that I would help him with Facelift and the Museum when I retire in a few years and I'm good for helping with anything that can be done via computer from Japan as well.

As for climbing books and libraries, what about the AAC library in Golden or establishing a branch library in California?

john hansen

Sep 21, 2010 - 03:34am PT

Above all else, the main goal should be a permanent climbing museum in Yosemite Vally.

I can see how this would be a great undertaking.. with a lot of goverment BS, work, andlots of fund raising involved.

The exibit that was up in the temporary space was great . It would be a good starting point.

A lot of people made camp 4 happen, If we all pull together we can make the Yosemite Climbing Museum happen to.

I must say,,, One thing I realized while seeing Ken's temporary exibit in the Yosemite space , was that Lynn Hill....

She has got, really, really , tiny feet.....
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Sep 21, 2010 - 05:37am PT
Thanks for sharing the journey and the cool photos of your climbing pals.

Trying to find space for a climbing museum in the small available buildings in Yosemite is a tough proposition. Probably we cannot realistically hope for much more than we already have - some Salathe' pitons hanging on the wall in the Mountain Shop. (That is definitely better than nothing).

But if outside Yosemite, who would visit it? Do people visit the Harding museum? Would it even be visited much in Yosemite? It is an active sport; the weather is usually good, vacation time is short and will be spent actually climbing if possible.

Most large collections of climbing gear and guidebooks will be in the hands of the (few) serious collectors, like Marty Karabin and Stephane Peloquin. If we are lucky, they will share their photos on the web as they have in the past.

Actually I think there is a niche for a really good historical climbing gear website. I wouldn't mind working on one. Stephane has a pretty good one for nuts and cams. But it would be good to have a complementary one with pitons and biners. Gary Storrick used to have a pretty good one with ascenders, but he recently gave it up - it seems he got exhausted trying to keep acquiring current gear. (The trick is to limit it and not get caught up in the present, I think).

There is also a niche for a good Yosemite climbing history website. It could be largely populated with stories and photos already posted here on supertopo. The YCA site has a great collection of historical photos, but linking them for interesting navigation paths would be nice. I like the simple structure of links at - one page for each movie with links to the people who made it; one page for each person with links to their bio and chronological list of links to movies they've helped make. I'm fairly close to being able to make such a structure, using the list of Yosemite FAs that Ed originally typed in. If I can come up with something useful, and if this is of interest of Ken, maybe the YCA site could host it.

A website has advantages over a physical museum. People can visit it anytime, for free, and without travel time. It might even encourage a few more serious collectors, as they would get a better idea of what is out there. A website has permanence issues, too. My preference is for very plain HTML pages that can be backed up easily and copied to another host if the website has to be shut down / moved.

Trad climber
san diego
Sep 21, 2010 - 07:02am PT
Way to go BooDawg!

Kicking ass, and keeping it alive(real)!

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