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Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:08am PT
Oh God, it's Fred!
September 1999


About 4 weeks ago I was climbing with TM in Tuolumne. We had gotten a late 10:30 AM start and people were already on South Crack, so I insisted that we race up the Eunuch. We did. Back at the base in less than an hour and a half and seeing that the South Crack route was still jammed up with helmeted climbers with huge racks and brand new chalk bags, I convinced Herbert to run up that route just left of West Country. Before I could get TM moving from the car, a young climber with Asian features approached me and asked if I was looking for a climbing partner. I responded, Not really, despite appearances, I had a climbing partner ... see, there he is ... the one with the stupid looking hat. I added that he was not only my climbing partner, but that on occasion he passed as my father. The kid was looking askance at my 20 year old swami belt whose knot no longer had the appropriate length to gird my expanding waistline, and at my distinct lack of a chalk bag. Then I mentioned that HE, my partner, was the famous TM Herbert.

The kid was aghast and agape ... not THE TM Herbert! Yes, I replied, none other. He wanted to be introduced immediately and just casually remarked that he, too, was climbing with a legend. Fred Beckey! I said, Fred Beckey, where? Right there. In that car. I looked back and there, not more than ten feet away, seated in his car and absorbed in some written material in his lap, was Fred Beckey.

Fred, you old fart! How the hell are you?, as I approached the car, not knowing whether old Fred would even know who I was.

Lauria, what the hell are you doing here?

He recognized me. I was flattered. I'm climbing you old f*#ker, I'm climbing with TM.

TM? Is he still coming up here?

Well, things settled down. TM came up. Fred got out of the car. We all shook hands. Fred was stooped and looked every year of his 80-some-odd. He had an injured foot and was limping which only added to the impression of his advancing age. We learned that, true to form, he had somehow convinced this young Asian to drive him down from Seattle to the Sierra so that they might go into the Palisades area to do some new secret Beckey route. But now, because of his injured foot, they had detoured to Tuolumne so that the kid might at least get in some climbing.

TM and I pried ourselves away from the ever loquacious Beckey and ran up our proposed route. We returned to the base to find South Crack open and again had to pull away from Fred to be next on the route. By 3:00 PM we were back at the car with Fred. Herbert was still insisting that Fred get an X-ray and Fred, who is more deaf than I am, was either ignoring the suggestion or the message was not getting through his faulty ear canals. In fact, the two of them, although apparently talking to each other, were by outward appearances carrying on two separate conversations. Neither of them was listening or maybe just not hearing the other.

TM and I finally excused ourselves and headed back to the Tuolumne store for a six pack which was subsequently downed in back of the Chevron station. After listening to Herbert expound on the necessity of x-rays in diagnostic medicine for over an hour, I managed to slip away and back to Bishop by 5:30 PM. So old Fred is still out there, but man, he's starting to look like a dirt bag.


Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:09am PT
How Peaks Get Named – Don’t Ask
If you know where to look, and if you really care, what was to be named BHOS Dome is visible from the Mirror Lake parking area (circa 1971). In the spring of 1971, Dennis Hennek, TM Herbert, Doug Scott, and I did the first ascent of the south face – the Mugwump Wall as Scott labeled it.
It took us 1 ½ days to scale the very distinct dihedral for three pitches and then some easier climbing after veering left to a wide crack system. We rated it Grade III, 5.7, A3. Not a difficult climb, but it had a crux – that of trying to sleep though a Herbert tirade on the bivouac.
Tm Herbert did not own a down jacket. He was nurtured in Chouinard’s school of wool, but I was determined to wean him from his adamant stance - I loaned him a down sweater for the climb.
It began about midnight during some snow flurries. “Wake up, hey you guys, wake up. Hennek, kick that damn limey. Is everybody awake? I’ve actually been sleeping. This is the first time I’ve ever slept on a bivouac. Damn it, wake up and listen to me. I’ve been sleeping. This is incredible. Hennek, is Lauria still sleeping? Wake him up. Scott, wake up. I’ve actually been sleeping. Hennek, kick that rotten limey. Damn it, Scott, you don’t seem to realize … “
So it went. The next day we were back in Camp 4 and Chuck Pratt ambled up. “What did you guys do?” I described the dome and the route. He responded, “Oh, you mean that Big Hunk Of Shit!” Roper loved it, hence BHOS Dome was named.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:10am PT
March 8, 1973

Dear Batly and Beasto,

I have no objections to you using my "marvelous account" of the buffoonery, providing, of course, that you present the entire picture as I paint it. I certainly don't want to raise the ire of my good friend R.R. I think he feels badly enough about his (our) erasures. (See Mountain #28.) He almost feels as badly about our seconding the route as he does about you and what's-his-name doing the first ascent. It all started at Badger Pass in January of 1971 when Herb Swedlund's smiling moustache and glinting eyes fronted on me over a beer in the snow-bright sunshine outside the ski lodge. He asked me if Royal had been in touch with me regarding a second ascent of the Dawn Wall. I said that he hadn't. He implied that possibly I should contact Royal. I said I would because I was definitely interested. A day later in Los Angeles Royal phoned and put the question to me. I was flattered and highly affirmative. He asked quite intently if I objected to chopping bolts. Hell no!

I drove to Yosemite, met Royal, sorted hardware, and Royal showed me the two cold chisels he had purchased specifically for the bolt chopping. How extravagant, I thought. I still hadn't caught on. We began early the next day. I led the first pitch using all the bolts for aid. Royal followed and began chopping the first bolt. "Wow!" I thought to myself, "I used that bolt. How come he's chopping it? Oh, I guess he figures he could have made that move free." He then began chopping the second bolt. "Hey, Royal, I used those bolts for aid," I yelled. "Sure you did, but chopping bolts is the name of the game—all the bolts." Now I got it. But should I do it? Hell yes, why not? I didn't like the way Harding and Caldwell did the route. I didn't like the publicity. And besides, I hadn't ever done anything controversial in my life (up to that time). I had always wanted to do a wall with Royal. I guess to some degree I was doing it for the same reasons I attributed to Harding and Caldwell—self-aggrandizement. I had no set principles or ethics of my own, so I could be swayed easily. When Royal reached my belay stance he immediately questioned me. Did I understand that we were "erasing" the route? Yes, now I did. And on we went. Besides, Royal had assured me that if we descended without accomplishing complete erasure, TM Herbert would personally castrate both of us.

On our first bivouac Royal really began questioning his reasons for erasing the route. He was having difficulty rationalizing his behavior. He had actually published an earlier opinion that completely contradicted his current feelings. I forget which day he decided that we should stop chopping. He decided that the quality of the aid climbing was much higher than he had ever expected of Harding or Caldwell and, of course, it was also taking us an awful long time to chop all those goddam bolts. I was just along for the climb. I (voluntarily) took no part in the decisions, that is, I allowed Royal to make our decisions. I really didn't care what we did just as long as it was a second ascent of the Dawn Wall. Royal asked my opinion in considering every decision, but I essentially told him whatever he figured out was okay by me. I felt I was in good hands. Chouinard once told me after he got off the NA Wall that climbing with Robbins wasn't any fun. Robbins was like a crutch. You always knew you were going to make it. . . .

Don and Susie
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:10am PT
Breathing Lessons

The sound is familiar and startling like a diving swallow, but louder, maybe a falling rock. I have heard the sound many times, the sound of the diving swallow, the violet-green swallow, those that nest on El Cap. They spend their lives diving, making that sound, the whirring that their stubby wings make as they careen around invisible sky corners in pursuit of prey. But the sound of a falling rock is more ominous and a frightening sound. My first impulse is to duck, arms over the head, then inevitably to look up–-nothing–-then straight out from our perch on El Cap Tower, 1500 vertical feet above El Capitan’s base, I see them—two hu¬man bodies plummeting toward the valley floor. My breathing stopped.

Moments earlier on this cool evening in the spring of 1993, Allan and I had comfortably bivouacked half way up El Cap’s southwest buttress in Yosemite Valley. Why were we here? That thought had begun to dominate the somnolent reverie brought on by the extreme heat of this very long day and the inert boredom of belaying.

To the casual observer, El Cap Tower is barely visible on the face of El Capitan—the awesome granite presence that greets visitors to Califor¬nia’s most famous national park. El Cap Tower is merely a ledge named by the first climbers to reach it back in the fifties. To Allan and me, the Tower is commodious. Ledges of this size are rare on this three-thousand foot high, one-mile long cliff. To the unaccustomed, however, just its location might add one more insanity to the idea of being here. Why were we here?

Six months ago Allan insisted that we do a Yosemite route together and the Nose of El Capitan was decided upon. We both had ex¬perience on El Cap, but not as a team. We had both been high in the granite niches of the Cap¬tain’s walls many times in the past, but in those days the reasons for being there were never in question— why are we here now?

Back in the sixties and seventies when climbing many of the Valley’s classic routes, I trained incessantly and obsessively for these “walls”. I spent months working my way up lesser climb¬ing routes getting ready for the “big” ones. Allan, as a Tuolumne climbing guide in the seventies, had always been ready for his walls. Being “ready” meant spending hours, some¬times days, hundreds of feet off the ground, enduring the hot sun and unrelenting thirst, suspended in nylon slings, pounding pitons into cracks in vertical granite, often sitting all night in home-made three-step climbing slings on an ankle hooked under one’s butt, or sleeping in a delicate nylon hammock strung between over-driven pitons.

We were ready then—not so, now. We are literally off-the-couch and twenty years older. We’ve been joking about our combined age being over one-hundred, and how if we suc¬ceed and can forget the difficulties, we might come back in a few years and break some kind of record for geriatric wall climbing. This day has been an eye-opening, memory-jogging, revela¬tion. Wall climbing was hard back then and it’s even harder now. I am sixty years old. Allan is forty. I haven’t been on El Cap since Royal R. and I gave Warren H. more to talk about back in 1971. Why am I here now?

Bill F., the Dolt, had begun to ask that same question during his many trips up and down the fixed ropes that he, Warren H., and Mark P. had strung to this most commodious of Nose ledges during the first ascent siege. He thought some¬one was trying to tell him something. Why was he there? On one of his numerous rappels, Bill forgetfully slid down into a knot and was uncom¬fortably detained many feet above the ground until he extricated himself. Later, according to Warren, “he began muttering ominous biblical quotations and eventually ended his wall climb¬ing activities—for good.” He had figured out why he shouldn’t be there.

We began the climb yesterday struggling up the first four pitches to Sickle Ledge. Two younger climbers, climbing free, passed us on the third pitch. We rappelled back to the ground and spent last night in Camp-4 with lots of time to reflect on our climbing efficiency—we are very slow. We haven’t dared to step out of our aid loops except to rappel. Our wall climbing equip¬ment is outmoded and our technique is need of resuscitation. The two young climbers were two pitches ahead of us when we rappelled.

This morning we returned to our high point on Sickle Ledge and continued the climb up the Stove Legs, past Dolt Tower, and just beyond El Cap Tower. My thoughts beyond that point ran like this:

On the ground I was scared. Up here the fear is gone. The environment is familiar, friendly. I am in my element now. The immensity of the rock and the chore of climbing it should no longer be overwhelming. But something makes me ask, why am I here? The something is the exhaus¬tion.

This is exhausting. I am exhausted. Back in the sixties this was easy. The chimney behind Texas Flake was incredibly easy then. I wiggled up it in just minutes, completely within my aero¬bic capabilities. This is the nineties and I can’t even get over the initial move into the chimney. I struggle over it somehow and begin the as¬cent. Within seconds I am gasping, gulping down air in insufficient quantities. A quarter of the way up I have to rest, but how does one rest when it’s taking everything I have to remain stemmed between two vertical, slippery walls? Stopping to “rest” does nothing but increase my agony. I struggle upward toward Allan perched above me, clipped into a bolt, his legs astride the thin summit of the flake.

When I finally arrive, totally exhausted, com¬pletely out of breath, I cannot speak, I need more air than I can possibly inhale. It takes forever for my pulse to approach normal. Un¬able to talk, I’m thinking, God, I hope Allan realizes that I cannot lead the next pitch—the bolt trail out to Boot Flake and the scary crack up its right side. Avoiding eye contact, Allan calmly hands me the hardware rack, “Go for it, Don.”

I’m thinking, sh#t, is he blind? I’m dying here! Resigned to my fate, I step out and begin clip¬ping the bolts. My pulse has returned to a more comfortable level and my mouth is regaining some moisture. As my body shifts into cruise control, my mind’s eye flashes on Dolt’s photo of Mark on this lead during the first ascent. I just want to finish this pitch so I can rest.

It’s late afternoon when Allan follows my lead to the Boot top and we decide to rappel back to El Cap Tower for a comfortable bivouac. We are tired, but the ledge, El Cap Tower, is com¬fortable and we are already beginning to forget what it took to get here. We discuss Boot Flake and the King Swing—determined to go on to¬morrow. After our meal, with the sun gone, we quaff a couple of master cylinders—over-sized cans of malt liquor—and settle back to enjoy two of Allan’s little plastic tipped cigars. Biv¬ouacs were always the high points of my sixties ascents and this was a nineties classic. In the back of my mind though, Why are we here?

This brings us back to the sound of something falling—back to the horror of the plummeting bodies and the instant my breathing stopped.

Before my heart can regain its rhythm, another sound. Pow! Pow! Like two shotgun bursts. Pow! Pow! The two plummeting bodies abruptly snap to a slow gliding descent below bright nylon canopies. They are now ecstatically ex¬changing joyous screams as they swoop to a clearing on the valley floor and their accom¬plices gather them and their gear into a waiting van. In a matter of seconds they are gone.

Neither one of us has said a word. I am still trying to breathe. Allan finally gasps, “Jesus, that scared the holy crap out of me!” The im¬pending tragedy has become nothing more than two BASE jumpers doing their thing, but the horror in our initial impression is not so easily dismissed. I am still trembling. Allan continues mumbling, his head metronoming, “That had to be the scariest damn thing I’ve ever experienced.” Well, not quite—read on.

The next morning we awake to a dark cloudy sky. Now what? I have never retreated from an El Cap route in my life and always believed it easier to continue than to retreat. Allan used the escape bolt-route once in the distant past and was not anxious to use it again, but after considering our options, we decide to pack up, climb the fixed ropes to the top of Boot Flake, and wait to see how the weather develops. If there is no improvement by ten o’clock, we bail.

At ten o’clock, the wind has picked up, and the skies are still cloudy. We can see the two young climbers that passed us the first day. They are just over the Great Roof and moving into the lowering clouds. As the wind continues to build, we bail.

Allan knows the many rappels on the escape route, maybe 14–most from antiquated quarter-inch Rawls placed back in the late sixties by Tom R., the Mad Bolter. We begin our retreat. The wind is blowing from the west so intensely that it’s impossible to stay on course and diffi¬cult to find the anchors—even harder to fight our way west to reach them. Sixteen times I find myself next to Allan, our total weight sus¬pended in nylon slings from two smarmy, al¬most thirty-year-old bolts on a blank vertical wall of granite, hundreds of feet above the valley floor. Each time we pull down the rappel line from the two anchors above we reduce our security by half and raise our anxieties propor¬tionately. I’m still wondering, Why are we here?

Many hours later, having added fourteen stress¬ful chapters to this epic of misguided adven¬ture, we are finally on the ground and met by friends. They have been watching our daily progress and have brought us each a beer. We kneel to kiss the ground, thanking God first, for the ground, our friends second, for the beer.

After a brief respite in Camp-4, we head for Degnan’s and sit out front watching the weather grow worse and drinking more beer. Billy R. shows up, goes in and buys us another six-pack. Tim M. happens by later and offers to purchase another “box of Rocks”. By late after¬noon and yet another box, the weather has deteriorated in sync with our sobriety. It’s be¬gun snowing up higher. We think about the two young guys up on El Cap—bad news. We lean back and open another bottle. Now we know why we’re here —down here. ♦


The “young climbers” that climbed into the clouds the day that Allan and I retreated from El Capitan in 1993 ultimately required a rescue from 800 feet below the summit. Both were suffering from mild hyper¬thermia and dehydration.

Although I attributed my difficulties in the Texas Flake chimney to lack of conditioning and old age, upon reflection I must explain that my first time up the Nose in was March of 1967. It was only the 8th time the route had been climbed. The chimney had not yet acquired the layers of shoe rubber and body oils that the subsequent hundreds of ascents deposited over the 26 year interim. The chimney was undoubtedly easier in 1967.

Don Lauria♦
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:12am PT
The Tower by Ken McNutt
May 1970

The hanging, hissing lantern cast gigantic shadows as four men racked hardware, recoiled new Perlon, and gulped down mouthfuls of cereal, milk, and blueberry pie at 4 AM in a cold, quiet Yosemite Camp 12. We had just arrived from L.A. at midnight and were only half awake after about three hours of fitful sleep. It was two days before Easter and snow on the Valley rim made sure down jackets and foot sacks were packed first in the haul bags, for two bivouacs were possible. All gear was loaded into the VW bus and the too brief ride to the Bridalveil Falls parking lot finally convinced me that apparently nothing was going to save me from my robot madness and I was indeed committed to a "no retreat" climb on what Roper’s red book called, "the most spectacular overhanging wall in the world," THE LEANING TOWER.

As we loaded the crush of gear on our backs I stared upward in the still black morning, eyes straining in vain to see the Leaning Tower that I knew loomed almost overhead. We trudged single file up the boulder strewn steep approach through ankle deep leaves and moss, silent except for the deep breathing that soon became rhythmic with our stride. With Don Lauria setting a rapid pace we soon lost sight and sound of our second rope team in the thick forest behind us. When we reached the edge of the Tower Traverse, I heard a voice call from the darkness below, "Dooohn Hellooow, Dooohn." When I answered back a quavering voice floated up, "Wee'rre noottt coooommming." At that moment my eyes rolled up in their sockets, and in the first weak grey light the Tower leaned its intimidating profile over us, and I could readily see why the second rope changed its mind.

As I leaned backwards to identify the higher pitches, my throat and mouth became instantly parched as every drop of saliva drained in one flush toward my tense belly. Don’s, "We rope up here," jolted me into automatic response and into a bowline entwined swami belt. With the admonishment, "Test everything, it's all rotten," Don disappeared out on the Tower Traverse. I soon followed, awkward and unbalanced with the heavy haul sack on my back, and joined Don at the base of the twisted tree from whose tip top branch the route started.

Don flowed up the bolt ladder, never pausing except to snap in the carabiner, clip in the slings, step high, clip in the rope, and climb up and up, The red haul line already hung six feet out from the wall and it was only the 1st pitch. Up I came, so engrossed in my deliberate activity and obsessed with not making any serious mistakes, I was oblivious to the sphincteral tightening exposure.

All day we climbed in the overhanging shadow; nailing, bolting, hauling, and cleaning until late afternoon when the sun finally bathed us with mild warmth. Bolt placements were just at the end of a maximum reach from top loops, the pin placements were acceptable and the rock was clean and firm. The strenuous nailing and Jumaring caused the first severe arm cramps I had ever experienced and until I forced myself to relax into better balance, they were unrelenting in their discomfort

After four pitches Don was on Guano Ledge, and as I cleaned that pitch it was apparent we would not have daylight enough to complete the next two pitches and rappel back down to bivouac on Guano/Ahwanee Ledge. This rappel is possible only from the end of the sixth pitch and it leaves the rappeller many feet out from the wall trying to pendulum in and grab and hang on … to something … in the dark?? Since that maneuver held no special appeal to me, I strongly recommended we make the 5th class traverse from Guano to Ahwanee in the daylight and bivouac—now!

We traversed and prepared for our first night on the Tower. Don's upperledge position established him as host/server and he opened cans and passed food and drink to my lover ledge. I smashed one can, dropped it from the ledge, and counted 32 seconds before it hit anything.

The cyclops eye of the Wawona Tunnel glowed dully on the far slope, and intermittently from its center the headlights of an arriving car would splash out and run down the winding road to the Valley floor. As we sought stretched out positions on our ledges, loud, hollering voices rose from the Bridalveil lot and we knew our friends were enjoying the Valley Happy Hour. Don philosophized briefly on the relative merits of doing SHORT, fierce climbs that allowed one to participate in the nightly Valley merriment, versus LONG, difficult climbs that hold the charm of controlled discomfort, stoicism, and no nightly socializing. My wise reply that some of both types offered the best of all possible climbing worlds was wasted on Don's snoring. Sleep came late for me as I had caught a quick look at the next lead off Guano Ledge, and I knew some hard A4 would arrive with the dawn,.

Ahwanee Ledge slowly came alive at 4 AM the next morning and gear was repacked in the haul bag. Fortified with "Red Mountain" and salami the traverse back to Guano Ledge in the dark with the heavy haul bag was a warming way to begin the day (any day). It was my lead, but I was glad when Don stated, "I'll lead stay alive cause I'll need some tension on these first pins." Up a polished slope to a bolt clip in and traverse around a shoulder into space and struggle to hang on while pounding the first pin into a long right, then left, switch back crack. Don's comments continued violent until easier nailing arrived. Cleaning this pitch advanced my dangling in space double angle overhang--open book rotten right hand crack rotten left hand crack -Jumar technique!

The next two pitches were uneventful, but with the Garden pitch came the only series of really lousy pins on the entire climb. First was a bad pin followed by a worse pin until there were no pins, and while standing on a pitifully placed nut trying to place quickly, quickly two nested knifeblades that popped so hard when I half tested them, I damn near dropped pins, tie off loop, slings, and my poise.

A tendon tearing stretch required a knifeblade inserted into an absolute no crack at all. How sweet the twang as I drove it to the eye; next, step up fast, with not even a thought of a test.

I was sooo happy with that knifeblade I ignored the next fixed bolt at the belay point and grabbed the small tree extending out from the vertical wall, pulled up out of my aid slings, wrapped one leg around the tree only to find there was no room to squeeze my body between tree and wall, so there I hung like an armored sloth, my happiness turning to panic at my stupid predicament. As I struggled I heard Don shout from below, "Can't you clip in your belay seat?" Cursing my panic and hanging by my heel and one hand, I fumbled my belay seat out of my pocket- around my butt clipped into the slung tree and sat dowm. Whew, kinda close.

Up the pitch raced Don cleaning my bad pins with single hammer blows and commenting, "not much to that pin… that was a baaaad pin … no wonder you were in a hurry on that one, etc., etc."

Past my belay he climbed through the octopus branches of that demon tree—“I’m coming back with a saw and prune you into a damned ladder" a mini bong under an overhanging block and he disappeared over the block.

Cleaning that difficult, awkward slanting pitch, unclipping and reclipping above each pin, remembering how disastrous it is to step into a Jumar that has not locked back onto the rope, going as fast as possible, and I was on the small ledge where Don was looking up at the 10th and last pitch.

Since the sun had set and night was rushing up the Valley walls, I was quite willing, even eager, to bivouac on that small ledge. But then Don said we were out of water (he had substituted the bottle of “Mountain Red” for one quart of water), I agreed we should try for the summit even though it was obvious we would complete it in the pitch black, moonless night. When Don asked me if I felt up to the lead, I alibied, "Sure, but you know how slow I nail in the dark!"

Without another word Don started to lead that pitch after cautioning me to be careful of removing the corner carabiner, since I would pendulum and might not be able to retrieve the pin. Darkness obliterated him after five pins and shortly after he called down, "You're tied off," I hollered for his flashlight and down it came on the hand line.

With the flashlight clenched in my teeth so tightly I expected the plastic case to shatter, I unclipped the rope from the corner carabiner and swung out into the black abyss. I missed grabbing the carabiner and sling when I swung back, but four tries later I made it, braced my feet against the wall, and struck one blow to remove the pin when the flashlight went out, ray arms were tiring fast t so I clipped the rope back in the sling/carabiner, took one double rope wrap around my waist to hold me, and contemplated this ridiculous development, Finally, to Hell with the pin, I’ll cut the sling and save the carabiner, so out comes my very sharp knife and my fist plays braille along the rope. This is the rope- ¬this is the sling and this is my fatiguing fist. OK to cut the sling, try not to slice the fist, but NEVER cut the rope. The knife cut the sling and I was catapulted out from the wall. I started Jumaring before I quit swinging. Up on Jumars bang on pin unclip reclip and use braille to pound out the pins. I left six pins and three carabiners behind in the dark until the flashlight came back on so that light was available to finish cleaning the pitch and to set up the bivouac just below the summit.

Lovely pitch next morning. Clear and cold. We dashed up the 3rd class summit then made two short rappels, followed by ledge scrambling that finally led to the base of the wall. We took a last look at the route, picked up our debris, and charged off for a gallon of orange juice, steak and eggs, and friends.


Ken McNutt died of cancer back in 1995. He was in his early seventies. We all respected the physical strength and mental acuity housed in the well-structured body of a man who was much older than any of us. He was an aerospace engineer, a mountaineer, a rockclimber, a mountain guide, and a superb bicyclist. He was a member of the Southern California Rockclimbing Section of the Sierra Club back in the sixties. This was his first and only Yosemite wall climb.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 3, 2008 - 03:17am PT
The funniest thing about BHOS Dome is that your report of the climb was published in a note in the American Alpine Journal (1971), edited of course by H. Adams Carter. Carter was an outstanding geographer, but apparently rather conservative when it came to names of features. I wonder if he knew what "BHOS" stood for, or if it's one that snuck by him, to the chuckles of those in the know?
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:19am PT
The Original Vulgarian
John Hansen

By Don Lauria

I met John Hansen in the fall of 1961. We were both working as engineers at North American Aviation in El Segundo, California. I had just returned from vacation and my first excursion to the summit of a Sierra peak. The traditional routine was to pass around any photos from one’s trip for all to see. One of my colleagues, upon returning my box of slides, mentioned he knew a guy in the Computer Department who was an avid mountaineer and asked if he could show the slides to him. I said okay and a little later he returned with John Hansen.

Hansen was not too tall, maybe 5’ 9”, but very wide, very fit, built like an ape. He had a New York accent, a cauliflower ear, a mischievous laugh, and a great gift of gab. He immediately needed to know of my entire personal mountaineering history (which at that moment involved a single non-technical Sierra peak). He asked if I was interested in learning to climb. I asked if he meant with ropes and stuff. He answered that, of course, ropes, pitons, ice axes, crampons - all that stuff! I replied that he must be kidding – I was definitely not interested. He insisted I go with him to Stoney Point and do some bouldering. Bouldering? I politely said no. He insisted. I said no again. He questioned my sense of adventure and suggested the coming weekend would be ideal for my introduction to rock climbing. For more than 15 minutes he parried my refusals. His persistence won out. That weekend would change my life.

I drove 35 miles to the San Fernando Valley where John lived with his wife and infant son and arrived at 7:00 AM, as agreed, to find him still in bed. He came to the door naked. “Oh man, sorry. I overslept. Come on in. I’ll be ready in a minute.” He returned to the bedroom. I could hear an infant crying and his wife’s complaining. He had obviously forgotten to tell her of his plans. He immerged from the bedroom wearing a beige wool sweater, brown corduroy knickers, mountain boots, and a navy blue beret. “Come on, let’s get something to eat.”

We stopped at an IHOP for pancakes. John’s beret and knickers got a few looks as we entered, but I was so absorbed in interesting and enthusiastic conversation about rock climbing, I soon forgot the stares.

I spent the entire Saturday climbing at Stoney in a pair of John’s mountain boots two sizes too small for me. He took me around the entire area, climbing everything in sight. By the end of the day I could barely lift my arms. I was exhausted - but was I stoked!

That evening at John’s apartment, he found a “not-so-dear-John” note from his wife – she had packed up and left with child. Seemingly unperturbed, John filled me with Gerwurztraminer and tales from his Vulgarian Shawangunks days. Well into the evening he talked about mountaineering – famous European and American climbers and climbing history. He pulled six mountaineering books off his shelf and insisted I take them home and read them. By the time I got home I was already planning my next weekend at Stoney Point.

I climbed four more times with John at Stoney Point, and then, on New Year’s Day 1962, he took me out to the Devil’s Backbone on Mt. San Antonio with my brand-new boots, brand-new ice axe, and brand-new crampons. He tied me into a 9mm rope and told me to take a running leap off the ridge down the steep north face to practice a self-arrest. My first attempt ended abruptly at the end of the rope. I had not only failed to slow my descent, I had forgotten to put on my brand-new leather gloves which left all the knuckles on both my hands bereft of skin. My second descent, with gloves, was successful and I figured that I had mastered the art – no need to do that again. My life as a mountaineer had begun.

John was a gregarious sort and he introduced me to many well known climbers including Yvon Chouinard, Bob Kamps, and several of his Vulgarian buddies like Jim McCarthy and Art Gran.

One November evening in 1961, we visited Chouinard in his little room in back of his parent’s home in Burbank. It was Yvon’s 23rd birthday. The evening could have been a bit more cheerful, but Yvon was due to report for his pre-induction physical the next morning and was not happy about it. However, Yvon had a plan. He heard that a sufficient amount of soy sauce consumed prior to a physical exam could raise one’s blood pressure to 4F levels. So John and I went out and bought a six pack of eight-ounce bottles of soy sauce and returned to watch Chouinard down as many as he could stand. The birthday party ended and later that week a very sick Yvon was inducted into the U.S. Army. The experiment had failed and Yvon ended up in Korea for two years. Yvon mentions this happening in his new book Let My People Go Surfing.

John and I climbed together just a few more times at Tahquitz Rock and in Yosemite through 1964 and then saw each other on mostly social occasions, some of which were memorable - and somewhat Vulgarian. Like the night he and Dave Huntsman went out in Dave’s VW to try out John’s new small caliber pistol. After attempting to shoot out a few street lights, John accidentally fired a round into his calf and refused to go to the emergency hospital fearing the required police report. Later, Dave forced him to seek treatment. Then there was the night at a small gathering in Dave’s home. John was challenged to an arm wrestling contest with a complete stranger at the kitchen table. After many seated minutes of stress and strain without an apparent winner, the two adversaries, still locked in combat, rose to their feet and fell across the kitchen table breaking the table’s legs and careened into the matching chairs doing irreparable damage to them also. It took three of us to pry them apart and three years for Mary Huntsman to forgive him.

It was in the early 70s that John’s profession became more important than his passion and after his second marriage to an assistant district attorney, he quit engineering and the sciences to become lawyer himself. A few years of individual practice tending to needy clientele and he realized he could not afford the profession. He quit law and returned to science. We remained distant friends for the next 41 years until his death in 2005.

Though not an exceptional climber, John was an exceptional person. He was an engineering physics graduate from Columbia University, a champion collegiate Greco-Roman wrestler, and a fierce liberal - politically and socially. He had the strength of an ox and intelligence bordering on genius. He could overhaul automobile engines as casually as he discussed celestial mechanics. He was conversant in the calculus of variations, a connoisseur of fine wines, and generous to a fault.

I’m relating this to you because, although few people have heard the name John (Jack) Hansen in connection with climbing or mountaineering, after all these years, I discovered something about John that he never shared with me – something that should be known. Something that should be part of climbing history.

Most of us that climb, or have climbed, have heard of the “Vulgarians” – the outrageous Shawangunk climbing cabal of the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a little history from the website - an excerpt from a conversation in August of 2004 with Dick Williams, one of the early Vulgarians and one of the many reputable climbers to come out of the Gunks:

Dick Williams - So, that particular morning we were all at the base of Never Never Land and [Jim] McCarthy is trying to do the direct finish. So anyway he’s up there - I don’t think I’d ever belayed anybody before - it was my first time, so I’d been watching some people belay and they’d belay over the shoulder with the rope under your armpit, like this, you know.

Interviewer - Wow.

Dick Williams - And Jim’s about to do this final bit and he looks down and he sees how I’m belaying. And he says, “You don’t belay someone my weight like that.” I said, “Ok.” and just dropped the rope. “If you don’t like it, get somebody else to do it.” Everyone goes racing to the rope. Jack Hansen gets a hold of the rope and puts him on belay. Jack Hansen was the guy who coined the phrase, “the Vulgarians” - he gave us that name.

Interviewer- He puts him on hip belay, right?

Dick Williams - Body belay, yeah. So Jim goes up, sure enough he falls and that big tree that’s there now was just a little sapling and the rope was behind it and it really broke the thing. John didn’t let any rope go through his hand - he probably [held] about a 30-footer.

So now you know what it took me 41 years to find out. Not only was Hansen a Vulgarian, John Hansen was the “original” Vulgarian.

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:20am PT
Rob Knobs

I was at the Stoney Point gathering on March 10th, 2005 and was nudged by TM into saying a few words about Bob Kamps. I mentioned that I had met him when I began climbing in 1961. He was pointed out to me by the three high school seniors that had become my climbing buddies (Dennis Hennek, Ken Boche, and Russ McLean). They referred to him as “that old guy”. I also referred to him that way until, years later, he mentioned his age to me and I found that he was only one year my senior.

I bouldered with Bob throughout the 60s and early 70s at Stoney and spent one summer in the Needles of South Dakota with him, Bonnie, Mark & Beverly Powell, and Dave Rearick. Bob, Mark, Dave, and I did a first ascent of the Phallus, where I – being the least experienced - was the last man up and – being the least experienced - was chosen to be the backup to a questionable rappel bolt … and thus – being the least experienced – was the last man down sans backup (the old “if it holds the three of us, it’ll hold you” story).

More memorable that summer of ’65 in the Needles was Bob’s excitement about our “5 pinnacle day”. The weather had been intermittently wet and Bob had problems getting anyone to spend long days out on the rocks. Late one day in August we scurried back to camp with Bob waving and exclaiming to Bonnie, “We did 5 pinnacles today … 5 pinnacles. Do you believe it? A five pinnacle day!” Only later that evening around the campfire with friends and a few bottles of wine did the excitement wane.

The only other time I experienced a really excited Bob Kamps was in 1966 when we did the 6th ascent of the South Face of the Column in Yosemite. We were attempting the 5th and first “clean” ascent unaware that we had been preceded a few days prior. I was belaying Bob across a short aid traverse when he noticed that I had momentarily removed my brake hand from the rope. These were the days of body belays - before belaying devices. Excitedly and with obvious anger he berated me for my negligence. The excitement subsided, but the anger lingered as I endured a six pitch lecture on the seriousness of my transgression.

Upon reaching the summit, Bob immediately began collecting wood for a fire. “Hey, Bob, I can get down this thing in my sleep – let’s go.” “No way! We’re bivouacking” was his very adamant reply. I learned two lessons in safe climbing that day.

Rob Knobs you will be missed.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 3, 2008 - 03:20am PT
Don: As you and I are still up, a suggestion. Each of your wonderful essays could well form a thread of its own, with its own title, and result in much education, entertainment, and discussion. Plus we can always do with more climbing threads, although for the next few days that may be a challenge - election, eh? It may be worth separating them, also together it's quite a large quantity.

Anders (aka the slide tray changer)
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:21am PT
Robinson I'm still working out the kinks in Norman Clyde's Favorite Story. Probably post it tomorrow along with another Sierra tale.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 3, 2008 - 03:22am PT
They were right. I love those stories and your writing style. Welcome to the Taco.
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:23am PT
Anders I'm new at this. I need all the help I can get
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 3, 2008 - 03:28am PT
Mighty Hiker I was on the editorial board of the AAJ back then.
H.Adams Carter was my boss, but I edited all the Yosemite climbs.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 3, 2008 - 03:33am PT
Well, there are lots of ways to write, and to organize things, and of course no rules here apart from what the format, and computers, impose on us. (The system does edit nastier words.) Story-telling is a fine art, not a science.

People often start a trip report (TR - not a 'top rope') with a title having some relation to the subject at hand, and a first post stating the thesis, if not everything they want to say. Depending on how much needs to be covered. Each with its own title ('thread'), as seen on the front page. The thread then goes where the denizens will. Well written TRs, especially for historical subjects, and particularly with photos, are much appreciated. They may generate less actual discussion (posts), because there may not be a lot to debate - it is what it is.

In this case, no one would mind at all if over the next while you started several threads on various subjects, or perhaps a few threads, each with a theme and sub-subjects. Get it started, see how it goes, then add refreshers. It spreads it out a bit,too, and you can learn and adjust as you go.

If you need information on posting photos, let me know - there are some fairly standard instructions which seem to work for most.

Each of the things you've posted could well have a thread of its own, or perhaps a few might plausibly be combined into one thread, with additions over time.

Looking forward to more!

Trad climber
Durango, CO
Nov 3, 2008 - 03:43am PT
Great stuff! Thanks for the stories.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 3, 2008 - 04:09am PT
I'm part of a generation of young California climbers that read of your exploits in Chris Jone's infamous history book and other pubs. It's great to have you here. As I learned to climb in the Seventies, I would run into guys that I read about in books. Often I didn't realize it at the time. My first trip to the Valley to climb was by myself, probably when I was only 16 or 17. I sported Pivetta Spiders and knickers and was strolling around the Camp 4 boulders looking the noob. Two Old guys, who obviously felt sorry for me decided to show me around. They bouldered with me for about an hour and then just kinda drifted off with some others. I later found out it was TM and Bob Kamps years later when I actually formally met TM. He didn't remember my initial encounter, he was too used to noobs I guess. I'll never forget.

Anders is good with this stuff, I've learned a lot from him. Spreading out the topics is a good idea. One can savor, enjoy and absorb it slower.

Trad climber
El Frickin' Paso
Nov 3, 2008 - 05:10am PT
Welcome to the machine, er, the event horizon, uh, I mean supertopo.


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Nov 3, 2008 - 05:28am PT
Welcome to the 'lectric picture radio!!
Those are quite the tales! I love it.
You'll enjoy hanging around the campfire here, and there are of course many people you know and fans of your history lurking about as well.

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Nov 3, 2008 - 08:40am PT
Awesome stuff! Thanks for posting!
Love to see more!
james Colborn

Trad climber
Truckee, Ca
Nov 3, 2008 - 10:36am PT
Unfortunately I have to head out to work, I read only the first story, but psyched to read the rest. Thanks for the stories! James
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