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Trad climber
Feb 24, 2010 - 06:53pm PT
I guess Royal could weigh in and clarify if he fell off I-12, but maybe it's more fun to watch us speculate. I think it was Vandiver who told me he asked Royal long ago about it and got a smile, but nothing more. Maybe Royal knew half the secret to being and staying a legend is mystery.

As for falling off I-12 and being fine on flat ground below, I have to attest to falling off water course way up at about I-12 height on some easy, wet, snotty stuff after a rain. I landed exactly where an I-12 fall would land. Result: broken heel, my second. I think anything above 12-15 feet can break bones even for a flat landing, though of course we had no pads in those days. My first broken heel was falling into the North Sea (and onto rocks just below water) outside Aberdeen, Scotland. Very humbling, those falls. Made me fully averse to soloing, which was never very attractive to me anyhow, well, except for self belay stuff which I also found dangerous and ultimately unsatisfying.

Tom Higgins

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Feb 24, 2010 - 07:33pm PT
Sweet BITD pics. Never been to Indian even though I live in the South Bay. I got stuff down here to keep me busy.

Feb 24, 2010 - 07:43pm PT
in the version I heard (started bouldering there in '85), Robbins dusted himself off, went back up and fired...

climber a single wide......
Feb 24, 2010 - 07:56pm PT
I've got a biz buddy- Ezra Bowen- who joined me at Indian Rocks one day 20+ years ago. He had never touched rock previously. I showed him the moves on Watercourse. Being fit and bold, he fired it (only a tad shakey up top). He has never touched rock since.

Awwwright, more about Robbins, I-12 and BITD please!!!

p.s. I am a So Cali, so never knew lots of you NoCali's. Was visiting Indian Rocks- again- late 80's. Doting Dad was helping his young daughter do some traverse moves. She was in tennies, and I pointed out that she would have more success in rock shoes. Had never met LongAgo before, but he just looked at me and said something like, "she's got climbing shoes at home". Only then did I realize, "oooops, that's LongAgo!"
scuffy b

Where only the cracks are dry
Feb 24, 2010 - 08:06pm PT
Many years ago Ben Borson told me that a friend of his had fallen from
I-12 with no ill effects. He said this guy was a skydiver, or at least
a parachutist, and thus well-practiced at landings.
Also, that on at least one occasion, he had jumped out of a second-story
window to greet a friend who was passing by on the street.
I believe this friend of Borson's was also known to LongAgo.

Social climber
West Linn OR
Feb 24, 2010 - 11:03pm PT
Anybody can fall off anything, so it’s not a big deal.

That aside, here are some interesting facts about the evolution of Indian Rock… Just call me Rip Van Winkle, for I was a daily user of Indian Rock from the fall of 1960 to the end of 1961. Every day I’d hop on my bicycle, ride from my place near campus to the rock, and climb everything I could many times which got to be about everything there was at the time. I was a terrible student, but got to be a pretty good climber. Fast forward 40 years. Working in Richmond, I began to spend my lunch hours there for some time until I was mistakenly promoted and had to be an example for others and shorter lunch hours were in order.

What I noticed after 40 years absence was the loss of vegetation, especially alongside the path leading down next to the rock. The overhanging area was impossible to climb due to the shrubbery, but I could see that generations of avid climbers, perhaps with beaver-like teeth, had destroyed the plants. This opened up some extreme problems we never imagined existed. I also noticed that the bolts were gone from the overhang that Guido has pictures of me climbing via direct aid. Otherwise the rock was incredibly stable in its appearance, a testament to its hardness considering the millions of sweaty and chalky hands place on it. Much more stable than Stoney Point. It still smelled of urine under the overhang – when will they ever get a restroom at that park?

Now I will tell the secret of how I upgraded of the abilities of northern California climbers. I used my Gerry hammer to smash a flake off the Watercourse which transformed it from a 5.7 to a 5.really hard. From that point forward if you wanted to say you could climb the Watercourse, you had to get some real finger strength. Guido and Foott were witnesses to this reverse of the Leonard action on the Cathedral Spires where he knocked out some nice chunks of rock to make foot holds. Of course I regret my egotistic action today (just kidding). I was accused in another thread of not understanding sport climbing –Hah! I could still see the shadow of the flake’s former placement after 40 years!

After I upgraded the Watercourse it was interesting to watch people work out the problems and have to come back over and over. Foott, of course, began to work on doing it with one hand. I’m not sure how far he got.

My Mother was interested in the techniques of rock climbing of that time, so when she was in the Bay Area she asked for a demo which Guido and I put on. From there came Guido’s copies of the photos. I once did the bolts solo as a macho deal (like swimming under that rock on the Merced River where we all used to hang out at down the canyon) to prove to myself I wasn’t chicken sh*t, but did not enjoy it as I was nervous about something coming loose. It’s probably for the best that the bolts are gone.

I do not believe I12 existed at the time, because anything Roper could do at the time, so could I, and I would never have rested until I could do it better.

As to why we called Guido “Little Joe”, it was not to honor him by calling him after Joseph LeConte whose moniker was also Little Joe. It was because his pecker was so small he often times had to tie a string on it to get it out to pee. This was an absolute essential after swimming in the cold Merced River waters.

Any questions?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Feb 24, 2010 - 11:47pm PT
Well well BBA

I wasn't going to say anything about the Watercourse modification, because until you opened up that can I had forgotten the incident.

Now BBA could be either, Bitchen Bill Amborn, or at times as we all know, Bitching Bill Amborn. Once, he wrote me and called me an as#hole for adding an e to his name. You know like, Amborne. I still love the guy.

How strange, that only this morning I came across the following letter he wrote while on vacation in Taiwan in the early 60s, courtesy of the US Army.

Credit: guido
Credit: guido


Little Joe


Trad climber
Berkeley, CA
Feb 25, 2010 - 12:55am PT
Such wonderful slices of life!

I have a serious question that belongs in this thread. Is there a comprehensive written Indian Rock guide? I've never seen jack in writing on the place, only what folks have showed me. I live a mile away from the thing and I don't know which is I-12, but I've done the Watercourse a bunch.

A Clint Cummins style photo overlaid with lines and route names would be nice here :)

Trad climber
one of god's mountain temples....
Feb 25, 2010 - 01:16am PT
I am looking at the 2002 Tresa Black guide "Rock Climbing the SF Bay Area" and there are descriptions of a lot of the routes at the Berkley areas. There aren't exactly topos in the guide but it does a fair job of showing the routes.

You can also check out Clint's digitized version of the 1988 Marc Jensen guide here:

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 25, 2010 - 01:47am PT
I wonder what other incriminating evidence Guido has stowed in his hold, for use at strategic moments?

Boulder climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Feb 25, 2010 - 01:52am PT
Holy cow! I have climbed on watercourse for 40 years and it was once easy. Sheesh.

Regarding a book about the rock, as my graduate school days ended and before I got a job I must admit I did quite a bit of reading in the Doe Library to get some history of the place. I have not opened or looked at my draft in many years but I can say with some certainty that I-12 was climbed pretty early.

First ascent: Probably January 26, 1941 by Robin Hanson.
This climb starts on the tongue of rock just above the watercourse at 20’ above the ground. It traverses left a few feet then goes straight up the darker of the two depressions in the rock.

This climb was described by Dick Leonard in his 1939 guide to local rock climbing.

Traversing on an overhang into a very open overhanging chimney with almost inadequate holds. Dick Leonard, in early 1939, made the complete ascent, but in two separate shifts. "It can be done, but one will have to be good."

After some thought about the book I decided that it would be good for each generation to discover the place for themselves. I was going to write a really detailed bouldering guide. Now I think a decent history would be pretty good.


Feb 25, 2010 - 11:46am PT
thanks Fred. That's a nice nugget indeed. Any more? First ascent of the bubble, other notable problems rising in difficulty?


Just surfin' the tsunami of life...
Feb 25, 2010 - 12:13pm PT
OMG Guido! You're better than Britannica! X-rated Britannica!

I'm laughing so hard right now, I can barely type...

Feb 25, 2010 - 12:48pm PT
Yeah, if we get BBA coming back and upping the ante (that had to sting) we could have something that makes Pate vs. Bob A. look like a couple of cabbage patch dolls going at it.

Social climber
West Linn OR
Feb 25, 2010 - 02:28pm PT
I was kidding Guido to get his blood pressure up without coffee. But I have documentation which shows he wrote "Perversion is diversion" before I did. Actually it was a phrase that Roper used to spout off all the time and it had a nice ring to it. As far as the string story reference, the line was from the famous valley tourist, Harry Tee (Camp 4, pg 146). He came walking up to his campsite near the Columbia boulder and said hello one day, and I noted a long string hanging down from his bathing suit and asked him what it was for. He said the river was so cold he needed to attach a string to it to find it if he had to take a leak. Just fictionalizing a bit - makes history more interesting, somewhat like Guido's version of Suhl's arrest. The readers seem to enjoy it. Laughter is good.

Boulder climber
Feb 26, 2010 - 09:53am PT
Roper, having I-12 completely wired, did it unroped.

I think it should be pointed out that Roper and the others who soloed I-12 in the early '60s did something almost fifty years ago that would cause most of the young pups today with all their power to sh-t their pants. And they did it without chalk and in shoes that today seem equivalent to roller skates!

Peter, I imagine that you and Vandiver had chalk when you did it?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Feb 26, 2010 - 10:19am PT
Randisi, no. I didn't start using chalk until 1970 when I got out of college. We did use rosin at Indian Rock however back in the mid-sixties. Powdered rosin, the stuff ballet people use on their floors. It is kind of grippy too, colorless basically at least compared to chalk.

The handholds on I-12 aren't so bad, it's probably more an issue of balance and the sloping footholds once you start the shifting/changing lieback moves and the psychological problem of traversing left from total security to this overhanging situation with a roof just below you. Many would actually get totally pumped on this tiny 9-move climb.

Feb 26, 2010 - 10:33am PT
I hope this thread never dies. That place has kept me from going crazy sometimes, having moved from El Portal to Berkeley a couple years ago...

Boulder climber
Feb 26, 2010 - 10:38am PT
That's incredible, Peter. Even roped, I remember that traverse over the void of the Pit at the start as being intimidating. The TR set-up usually involved a nice swing should you fall at that point.

I didn't know pof or rosin was used at Indian Rock. So it's you guys then who are responsible for all the slick holds! (Har!)

Bill, I had no idea the Watercourse had been doctored! I never would have guessed. I can't even imagine where that flake may have been. Does anybody have a photo of where it previously resided? Bill says the outline is still visible.



Trad climber
Feb 26, 2010 - 10:48am PT
I can't even imagine where that flake may have been. Does anybody have a photo of where it previously resided?

You can still see where it came off-- it's once you're in the groove. the surrounding rock looks a bit chossy.

i never see anyone doing i-12. folks don't set top-ropes anymore. and it's not terribly obvious as hi-balls go.

aawesome to hear about people doing it back at mid-century. but i wouldn't traverse from that spot to, "kids today can't hi-ball." the bar for hi-balling is actually incredibly advanced compared to what folks in my cohort were doing back in the 1980s at josh and black mt., which was one of the golden ages for hi-balls.

i-rock-- or at least mortar --have been important centers for difficult bouldering for eighty years now. it ain't fontainebleau, but it's pretty cool.
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