Wings of Steel - A confession-ALL with an olive branch


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Big Wall climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 9, 2011 - 08:04pm PT

Twenty-nine years ago, I did a bad thing, and I began to regret it the very next day.

There has been a lot of conjecture, mistruths, and outright lies about Wings Of Steel. I will present nothing but facts here. Everything I say here is the truth. I was a chopper and shitter in the Wings of Steel incident, and I am writing today to apologize publicly to Mark Smith and Richard Jensen.

To explain things a bit, but not justify anything, I'd like to go back to 1982. Richard Jensen and Mark Smith arrived in the Valley intent on climbing a new route on El Capitan, via the blankish looking slab to the left of the Dihedral Wall. Some Valley Locals, including me, a member of Yosar, and other Yosar members reacted badly to what we perceived to be their intrusion. We had put in our time on the Big Stone before venturing onto first ascent terrain. The word on Richard and Mark, whether factual or not, was that they had practiced aid climbing in some quarry in L.A. and felt ready for victory on our sacred wall. Word out was that they had not even done a single big wall...although I believe they actually had done the Column. A weird sort of mob mentality began to develop. We imagined a bolt ladder up the slab, and that was bad style. Therefore we felt it had to be chopped.

I have in my notes May 19th, 1982 as the day that I first free climbed Astroman. My log shows two falls. To celebrate afterwards, I remember quaffing a six pack in pretty short time. I was totally hammered and feeling pretty full of myself when a couple of friends of mine and I headed out to chop that route. It seems like we all sort of dared each other to do it. When we got to the base I had forgotten my jumars because I was so drunk. So I mostly just sat there while my friends went up and started the chopping. It was pitch black.

I don't want to say here who my two friends were because I don't think it is cool to "out" somebody. But I have never seen them here on the Taco, at least not knowingly, so excuse them if they never write here. I can say that they are still my friends and I consider them to be men of good character, though I don't see them that often anymore.
When one of them came down the fixed ropes, I used his jugs to go up and chop the first two bolts. They were the first and last bolts I would ever chop in my life, such was the subsequent distaste in my mouth that I experienced from this act of vandalism.

When the top guy came down from the second pitch, he held a biner full of copperheads that he had chopped like it was a trophy. A lot of the heads looked tiny, and that was when I first began to realize that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. It looked like Mark and Richard were doing some climbing. I thought we had come to chop a bolt ladder. Oops. That biner of heads still haunts me to this day. After all, when Robbins began chopping WOEML, he at least was able to realize after climbing part of the route that it deserved to stay. But we hadn't climbed anything, we had just jugged their lines, and we had chopped it in the dark without looking. We never even gave those guys a chance.

We were pretty caught up with the event, and had brought some beans or chili to dump on their ropes in the end. But I guess that wasn't good enough for me and I had the idea to defecate on their ropes. Events are really hazy for me here, perhaps because I have tried to repress these hurtful memories for most of 30 years, but I remember taking a dump on their cords, one of my friends trying but not being successful, and the other not dumping at all. Mostly, it was just me. And is a terribly hard thing for me to say and, of course, I am like, way ashamed. I was 21 years old at the time.

Now I'm 51. And after Ammon and Kait's second ascent vindicated Mark and Richard by agreeing that WOS has some of the hardest hooking on El Cap, and after reading some of the utter crap the people had said about these guys on the thread that would not die, and after reading Ammon's article in Rock & Ice, and after gettin' a nudge from "an acquaintance", I knew what I had to do.

Six weeks ago, with phone numbers in hand, I first called Richard Jensen, then Mark Smith in a single day, to apologize. Those conversations were amazing, and private, but the basics were that I 'fessed up to what I had done, and had expressed to them how sorry I was - and I mean , my God I was sorry. I was unanimously forgiven. I felt very humbled.

And the thing that really bummed me was that Mark and Richard seem like great guys. And the realization hit me that we could have been friends for all these years if circumstances had been different, and I hadn't done what I did. And that seemed like a shame. So, I felt I could forgive myself a bit now that I had come clean with those guys. It was a long time ago, when I was a young dumb blonde kid, and I had been especially trashed. But recently, I had been losing sleep over this because I felt so bad about it, and after speaking with Mark and Richard I slept better for a little while, at least until I knew I had to take this next step and 'fess up publicly.

Because these guys Mark and Richard had been taking all this crap over the years, and pretty much all of it was completely unfair. They had done Sea of Dreams and gotten a little respect. They went out to do an A6 route in the desert, finding it to be not that bad. But for whatever reason, maybe an extension of the mob mentality thing, these guys were just getting plain persucuted, even a quarter-century later. And it just doesn't seem fair now that I logically think about it. Nobody wanted anything to do with that slab . And since WOS, nobody has gone near that slab. If a couple of guys can come up from LA and embrace that slick slab like they did, then I say all the more power to them. They certainly did nothing wrong.

Mark and Richard, I wish I could turn back the clock and take that night back. But I can't do that. I can only do what I can do and this is all I can do. I realize I have made a lot of mistakes with people over the years and I have found myself calling and apologizing to friends with whom I had strained relationships by being a jerk at times (some of you on the Taco can attest to this fact). But this was my biggest faux pas in the climbing world, and with it being so public, it has been the hardest to come to terms with.

One of the bottom lines is that I don't want to be on my death bed with any sh#t hanging over me. And another is that I want to be able to meet Richard and Mark and be able to put my hand out and not have any unfinished business between us.

And so now I extend my hand - holding this olive branch - towards Mark and Richard.

Steve "Shipoopoi" Schneider
Oakland, California

BTW This is NOT how I got my nickname
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:10pm PT
Well done, Steve, thank you very much.

Dec 9, 2011 - 08:12pm PT
Thanks for that Steve, I admire you more than ever.

Trad climber
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:13pm PT

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:14pm PT
Wow Steve, Good on you! I'm proud to know you (as I have been the last thirty odd years...)
Mick K

Northern Sierra
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:15pm PT

Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:16pm PT
Steve: WOW!

I have not been involved in the WOS thread, but I did read a lot of it, and also the recent article on the 2nd ascent.

Thank you for openly admitting your youthful involvement in the “rope-chopping” incident on WOS.

“Young & Dumb” is something most all of us have had to suffer through.

It is too bad that those memories of “youthful indiscretion” have been with you all these years.

I commend you for “fessing-up” and making peace.

Best Wishes!

Trad climber
Upper Leftish
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:18pm PT
Only positive vibes comin' outta this thread! Well done. This is way cool.


Social climber
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:22pm PT
we still love you steve
Captain...or Skully

Where are you bound?
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:31pm PT
Well, if that wasn't just hit right outa Left Field....

Trad climber
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:36pm PT
We all did stuff in our youth that we regret later. But most of us don't have the balls to admit it, let alone to publicly apoligize.
Steve Schneider = class act

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:38pm PT
The cycle is complete?

A historical artifact of the division that can come to a climbing community?

Human nature both in it's lower and higher forms?

True congrats to Richard and Mark.


Trad climber
el portal
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:39pm PT
right on steve

Trad climber
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:40pm PT
That was a pretty big thing to do. Feel better? Hope so.

Captain...or Skully

Where are you bound?
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:41pm PT
It's all circles, right? Sh#t comes back around. Same as it ever was.

Trad climber
Bay area
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:41pm PT
It's really great to see this story have a happy ending for everyone involved. Congrats.

What's up with that videotaped confession by someone else in Ammon's movie, though?


Aridzona for now Denver.... here I come...
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:44pm PT
hey Steve.... go get a really good nights rest.

you deserve it.


Dec 9, 2011 - 08:45pm PT
Thx for that. Going by 'here say' has gotten many of us into trouble. You needed some humbling; for this and for probably lots of other selfish/dumb acts.

I first met you at a 'casual' slideshow that you gave after another climber at the then, Sunrise Mountaineering in Walnut Creek, CA in maybe '85 or so. First-up was who we all knew here at the Taco as Brutus. He was cool enough to share an FA on Mount Whitney. However, he wasn't part of your entourage and during his whole presentation you and your buds made comments and jeered about his accomplishment. I don't know if Brutus even cared, but I found your behavior obnoxious. I've never had any respect for you since. Narcissism is an ugly thing.

So I am not surprised you were involved in this WOS thing. Perhaps, maybe I also can have some change of thought about you. Getting old and having things like this on your list of acts suck, doesn't it?


Dec 9, 2011 - 08:53pm PT
Good on you for owning up Steve! Ditto on the "we've all done wrong" riff, it's a rare thing that's irreversible with the right attitude. Your post was well written and heartfelt. Good on you.

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Dec 9, 2011 - 08:53pm PT
Nicely done. It is never too late to apologize and accept the blame.
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