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Ray Olson

Trad climber
Imperial Beach, California
Nov 10, 2009 - 03:00am PT
Jan thanks so much for your well
worded insights into this, especially
the part about (your feelings that)
some of the outrage directed towards
Harding stemmed from the fact he
had a nice grilfriend, etc. - while
others did not...

Interesting stuff.

EDIT: factor in the stylin' ride, too :-)

Nov 10, 2009 - 12:28pm PT
It is always more complicated that it seems at first glance?!

Thanks for the history.

A lesson for all of us.


Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:10pm PT

Are there any threads that mention how Warren thought about his closest friends?

Separately, I regret that I haven not read the full Downward Bound, and wish it were still in print so that I could read it. I have a feeling that many climbers were born of the irreverant. We see it in Royals book when he talks about his early years, and in Warren's approach to climbing and life. Not so different those guys.

thx for posting these up. without the history of climbing and its irreverant aspects, we would all just be golfers in Tuolumne Meadows.

Trad climber
Los Angeles
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:32pm PT
“Christian Bros” of course!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:38pm PT
With the foreshortening of history from our perspective 40 years or so later it is not so easy to understand Warren and his relationship to the climbing community in the Valley, led by Royal. For those interested in the history here is one way to think about it.

This is a partial list of Warren’s wall climbs in chronological order:

1954 East Buttress, Middle Cathedral Rock (This was a 'Wall' in 1954!)
1954 North Buttress, Middle Cathedral Rock
1958 The Nose, El Cap
1959 The East Face, Washington Column
1961 Leaning Tower
1962 The North Face, The Rostrum
1964 South Face, Mount Watkins
1968 The Firefall Face, Glacier Point
1968 Direct, Lost Arrow Spire
1969 Southwest Face, Liberty Cap
1970 South Face, Half Dome
1970 Wall of the Early Morning Light, El Cap
1975 Rhombus Wall, Royal Arches

The first climbs on the list are classics. But the routes after Mount Watkins (1964) are mixed, with varying degrees of appeal. What they all have in common is they are routes up otherwise unclimbed walls. There is a very short write up in "Ascent" by Galen Rowell, Warren’s climbing partner on The Firefall Face. Galen recounts that when Warren asked him to climb the face, he replied, “But Warren, there are no cracks up there.” There is a famous picture, taken on the ledge at the top of the apron and below the Firefall Wall, of Warren sitting on a lawn chair with a hat on, both of which Warren collected from the pile of stuff people had thrown off Glacier Point.

Here is a list of big walls done by other climbers, mostly in the Valley Christian camp, to use Warren's name for Royal and Roper.

1947 Lost Arrow Chimney
1950 Steck Salathe, Sentinel
1957 NW Face, Half Dome
1959 North Face, Middle Cathedral Rock
1960 Arches Direct, Royal Arches
1960 West Face, Sentinel
1961 Salathe Wall, El Cap
1961 NW Face, Higher Cathedral Spire
1962 Direct North Buttress, Middle Cathedral Rock
1962 North Face, Sentinel, four routes
1963 Direct NW Face, Half Dome
1963 West Buttress, El Cap
1964 North American Wall, El Cap
1965 Muir Wall, El Cap
1967 West Face, El Cap
1968 North Face, Higher Cathedral Spire
1969 The Prow, Washington Column
1969 Tis-sa-ack, Half Dome
1970 Arcturus, Half Dome
1970 The Heart Route, El Cap
1970 In Cold Blood, Sentinel
1970 Vain Hope, Ribbon Falls
1971 Aquarian Wall, El Cap
1971 Heart Woute, El Cap
1972 Cosmos, El Cap
1972 Magic Mushroom, El Cap
1972 The Shield, El Cap
1972 Zodiac, El Cap

In many respects the lists are much the same. I think that what distinguishes them from one another is that Warren’s list is in the same mode whereas the other list shows a progression, if somewhat bumpy. Some writers have pointed to the siege tactics as a break point but I am not so sure that works. For sure Robbins, Chouinard, Pratt, and Frost decided to climb the Salathe in a push in 1961. But this was a decision that was easy to make only after Harding had climbed The Nose ferrying loads. Essentially he showed that any thing could be climbed using siege tactics. As far as I know, Harding climbed everything in a push after the Nose too. He just turned it into vertical camping.

The issue of how many bolts to place on a route was a real sticking point between the two camps. On the face of it, there was a heartfelt worry that if bolting got out of hand, there would be pure bolted lines all over the Captain and that this would destroy the adventure of climbing. Messner’s and Chouinard’s articles lay out these fears pretty well. Harding, as far as I know did not consider there was anything to fear. In hindsight, this was never really ever a risk in the Valley until power drilling was available, but no one knew that at the time.

To be fair, Harding didn’t over bolt his routes once he was on them any more than Robbins did. The difference is that Harding picked routes that he knew would have to have many holes, ones as unappealing as The Firefall Face or The Rhombus Wall as well as beautiful walls such as the South Face of Half Dome or the WEML. Robbins on the other hand picked routes that he thought would not need so many bolts and then bolted them as necessary rather than backing off: Tis-sa-ack is a perfect example. When TM Herbert told Royal that he would regret putting up Tis-sa-ack with so many bolts, Royal said, “it was worth it.” Thin ice.

The argument about how many bolts should be used was squishy ground since harder climbing between bolts allowed more bolts to be used. Royal believed this on Tis-sa-ack and realized it was true on WEML when he stopped chopping. Of course, the WEML still has lots of holes, beautiful wall not withstanding. I think that I have read that some newer routes that incorporate pitches from existing routes have very high hole counts versus new climbing footage, so I don’t know if the WEML still holds the record.

So why did this fight get so nasty. In my opinion, Royal set out to establish a firm ground under what it meant to be a rock climber in the Valley when the issue was siege versus push and hard aid climbing versus bolting. Royal thought seriously about the nature of climbing and how it changed with new skills and new equipment. He also accepted that climbing is all about the rules we establish for ourselves; so he worked to establish new rules. Clear cut distinctions such as siege versus push and hard aid versus bolting did not hold up over time--just look at the routes on the list above after 1970. Nevertheless, Royal’s concerns were heartfelt and no different than the arguments that occur today about how bolts to use versus, say, chiseling a pocket for a copperhead, or, say, free climbing versus aid (free climbing versus aid was not an issue for 50s and 60s climbers doing walls).

Since rock climbing is a rules based sport, these arguments will always occur. Harding attacked the whole idea of anyone trying to set rules and didn’t give any room for debate. Folks like Royal, Roper, Yvon, and TM took offense that their efforts were being ridiculed. This offense-for-offense, tit-for-tat didn’t occur overnight; it built up over a couple of years. For climbers who were putting themselves at risk for a higher standard-—climbing in a push, hard, dangerous aid, and hard, and sometimes dangerous, free--Harding’s laughter was a real affront. On the other hand, Harding felt unfairly singled out and marginalized; wasn’t he doing pretty much what he had always done, to such acclaim before? (Look back at his list of big walls first ascents.) He didn't see or particulary care that the world had changed around him--Peter makes some very insightful comments about Warren's climbing and his work experience. I think it is also fair to see Warren's point of view if you just compare Tis-sa-ack or the Prow with WEML: why was it okay for Royal to bolt long blank sections and not okay for Warren? Was there really a bright line of too many bolts? The whole commercial effort that Harding and Caldwell made on the WEML added another layer of insult. Now every worthy climber is trying to keep her sponsors happy.

In terms of thinking about it nowadays, in my opinion all the climbers should be remembered for the great routes that they put up and forgiven their clunkers. The nasty bits of personality that defined the debates were pretty much all regrettable and from a historical perspective, pretty much irrelevant: if you want to model yourself after a drunk or if you want to back yourself into an untenable corner of highhandness, you don’t need a climbing hero for a model. Picking sides now doesn’t make much sense in understanding the history, and picking sides does not shed any light on any sensible relationship with how anyone climbs today. There were great climbs and real clunkers put up by both camps and the distinction does not seem to hinge on the terms of the debate about how many bolts should be allowed or if sponsorship is evil.

All that said, as for style, Valley climbers pretty much follow Royal’s lead in adapting to changing standards and recognizing that when new limits are met, new standards are set and the rules are modified. Warren’s approach of willful disregard for the climbing community gets pushed back now as it did then.

If you had described to the Valley climbers in 1965 that El Cap climbers would spend months and months practicing moves to do the routes all free, add bolts to protect hard free, or race up the Nose in a few hours to compete for time records, most would not have recognized it as ‘real’ climbing and some would have given you their disgusted looked. But I think Warren might have shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of “Well, what ever floats your boat,” and Royal might have thought about it awhile and said, “I can see how it will come to that, but not in my lifetime.”

Social climber
the Wastelands
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:43pm PT
Roger, minor clerical possible error?

WOEML: 1970, not 1971?
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Nov 10, 2009 - 01:52pm PT
Thanks. Lots of routes, lots of dates.
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Nov 10, 2009 - 02:47pm PT
Fantastic post guys. Excellent history lesson.
the Fet

Nov 10, 2009 - 04:03pm PT
Harding attacked the whole idea of anyone trying to set rules

Rules in rock climbing preserve challenge. They are rules you set for yourself, not universal rules for everyone (though most climbers subscribe to similar rules). Warren instinctively knew this and bristled at the notion of anyone telling him what rules he should follow.

Warren would pick a climb based on the line. Royal would pick a climb based on the climbing. You can't say one approach is 'better' than the other. What is a better climb the Nose or the Salathe? It's a personal decision.

I have said to Warren and Royal that I'm glad the WEML controversy went down the way it did. I think both of them regretted what happened but I wanted them to see that good came of it. Royal established that it may be necessary to chop bolts or erase a climb to preserve what you feel is a line that should not be crossed, but he also showed that by changing his mind and not continuing to chop the bolts that: you have to climb a line to judge it's merit (something the Wings Of Steel Shitters were too lame to realize), you can't dictate your rules of climbing to everyone else, and the quality of the climbing can justify bolting.

Royal was incredibly brave to decide to chop the route, but it took even greater courage to admit he was wrong and stop chopping.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Nov 10, 2009 - 04:15pm PT
Now that's history!

And again, Chicken Skinner, thanks for introducing me and getting us into the Mtn room to hang with him back in our underaged years.

Nov 10, 2009 - 05:32pm PT
Excellent stuff. More ST gold from PH. Great insightful posts here.

Makes it worth having to ignore the drivel. Thanks, all.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Nov 10, 2009 - 10:40pm PT
Yo Peter - thanks for posting the letters and as always your valuable and insightful introduction.

I was in Grad School at UCLA during the climb. Would drive to Ventura on the weekends, pick up Beryl who was living with Malinda Pennoyer(Chouinard) and we would drive to the Valley. Great lady to travel with on long car trips. Beryl was part of a small group of us in the Bay Area that raged in the early 60s and always one of my favorites.

I posted this a while back.

Mar 26, 2009 - 02:52pm PT

Lovely Beryl!

A wonderful lady and lively soul indeed. She grew up in Belvedere in Marin County, private schools in San Francisco and then a chance introduction to the darker side of life, aka climbing in the early 60s.

Partner in crime with such infamous characters as Harper, Mort, Rob Wood and of course Harding, Beryl will forever remind me of some of the finer moments of living.

She was also a superb artist. Beastly's, "Rock of Ages, Home for Old Climbers." Pratt conducting, Warren consuming, Yvone the consumate fisherman and of course, Super Royal. Plus a cast of other familiar characters from that era. Was a great pleasure to see her at the Nose reunion.

Beryl and Chris Jones at the Nose Reunion. I believe Jones was with Hennek and Pratt on the first recon of the WEML?



Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 11, 2009 - 12:48am PT
Here is the cartoon retouched a bunch. I don't have the original file, just the one here on ST:


Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Nov 11, 2009 - 08:25pm PT
Bump to Peter, Guido----and all those who posted (and hopefully will post)their thoughts or memories.

Climbing Art & Culture!

Thank you!
Messages 21 - 34 of total 34 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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