Bev Johnson Stories


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Ice climber
The Happies
Topic Author's Original Post - May 17, 2006 - 03:38pm PT
how about some stories or pics?
scuffy b

Chalet Neva-Care
May 17, 2006 - 04:24pm PT
Doug Robinson's article on Camp Four, collected
in Vertical World of Yosemite, closes something
like this:
We wondered what would happen if a Real Gymnast
showed up, and then finally one did. Her name
was Bev Johnson.

May 18, 2006 - 12:36am PT
He's the guy who popped off his jugs on the last pitch 20 feet from the lip on top of the nose.

Went by 5 parties.

Largo was over on the Salathe slabs, (Mammoth terraces? with Ed Barry?) when the guy fell as I recall.

Bev was the coolest, first met her in winter 1968 in the now defunct river campgrounds in the Valley.

I worked for her husband off and on for some 20 years.

May 18, 2006 - 12:54am PT
Largo called Ed Barry once "Pound for pound he's the strongest man alive" or something to that sort.

Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
May 18, 2006 - 10:03am PT
Ed could do 15 one arm pull ups, first with one arm then the other. He was a wiry guy, much like a gymnast.

My best memory of climbing with him wasn't actually climbing. Dave Hitchcock, Ed and I were headed up to do the Book of Job (or was it the Braille Book?) when we ran into a swarm of hornets. Looking back the retreat down the talus was hilarious, but at the time I was nailed eight times (and Iím allergic to bee/hornet venom), that wasnít so hilarious.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 18, 2006 - 10:38am PT
Yeah, Ed and I were on top of the Half Dollar on the Salathe (about, what, 800 feet up El Cap) when that guy pitched off. As I remember reading later, he was jumaring the last pitch (bolt ladder) on the Nose, and was just traversing onto the last hanging stance when he fell out of his jugs (unclipped??) and feel to the end of the rope to which he was tied in. The rope was running over one of the big, old bolt hangers and when his weight came onto the rope after falling around 120 feet the rope cut and he pitched the distance. The body made the most horrendous noise--terminal velocity really disrupts the air. I didn't hear that sound again till I was bivouaced on the Sheild Headwall and two base jumpers ripped right over our (Mike Lechlinski and I) heads at about 6 in the morning. I thought it was rockfall and that we were done.

Ed Berry had the greatest strength to weight ratio of any climber I ever saw. He could pull down on anything--and always with style and class.

Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Victorville, CA
May 18, 2006 - 11:30am PT
This thread is hijacked into an Ed Barry thread, ok.
Ed Barry and Nancy Adinolfi, nice people, both.

Largo, I think you could equal the strength to weight ratio in Mike Waugh, belayed/saw that short boy pull a single digit to his waist on father figure, trying to do the crux static, he held it there, stunning.

Bev was amazing.

In packing for antactica one time we spent all day at too fast a rate, getting gear packed, checking everything, setting up Bev's self designed one of a kind north face tent, etc. So who's flying the Gyro? Oh I will Bev says matter of factly... of course, it didn't matter that she had a huge plastic higher than ski boot brace on, from the last time.

Bev just laughed at Mike, took him in stride, and loved him too.

She never quit anything.

a great image was the last Christmas card I got from Mike and her sent from Jackson Hole, in typical Hoover-ese, the front. a pic of Bev 10 feet off the deck, with skis paralell to the ground exactly above her tucked body. on the back "come ski"

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
May 18, 2006 - 11:33am PT
I knew Bev from her early days of climbing in the East, before she became a fabled Yosemite climber. I remember being out in the Valley with her at a point early in her career, I think it might have been 1970. Whatever her abilities as a climber, Bev didn't, at the time, have much interest in attending to practical realities. When I arrived in Yosemite, she had just destroyed her last pot, leaving it, like the others before it, on the stove till all the water boiled off and the pot melted through. Her stove, which somehow survived these incidents, was flecked with attractive melted aluminum accents. Bev just laughed and went climbing.

At the time, she had just sprained her ankle and was hobbling around painfully. I can't imagine many people would climb with such an injury, but every day she got up, taped the ankle into oblivion, and went off to climb. In later years, Johnson and Johnson's stock went up on the mere rumor that Bev might have sprained something. Some even suspected Bev was one of the two Johnson's and was hurting herself just to drive up stock prices. Bev just laughed and went climbing.

The ankle, naturally, protested. It swelled to the size of her calf. It put on a prodigious display of purpling, the waves of color spreading down to her toes and creeping up towards her calf. Folks who didn't know thought they might be seeing a rare case of leprosy in Camp 4; some proposed she ought to be wearing a bell. Bev just laughed and went climbing.

I left the Valley perhaps a month later for higher, cooler locales. Bev and her terrifyingly gigantic discolored ankle were still at it on a daily basis. At some point her ankle must have realized that the usual signals---pain, swelling, discoloration, loss of function---were not getting through and it would just have to get better by itself without any consideration from its owner. This it proceeded to do, while Bev just laughed and went climbing.
Ed Bannister

Mountain climber
Victorville, CA
May 18, 2006 - 11:44am PT
Bev put up with the sickest search for humor with,
"oh shut up Mike!"

and , she could, almost, kick Mike's ass.

What a really delightful human to be around, she got it done, she was incredibly capable, whether it was logistics for a trip, or Mike dropped the IMAX camera today, she just handled it, there was never a question about her abilty to come through, she just did, and had a great time doing it. Still pissed at that helicopter,

Social climber
rhode island
May 18, 2006 - 04:05pm PT
I knew Beverly and her family when they lived in Rhode Island
in the early 60's. I hung out with she and her brother
Teddy around our neighborhood, and at the officers club
pool at the local navy base, where her father was then
She was great fun to be around, athletic even then,
very pretty.
After visiting her with my parents a few years later
in Virginia, to which they had moved, I kind of lost
touch with her, though I did follow her impressive
climbing career from afar, often hearing from my parents,
who were still friends with her parents, of her latest

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 18, 2006 - 06:07pm PT
Apparently Bev Johnson did not make that remark about the climber falling past (her partner did). You can read more about Bev and this in the chapter "You don't see *that* every day" by Gabriela Zim in "Rock and Roses (2nd edition)":

In the chapter, Zim gets the Bridwell/Johnson rating system a bit wrong, when she says if Johnson was successful it was rated 5.9. In the first edition of Rock & Roses, p.64, Sibylle Hechtel quotes Bev:

"Bridwell likes to take me along on first ascents. If I get up, it's 5.10, and if I don't it's 5.11."

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
May 18, 2006 - 06:27pm PT
My partner Tangen-Foster and I were trying to find our way down Regarden Wall (I think) after doing some punishing route or another one very cold, windy February day and on getting off the second to last rap we were completely lost. All of a sudden Bev pops up out of nowhere having just free-soloed up something burly to retrieve gear she bailed on the previous day working on something even burlier. She got her gear, led us to the last rap, and warmed us up in her van for what must have been a couple of hours of mutual story telling and getting to know each other. This was all the more remarkable we thought because she was only dressed in the flimsiest running shorts and equally insufficient tank top the whole time and while we were freezing our asses off she didn't seem to even notice it. It is still one of the most memorable climbing encounters I've ever had and a quarter century later I can still picture how beautiful she was in a unique completely-wild-yet-calm way...

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 18, 2006 - 06:31pm PT
A couple of Bev Johnson stories:

She led Stone Groove and I followed. At the top she asked to inspect my hands. Seeing a couple of minor scrapes on one of my hands she started admonishing me for poor technique when I mentioned that I had gotten them the previous day on the 2nd pitch of the Vendetta. She told me that she once was driving down to the Valley from cross country skiing up at the Meadows and recognized a car at Reeds. She went up to see what was going on and ended up top roping Stone Groove in her 3-pin binding cross country boots.

Bev and I once attempted an early repeat of Wack and Dangle. At one point she yelled down to me "you know, if I make it, they will just downrate the climb from 5.11". This was in reference to having had the 1st pitch of New Dimensions downrated from 5.11 after she had climbed it.

More stories later,

Dapper Dan

an 89' honda accord
May 18, 2006 - 10:02pm PT
awesome stories , didn't she die in a chopper crash?

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
May 18, 2006 - 10:26pm PT
Everyone in the Valley back then fell in love with Bev, about ten times a day.


Gym climber
berkeley, ca
May 19, 2006 - 12:00am PT
The "Rock and Roses" story by Gabriella Zim was an excerpt from a full length biography called "The View from the Edge" if anyone is interested.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 19, 2006 - 03:58am PT

As Melissa pointed out, a biography exists - "The View from the Edge: Life and Landscapes of Beverly Johnson"

The brief reviews given on the Amazon page suggest that it is based on her letters to her parents, and does not have many climbing stories. Perhaps Bruce and others have more stories to share, though!

From her high school hall of fame entry:

Adventurer, most celebrated female rock climber; undertook climbing, skiing expeditions all over the world; in 1978 became first woman to solo climb notorious El Capitan's vertical face, which took ten days; in 1980's filmed the Russian-Afghan war with her husband; first woman crew-boss firefighter in Yosemite; first person to solo the Straits of Magellan in open kayak; first person to pilot a gyro-craft in the Antarctic; skied across Greenland, windsurfed across Bering Straits, led all-woman team to parachute into highlands of New Guinea; attended Kent State University and University of Southern California; gymnast in college and high school; died April 3, 1994, in helicopter crash during ski trip to Ruby Mountains of Nevada.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
May 19, 2006 - 12:20pm PT
I have the book. It's true that climbing is only roughly a third of the book, and if you've read the Rock and Roses excerpt, you've read a lot of the climbing stories. It was written with the help of her folks. One of the saddest parts of the book involves a letter to her parents that she always carried with her in case she died doing whatever it was that she was doing. Her mom was not grateful for the letter. She said that it didn't help with the pain of losing her one bit. I thought it was an interesting perspective on the ways we rationalize the impact of our choices on others. One of the other things that I thought was interesting that I gleaned from the book was the role of the media (that she was often actively involved in) in shaping her 'legend' and the degree to which she was involved in doing the same for other climbers of the day.

In general I prefered Doug Robinson's story. Although it's not as comprehensive as the bio, it's much more personal.

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 19, 2006 - 05:37pm PT
A couple more stories:

Bev was on the rescue team for a while. One day she gets summoned over to Manure Pile Buttress. It seems that three guys were climbing Nutcracker and the leader decked. One of the remaining two climbers went off to get help while the other stayed with the body. When Bev arrived the guy who had stayed with the body is leaning over his fallen partner flicking the flies off of him. Just as Bev walks up to the body, the guy bolts upright and exclaims, "what happened!"

We were climbing at Reeds, Bev and Ajax Greene on Reed's left and I was on Reed's Direct with another climber. Bev and Ajax topped out just as we were starting up the final pitch to join them. All of a sudden there is a whooshing sound and Bev exclaims, "oh, no, Ajax what have you done!". Somehow Ajax had dropped their rope down behind the pinnacle. Luckily, we still had a rope and when we start down, Bev makes us swear to tell noone about what has happened because she didn't want to embarass Ajax in front of his fellow climbers in Camp 4.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 20, 2006 - 12:31am PT
Yosemite Valley FA's

Absolutely Free, Left Side 5.9 1970 Jim Bridwell Bev Johnson Mark Klemens
Dromedary - The Hump 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Girl Next Door, The, Left Side 5.10 1972 John Bragg Bev Johnson
Grape Race 5.9 A5 VI Charlie Porter Bev Johnson
Lunatic Fringe 5.10c 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Siberian Swarm Screw 5.10a 1972 Jim Donini Steve Wunsch John Bragg Kevin Bein Bev Johnson
Strangers in the Night 5.10b 1972 Jim Donini Rab Carrington Bev Johnson Steve Wunsch
Supplication 5.10c 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Waverly Wafer 5.10c 1970 Jim Bridwell Barry Bates Bev Johnson

other notable ascents in YV (see Clint's website):

Triple Direct - Sibylle Hechtel, Bev Johnson 1973 Grade VI
Washington Column South Face - Bev Johnson 1973 Grade V solo
Dihedral Wall - Bev Johnson 1978 Grade VI solo

from The North Face web site:

1978 Forbidden Plateau, Antarctica. Bev Johnson, Mike Hoover, Mike Graber and Rick Ridgeway.

1980 Greenland Ski Traverse, Greenland. Bev Johnson and others.

1981 Trans-Globe Expedition - around the world. First circumnavigation of the world via the North and South Poles. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bev Johnson, Mike Hoover and others.

1983 Women's Trikora Expedition (elev. 15,585') Papua, New Guinea. Kayaking and trekking in Irian Jaya and New Guinea, with ascent of Mt. Trikora. Bev Johnson and others. Filmed by Bev Johnson.

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