Gary Hemming


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Dom Green

Trad climber
Sheffield UK
Topic Author's Original Post - May 31, 2012 - 06:41pm PT

I was advised to post here by Adrian Burgess, who I was talking to outside the "Nash" (as was) in Chamonix in september last. I am a film maker and a lifelong climber (based in Sheffield these days -formerly Dublin), I have been working on a film about Gary Hemming for a while (centred around the Dru rescue) Previously we made a short film about him during Kendal mountain film festival [youtube=]
We also have made a documentary about Andy Parkin: ( excerpt:;, It's on dvd & also on itunes etc.
I have interviewed Larry Ware, Giles bodin, Yvon Chouinard, Hamish Macinnes, Martin Boysen, Adrian Burgess, Pierre Mazeaud, even John Gill about Hemming and I'm building the picture. I was wondering whether anyone who knew him would be willing to share with me some of their memories about Hemming, both direct experiences and legends (only the good ones though!)?
Anything you could recall and send my way, I'd be so grateful. I hope nobody minds my posing out of the blue in this way.
Thanks for taking the time to give this a read, if you can help, I'd be sincerely grateful

best regds

Dom (Green)

Social climber
Butterfly Town
May 31, 2012 - 08:03pm PT
I only met Gary Hemming once: After most of a day at Stoney Point, we (Gary, Yvon Chouinard, Tony Jessen, possibly Dennis Hennek & Russ McLean and others went sailing on Jessen's boat. On the way, we stopped at my parents house where I lived and I remember Gary's comment as he took in our living room: "Hmmm... no T.V. in your living room." Like a naive teen that I was, I said, "We do have a T.V." He responded, "Yes, but NOT in your living room." That distinction made a real impression on me.

Of course, you should speak with R. Robbins with whom Hemming did at least one F.A. (on the Petite Drus) which was one of the seminal climbs that showed the truth in Chouinard's article, "Modern Yosemite Climbing" in the 1963 AAJ where he predicted that Yosemite climbers, hardware, and techniques would influence world-wide mountaineering in the future.
Dom Green

Trad climber
Sheffield UK
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 1, 2012 - 10:34am PT
Hi Boodawg

Thanks very much, that's great. I'll have a look for that article. I have read a lot of the stuff around Hemming, but not that. I have looked at the Dru on a number of occasions, when I have been in Chamonix. The American Direct is still intact and has been climbed since the big rockfalls! One day, maybe!!!
Does anyone know if Royal Robbins is on this board at all? I must admit, I haven't a contact for him. I'm sure you guys over in the states can appreciate while Hemming's story is a European story in part, it is chiefly an American story, and researching it from Sheffield is tricky, so any help you guys can offer is really appreciated. It's amazing how little anecdotes help put the picture together. Some of the small references in Pete Sinclair's book "We Aspired" are as enlightening as anything else.
Any research suggestions are really appreciated. I have his article in Paris Match, a mix of books which refer to him, as well as spending a lot of time in Chamonix.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 1, 2012 - 10:44am PT

This is a really worthy cause you have but it is also a difficult one to achieve. It has been so long now, many of the players are gone.

I am sending you Royal's contacts. He may or may not remember enough to be helpful.

I assume you have read Tenderini's book. It is a good read and although very fond of her subject, the author has preserved the story for us.
Alan Rubin

Jun 1, 2012 - 10:59am PT
My only encounter with Hemming was a brief meeting on the trail to Montenvers in 1967. He was a legend already, and in person was just as described---tall, shaggy and laconic. The Modern Yosemite article doesn't mention Hemming but was both an introduction to Yosemite climbing for most Americans as well as a clarion call to use the techniques being developed there to climb alpine big walls. It was one of the first articles that I read as a climber and was a great inspiration. There are other articles in the American Alpine Journal in the early '60s, and possibly some from the late '50s that mention Hemming so it is worth researching through those years. Have you seen Straight Up--the biography of John Harlin by James Ramsey Ullman? It is not the most well-written book but contains a great deal of information about Hemming. You should also try to locate copies of the Stanford Alpine Journal---the publication of the Stanford Alpine Club--from the time period that Hemming was a student there (mid-late '50s?).Hope this helps.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Jun 1, 2012 - 11:22am PT

This is just to let those who know nothing of Gary Hemming that they would benefit from his experiences. He was one of those "firsters" who get to the right places at the right times.

The book Gary Hemming: Beatnik of the Alps by Mirella Tenderini, is the object of the link at the top of this post. Not having read but only just discovering it now, I would like opinions on it.

The Gillman/Haston monster, Diretissima, which I remember reading in 1969, had a large impact on me, a total n00b with his head in the stars while it was usually up his ass (concerning climbing, at least), which is not hard to do. Experience tends to alleviate this condition, allowing us to repeat our mistakes with more finesse. I found some of that in winter mountaineering, moreso, it seems than in tales of rock climbing, paartly through the telling of the Eiger Direct's ascent. So I have never gone for alpine climbs. And I am still alive.
My debt to Hemming is paid.

I must say also that a photo of a bearded Hemming sticks in my mind. It resembles to a degree I found amazing the man who gave me my first pair of RR Bluebies, the quondam manager of the North Face, Telly, Larry Horton, whose coloring and facial bone structure matched Hemming's as well as his lifestyle.

Yeah, Horton was a dope-smokin', bike-ridin', Teton-climbing beatnik in an era of hippies. He had a job. He was not hippy, he was a climber. He also had an enviable collection of underground comix and a gorgeous lady, Joyce.

Larry went on to found the Rivendell Packs brand and kept the standards he learned from Tompkings and TNF alive in his products. Some may say "Well, who is this Horton?" I would like to see if anyone else knew him or knows what he is up to currently. Is he still nekkid climbin'?


San Francisco, CA
Jun 1, 2012 - 11:52am PT
Sounds like you've got the book side of your research covered, but just in case you haven't yet made a study of it, 'The Eiger Obsession' by John Harlin III contains an enormous amount of info on Gary Hemming including excerpts from his diary and personal correspondence.

John Harlin III website is:

Perhaps contacting him directly would yield a ton of useful info/material.

Social climber
Butterfly Town
Jun 1, 2012 - 01:17pm PT
Since Peter has forwarded to you Robbins' contact information there is no need for me to do so. Royal is currently writing his memoirs, and his climb(s?) with Hemming were very early in his career, so perhaps he has already written about Hemming. If not, you would do us all a service to tickle Royal's memory a bit, so that the stories of the early Yosemite climbers in the Alps are preserved as much as possible.

You might also contact Layton Kor who can be contacted here through Piton Ron. Layton was on the Eiger Directissma Team and almost certainly would have met and perhaps climbed with Hemming.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Jun 1, 2012 - 01:35pm PT
I was going to suggest Robbins, but others beat me to it. When the rangers set up a new sign-out system in the Valley in the late 1960's, we all had to fill out cards with personal information. It had a place for a ranger's signature (Pete Thompson signed mine). Gary's read "Roger Ranger."

paul roehl

Boulder climber
Jun 1, 2012 - 01:45pm PT
Isn't Salter's character "Rand" based on Hemming? If so, I've always wondered to what extent "Solo Faces" is biography and to what degree it's just artistic exaggeration?

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jun 1, 2012 - 01:46pm PT
I was going to suggest Layton Kor as well. I can not remember the details but
he had a good stock of Hemming stories whose style he greatly appreciated.
He may claim that he doesn't remember much but if you talk to him awhile
about what you know, his own stories will emerge.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jun 1, 2012 - 02:15pm PT
Royal's second volume of his autobiography, "Fail Falling" describes Hemming's years climbing at Tahquitz and Yosemite before he went to Europe. This part of his life is neglected in the Hemming biography mentioned above, which focuses more on Europe.

Good luck on your project. Never met him but was always intrigued by the guy. Was impressed by the American Direct and the Hemming traverse at En Vau in the Calanques when I climbed in Europe in the 70s.

Jun 1, 2012 - 02:39pm PT
Salter once told me that he always felt Solo Faces was inferior to the real story of Hemming, which he had researched extensively. I think probably much of his material came from Robbins. Solo Faces is neither exaggeration nor biography, it's fiction.

I liked Tenderini's book, but it sure leaves a lot undiscovered. I doubt we're going to find out much more. Some things are meant to remain essentially a mystery.

Dom, loved the short film, good luck with your project.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Jun 1, 2012 - 03:31pm PT
Despite the paucity of knowledge of early biography about Hemming (and other characters), despite the secretive nature of events surrounding the Ostrander dope plane, and in the face of difficulty in establishing times and names associated with FAs, it is gratifying that nobody is quitting.

Dom, Licky, Ed, Clint, Steve, Mac and all you FSMs who extend themselves in search of oddball facts and basic ones, THANK YOU!

Good old Mr. Churchill faced up to the menace of German aggression and gave us words to think about in our dark hours.

Something about "Never, never, never quit, give up, surrender, throw in the towel, bail, or haul down your flag."

I'm way too lazy to look up the reference.

Mountain climber
Jun 1, 2012 - 03:34pm PT
Royal Robbins reccomended Ms.Tenderini's biography when I asked about Hemmings.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jun 2, 2012 - 05:10pm PT
Here is a description from Alexis Lucchesi's 1976 guide to the Calanques of the Hemmming Traverse along the right wall of the inlet. Love the description:

"Interessante, a effectuer en maillot de bain."

Mike Graham on the left and me on the right.


Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Jun 3, 2012 - 12:29am PT
I wonder if Teton guides and rangers, still living, who were active in the late fifties and sixties might offer perceptions and experiences with regard to Gary Hemming. (?) Gary had been a Teton guide and did associate with that group of clashing personalities in his Jackson Hole days.

The Tenderini book was absorbing and a seemingly good source of information about Mr Hemming.

My father knew Gary...but not well. He was at Jenny Lake at the time of of Gary's death...but did not attend the gathering of friends on Guides Hill the evening before Gary's passing. According to some, there was a confrontation at the affair that may have impelled Gary to rash action after...

Perhaps tribe regulars at the Teton Tea Parties of that era might offer climbing accounts, observations and legends about, Bill Briggs, Rod Newcomb, Al Read etc.

EDIT: The older guides recite storied legends of fights involving climbing guides and Jackson cowboys. Some claim Mr Hemming ignited certain skirmishes or at least participated in the melees.

One tale depicts Gary being beaten unconcious by three cowboys with axe-handles behind a Jackson bar.

...glad Twenty-First Century Jackson is a more tolerant, peaceful place !
Dom Green

Trad climber
Sheffield UK
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 4, 2012 - 08:10pm PT

thanks so much for all the leads, reminiscences. Thanks Peter for the message - you're right it's a toughie, in the time I have been working on this, Barry Corbet, Rene Desmaison have passed as have a few others who I can't immediately recall.
Al thanks. I am on that trail too.
Boodawg - that's really helpful, is Piton Ron his "handle"?
Dolomite - thanks for the encouragement - interesting what you say about Salter. After having read his other books, solo faces seemed less footsure to me than say "A sport and a Pastime" which is amazing. I wrote to Salter a few years back.
Thanks mouse from merced!
thanks for the scan Rick.

I have been privilege to all sorts of information on Hemming so far, which has sometimes filled out the picture, sometimes created contradictions, but in every impression, even the contradictory ones, there is always something, the contradictions themselves are some of the most revelatory of things.

Jennie - thanks, I'm not sure who is left from that particular group in '69. Apart from the account of that eveining in Tenderini's book, I have now heard other versions too. I guess we'll never fully know now, which is probably as it should be.
Anyone please get in touch - on forum or private message - I'd be so grateful.

Best regds

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 09:05pm PT
Dom, Piton Ron is Ron Olevsky, the very well known big wall and desert climber. He posts here as Piton Ron so click on his name and send him an email.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 09:54pm PT
Only one FA in Yosemite Valley:

Watkins Pinnacles, from Tenaya Canyon 5.8 IV, 1958, Gary Hemming, Dick Long, Jim Wilson, Larry Lackey

Dick Long is still around and may have some stories.
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