STEVE WUNSCH: NOBLE PARTNER

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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 21, 2009 - 03:24pm PT
Here is a little tale you might find sufficiently appalling.

Once again itís a tale from back in the day. Steve Wunsch decided he wanted to do the right side of the Hourglass; he hadn't been up to Ribbon Falls just west of El Capitan yet and was at the point where he was getting a lot of climbing done; he was in great form about then. I think this must have been 1972 or so. We were friends and had done some bouldering together in Berkeley. This also included buildering too. Around then, Diana Hunter and he were partnered and were on a very long road trip by the way. With Vandiver, the four of us would troup around and do stuff in Berkeley. It was a lot of fun. Diana was such a cool woman.

Anyway Steve enlisted me as we were friends and I had spent some time up in that area. Up we went in the summer heat, up the 30 degree slope to the three pitch 5.10a climb from the road. It takes about at least 1-1/2 hours or more to get there and you gain more than 1800 feet in elevation in 3500 feet of horizontal travel. Kind of an interesting hike amongst trees and dirt-covered talus and if the Falls are running, you also get to be by the creek most of the way up, pretty much. Lower down some time long after the Spring thaw, the river actually disappears into the talus before reaching the road, even though higher up it is very bold creek. By mid-summer, the whole affair is gone, even the Falls, just as it was when we trudged upwards. We got up there after awhile and I think it was also very hot that day. We started to check out the climb, rest from the long approach and maybe rack up. At some point--- it isnít clear exactly when--- but one of us noticed that to climb the thing and certainly to rappel it, we would actually need ropes, two of them even!

We didnít have any with us, oddly. They were all inconeniently back in the car at the bottom of the long talus slope and forest where they belonged of course. At this point, I donít know, I was done, deflated. I mean, somehow this was enough for the day, and I think the rope thing might have been my fault mostly too so self-esteem seemed impossible as well. I had nothing to stand on, see and it was clear to all that it turned out after all that I was in fact useless. But Steve didnít mind. He proposed hiking all the way back down and then up again with the two coiled ropes thus enabling us to get the climb done. I was stunned by his offer and agreed, though thinking by this point that I hated everything. Apparently it was not quite time yet to perform a full backoff.

So that is what he did: hiked off with a smile. I have to say he was impressive at this point. I was a sloth and fell asleep in the sun on the rocks in the shade at the base of the route like some enormous ectotherm while my noble partner Steve toiled away for three hours or so being the godsend amongst us. My mood continued to sink and the depression that I sometimes battle had returned and gotten the best of me. Even though I had done the climb a couple of times in the past, it seemed to be just so much hideous work hanging above me like rotting meat. By the time he returned I was about as far away from actually climbing as anyone had ever been. I think I started the first lead which is trivial at 5.8, short and well protected even and after a few moves it was clear I was not in climbing form that day--- I hated it and wanted to go back to my VW bus and the gyre of my blind seemingly pointless youth. Steve, a few years older than I and much better put together emotionally was actually okay with going back down and calling it a day; after all he had his exercise, hiking 3600 feet in
gain and what would be 3600 feet of descent and nearly 3 miles travel, some of it with loads. I always had respect for his level-headed and accepting approach to the situation. And his shear lack of self-inflicted emotional terror was singular; so I knew I owed him tremendously and apparently my behavior had made the picture very clear. If Steve did anything wrong that day, it was that he didnít go all Sacherer on me and just take over the leading and begin the screaming and yanking.

Chiloe's recently scanned photo of Steve, 1971:


and someone elseís shot of him I think from the 80ís or 90ís?
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Dec 21, 2009 - 03:48pm PT
someoneís photo of Steve on Sentinel in 1971:

Quoting the seagulls: Mine! Mine! Mine!
Previously seen here on the "New Scanner -- Old Climbs" thread.

;-)
Good story, Peter.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Dec 21, 2009 - 03:55pm PT
About five years ago, I sent an e-mail to Steve at a business that he was involved in. He didn't respond, and I had no way to confirm if the e-mail was correct of not.

A few months ago, he sent me a note, apologizing for the tardy response, and we caught up with the news. He is doing well, living in NY with his wife, working in the electronic trading software business. Very cool guy.

Steve grabbed me one day in Camp and asked me to go with him to a new route that someone he knew had done. It was supposed to be the 'best route in the Valley." Of course, I was up for that. We drove up the Big Oak Flat road, found the described turnout, tromped through the oaks and slippery leaves and found the base of a cliff. No 'Best Route in the Valley" visible. We climbed a short little face with a few knobs and edges. At the top, Steve announced that while he wasn't certain if he had been hornswoggled or had simply misunderstood the instructions, he was sure that the 40 foot cliff we climbed qualified as the "Best route in the Valley."

We hiked down and drove back to camp.
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 21, 2009 - 04:22pm PT
Steve always had that sort of zen approach to things; it didn't seem possible for him to lose either his physical or emotional balance.

The more recent picture is taken on Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Highlands. Steve used to do a steep rocky hike interspersed with boulder problems there.

I forgot my harness once. No big deal---tied in with a bowline on a coil and just old-schooled it for the day. But there was some rappelling to be done, steep rappelling with a hanging stance change-over. BITD I would have had a double-length 1" runner with which to make a "swiss seat;" all I had this time was a pair of dental-floss runners, one loop for each leg. It was a painful descent, and the hanging change-over with just a loop for each leg for attachment purposes was kinda hairy.

I've flaked a few times that I can remember, but most of the time it was a communal collapse; my partner was as burnt out as I was and we were able to discover this before we made ourselves miserable.

Once I literally blew out my britches because of food poisoning. I was belaying at the time and there was no escaping the consequences. Needless to say, my partner felt no need to urge me onward. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere near me; I unfortunately could not get away.

I had several instances guiding when a client bagged it early. One client, who I was picking up at the train station in Poughkeepsie, got off the train, told me she really didn't feel well, handed me my day's fee, and got right back on a train to NYC.

Another woman walked down the carriage road, clambered up the boulder field to the base of the crag, and exclaimed, "That was great! Thanks so much!" When I said, "Um...this is where we actually start climbing..." she looked up at the cliff, then back at me, then up at the cliff, and finally said, "You've got to be kidding. I'm going home now."

Of course, there's nothing so noble as a guide with the day's fee in his pocket and the job over at the beginning of the day. Steve, on the other hand, belongs to the true nobility of the climbing world, both for his achievements and the serenity of his approach.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 21, 2009 - 04:41pm PT
A few years ago, we went to the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind Rivers, from Big Sandy. On day 3 of a 10 day trip, near the top of Overhanging Tower, my trusty Galibier boots fell apart. My friend Brenda said "Oh, it looks like your soles are coming off your boots." And they were. So we retreated to camp.

This was a bit awkward, although I figured I had enough stuff in my repair kit that with a bit of effort the boots might be restored enough for the hike out. Hiking in my Boreal Ballets seemed contraindicated. Brenda very nicely volunteered to run back to the cars, get my walking shoes, and bring them back, so I'd be mobile again. (She had other motives for the trip, too.) And that's what she did - four hours later, she was back.

The guidebooks make the hike into the Cirque out to be some sort of death march. It's actually a very pleasant walk on a good trail, except for a bit of a climb over Jackass Pass. About 15 km one way, with maybe 500 m elevation gain. Still, an afternoon 'run' down the trail and back was quite a stout effort, and saved the day. Brenda's very fit, a triathlete and other things, so for her a good day's training.

Proving that no good deed goes unpunished, a big storm came in the next day and we hiked out. No more climbing.
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Dec 21, 2009 - 06:12pm PT
Great send, Peter!!!!
Thanks for sharing it!
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Dec 21, 2009 - 06:40pm PT
Peter, I think that might have been Steve's first encounter with Jumars.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 21, 2009 - 07:39pm PT
Good bet on that, Chiloe. Steve was not a aid climber.

You know one of his favorite phrases back then was, "by your own lights". It eventually got old for me and Vandiver as he uttered it too much, we thought. What it implied cosmologically (Back EdH, back!!) was that people have within themselves, "lights" and one should only climb by these and not by other people's "lights" nor pretend to have 'lights" when actually some of yours are only flashlights and votives or something. Realize of course this was long before the Large Hadron Collider and our very own Ed Hartouni could set us straight on such mattters.

It was his way of euphemistically addressing cheating, mimicry, lying and generally artificial, derivative stances while in the world. But the man was totally peaceful and about as fair and longsighted as anyone could be and of course was not one of our big tin horn landlords of the wilderness at the time.
slabbo

Trad climber
fort garland, colo
Dec 21, 2009 - 09:38pm PT
And then there was " Wunsch Upon A Climb" !
John Vawter

Social climber
San Diego
Dec 22, 2009 - 12:47am PT
On my first climbing trip to the Palisades with my first true climbing partner, Mark Thorpe, in 1973, I think, I had borrowed a pair of rigid crampons at the last minute. I thought I meet need the extra support because I had a pair of Peuterays, instead of the more rigid RDs. Seems goofy now. We marched up there and it was a really cold November, after the first snow. We had surplus store Navy wool pants, knee socks, scratchy wool balaclavas, Dachsteins, and a some Wild Turkey my parents bought for us. No one was about, we had the place completely to ourselves, and we could still see a lot of shiny water ice in the couloir. At the 'schrund I plopped myself down to strap on the spiffy crampons, and they didn't fit my boots. Neither of us had a wrench, and that was that.

We still look back on that trip with great fondness. It was special just to be there, neither of us yet 20 years old, but out in the wild and the cold, having fun. When I finally got back there to climb it in 1982, it was almost anticlimactic. We climbed everything we tried, Thunderbolt and Sill in one day, and everything seemed smaller and less daunting. That first trip, when we climbed nothing but were filled with awe and longing to be among the peaks, was the benchmark, and I'll never forget it, mainly because of the person I was with.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 22, 2009 - 02:23pm PT
Steve and I climbed a lot in Boulder but probably did more
bouldering. I was in a bad, dark place then, and we have some
bizarre tales to share, such as the night we decided to fight,
outside Tico's, for no reason, such dumb drunkenness, and
we were both so drunk we couldn't even land
a punch and started laughing and walked away arm and arm, with
stories and talk to last the night... I once invited him to do a
new route on a rock I had thought about up somewhere in Dinosaur
Mountain south of and above Boulder, and he gladly tagged along.
I brought my dog Blue, a big blue-merril collie. It was a long long
walk to the rock, and that bad place in my mind was still there,
and suddenly I didn't feel like climbing, so after failing to talk
me into climbing, he and I tromped all over Green Mountain, just to
look at possible new routes. My dog's hip went out, and Steve and
I took turns literally carrying Blue, that big heavy dog, in our
arms, miles through the trees and rocks of Green Mountain. It was a
bit of an epic day, even though we didn't climb. I still have
images of Diana, such as how, at a restaurant, she suddenly would
raise one foot above her head and rest it on the back of her neck,
a strange scene to people in the restaurant.
richross

Trad climber
Dec 22, 2009 - 03:26pm PT
I took this photo of Steve on the way to Yellow Spur in 1977.

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 22, 2009 - 10:35pm PT
For a period of time Steve was the best climber in Colorado,
and especially in Eldorado. Any number of people shuffled through
the times and took that preeminent place, but certainly Steve
was there, at his beautiful moment in the sun,
maybe not in bouldering, but as a brilliant lead
climber, as evidenced by such things as Psycho and Jules Verne....
But the important part of this thread, and why I like it, is
the proper emphasis on his great person, that kind, humble,
genius of a spirit, who couldn't do anyone wrong if he tried....
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Dec 22, 2009 - 10:48pm PT
Richross' on-the-way-to-Yellow-Spur photo above shows Wunsch belaying Guenese.
Curt

Boulder climber
Gilbert, AZ
Dec 23, 2009 - 12:29am PT
Steve Wunsch is a great guy and a great climber. I spent five years working for him when he started Wunsch Auction Systems, which eventually became the Arizona Stock Exchange. In fact, I probably wouldn't even be in Arizona now--except for the fact that I moved here in early 1992 to help him establish the AZX.

Like most climbers, Steve has a fairly weird sense of humor--and when I once complained to him about the ever present chiggers in the Gunks, he admonished me by informing me that they aren't properly called chiggers, but rather Arachno-Americans.

Curt
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 23, 2009 - 04:21am PT
Yes, Curt, you jog my memory, and I see that big
smile of Steve's, and his large laugh, and weird
sense of humor. Yes he has always known how to have fun.
I can think of some things but can't think how to
tell them...
richross

Trad climber
Dec 23, 2009 - 09:01am PT
Chiloe,I am not sure if Steve was belaying on Guenese.It might have been a hidden Kevin Bein or John Bragg.Thanks for the climb ID.I can't remember the name of the climber in the photo with Steve.

Here is Kevin leading the first pitch of Psycho that day.

rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 23, 2009 - 11:02am PT
Left to right: Steve Wunsch, John Bragg, Rich Perch, from Geno's post on Gunks 2008 reunion (with a touch of additional processing to alleviate tungsten color cast).

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 23, 2009 - 11:18am PT
I tried to lure Steve on a couple of months ago with a list of Wunsch related historical threads for him to sample. Alas but his time management skills are very solid and he declined after saying that he could feel the addiction setting in after reading through a couple threads!

Perhaps he will weigh in over the holidays so keep this thread going strong as bait and we'll see if he will come out and play a bit!

Great story, Peter! That calm unflappable resolve and even disposition are pretty damn admirable and as you put it noble. While he was actively climbing, he was a standout without trying to be one egotistically!

I will have to say though that he and Henry Barber got into telling Yosemite stories at the Gunks reunion 2008 and were both laughing hard and long about some of their escapades so I think he was well aware of his abilities! LOL
Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Dec 23, 2009 - 11:50am PT
A couple more shots from that 1971 road trip, posted earlier on the New Scanner -- Old Climbs thread:


L

climber
A place with poppies & flying monkeys...
Dec 23, 2009 - 02:12pm PT
Great story about a good friend, Peter. I loved it.

And thanks for all the photos, Larry--you're certainly the Visual Historian of the Taco and sooooooo appreciated by peeps like myself.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 23, 2009 - 08:37pm PT
Good to see Bragg, also, another good man.

P.S. Not important if Steve is belaying or not. Really,
it seems the person on the rock is belayed from
above and tied into the rope maybe half way, just
trailing the back rope, which Steve might be simply
feeding. There is a rope right to Steve's left, but
he doesn't seem to be belaying, just enjoying the
morning sun...
richross

Trad climber
Dec 23, 2009 - 09:57pm PT
I seem to remember that the rope was above from an earlier lead attempt.

survival

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Dec 28, 2009 - 05:59pm PT
A very bumpworthy thread.

Never met the man, but I sure can remember those impossible looking photos from Eldorado making me scratch my head after a day of clawing away at 9's and easy 10's........
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Apr 18, 2013 - 12:04pm PT
bumping into people here and there
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 18, 2013 - 12:16pm PT
Noble indeed! My favorite partner in the 70's. Many a good adventure together both climbing and apres. Steve is happlily enconsed in Manhatten and doesn't climb anymore but we stay in touch.
Planning a Wunsch, Bragg, Donini reunion in Colorado this Summer. You're invited Peter!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 18, 2013 - 01:56pm PT
That would be wonderful, J.
Rollover

climber
Gross Vegas
Oct 8, 2015 - 06:23pm PT
BBST
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