Those strange turns of youth...


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Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 8, 2013 - 01:24pm PT
The 1960s were full of magic and wonder, for me. I was immature but
caught up in a new world of rock climbing. My partners Larry Dalke,
Dave Rearick, Bob Culp, Layton Kor, Royal Robbins, and Chuck Pratt,
to name a few, made me an aspiring artist amid the
Renaissance. I did some really dumb things at times, many of which
have been incorrectly told or have gone through strange evolutions.
One is the so-called "lie" I told that I had free-soloed Athlete's
Feat on Castle Rock. The story shows how quickly something can spiral
out of control.

Mike Stultz, a pre-med, acid head genius of those days, a short,
very strong fellow, could climb well. He had no experience, though,
and none at cracks. It was a kind of winching process to get him
up that crack, but he was bold to give it a go without that
experience, and we laughed, along with Ray Shragg, at the gorgeous
day and beautiful granite and camaraderie that windblown day of
1966. Mike was an interesting fellow and always seemed to have
on his face some kind of cynical, sadistic, or even
demented look, as though to examine your soul and to think you
were even stranger than he. Mike came up to me one day and,
jokingly, said, "I hear you free soloed Athlete's Feat." In a
clever comeback way, I replied, "Yes. It was pretty hard"
(or something along those lines). He was always putting me on
or saying something to give a person a little rush. We smiled and
parted ways, going about the mad business of our lives. I had no
idea the comment about my soloing Athlete's Feat would go anywhere
beyond that silly moment. He did in fact carry the joke
farther, because suddenly one day soon I received a letter from
one Mr. Royal Robbins, my friend, that said, "Congratulations
on your solo of Athlete's Feat. That is the boldest achievement
in American climbing." I was shocked and alarmed, but
being young and stupid did not know quite what to do. I hardly
wanted to say I did not do the climb, because that would make me
out to be a liar. Several people then asked me about it, or
congratulated me about it, and I glanced back at them in a kind of
stupor in incredulity. I did not know how to answer or what to
do. As I was trying to work all this out in my head, Layton
suddenly approached me one night in the Sink. It seemed he had
come to the Sink with the express desire to have a talk with me.
He grabbed my arm, and we went to a dark corner of the back room. He
was with Wayne Goss, who smiled, as he always did, and who had
been hob-knobbing quite a bit recently with Layton.

In that corner of the Sink Layton got right up in my face and
began to try to persuade me to admit that I had not soloed
Athlete's Feat. "That's impossible," he said. That statement
right there put me on the defensive. I resented his certainty,
because in fact I felt such a solo was within my ability. The
first pitch, the hardest, I had already led unprotected (on the
second ascent of the route, right after Royal and I made the
first ascent). There were no bolts then, and I
had done it totally without protection, risking a ground
fall or a fall onto that dangerous flake below. A couple of the
pitches above are mostly unprotected, such as the third pitch which
I had led with one questionable bong low down, where when I turned
the crux edge of that lieback I would have hit the ledge had I come
off. So the only real question that remained was if I could do the
moves of the second pitch. I was best at handjams, and that second
pitch is mostly about handjams -- three or four tight, difficult
ones in a row.

So I began to hold to the lie, and to resist Layton, just as
a matter of principle... in protest of the idea that I
could not have done such a thing. The whole situation felt
extremely stupid, though, because I really had never said I did
solo it. I simply did not deny it, thinking it was all a joke,
that it would all go away, in short order. When I realized it
was not a joke, of course, I should have immediately corrected

At last, under the pressure of Layton's formidable presence and
his impish, smiling lieutenant Goss who studied me as though he
were a disturbed leprechaun, I told Layton he was right,
that I did not solo the route. He grabbed me and shook my hand,
let out one of his giggles of wild elation, and Goss
smiled and congratulated me on putting that chapter behind
me, and so forth, which I felt was incredibly condescending
and patronizing, since I felt I was a more experienced climber than
he and had actually been a kind of mentor to him for a
brief time.... I later realized Goss was just as harmless as
anybody could be and never had any ill intent. We went on our
way back to the main tables that filled that back room, tables
all deeply carved with names, profanities, and such, and we
talked about climbing and whatever else we did those dark,
thick smoke, Rolling Stone juke box nights in that dirty, "I Can't
Get No Satisfaction" noise called the Sink, where people as a
rule and nightly went down the drain, happily, or their
heads were employed as battering rams, people thrown stiff body
out through those heavy, thick, wood, swinging doors.

Now it felt as though I had confessed to some huge lie. There was
no place or opportunity for me to tell the actual story.
I wrote a letter to Royal and explained how a silly rumor
had gotten out of control. He wrote back, congratulating me
for admitting my lie!!!! There was no way to win
in those days. I then wanted to go up and solo the route, just
to shut everyone up, and show the route was within my ability
as a solo, but as I pondered the notion I felt I would be
doing the route for the wrong reason. And usually when we do
something for the wrong reason it doesn't turn out very well.
I never quite got around to that solo, but in my heart I believed
I was only a couple of handjams from already having done it.
Those strange turns of youth.


Jul 8, 2013 - 02:34pm PT
Great tale Pat!!

Bet you could have done the solo. Nice job on resisting it for the right reasons though.

Social climber
Jul 8, 2013 - 02:41pm PT
And usually when we do
something for the wrong reason it doesn't turn out very well.

Very wise!

Great story, Pat.
Magic Ed

Trad climber
Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Jul 8, 2013 - 02:59pm PT

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
Jul 8, 2013 - 03:12pm PT
That was great! It's funny how things can get out of hand so quickly when youth and posturing are thrown in the mix.

The Sink, I've tipped more than a few at that place. Went up to Boulder from my home in Golden (1971) and stayed in a friends dorm room, we were going to go up and try the Maiden the next day. Stayed at The Sink until closing the night before. Spent the next day (starting at about noon), looking up at the Maiden after hiking up to the base with a killer hangover. Seemed like the sun was always in my eyes, pounding those nails right into my forehead.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jul 8, 2013 - 04:00pm PT
Those strange turns of youth

't was the accepted truth
In the mind of this youth
That anything goes
Using fingers and toes

Told that he climbed it
He went along with the bullsh#t
But then he relented
And now he's contented

What a finely-tuned tale, Patrick!


Social climber
Jul 8, 2013 - 04:26pm PT
Truth is always so much more interesting than fiction--Thanks for sharing.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 9, 2013 - 11:02am PT
I have a million of these kinds of story from the past, little
vignettes from life and history, if anyone thinks they might be of
value. I could continue a little string of them? Or maybe not.
I wouldn't mind some honest feedback. I've always enjoyed writing
short pieces and reading the same by others, glimpses through
little windows of time.

I want to do a piece about Layton that is more of a proper tribute,
more along what my true potential as a writer is, since at the
Kor Memorial I was so weak and sick I could barely deliver my talk,
and it was a bit unfocused, to say the least....
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 9, 2013 - 12:12pm PT
Magic Ed,
That shot is great. But it doesn't capture the huge back room, where
all the real activity took place. The photo shows the initial room, which
was rather innocuous and looked somewhat like any other hamburger/beer
joint, but then you'd step through that small open door into the back,
and I can still see how much Layton had to stoop as he walked
through.... Hundreds of people, it seemed, crammed into that darkness,
all sorts of crazy people. I remember the guy who claimed to be
John the Baptist reincarnated. He turned out later to be an ok guy, but
we used to argue with him, and he could tell you anything about Christ's
life and his own life as the Baptist, etc. Sometimes eight people would
be seated at one of those blackish wood picnic tables back there, and
with long waits sometimes for the bathrooms people would poop in the
urinals.... one time I encountered a "leaving" about half the size of
a baseball bat. Sorry, this is getting a little off color. But one could
write a whole book about the Sink. Our little tale about
Athlete's Feat seems rather minor and harmless by comparison. One night
they threw a fellow out, rammed his head through those swinging doors,
and there was a car waiting to haul him away. I might add they had
quite professional ways of disposing of people who were a nuisance.
They had a car that belonged to one of the employees of the Sink,
and they often would use it to cart someone out into the country and
dump him, or wherever they took him. They tossed this trouble maker
into the back seat of the car, and he legs hung out the door onto
the street. Someone slammed the door several times, but it just
would not close with those legs hanging out, so the car sped away with
the back door half open as his legs drug along the ground. One night
Huntley Ingalls walked out of the Sink, stepped off the small curb,
and broke his ankle. Climbing was far safer than walking on flat
ground.... And there was that time Erickson and I got plastered in
the Sink one rainy night. As we left, at closing, a hippie in a
blanket asked me if I knew of a place to stay, out of the rain.
Erickson's tiny kitchenette apartment was only a block away,
and thoughtlessly I said, "Yes, come
on with us. You can stay at Jim's place." You can't really imagine
the strange look Erickson gave me at that moment. The hippie
then said, "Can I bring my friends?" I said, "Sure, why not?" So
off this strange entourage went, to Erickson's place, that tiny
upstairs pad in a building with several apartments. Jim said each
hippie had to come one at a time and sneak in quietly, because if
his landlord found out it would be all over. As it turned out,
there were something like thirty of those hippies, and one by one
they stealthily crept up those stairs into the apartment, out of
the rain. Erickson and I slept shoulder to shoulder on his
little bed, and the entire floor and kitchen floor were covered
with stinky, and I mean smelly, bodies that snored all night and
kept us awake. I remember waking several times out of a half-sleep
to hear Jim yell, "S h u t u p." In the morning, when Jim had to
go off to school, he realized exactly what we (I) had done.... I
was all about being my brother's keeper in those days.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jul 9, 2013 - 01:00pm PT
Ah the Sink! That's where I first met Layton.
Big Mike

Trad climber
Jul 9, 2013 - 01:18pm PT
Awesome Pat! Thanks for the tales. Very interesting.

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Jul 9, 2013 - 04:52pm PT

I doubt that you remember the bartender in the front room of the Sink in the late 1950's (i.e. : 1958-59)? Thinking about this--you were just a High School kid then. He became pretty well known later as Robert Redford, and Layton knew him pretty well.

Trad climber
Is that light the end of the tunnel or a train?
Jul 9, 2013 - 05:00pm PT
How cool is that thanks for the info Rodger.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Jul 9, 2013 - 05:24pm PT
Great tale, Pat.
Wonderful story telling.
Ah the hubris of youth...what I would give for a dose of it today!

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jul 9, 2013 - 07:43pm PT
Pat, I love your story about Athlete's Feat. It's a great tale, a morality tale of sorts, and well-told.

You did ask in the next post for constructive feedback, so here goes: ditch the line that says "He had no experience, though, and none at cracks. I had to haul his body every inch of the Crack of Fear on a windblown day of 1966."

That line adds nothing to your narrative, and it diminishes you as the narrator, because, within the context of this piece, you are making a gratuitous dig at another climber. I think everything would be better without that aside, and indeed the rest is great.

Keep those vignettes coming!

scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
Jul 9, 2013 - 08:00pm PT
" my heart I believed
I was only a couple of handjams from already having done it."

How to interpret this?

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jul 9, 2013 - 09:29pm PT
I'm younger than that now...

Trad climber
boulder, Colorado
Jul 9, 2013 - 09:46pm PT
Good story Pat! And there is no doubt you were capable of soloing that climb.

Trad climber
Nedsterdam CO
Jul 9, 2013 - 09:48pm PT
Thank you Pat! And Please keep it coming!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 10, 2013 - 12:29pm PT
You're right, as always, Rich, and wiser than I. I scribble these
out pretty quick usually, not much thought. And I guess I was caught
up in the spirit of those times. Certainly I didn't make my point at
all, that no matter how badly he climbed I liked being with him and
didn't care, because he was interesting and allowed me to have a partner,
and also that he was game, whatever his experience, game to let me
lead him up the Crack of Fear. And I respected him for being
willing to go there, where few had gone before us, namely Royal
and Layton and their respective had-pressed partners. Boy, did
I mess that up. Incidentally the third man on that ascent of the
Crack of Fear was Ray Shragg, who after about 45 years I finally
met up with again in New York at Rock N Snow, when you introduced
me, on that lecture tour I gave a couple years back. Ray too, from
the East, had never seen any kind of off-width. That was far
more difficult than the climb, to get those two up behind me. We did
a lot of laughing. It was a grand day in paradise.
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