Tis-Sa-Ack

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Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Original Post - May 12, 2009 - 02:08am PT
I've always thought that this was a very fine piece of writing, by Royal Robbins. The first part is about an attempt in autumn 1968, by Robbins, Chuck Pratt, and Dennis Hennek. The second about the first ascent, in autumn 1969, by Robbins and Don Peterson. It seems to have been one of the harder long routes in the Valley at the time, and was perhaps Robbins' second-last major first ascent there.

The account is unusual in that it was entirely written by Robbins, but is presented as though it was jointly written by all those involved. We're given the purported thoughts of Robbins, Pratt, Hennek, and Peterson, as Robbins says what he thinks each of them was thinking, not just what they actually did and said. I've talked with several climbers who've read it, and who found it hard to believe it was all written by just Robbins. It's a technique more commonly found in fiction, in effect trying to imagine what others were thinking, and saying it.

There's a nice quote in the middle, attributed to Hennek, at the scene of their second bivouac, a hanging one, where Robbins says "I got in a good solid bolt and we settled down for the night." 'Hennek' then says "Royal says settled down, but he didn't get settled very fast. He was screwing around and cursing in the blackness, and then I heard this rip. He had put too much weight in one end of his hammock, and he ought to know better having designed the mothers, and then there was this explosion of screeching and shouting and terrible foul language that would have done credit even to Steve Roper. I thought it was funny. It went on and on. Fulminations in the darkness. I was amazed that he so completely lost control because he always seemed like such an iceberg."

It's quite a story, and perhaps there's a back story (or three) too.
bhilden

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 12, 2009 - 02:24am PT
Robbins was a master at raising the game to the next level. He did that both on the rock and in his writings. His article Tis-Sa-Ack is an all-time classic.

Bruce

ps - I have Don Peterson's original Patagonia pile jacket.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
May 12, 2009 - 03:04am PT
Yo Dennis, this is a perfect time to enlighten us about that attempt.

cheers

Guido
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 12, 2009 - 06:51am PT
When I first read the article I thought it was brilliant, and far more interesting to read than the AAJ article about the same route that Robbins also wrote.

I heard second-hand that Don Peterson thought the article was unfair to him, when Royal wrote in Don's voice.

So yeah, if Dennis or anyone else can add backstory now, that's one thing the Taco is great for.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 12, 2009 - 11:57am PT
Where's the goods Anders?!?

You certainly have no plausible deniability in the scanner department. LOL

Ascent 1970 if I recall correctly.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 12, 2009 - 12:19pm PT

Well here is an image of Don taken about five months after Royal and he did their impressive November 1969 FA of Tis-sa-ack. You are free to draw your own conclusions from the image. It is all there.... Over time I realized that Don had not spent much time with people who really would take a very very close look at him.

Don was hanging out in the Valley again that next Spring (1970), trying to make plans, get up some more big walls. His hands and feet had recovered. He and I eventually got organized to do the FA of the Heart Route (or Heart Direct) but fortunately Chuck Kroger and Scott Davis jumped on it rather than having to face a redoubtable Bridwell and Schmitz who were protecting their project of a Dawn Wall start. Jim and Kim had a fixed line established up a pitch. So Don and I never got on “our” route, Jim and Kim never got anywhere with the Dawn Wall line, and Chuck and Scott went down in history as the very cool energized, outsider pair that they were about a week later.

I have read the Tis-sa-ack article perhaps four times over the years and of course I was very very close to RR back then and got fairly close to Don as well. When you think about it I was in a remarkable position.

Royal makes it clear in his unique article that being with him isn’t all that easy and that he was kind of slow. After all, at this point he was just about forty years old, thinking about taking it a little easier after one or two more big achievements. The man had been going non-stop for almost twenty years. And it did not help matters that it was November and damned cold up there. I guess it was one or two years later that RR took one last big stab at his career and attempted to do the FA of Tangerine Trip (solo even). But he found part way up that he was getting bored and uninterested, especially as a solo, and that the risk was getting banal. He was up about a third of the way, beyond the diagonaling pitch. You see it would have been the first time anyone had done a new El Cap route by soloing and his efforts were quite admirable though he did retreat. He was the first to do the famous “nut throw” at the bottom. Jimmy Dunn had not appeared yet to grab that coveted position in history with his Cosmos route in 1972..

But being around Don was not easy either. In fact you hung out with him kind of at your own risk, just as the article depicts and the photo may suggest to you. Anyway, RR’s story is quite a unique piece of writing. He was proud of it too, by the way--- his writing had become incredibly interesting to him, engaging him all night long sometimes. This new article was ever so much more engaging and less turgid than all his prior efforts. And I was glad for him; after all my opinion of his earlier writing was not great. And it encouraged others to let go of the “travel writing” and lame reporting they also had been doing with their own climbing articles and try to actually address the nitty gritty human issues between partners on a horrendous new route----what the story REALLY is and why a particular ascent is different from another.

And finally, both RR and Don appeared to me to have been raised by wolves, actually. Almost feral in their behavior towards others sometimes and both deeply obsessed with whatever climbing had come to mean to each. So the RR article is even more amazing than had it been concerned with more ordinary characters having a humbling experience on endless steep granite for days in cold weather---- the story would have had very little to it.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 12, 2009 - 01:03pm PT
Thanks for sharing your observations and perspective on these guys, Peter!
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
May 12, 2009 - 01:15pm PT
Some years back I wrote a story about a climb I tried with Don Peterson, on which we both
nearly died. It happened in 1969 -- eight months before Tis-Sa-Ack, and when I was quite
new at the game.

In its own way, that story adds to the Peterson portrait as well.

http://pubpages.unh.edu/~lch/climb_06.htm
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
May 12, 2009 - 01:23pm PT
Good story, Larry. I can relate to the risk/communication situation. And I've dodged some pretty small ice pieces in the general vicinity.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Reply - May 12, 2009 - 02:13pm PT
Thanks, everyone. Hopefully others will chime in also.

I'm reluctant to post more than excerpts, having regard to copyright and such. In this case, the holder(s) - the writer and possibly the publisher - are identifiable and may care.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
May 12, 2009 - 02:21pm PT
God what a great parable, Larry/Chiloe. Really---- and you do address it that way too. Excellent. The "dumber by the dozen" moral to the story is truly a life lesson and holds true for motorcycle riding, skiing, you name it....thanks! The perils of groupthink.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 12, 2009 - 11:57pm PT
As I have said before, I am more than happy to pull any post promptly if any of the contributors object. Otherwise, sharing them is the greater good.







Now that the table is set, perhaps our own Bldrjac (Jack Roberts) can chime in on his second ascent with Charlie Porter! They had a camera along, too.
WBraun

climber
May 13, 2009 - 12:06am PT
So me and pollack hiked to the top of Ts-Sa-Ack to meet Porter and Jack.

Jack came up first and made belay, then we ate food while Charlie was still jugging. Then we started to haul their bags.

Big refrigerator flake comes out from under where Jack is eating what's left of Charlies bivy food.

Charlie looks fate in the eye. Which way to dive?

At last moment refrigerator veers left and Charlie does not die.

Charlie arrives finally at the very top and Jack runs to Valley while the rest of us hang out and talk sh'it for a couple of more hours before heading back to?

Yes you guessed it, not hard to guess .....
bhilden

Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 13, 2009 - 12:54am PT
I had always heard that Coloradoan Michael Tietzi and partner (Mead Hargis?) made the second ascent. Michael was a friend of Don Peterson who also lived in Boulder. Anybody have some info on this?

Bruce
WBraun

climber
May 13, 2009 - 01:02am PT
Mead never did Tissack as I recall.

Porter and Roberts second ascent.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
May 13, 2009 - 09:50am PT
1972 if I recall correctly. Werner- do you remember any other attempts prior to Jack and Charlie's repeat?
WBraun

climber
May 13, 2009 - 10:09am PT
No

After Charlie and Jacks second ascent it was Mike Bridenbach (sp?) and Mark Degnan (son of original Yosemite Degnans).

They had a horrible time up there taking huge falls in bad weather and Mike suffering a piton sliver to the eyeball.

Fourth ascent can't remember, Mark Chapman?

Kauk and me did the 5th with Yabo and Dale below us on the 6th ascent.
climber bob

Social climber
maine
May 13, 2009 - 10:47am PT
has anyone try'd freeing the zebra?
JakeW

Big Wall climber
CA
May 13, 2009 - 11:37am PT
I heard Herson may have freed the Zebra, and Leary did for sure. My buddy Sean Krilitich and I did this thing in a push around 2000. We'd never nailed much and were really intimidated. We wore tennies only and hauled a big sack but no bivi gear. Cobra cans and soiled undies sailed past us. Sean took a big whip off some expando thing and was caught by a tin foil hanger. We passed Jeff the Midge and crew, all boozed up, and had to wait for hours before we could jug there line and get past them. The Midge cut their bags loose with a knife on a very traversy section. Dust filled whirlwinds swirled around us below the visor and we topped out in about 30ish hours, and proceeded to hallucinate for quite a while...is basket dome a petrified whale? Sean kept getting off trail in the bushes and when I'd ask him what he was doing he said he was following me...which was funny since I was following him.

We went back the next year and did it in 14 hours with free climbing shoes, no packs, and the three pitons we'd placed the first time. Unfortunately the pitch we hadn't done was the crux and Sean spent several hours "sport aiding" without the right pins. He whipped past me a few times while I lounged on a ledge, but finally made it through with a lot of hooking and hammering on camhooks.

Tissack is a route that makes climbing big walls seem very stupid. The first time up an expando flake crushed down on my red camalot and I couldn't get it out even by jumping up and down on another cam next to it. The next time it fell out and I put it back on the rack. Bobby J later dropped the same cam 600 feet off Bulging Puke. It landed by our packs and once again, back on the rack...I think it might be fixed above the glowering spot on the Nose now...but maybe that's my other red, I'll have to check.
Brunosafari

Boulder climber
OR
May 13, 2009 - 12:18pm PT
"is Basketdome a petrified whale?"

Or maybe Half Dome is Moby Dick? Trying to sort out the identies of Ahab, Ishmael, and Queequib here...
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