Fourth Ascent West Face of El Cap 1971


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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 8, 2006 - 03:32pm PT

Charlie Jackson came to the Valley in 1971. He was a strong, short, good-looking teenage climber from Stamford and a good family. CJ wasnít like many of the other Camp habituťs; he was an organized, extremely determined, really clean and well-spoken East Coaster. But he was also very sturdy and physical, and no nerd. Many liked him; he wanted to get a lot done on his trip alone out to Yosemite, and one of the real focuses he had was to somehow climb a route on El Cap even though this would be without benefit of much background or experience and while he was quite young. He clearly was adventure-oriented and probably saw also in climbing a way of becoming a man of quality even though at this time he already had a highly defined sense of self and good judgement. In fact we shared a number of personal characteristics. Many young guys had a roughly similar desire, but couldnít network or develop the possibilities into a plan so either after years of somewhat hapless camping they finally would get up something or just eventually disappear. CJ was on the alert to these perilous scraggly California types though and would not descend to the dirtbag druggy society many in camp wriggled in self-destructively. In fact he was a bit amazed by them.

He immediately had made sure to meet Bridwell. Jim was always open-minded and on the lookout for promising talent, fresh new faces and so took him out some. Jim could even be thought of as a kind of Welcome Wagon Neighbor. He introduced CJ to the rest of us, giving him his imprimatur. I had recently finished the Salathe Wall solo and was ready to do much more after a couple of weeks of deep rest. Having just backed off a solo of a second ascent attempt of Tis-sa-ack when I realized I had only one hammer, I really wanted to still get up more big routes right away, but maybe with a partner or two instead. Solo tedium had become more than I could face again. I was thrilled to be going up on a big route with an actual fellow human this time, certain it would be much more fun than days of backbreaking solo work.

I donít remember, CJ and I must have done a small climb or two together in the days before we walked up that afternoon, all the way past the major lines, and on into El Cap Chimney, where the West Face began. This four-year old route had had only about three or four ascents by this point, was nearly untouched, was still aided A4, and had some 5.9 and 5.10 on it. So no one was seriously looking at it as a free route yet. Twelve years after the first ascent, it did become a 5.11b climb in 1978 of incomparable quality. Royal had placed only one bolt on the whole FA and from the few accounts, it was a fun interesting venture, highly featured, reasonable and wonderfully remote with some big ledges available, perfect for CJís starter El Cap route.

Establishing a makeshift bivy in the talus at the base of the sweeping smooth slabby lower portions of this remote wall in the summer afternoon warmth deep inside what is called El Cap Chimney, we climbed some sketchy mixed hard aid and free moves to sink our teeth into the wall getting a steep slabby pitch fixed with our spare time. I was in well-practiced form, and he told me as he watched, that he was really encouraged starting this 20 pitch wall with someone who was experienced. His comment surprised me, as his usual approach towards everyone was reserved, a little standoffish and watching. We had fun that afternoon, and were both excited to be going on this adventure, way away from the current madness further toward the road, down the complicated terraces up which we had just labored in the Valley heat. We had our own private gorge, and a beautiful El Cap wall above us, still radiating warmth all around us as the sun left for this August night.

At dawn, we ran up our line fixed the night before to begin the route in earnest in the chill. This lead involved a mixed traverse to a vertical section that contained the only original bolt on the entire wall. Reaching this spot, my plan had always been to bypass RRís one and only bolt if I could and when I got there, I saw a hard hook move would do this. But it was a very difficult hook move that dumped me onto a lower angle apron 15 ft below when the badly designed Chouinard hook pivoted. Having all the wisdom of years, of course I had a big Swiss Army knife in my front pocket, and landing on that apron with this stupid piece of equipment in there, and so I sustained a significant hematoma, a bad disabling bruise on my thigh. Suddenly my climb was now painful, and somewhat one-legged. Although the fall was a short 25-30 footer and must have seemed unimportant to CJ, for me everything had just changed. The young climber found he had a leader who was now in pain, had to work instead of glide upward all while making faces and groaning as if it really hurt. And eighteen pitches more to gain. But going down did not occur to me; we did not discuss it; I was willing to go through the process with this new trouble at hand and would not turn back.

I redid my hook placement, succeeded in passing the bolt and so reached the belay a few feet above the hook move. We just kept going. But every step up with that leg meant a surprising amount of agony, and not one to whine or garner sympathy, I had a hard time thrilling to the wonderful things around me or to the elaborate trail we were following up the multi-featured and ornate wall.

I felt CJ sink back into himself as he was forced to functionally share in someoneís misfortune, however mutely, as if I had him hostage. Even though we continued on swiftly and in fact ended up doing the fastest ascent of the route to date and even though we could obviously do the route, he disdained the emotional aspect of my predicament, the grimacing and what must have seemed to a young guy, almost a maudlin ďacting outĒ by me as I made myself work with what I had regardless of how harrowing this pain was. He silently kept himself engaged to the task of getting up the wall, perhaps also still worrying that his safety might fall in jeopardy despite the fact we were doing very well.

We gained a long slanting dihedral a couple of hundred feet long where the crux aid was purported to be, and a hanging belay was set up for the last pitch in this formation. CJ took this engaging lead, climbing brilliantly, and in preparing for it coldly and hardly jokingly said something about how he had all his belayers do something or other, concerned with racking of equipment, as if he were the seasoned old pro and I was just a helper housekeeper. I have to imagine I had made a mess of the rack to get to this belay. It was a comment that in other circumstances would have been funny and a cute teasing jab by a younger man at a slightly older slightly wiser one, but in our state, it rested between us, ugly, as his only pronouncement and acknowledgement that I was hurt and suffering; instead of being a concession to me in friendship it took on the mantle of disrespect and distaste.

So just as the fall had in a second changed the spirit of the climb, suddenly upon this utterance I no longer had to keep wondering if teenage CJ had any humanity towards me. I concluded that his determination was really his picture and as the rest of the climb unfolded I now would feel pointlessly alone in pain, and used in the sense that this young guy and I would not have been up here if it werenít for my background but that he would enjoy denying me common respect and friendship. It seemed we were both soloing now. Because I was somewhat disabled and worse, in real pain, he could entertain the fantasy he was up to the challenge alone, discarding me on some level in a narrowly conceived boyish competitive fantasy, regardless of whom I was in the community.

Later we found a spot for the one bivouac we would need and on which we had planned. It was a ledge comfortable for one man and a very unusual squeezy horizontal slot nearby that could house another climber. I quickly evaluated the choice and knew to play a ruse here. I wisely yielded the ledge to CJ and took the slot, mostly vanishing from sight in it and at first loving its imagined embrace, enjoying the nearly complete shelter from night breezes along the giant El Cap face. Also I avoided having to be side by side with this partner with whom I had become unhappy. Later on peeing would prove to be a big hassle from the slot and staying in one head orientation for hours and hours with only an inch or so extra space for me in this kooky space was also annoying. CJ really liked his copious, classic open ledge for a while but later had to face the elements as night wore on, growing cold.

By 4 PM the next day we reached the summit, 20 pitches above the ground, thinking the route was intricate, interesting and not horribly hard. We did not really think about making it go all free very much although looking back, it could have gone even in 1971 eight years before Lakey and Jardine bagged it. The summit meant the end of our having to work together and the certain delicious return to really true selfishness enjoyed on the ground and in camp. CJ left for home soon; I went on to climb the Hourglass left side among other routes, and in a few years was no longer climbing on a professional level as law firm and estate construction grabbed most of my time and energy. I heard that CJ started an arborist business back in his hometown in Connecticut but got tired and angry suing customers and so then became an attorney, a good use of his intelligence and particular impressive energy.


Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Oct 8, 2006 - 04:22pm PT
Thx Peter for posting that.

A stuck Sunday after noon in the burbs just changed to a thought provoking time spent looking into the guidebooks.

An interesting theme often runs through Wall climbing. An archetypal notion of distance and closeness. Never both at the same moment, but always shifting, always in balance, always related. What comes of those two paths yields the future, and memory. What differs is the perspective from whence we view them. Monumental, Antiquarian or critical?


right here, right now
Oct 8, 2006 - 06:07pm PT
That's a nice tell Peter,
-What I call the back side of life; it ain't all wine & roses and charging forth, bright face into the wind,
But great things still get done.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Oct 8, 2006 - 06:33pm PT
Thanks for the TR Peter.

Nice route. The first time I did it was with Corbett in a long day back in 1982, or so. I had worked until almost midnight and met him in the bar. We planned on Sentinel but when I arrived, he said, let's go for El Cap! My eyes got wide. We woke up a friend and borrowed some gear, and I hiked off with him, having not slept.

We started in the dark and the first two pitches weren't fixed like they are now. It was pretty stiff aid such that when Corbett cleaned my lead on pitch 2, I watched his headlamp light skip across the face as just the weight him jugging the rope zippered a few pieces.

I got my thrill on the next pitch when I cleaned two cams behind a tv sized block. The block came off in my hands and I aikidoed it past me but it sailed right toward the loop in the rope where I tied in short for jugging. I yelled "Holy Shit!!" and then there was silence until the block barely missed the rope and make a tremendous crashing sound when it disintegrated at the base. Finally yelled up to Mike that I was OK. Everything went fine until we hit the top about 7 and decided our chances of survival would be enhanced by walking down the falls trail instead of the East Ledges.

There was still snow on the rim, we got separated and Mike had both headlamps. I caught up with him just as it became pitch dark. I think we basically rescued a couple T-Shirt and Shorts folks crawling down the falls trail with no moon and no light but lots of mist!

Good times that I wouldn't care to repeat.

But I did repeat the route years later leading in blocks with a 17 year old kid. WAY faster than the first time. (helps not having to nail for starters)



Oct 8, 2006 - 07:13pm PT
Thanks for posting these most interesting climbing stories.

Oct 8, 2006 - 08:45pm PT

CJ came through here this summer and he asked; "Where's Hann?"

I said he's busy growing grey hairs like all the rest of us ........

Big Wall climber
the Southwest
Oct 8, 2006 - 08:54pm PT
Sign me up for a future book (with photos!) of these great days.

I climbed the Hourglass Left with Werner one day and the name Peter Haan has always been one that reminds me of that fine adventure. Hope to meet you someday.

Social climber
No Ut
Oct 8, 2006 - 11:02pm PT
Good story, Peter. It's not always the climbs that go smooth that we remember the longest. In fact, the experience of an epic seems to get seared into the brain.

I've been lurking on this forum occassionally over the last few months, and I've come to the conclusion I'd like to join in with such an interesting group (there's always room for jello!)

4th Ascent of the NA Wall:

In the spring of 1970, my brother, Greg, Eric Eliason and I started up the North America wall, which at that time had only been climbed three times. All three of us were still in our teens, but we'd each climbed a few walls already and had plenty of skill and energy for the route. But Greg was more into short, hard free climbs at the time, and Eric had a new girlfriend. At the third belay those two informed me that they really weren't up for the climb, and wanted to go down. Well...I've never been one to try to talk my partner(s) into continuing when they didn't feel good about things...but an idea di come to me.

Since we had three ropes, I asked Eric and Greg to fix them as they went down. Once down, they agreed to go to Camp 4, and find me a partner and send him (not too many gals climbing the walls back then) along promptly. Foolproof plan! My two friends had descended about 1:00pm, and such was my faith in the universe that I was surprised that when dusk rolled around, my unknown companion had yet to materialize. Impatient, I decided to drop down the ropes and round someone up for myself.

Just as dark arrived and I touched ground, I heard a puffing and huffing in the woods, shortly followed by the appearance of Don Peterson, recently of Tis-a-ack(sp?) with Robbins fame. Although Don was ready to go, we decided, since it was dark, we might as well go get some shut-eye in Camp 4, and start up in the morning.

I had met Don once before, and I think we had done a climb together - maybe the west face of Rixon's, or something - but we were pretty much strangers. Back in those days I had total confidence, however, and didn't think twice about taking on one of the world's hardest rock climbs with a fellow I hardly knew. Hell, all I cared was that he could climb - and I knew he was good at that!

Well, Don and and I made a pretty darn efficient climbing team, and got up the thing in four days, which was good time for the day. But those four days seemed like an eternity to me, as Peterson raged his way up the wall. I would sit quivering in my belay seat as he followed my pitches, bellowing about this over-driven pin, or that improperly executed pendulum. Meekly I'd pass him the gear slings, saying nothing as he clambered monstrously past me and leap-frogged up his leads.

Don's last lead took us to the top of the wall. When I jumarred up, I was really happy to find my girlfriend, Christie, and buddy, Cactus, waiting for me. Don, however, was nowhere to be seen. Christie informed me that he had simply arrived at the top, anchored the rope and hauled the bag; saying very little to her or Cactus. Then Peterson unroped and walked off, leaving ALL the gear behind!

Needless to say, I was glad to have Cactus and Christie's help in lugging the gear down the trail. I didn't see Don again for about ten years. We finally met up again at a party at Paul Sibley's house outside of Boulder. We laughed a bit about our one climb together, and had a few beers. He seemed to have mellowed quite a lot, and an old ghost was put to rest...


Oct 8, 2006 - 11:37pm PT
Great story jello, just great.

In 71 when I was on the Nose, I watched Meed Hargis and John Rosskelly smoke that NA wall in 2 in a half days over there.

Just pins and sh#t like that. No nuts, cams, just pins and a hammer man.

You hear me Piton Ron.

Hahahahaha ............

Social climber
No Ut
Oct 8, 2006 - 11:51pm PT
Yeah, Werner. What was it about those northwest guys back then - Schmitz, Madsen, Hargis, Roskelley. They could nail like no one's business!

Oct 8, 2006 - 11:56pm PT
Kim didn't use a wall hammer, he used a sledge hammer. No sh#t man, a freaking sledge hammer. Bridwell told me Kim would hit the pins so hard he'd knock the eyes off em.

I've seen .......
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 9, 2006 - 12:01am PT
Wonderful stories!

Gordie Smaill and Neil Bennett did the fifth ascent in 1971 (?), in a bit over four days. One of about six El Capitan routes that Gordie did, and he tended to be fairly fast. Though Gordie didn't overdrive his pins - he had a big fall off the last pitch of the NA, later a huge fall of Sacherer Cracker (broke his leg), and a big fall in Squamish later.


Oct 9, 2006 - 12:06am PT
Yep Anders we all remember that one.

Ole Gordie comes back from the bar one night and trips over the fire grate in C4 face first into the ashes. He stayed there all night face first in those ashes.

Hahahaha he looked pretty good in the morning when we walked by .....
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 9, 2006 - 12:15am PT
Gordie is alive and well, living in Nanaimo, and working for the government. And climbing very well - as do his kids. He went to Cuba a year or two ago, to climb. Not every day you get a chance to poke a finger in the eye of Fidel and George at the same time.

Neil Bennett lives in North Vancouver, a land surveyor, also still climbing well.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 9, 2006 - 12:28am PT
Thanks Deuce, Mimi, J-Lo, Werner, Karl, Tarbuster, Mungie and Anders,

Thanks for your great contributions and comments! And Deuce we shall meet, canít wait. You are one of my heros.

It was with some worry that I set out to write this story this weekend, with the free time I had on hand resting at home. Most of my writing here has been funny. Although the climb went well the experience was a bit tough for me as I was injured. And it was the first large climb I did with an actual person. CJ was a really impressive kid and I knew that he would be solid for life. In a sense we were the same issue, different vintages. Although he was very young at the time and lacking important emotional intelligence as anyone that age (18) would, I was lucky to have him with me, regardless of how the interactions turned out. Hopefully he learned something then and could carry it forwards. It is very cool for me to hear that he asked after me this summer. I am sure the climb was a big deal for him. It was the only El Cap route he did to my knowledge. I hope he is thriving.

Yeah the NW guys were driven by weather, like the Euros. You donít have all day! I have some stuff to tell about being with Kim; we climbed together for awhile back in the day. It is going to be fun, promise.

I have some stuff about Pederson too, J-lo. He and I were beat out by Kroger and Davis on the Heart Direct route. But your stuff is even wilder!! I had not heard the NA tale. This story of his abandoning you on the summit stands as one of the worst tales of bad climbing behavior I have ever heard. He lives in Boulder apparently; I hear current stories about him even these days. Poor thing. Poor RR. DP probably lurks here btw.

Stand by, there are at least 20-30 more of these stories coming, albeit slowly!
best to you all, P.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 9, 2006 - 12:32am PT
It sounds like Robbins' portrayal of Peterson's personality in his article "Tis-sa-Ack" is accurate. (At least as of 1969/70.) A fine bit of writing - I've run into people who, not reading the fine print, believed it was written by all the people "speaking" - Robbins, Hennek, Pratt, Peterson.


right here, right now
Oct 9, 2006 - 12:42am PT
Jello mentioned Peterson & Sibley,
I know those guys well, ha, maybe too well!
All from living here in Boulder the past 16 years; the rest is before my time.

I've encouraged Don to post up as he's got quite a round of slides from those days.
We'll see...

I wanna here more about Schmitz & Madsen nailing hard & fast.
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Oct 9, 2006 - 12:59am PT
Good one again Peter!

(got that package in the mail to me yet? me)

East Coast US
Oct 9, 2006 - 08:29am PT
Good stuff from everyone! Thanks for taking the time to write this stuff up and share. Someone needs to step up and publish a short series of volumes based on these accounts, ala Ascent. Personally, I'd like to see it as a hardbound, limited printing. I'd buy two; one for reading and one for keeping :)


Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Oct 9, 2006 - 09:15am PT
Great stuff as always Mr. Haan!

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