The First Ascent ot 'Hoodwink'


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Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 10, 2005 - 05:27pm PT
The pictures of ‘Hoodwink’ and Bruce’s comment about Jim bolting the last pitch, then freeing it, got me to considering disclosing the complete account of the first ascent of ‘Hoodwink.’

I guided in Tuolumne in the summer and didn't have a lot of time to work on my own ascents—I was very lazy, and worked hard at honing my lazy skills which always came first. Also, I was not very interested in the bolt lines up blank faces—which is what younger guys like Vern Clevenger enjoyed doing when there were not natural features to climb. I was always looking for features to climb and lines that had a 'line' to them. I decided that crossing the roof--the hood--at that wide point would make a good line if it went free. And as a relatively easy pull-over for the Meadows, the ‘wink’ was thrown in.

I don't remember who I took with me the first time I tried ‘Hoodwink’—embarrassing: maybe someone in ST land knows. Anyway, I climbed up the lower corner, to make as straight a line as possible, instead of climbing the easy ramps to the left. The climbing was okay, and the little traverse at the top of the 2nd pitch--the slab--made it interesting. Under the main roof, I set the belay, and brought the second up. I pounded in a 5/8 angle at the lip, leaving enough room for me to get my fingers into the crack and leaned out, fully extended. I reached up onto the small ledge above the roof and, on the first try, my fingers found the small crack at the back of the ledge. This is going to be too easy, I thought. I cranked over the roof and mantled onto the ledge. Ed’s pictures tell this story perfectly. Looking at those pictures I can pretty much remember the whole sequence.

I slotted a stopper in the crack at the back of the ledge, a #6 with a yellow sling, I think. I tried to get something into the small corner above. There wasn't a crack, but I managed to pound a soft aluminum nut into a groove, like a mashie. The nut was a very old style which had the sling running through a single horizontal hole. I think those nuts were British, maybe Clogs. Anyway it was not a good placement for free climbing. I climbed up about 6-8 feet above the ledge a couple of times, hoping to work out a secure set of moves. Up and down, up and down, but the slab is really long above the roof and offered no protection for the rest of the pitch. Although the angle kicks back, it was uncertain; the slabs below the roof were very certain and started to look like a mortician’s table.

I down climbed to the ledge, grabbed the #6 stopper at the back of the ledge and swung back to the belay, with a plan to return with a bolt kit. Oddly enough, I didn't carry a bolt kit on climbs unless I knew for sure that we would need them.

Sometime later, Bridwell showed up in Tuolumne. He wasn't there much in the summer. I asked him if he wanted to come with me to finish the route. He said yes, but told me that it was a 'recreation' day. He was willing to belay me but was not willing to lead. That was okay with me.

At the top of the second pitch, I watched Jim work his way up the corner towards the belay. The crux of the pitch is a steep slab under a roof--maybe 10-15 feet of traversing--on micro edges. (Maybe today, with modern shoe, it is an easy smear job.)

Jim unclipped from the last protection, clean it, puts his foot out onto the slab for balance, reached for something to hang on to, found nothing and stood up.

He did it again, concentrating on his hands, fiddling with dinky little fingernail underclings and variations in the color of the rock to hang onto. He moved left again.

"What are you standing on, Jim?"

"Uhhh, I don't know, something."

"Are you stoned, man?"

"Uhhh, yeah."

"You are standing on nothing. You are stoned, and you are hanging on to and standing on nothing," I said with a combination of false exasperation and real wonder.

"Uhhh, yeah. There is nothing there to stand on." Jim was always matter-of-fact.

So much for ‘recreation.’

We laughed about it when he got to the belay.

There was always a bit of tension about Jim's face climbing ability. He was sensitive about it. He always climbed better than me in every category, but there were guys from outside the Valley, climbers such as Steve Wunsch, who were much better face climbers. Jim would point to some face moves he had done as evidence of his skill, but we all pretty much accepted that Jim was a master of crack climbs, new routes, big walls, and whole ‘rock star’ thing, and just okay at face.

Under the roof, Jim asked if he could lead. Frankly, he had probably figured out that the route was going to be a good, and he no doubt figured that if I had done the roof, he could do it stoned.

So he pulled over the roof and clipped into the protection I had left. But as big as that ledge is above the roof, it is still a little spooky being above that slab. Jim was sounding a little unsure.

The wind was blowing and it was hard to hear one another, but it did not sound like it was going well. Jim placed a bolt just above the ledge and blew the placement. As he told me at the top, the combination of being stoned and the fear of hitting the slab below the roof scared the sh#t out of him and he sort of panicked. He stood in a sling to place another bolt; there was a third. Anyway, as soon as he had the third bolt in and started to calm down (who doesn’t know the calming effects of a bolt ladder, even with blown placements), he looked around and realized that it would go free.

Once he settled down and reconsidered, he stopped drilling and did the right thing. He backed down and climbed the pitch free.

We both would have rather that we hadn’t done it the way we did. At the time it must not have bothered me too much, because I figured I would go back, chop the bolts, and put them in from stances. (There is a good foot hold to the left, about midway between the second and third bolts, if my memory serves me right.) But I never did.

Tom Higgins busted our chops about this in his several essays on the Tuolumne ethics. Tom probably never knew the circumstances, not that it matters. The first time I read Tom's essay was in the proofs of the Reid & Falkenstein guide. Tom had been making holier-than-thou statements for a while, and it rubbed people the wrong way, even climbers who agreed with him. Tom is a great guy, a very careful climber and very good, but most of us didn't feel like we could just tell everyone else in the world how to climb. And, although he was right in my mind to criticize Jim and me for ‘Hoodwink’, there were other aspects of his general criticisms that were just part of ‘working’ a route, a style that became the norm for hard free ascents. George Meyers, the publisher, had asked me to review the new guide for Summit, and I took Higgins to task for his tone. I also noted that the 'Hoodwink' bolt ladder was 'stupid and regrettable.'

It is some consolation for me that it was a ‘recreation’ day since Jim and I had done climbs in great style before. Maybe that doesn’t matter.

Fortunately, as Bruce points out, most folks don’t know or think about it. I hope no one feels cheated by our actions and just enjoys the climb.

All the best, Roger

Aug 10, 2005 - 05:50pm PT
Hey Roger

I’ve done that Hoodwink and thought it was a great route. I could care less how you guys did it or for that matter. I remember you guys going up there.

Great story on the FA and brings back some other memories that can’t be written here. :-)

Aug 10, 2005 - 06:01pm PT
Thanks for the story. I had run into Jim (like everyone does eventually) a few years back, and he kindly shared a bottle with me and my partner and told us his version (pretty much as you wrote). I remember however that he said he never felt that any of the bolts were solid (probably the smoke!), so he kept adding them.

It is a great route. Thanks.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 10, 2005 - 06:27pm PT
Hey, come Warner, surely you can intertain us with some litte tid-bit.


Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Aug 10, 2005 - 08:34pm PT
A friend, Pimp4crimps, recently did Hoodwink. He must have gone on for an hour about how good it was. With those pics, I'm half tempted to give it a go.

Good psyche.

Nate D

Trad climber
San Francisco
Aug 10, 2005 - 09:03pm PT
Thanks for sharing this Roger. I wish guidebooks could have this kind of history and detail for every route - or at least the ones that have interesting stories to tell (which maybe isn't that many). But then again, the guide might weigh ten pounds! And I'm sure some would argue that it limits the adventure for future generations. With Ed's pictures and all, I've now climbed the route vicariously, so no sense doing it for real, knowing all the moves...

Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Aug 10, 2005 - 10:00pm PT
Dude, Nate D, then I've flashed some killer good routes! heheheh

Now doubt, it would be a superb guidebook that provides history, stories and anecdotes about FAs, or the generation that climbed there. In electronic format that would work well, but print, ugh, cost prohibitive in some sense.


NOT Fresno
Aug 11, 2005 - 12:22am PT
Roger, you have an amazing memory. I can't remember the name of the route I did Monday, much less pro.

Hoodwink. Great name for a route.

can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Aug 11, 2005 - 09:08am PT
Roger, thanks for the great story. I remember reading one of Higgin's articles where he used Hoodwink as an example of sketchy ethics, but now that I read your account of the FA I think Higgins was blowing smoke....just not the sort the Bird did before you two got the FA. Good memory dude.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 11, 2005 - 11:26am PT
Amazing that recounting the first ascent story of Hoodwink would awaken the ancient arguments of "ethics" and "morality", and Higgins' criticisms of a three bolt ladder.

I liked Roger's story because it is so "interior", it describes the state of the climbers putting up this particular route; a very good route. I wouldn't question Roger's and Jim's climbing ethics, one might question the "morality" (where I have made the distinction in the past between "ethics" which is a system and "morality" which is the adherence to that system)... I would assume that almost every climber from that period knows of the moral lapses which could occur when "recreating" with psycho-active substances... Roger didn't offer any excuses, and Jim sent the pitch free after realizing that things weren't quite what his recreating mind was telling him.

It's a great story which describes putting up a new route on a very nice line with a spectacular crux. Anyone who climbs the pitch next to the bolt ladder will understand why it is there; a new appreciation for the climb is acquired through the account described.

I think that elevating this "incident" as an example of "bad ethics" misses the point that it is really just "immoral" at worst... a funny distinction as I write it. What really happens on first ascents is a far cry from the carefully planned out "battle plan" of a Clausewiczian mentality... even Clausewicz said "the first casuality of battle is the plan", most climbers who FA just don't bother that much with planning... "let's just go up and see...", which you have to do at some point, that is, stop planning and start doing. Ethics be damned.

Aug 11, 2005 - 11:36am PT
Well said Ed.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 12:50pm PT
Ed, those are nice words and sentiments. But I am not sure that I agree with the idea that 'the first thing to go is the plan' when it comes to climbing ethics.

When I think about the ethical lapses I am aware of, they came about not from forethought but the mad mental scramble to avoid some bad consequences or potential failure. If life and limb are at risk, I think that we all accept relaxed standards. But when it is only a matter of bagging the first ascent or bagging the first free ascent, then there are lots of examples of tough climbers sticking to their standards and sucking it up or retreating. I don't believe that it is necessary for everyone to be perfect all of the time--nothing would get done--but I do think that whatever the standard is it needs to be applied at a time when it is most inconvenient. It is the measure of the person--'grace under fire.'

I have two more posts that tease out the Higgins-Breedlove debate, so to speak.

Best, Roger

PS: I think that my memory of Hoodwink is indicative of my intense state while doing a first ascent. I can remember first ascents much more clearly than anything else. Normal, I think.

PSS: Now someone remind me, who is 'Yo?'
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 12:53pm PT
In defense of Tom, his basic point is that the newer styles--plural--were in part an affront to some 60's climbers. But it wasn’t black and white. The problem that I had with Tom’s diatribes was that he lumped everything new into the same category where others of us saw shades of gray. Tom’s point of view sounded a lot like he was imposing his personal ethics and style on everyone else—the ‘holier than thou’ tone--rather than trying to lay out a way to think about changing ethics.

Here is part of what I wrote in my review of the new Tuolumne guide published in 1983. My review was published in Summit in March-April, 1984. George, the publisher of Chockstone Press, asked me to do it. (BTW, does any one know how to contact Meyers?) I was not climbing then. I wore suits, had two small daughters and lived in Montreal, Quebec.

“…A new and, I think, welcome element to the guide is the inclusion of the styles of the first ascent teams. This information will likely have the effect of a catalyst in creating a style for the area with which most climbers will abide… (Reid and Falkenstein) also include a commentary by Tom Higgins which explicitly raises the issue of the appropriate style for the area. Higgins argues one point of view while the climbing community seems to implicitly argue another: of the 50 or so climbs listed in the first appendix as high quality, about 30% were originally climbed in a compromised style.

“Higgins’s commentary begins with a glowing history of the halcyon days up to about 1970 and then launches into a diatribe on the above-mentioned styles and relegates the climbing since 1973 to ‘a time of controversy.’ What is wrong-headed and annoying about his commentary is not his point, but, rather, his self-serving methodology of reducing stylistic and ethical considerations to a black and white decision process which only he and his mentors may define and to which all others must aspire. There are many ways first ascent teams can mar otherwise fine routes: silly lines defined only by the placement of protection bolts, poorly placed bolts which don’t withstand the elements, excessive runouts on moderate pitches turning naturally moderate routes into horror shows, practicing hard sections with a top rope before attempting the lead (presumably robbing more gifted climbers of their right to the first ascent), putting up bolt ladders when more forethought and patience would have allowed well-protected free climbing, and placing protection while on aid. Some of these elements of style have occurred in fleeting moments of bad judgment, others in calculated forethought: none of them must be defended to reject Higgins’s premise.

“Sorting elements of style between the acceptable and the unacceptable is a choice made by individual climbers. The sum of those individual choices creates a style for an area, with its necessarily gray area of contention.

“For everyone, at some point, the good old days are always better. Higgins wants us to believe that his good old days are better than the “…time of controversy.” He wants us to believe that the ten years of great free climbing (1962-72) under the aegis of Bob Kamps is the inviolable tradition to which all other climbers must aspire. He wants us to believe that he could have done all of those routes if he had relaxed his standards and resorted to the “appalling” styles of the ‘70’s.

“What should we believe? W can believe that the climbers of the ‘70’s had the same set of aspirations, was drawn by the same forces, and fought the same battles as any other climbing generation. We can believe that it is relatively easy to do stupid, regrettable things on first ascents—Hoodwink is a good example of this. And we can believer that one’s cherished notions can be easily trammeled by other climbers, contemporaries or novitiates, as they make, for better of for worse, their personal stylistic choices.

“As the opportunities for new routes continue to diminish, the questions of style will gain in importance to the climbing community. It is possible to accept or modify Higgins’s stylistic standards without buying his view of a world gone awry, or his implicit argument that only his efforts exhibit the qualities of a great climber; his is one of many voices to weigh.”

I went on to praise the guidebook.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 01:14pm PT
Obviously, I had issues with Tom’s diatribe. He also included me with the great unwashed, which I didn’t like. I had been in the forefront of all free, all clean ascents and didn’t think that I exhibited the traits of controversy. But I did and do think that style mattered.

Here is a summary of my views of style, at that time, with personal examples.

Backing off routes that would not go free was a badge of responsibility to the climbing community for free climbers in the early 70s--I have a few that I backed off of that were climbed later all free. I think lots of free climbers focused on doing first ascents did this. (Also, some of the most controversial ascents come from chipping holds. Sort of the antithesis of backing off.)

I resented the fact that Sorenson and Lewis nailed the two pitches above my ‘chicken shit’ traverse on the 8th pitch of ‘The Central Pillar of Frenzy’. Jim and I had tried that way, couldn’t do it free, and Dale Bard and I free climbed over to the Kor Beck rather than nail straight up. The nailing of the pitches was very disrespectful, in my opinion. What, they figured that Jim and I couldn’t nail? Nobody nailed new routes on Middle in the 1970s. The previous ones were Bircheff and Williams in 1969; before that it was Kamps and Powell in 1962. From 1969 until Sorenson and Lewis nailed the upper pitches of CPoF, two first all free ascents were made and seven all free first ascents were made. (Jim, John and Billy climbed these pitches all free the next year, in 1975.)

Placing bolts on rappel--sport climbing, in today’s terms--was not part of our game. We resented new climbers trampling on our hard fought battles on the use of bolts as part of Yosemite ethics. Tom sort of puts the ascent of 'Hoodwink' into this category--which on the face of it was, regrettably, correct, 'recreation' day effects notwithstanding.

Previewing a route on rappel was, in my opinion, a gray area. Robbins tells a story published this month in the letters section of one of the rags about previewing and Kamps. Royal mentioned to Bob that he was thinking about rappelling down a route to see if there was a stance in the middle of a face so that a bold could be placed. Kamps responded that it would be cheating. Robbins reported that he dropped the idea and felt embarrassed. That exchange--between Royal and Bob--is completely believable. It was the times and the ethics that we all aspired to. Think about it: Royal could have done what ever he wanted and no one would have know. Pure ethical restaint.

But what is the difference between scoping out a route from an adjoining route, maybe with a swing-over on rappel to have a look-see, versus rapping the new line? What if you reach out and touch a hold to see how it might feel? I scoped out the outside face of “Phantom Pinnacle’ in the Valley by swinging around from the rap off the regular route. I didn’t touch anything and could only see the middle of the route. Was that cheating? Tom wasn’t making any useable distinctions.

What about studying a new route from a hundred different angles in different light to see what was where—I bought a really good pair of Zeiss binoculars for exactly that purpose ($350.00 from the old Ansel Adams Studio in the Valley) I know that wasn’t considered cheating, maybe a little chicken sh#t, but not cheating. Coonyard had his tripod mounted scope in the meadows.

Yo-yo'ing a pitch was certainly not as good a style as flashing the route. But it turned out that it was the wave of the future. Vern Clevenger was a walking yo-yo. He was also pushing the standards to very high limits. I certainly had to come to grips with the style since Ray Jardine was practicing it with great success, and I had to decide how to report it to Mountain Magazine in the mid-70’s. I decided that it was a valid, if previously unaccepted, way to climb. Those routes are really hard.

Yo-yo’ing also raised the issue of pre-protection. Even if you pull your ropes—the standard good style thing to do in the 70s—should you down climb and pull your gear? How many times can you try it before it is good style to back off and let someone else make the first ascent? Ray’s answer was ‘as many as it takes.’ I spent lots of time trying ‘Crack-a-go-go’ in that vein, with lots of cleaning and then yo-yo’ing. I even worked on specific skills to be able to do the route free only to have Pete Livesey snatch it away when I was out the Valley guiding. Tom’s rules imply that the route should go to the guy who can flash it. I didn't buy that: I was pissed.

Some of the greatest climbs of all times violate Tom’s proscriptions. Lynn Hill’s ascent of the Nose is the classic example in my opinion. Although none of us saw that particular climb off in the future, lots of us could see that some of these style issues would lead to advances in free climbing.

Tom’s concerns were valid and his point of view was also valid as a personal point of view. But his absolutism and his wrapping an entire generation of climbers around his point of view was too self serving.

Having said that, I also think that Tom's several article on the matter of style, even if you don't agree with them, caused lots of climbers to think it through. Over the last 30 years or so, lots has changed in what is acceptable, but it seems to me that the style and ethical standards in Yosemite--even with the lapses--is very strong.

Now back to the climbing thing. The picturers that Ed took of 'sharpend' pulling over the roof are super. Where were you when you took them?

Best, Roger

Aug 11, 2005 - 01:50pm PT
Don't worry Roger, Tom was stuck in his "own personal world".
Scared Silly

Trad climber
Aug 11, 2005 - 01:58pm PT
Great story ... This is what climbing should be all about.

Given some of the followup comments I think this is appropriate:

"Ethics are a bit like an erection -
no matter how well intended they are prone to sudden deflation."

Dougal Haston

Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 02:04pm PT
Hey DMT, I can believe that. Part of the reason, I think, is that he laid into everyone who didn't live up to his standards. Even guys like Vern whom he was close to.

I don't have any idea what is considered good style now. Are there any sport routes in the Meadows? Are bolts placed only from natural stances? Does any one use aid? Pins? What about yo-yo'ing leads?

Just curious. Best, Roger

Hey Werner, aren't we all?

BTW, I heard that Tom has been slowly recovering from a terrible back injury. I wish him all the best.
Greg Barnes

Aug 11, 2005 - 02:34pm PT
I was really bored one day a few years ago and typed up the whole Higgins ethics piece from the '83 guide, so here it is (but I wasn't bored enough to type up the whole FA list with all the style comments):

From the 1983 edition of Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows by Don Reid and Chris Falkenstein, published by Chockstone Press.

A Climbing Commentary
by Thomas Higgins

Climbing in Tuolumne is much more than picking your way along the lines and symbols of route descriptions. Climbs here will vibrate within you for awhile. The very blue sky of Tuolumne quiets you, if you gaze into it from up high. The sparkle of crystals and the sheen of polished granite can haunt you, if you turn to find them. The water and meadows you pass fix your climbs in memory, so you may long recall them.

Climbing in Tuolumne will titillate not only your senses, but your mind. With some knowledge about who climbed here before, what they tried to create, and what were the rules of the game, you can speculate about the vision, motives, fears and skills of climbers. You can wonder how or why some routes were done earlier than others, or think about how some routes led, and will lead, to others. You can play detective, historian, anthropologist or judge. And best, you may be inspired or challenged to make your own contribution to the best traditions of Tuolumne climbing.

The Beginnings

At first, Tuolumne served as a pleasant diversion for climbers from Yosemite Valley. Warren Harding and Dick Leonard played some on Lembert Dome in the 1950's. Chuck Pratt and Wally Reed climbed a prominent crack system on the west face of Fairview Dome in 1958. They used lots of aid and didn't proclaim the route a superior one. Now, of course, the Regular Route on Fairview is well known as a wonderful free climb. In 1962, Jeff Foott, Jim Baldwin and Hope Morehouse climbed the Great White Book and told people it was great fun. But the prestigious action, the "serious climbing," was in Yosemite Valley where big walls and hard cracks focused everyone's attention. Driven crack man Frank Sacherer visited Tuolumne in 1963 to do West Crack (on Daff Dome) with Wally Reed. Frank liked the route but climbed few others in Tuolumne. And, his secret log of planned first and free ascents always listed only Valley routes.

Nevertheless, 1962 and 1963 brought stirrings of the great climbs and free climbing tradition to come. In these years, Bob Kamps and Mort Hempel virtually free climbed the Regular Route on Fairview. Mort used one pin for aid, but Bob free climbed past it. Kamps and Reed also free climbed the Inverted Staircase. The crux pitch, a three step arch, was hard 5.10. Suddenly it seemed that the little knobs on Tuolumne domes might provide incredible free climbing possibilities.

No sooner were the possibilities raised than discussion began of ends and means. If the little knobs and flakes could be climbed, how could and should the climbing be protected? Jeff Foott, Eric Beck, Bill Amborne, Bob Kamps and others had some experience with bolt placements on Glacier Point Apron in Yosemite Valley. It was possible to stop in some places and put in a bolt. But many of the domes in Tuolumne were smaller and like playthings compared to the oceans of rock in Yosemite. Would it be okay to come down on rappel here and there, place a bolt and create a fine, safe climb? Or create a short aid ladder to allow for free climbing attempts? Naive neophyte I was then, I put these questions to Frank Sacherer and Bob Kamps in 1963. Sacherer never answered. But by his look I knew that climbers might die doing such things if Frank caught them. Kamps answered. He said, "No."

Tom Gerughty was perhaps the first to climb and protect a large, crackless expanse of Tuolumne rock. He demonstrated that bolts could be placed while free climbing, but not without difficulty. In 1966, Tom began climbing the lovely crystal dikes on the northwest face of Pywiack Dome. But Tom had an aversion to bolts and had little experience placing in them. Once in Yosemite, Tom stepped on a bolt in the presence of Sacherer. Frank yanked the rope so hard Tom nearly fell off the wall. Perhaps Tom learned the lesson too well. He trembled up and up on the dikes of Pywiack, unable or unwilling to stop, the drill dangling uselessly from his side. Dave Meeks and Roger Evja, his partners, waited for the 200 foot, slab splashing fall. Somehow, it never came. Tom captured the aesthetic plum, The Dike Route, on Pywiack, as well as the respect of numerous climbers who imagine leading the last pitch with two less bolts, since added with Tom's permission.

The issues of how climbers could or should protect with bolts lay dormant in the late sixties. By and large, climbers sought out the major crack systems. When they did venture onto blank, open faces, climbers abided by the prevailing ethic - placing bolts from stances on lead, and leaving alone what could not be done this way. Examples of the better face climbs created during this period include Rawl Drive, Nerve Wrack Point and The Vision. The Vision is on a far-away buttress that glows in the afternoon. Look at if from east of the climb. Rawl Drive is just for fun, perhaps after dinner, and by using the original protection and not the bolts on another route to the left, you can feel the old challenge of the route.

Period pieces of the sixties following major cracks include Phobus, Deimos, The Yawn, The Coming, Hobbit Book, Crescent Arch, Cooke Book, Chartres and Lucky Streaks. The Yawn presents the only long chimney and crack climb in Tuolumne. You won't find a more astounding dihedral than at the top of this climb. The Hobbit Book features waves of curling rock. Phobus and Deimos are wonderful, moderate crack climbs. The approach suggests that you might be visiting Japan. Has a crazy Japanese gardener been working on the trees, creating gigantic, twisting shapes? Lucky Streaks is a superb gem, following wispy cracks on a steep, golden wall. Kamps and I turned back once before doing the first ascent. With so little done on Fairview at the time, we refused to believe free climbing would be possible on such a steep wall. What a joy when the route proved feasible, well within the standards of the day!

After fifty routes were done between 1965 and 1971, and four climbers figured figured in over half of them. Tom Gerughty, Bob Kamps, TM Herbert and I climbed in this period. A couple of reports in Ascent and the American Alpine Journal told a little about the routes, but no guide book ever evolved and few other climbers visited Tuolumne. Rumors developed suggesting that certain climbs were horrifying. Consequently, many routes were not repeated for several years. Lucky Streaks and Chartres are examples. TM Herbert did much to scare climbers away with his rubber-faced, wide-eyed tales of first ascents he had witnessed. "God, you should have seen them," he would say, referring to a first ascent team, "...their butts quivering, no place to stop, no protection except for some dinky bolt..." Of course, the routes were not horrifying, however intimidating in appearance.

A Time of Controversy

As the seventies arrived, the era of boundless opportunities drew to a close and a controversy began over climbing styles. Climbers began attacking more fearsome faces and cracks. New climbers on the scene spent long periods in The Meadows, sometimes returning several times to try the same route. Climbers hung ropes for weeks at a time to reserve a prospective route and allow repeated access to high points. A few aid climbs appeared, unheard of since 1958. Also, climbers resorted to preprotection (placing protection on rappel or on aid, then free climbing); previewing (viewing and/or rehearsing moves on rappel or by top rope); and resting on protection or yo-yoing (repeated tries at moves, lowering, and possibly hand-walking the rope to try again). Needless to say, climbers of the sixties were appalled at the new styles. The new stylists argued that many new routes couldn't be done in any other way, or that the final route was more important than the means.

Several routes focused the debate. On Fairview Dome, aid was used on the Plastic Exploding Inevitable to climb the giant roofs above Crescent Ledge. What a disappointment to the climbers of the sixties who unsuccessfully tried the roof, then turned back with the expectations that some day it too would be free climbed. Death Crack was rehearsed several times with a top rope before it was finally led. Hoodwink involved a short aid ladder to protect immediate free climbing. Wailing Wall was preprotected, as was a short section of Shambles. Handbook was yo-yo'd.

Perhaps the lightning rod for the debate was Willie's Hand Jive. Here, nearly the entire route was created by placing bolts on rappel. In 1974, in a fit of righteousness, I chopped the bolts and lectured one of the first ascent team about traditional styles. Later, the bolts were replaced on rappel, this time more numerous than last. Such was the intensity of conflict between new and traditional styles!

Hand Jive taught me more than had my old, strict mentors about adhering to traditional climbing styles. The route broke no frontier of difficulty, while robbing others of the opportunity to try the first ascent in traditional climbing style.

You may want to do the route and judge whether or not it could have been protected in the same way most face climbs of the sixties were done. Ponder the same question on Hoodwink, just above the roof on the last pitch. Finally, the super crack climbers of today may want to try Handbook, Death Crack, Wailing Wall and Blues Riff without rehearsing, preprotecting or yo-yoing. My hunch is that some of today's climbers will find these climbs possible in the traditional style. If so, how will they feel about losing the chance at a first ascent in traditional style?

Go Climb!

Maybe the campfire is the best place for debates on style, history and ethics. When the sun comes up, you are lusting for the raw experience of climbing, for testing your limits and nerve. For climbers craving the jitters of tiny edges and knobs, Polly Dome and vicinity is a must. Try Get Slick, Piece of Grass, Sweet Nothings and Golden Bars. Or, wander a little way to Ursula, wonderfully wicked and hidden in the woods. In the roof category, Thy Will Be Done might warm you up. Then try Wailing Wall. Can you do it in good style, your first try? What about doing Boa? No matter what you answer, you'll want comic relief. So, do Un-Huh on Fairview - its twenty-five foot ceiling is only 5.3! Getting to the roof is more of a problem. Be warned, TM Herbert nearly lost his life (again) on the third ascent, trying to find the way on the second (or third?) pitch.

In the category of long climbs, Pièce de Réstistance on Fairview Dome may be the best. Several climbers figured in the ascent. Bob Kamps and I had tried the route a couple of times in the late sixties. We stopped at a headwall which appeared to need a couple of bolts of aid. Vern Clevenger and Bob Harrington climbed the headwall after placing some bolts from difficult stances and other bolts with aid. Then, in 1974, I returned with Clevenger to free climb the pitch and complete the climb. The headwall involves ceaseless 5.10 and 5.11 climbing. Most climbers now call it 5.12, saying that little flakes keep falling off to make it harder. Whatever the case, the line is a most dramatic and direct one. An enormous arch marks the route, powerfully drawing you along.

Of course the wonder of climbing is not in mulling over the past but creating the future. Think and question yourself as you climb in Tuolumne Meadows. Try to assess which routes and ethical traditions seem best. There are magnificent routes done by compromising the traditional style, the most recent example being the Bachar-Yerian on Medlicott. Always the compromise seems justifiable at first, then doubts arise. Maybe the climb could have been done another way? Or, maybe the wall should have been left alone?

Probably, you will be torn between climbing in the traditional style and relaxing your standards to do the hardest routes. If so, consider that most mortal climbers have only ten or fifteen seasons with sufficient energy, time and ability to do their best climbing. Then, a time comes when climbing memories far outnumber climbing prospects. A guide book may mention your name, and so might a few old friends. But the end result will be your own memory and evaluation of climbs you have done. Will you prefer to remember having done the most severe routes in whatever way was necessary, or having done a few of the hardest in the best style, while perhaps failing miserably on some others and avoiding altogether some others? It is a question the tumultuous climbing traditions of Tuolumne forces upon you. Think before you answer it, for your best climbing days too soon rush by.

Social climber
Aug 11, 2005 - 02:51pm PT
Bottom line:


Aug 11, 2005 - 02:51pm PT

Your question about us being stuck in our own personal view, “aren’t we all”, can hold true to some degree. But, this is one of the main reasons I read these threads.

I don’t want to remain left behind in the flow of knowledge as it turns for better or worse.

I understand all these ethics very clearly, but I don’t like being stuck somewhere and not being able to move past the crux or being able to down climb around it, either, (referring to ethics).
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