SOLITAIRE - An Appreciation of John Bachar Mountain 93


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 8, 2010 - 12:36am PT
An Appreciation of John Bachar

by Phil Bard

In my first few years as a climber, while concentrating mainly on the many fine shorter routes Yosemite has to offer, cutting my teeth on freeclimbs of only moderate difficulty, and occasionly flailing on a hard Tuolumne faced route, I would sometimes head out into nearby Sierran Peaks alone to bask in the high country solitude. It was good to get away from it all-glaring tourists, tourbuses and the crowds of climbers fighting over routes. I would crawl out of my sleeping bag in the Meadow's campground and fix an early breakfast. Then, with my EB's stuffed in a daypack, I'd take the trail up to Budd Lake for an afternoon of scrambling in the Echo Peaks. How nice not to have to wait on a party above to complete the next pitch. nor for that matter, on a partner to do his half of the climbing.

These were my first experiences with free-soloing. The freedom and simplicity were intoxicating. but I considered it more a form of mountaineering than rockclimbing, and confined myself to easy routes on peaks. It was purely an escape from all the noise and congestion of the more established climbing areas.

One day, while a friend and I were fiddling around with a one pitch route at the base of El Cap. I noticed a shallow corner off to the side, covered with chalk - a difficult looking bit of climbing 40 or 50 feet high.

"That thing looks hard", I commented. "Yeah, it's 5.11", proclaimed my friend. "Usually top-roped".

"I guess getting pro in that crack would be tough. Has anyone ever lead it?"

"Oh, I think Bachar's soloed it".

"Soloed?" I was shaken. "You mean no rope?" I looked again at the corner, not quite believing what I was hearing. "That's crazy!"

Soon after that, though, I began to perceive unroped climbing in a different light. As I matured in my own abilities, succeeding on harder and harder routes and occasionally soloing the easier ones, the accomplishments of better soloists still inspired my awe, but seemed less like the reckless acts of lunatics. Soloing, and the soloist too, was evolving. Today, climbers all over the world participate in ropeless ascents in a wide variety of styles. A burgeoning controversy permeates the sport, with some participants "wiring" moves on top-rope before an unroped attempt, others preferring to solo "on sight", feeling that spontaneity is a valuable part of the experience. There is, of course, a lot of middle ground as well. Yosemite is currently experiencing a great deal of activity, some of the better climbers doing increasing numbers of routes with ropes coiled in the trunks of their cars. From the start John Bachar has distinguished himself as a soloist of phenomenal ability, eventually stunning climbers worldwide with his unroped ascent of the Nabisco Wall in 1979. No one has even attempted to repeat this feat.

Besides his superlative abilities and top notch physical conditioning, the key to John's success seems to lie in an underlying appreciation of his own mortality. "Death is a gift", he once told me. "Without it we wouldn't value life." To me, this thought focuses on the many aspects of our daily existence from which danger has been removed, consequently we are lulled into a "taken for granted" attitude towards life. It's probable that a certain amount of threat to life and limb is necessary to complete the range of our experiences, balance some primordial mechanism that is connected to perception. Encountering this threat, in effect, turns one "on" in a wider sense. Not that soloing is required to allow one to feel alive. Most climbers, however, whether roped or not, are probably fortunate in that their occasional exposure to threatening situations expands their appreciation of life on many levels. How often for each of us has a real epic day ended with an unusually enjoyable descent through a beautiful meadow? I don't think it's just the adrenalin.

Conversely, some who climb lack this sensitivity to the possibility of death, and far whom soloing becomes an irresponsible flirtation with the obvious consequences. One fall is usually adequate to bring an end to it for them, one way or another. Bachar appears to understand his limitations well enough. It is arguable that all soloists expose themselves to great danger in that they cannot control all of the factors, most notably, objective hazards. In this realm John runs similar risks. But, to his advantage, he possesses a solo technique characterized by an ability to move in a relaxed and well-controlled manner, even on severe routes in the face of a potentially fatal fall. Few climbers are as smooth when roped up. The effect on most anyone observing him on a hard climb is a mixture of apprehension and reassurance-he rarely appears to be having the slightest bit of trouble keeping it together. In fact, it is nearly impossible to determine a route's difficulty just by watching John solo it.

For those of us who aspire to excellence at any level and in any style, someone like Bachar provides inspiration, both through his accomplishments and his dedication to the craft. The future undoubtedly holds many great events in this field-successes, failures, tragedies. There is a good deal of unbroken ground. Controversies will continue; today's revolutionary solos may become tomorrow's commonplace. Climbing has always existed in a constant state of flux, and soloing, as personal as it is, will be influenced. We grant pre-eminence cautiously to a select few, but there is little doubt that, on the frontier of solo ascents, John is state of the art.

Mountain 93
September/October 1983

Above: Midnight Lightning, B2, in Camp 4. A fierce problem, with only two known ascentionists to date.

Opposite: Bachar well above the ground on Crack A Go-Go, 5.11c, thin double cracks with the crux high up.
Photos: Phil Bard

Opposite Top: Shithooks, 5.10a, a typical Tuolumne situation, shiny knobs on a steep wall.
Bottom Left: Catchy, 5.10c, Valley crack climbing at its best.
Bottom Right: Memo From Lloyd, 5.10d, a fine crack climb at Tuolumne.

This Page: Reeds Direct, 5.9, another Yosemite classic.
Photos: Phil Bard.

the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Nov 8, 2010 - 09:58am PT
great post, great article, great climber and a friend..
He is so missed by many here on ST and around the world..

Trad climber
Nov 8, 2010 - 10:54am PT
the cat come later & worked very well. i still think there a good shoe.

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Nov 8, 2010 - 12:01pm PT

Bump for one of the GREATEST!
We'll always miss you, JB.
J. Werlin

Social climber
Cedaredge, CO
Nov 8, 2010 - 08:03pm PT
Very nice post Ed, thank you.

Bump for the legend.
Lynne Leichtfuss

Trad climber
Will know soon
Nov 8, 2010 - 09:18pm PT
Rock and Ice March 2008 Issue has a nice feature on John B. Talks much of his soloing, his life and his ethics. It's a very good read. Missing yo, see you in the heavenlies someday Dude. Thanks for all your help to this Gal who also lost a loved one. Peace, lynne
ron gomez

Trad climber
Nov 8, 2010 - 10:55pm PT
AAAhhhhh refreshing, pure and sacred! John Bachar!

30 years today! Thanks bride!

Oakland: what's not to love?
Nov 9, 2010 - 02:07am PT
BES1'st, is that your photo? Great shot. If it is yours, I'd love to hear your tale of that ascent. Was it a cruise for him, or was it grim? How did he feel about the pro?

I've always wanted to read Bachar's account of that particular ascent. From the top of p1, it just looks so batshit crazy to head up with gear on what's there...

Boulder climber
Sep 29, 2014 - 10:24pm PT
The Bards always true to form: climbing, skiing, writing and photography at the highest level.

Jim Henson's Basement
Sep 30, 2014 - 07:47am PT
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