Galen Rowell - Tip of the Hat to one of the Masters


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Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Why'djya leave the ketchup on the table?
Topic Author's Original Post - May 19, 2010 - 10:07pm PT
I've been reading High and Wild lately, an essay at a time. I am repeatedly reminded of the kinship I have always felt toward this man, despite the fact we never met.

Climber, writer, photographer, traveler, adventurer... his writing speaks to me across a gulf.

The kinship I feel is born from his writing and his history. From shouting matches with Fred Beckey, to storm rescue with Batso, first ascents in the Himalaya, adventures in Alaska... his writing is thoughtful and often takes unexpected left turns to ponder bristlecone pines, the rifle of Conrad Kain to the impact of damming a stream to a meadow in the Cirque of the Unclimbables.

I recall his fantastic story of topping out on the Nose in a blizzard and clinging to a sapling to hold it in place as his partner jugged the line tied to that paltry tree. These are the stories that have stuck to me, over time. My copy of the Vertical World of Yosemite is well thumbed. Why even Phimister Proctor, on Half Dome, that story never fails to delight me.

And I have been graced to touch some of the same stone, ski some of the same lines, shoot the sh#t in the Barcroft Lab (bet he didn't steal no cookies lol).

I had a mentor, here in California, when I was well past the age to really need or expect one - Stu Pollack. He taught me some of the tricks of the California trade and drug up many a route I'da never managed on my own. Stu is a thoughtful guy and we talked for hours and hours about climbing, life and philosophy.

Stu bought a first print edition of Rowell's El Cap Firefall photo and it graced his living room. We talked about it, about Galen, at a time when he was still among us.

Roots. Stu worked in Robbins gear shop in Modesto. Their respective sons went to school together. But I dunno, I always felt through action and deed, that Stu hailed more from the Chouinard school of thought, rather than Robbins.

Stu's interests took me into the world of skinny skis, ice climbing and a wider world of peaks and climbs beyond Cali, from the Cascades to the Winds and RMNP. He traveled light and I slowly learned those ways too.

As I read these Galen Rowell stories I am struck by the continuity of it all. Why, as I was languishing my early 20s in a swamp in South Georgia (literally) Rowell was sending high peaks in the great ranges, using and espousing techniques I would come to better understand a decade later.

And that continuity takes me straight back too, to men like Conrad Kain and before. The connection I feel is real, the lineage is accurate.

I was reading one of Galen's essays as I ate a salad for dinner tonight and I couldn't help but thinking how much we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Just when you think maybe you got this sh#t down you read about some sh#t that happened 40 years ago and all you can do is say.... wow. These games we play are not new.

They lived in color.

Tip of the hat Galen, and to all those who came after. I think this site too, has some deep deep roots through these very men, from our host to the folks who drop in to share some of their lives and personalities.

Thanks to all of you. Tribe.


Trad climber
Boulder Creek CA
May 19, 2010 - 10:17pm PT
I miss Galen...
we lost him too soon...
john hansen

May 19, 2010 - 10:23pm PT

He had a great chapter in "Mountain Light" about the difference between how your eye and a piece of film see the world and light.

A perfect primer for anyone just starting to take photos.

I think it starts, "I am a piece of film..."

Old Pueblo, AZ
May 19, 2010 - 10:31pm PT
The art of adventure.

Jefe likes this.

Nice one DMT.

Boulder climber
Salt Lake, UT
May 19, 2010 - 10:46pm PT
I remember one of the articles about the eye necessary to see great photos. He mentioned to pics in particular, one was the moon lined up near a dome on the Kremlin, and the other was that famous one of the rainbow and the Potala Palace (which he ran a long way to set up because he thought there was potential for a good pic).
I've tried to keep that in mind, that good pics are not necessarily about camera technique or equipment, but about having an eye for what might make a good pic.

The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
May 19, 2010 - 10:51pm PT
I got stories and stories and stories.. Suffice to say, he was my #1 influence in the beginning of my photography... I never knew another human being with more natural energy than Galen Rowell.

Mountain climber
San Diego
May 19, 2010 - 11:17pm PT
Galen has had a profound influence on me.

Great stories. Great photography. Great adventure. High and Wild was always my favorite. I have the original Sierra Club large format coffee table size book of that edition. Lots of nights reading that when I was in high school. I have several books of his autographed, but that is the one I wish I had Galen autograph.

I'll always remember bumping into Galen in "The Happy Boulders" very early in the am one August morning with my Canadian friend and climbing buddy. Very cool.

I'll admit it. I cried a great deal when he left Earth.

On my console when I paraglide I have the 7 Ps: from a note that I found that Galen had penned himself . . .

"Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance"

Words to live by.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
May 19, 2010 - 11:23pm PT
Ah Dingus

You snagged a part of my soul on this one.

Hard to match the energy and drive of Galen and his contribution to climbing. Yet, climbing was a lead-in for many other aspects of his life and direction.

He is sadly missed.

In Nov I will try and post a TR on the Half Dome rescue with some rare photos that the Haanster has salvaged for me. Perhaps I can delve into some interesting and fascinating history of Galen that few are aware of?

I remember a most poignant photo I took at Bardini's Memorial service in Bishop in 1997. Galen and Harding sitting on a bench together in abject sadness. Who was to know that they would both be gone in the not too distant future?

Alas, here is a photo of Galen crossing the Merced when we went up to climb the Worst Error in 1962 and never found the correct route so we made a first ascent. Appropriate that we named it the Real Error. Oh what a cock-up!
Galen crossing the Merced 1962-Anybody seen the Worst Error lately?
Galen crossing the Merced 1962-Anybody seen the Worst Error lately?
Credit: guido

Jerry Dodrill

Sebastopol, CA
May 20, 2010 - 02:00am PT
Incredible pic! There are so many great stories waiting to be told. I hope somebody someday will write a no-holds-barred biography of the man. I feel fortunate to have spent a few years under his influence in the late '90s, working, photographing, trading belays, catching his stoppers and cams as they slid down the rope. Like you guys, he gave inspiration and motivation and pointed me down the right path, even though some times you wanted to punch him. Haha. Somehow you forget the BS and remember the epics and good times. I'll always cherish that time spent In the Throne Room of the Mountain Dog. Its clear that his legacy lives on. Thanks for the thoughtful words Dingus.

Trad climber
not very much, recently.
May 20, 2010 - 02:07am PT
Beautifully written, once again, DMT. You have a way with the pen. Poignant. Thanks for that.

Peter Croft tells a hilarious story about a ski approach of Mt. Humphrey's with Galen.


Trad climber
san diego
May 20, 2010 - 02:21am PT
Awesome photo Guido!

I only physically saw/met Galen once. Was introduced to him by Vern as they passed by(in the lodge parking lot).

But like so many others, he was a big part of my life early on as a climber, and later as I pursued amateur photography, and through his writings, pictures,

He gave so much, on so many levels, and influenced thousands...

Jerry, your photography(as does Vern's)shows that Galen's legacy continues via those he influenced most...

Thanks DMT!

Social climber
State of decay
May 20, 2010 - 02:36am PT
In Search of the Dynamic Landscape. My Bible. I learned to see light as my film does. Like speaking a new language. I must say Jerry's comments are spot on! He was a great photographer and adventurer. But most of all he was my friend. And I miss him.

Boulder climber
May 20, 2010 - 08:22am PT
How many of us wouldn't have got into climbing if it weren't for his The Vertical World of Yosemite!

I think I had that thing memorized when I was twelve years old.


Soda Springs, CA
May 20, 2010 - 09:25am PT
Just last week I visited the Mountain Light Gallery with my son Braden, his first time there.

It was awesome to view his photographs displayed large, and the artifacts of his and Barbara's careers and lives. And very sad as well.

I really enjoyed our friendship, the Tuesday morning 10 mile runs in the Berkeley Hills, along with Brian Maxwell, also RIP, and the occasional encounters over many years at Indian Rock. The time we soloed Cathedral Peak, inspired by Croft's crazy fast time a few days before, we went pretty crazy ourselves, one hour and 20 minutes car to car, the run down was a transcendent flight gliding in a blur over rock and tundra like deer in a happy hurry.

Last time I saw Galen and Barbara, Braden and I were invited for dinner at the new Bishop House, soon after they moved there, Braden had just returned from Thailand and they shared some great stories from their many journeys to Asia, with my son after his first.

Braden and I were together at the Ansel Adams Gallery when we heard the terrible news of the plane crash, a very sad day that we shared.

I will always be inspired by Galen's vision and world view, by his incredible fitness even as he entered his 60's, by his hungry intellect and curiosity, and by his marriage to Barbara, a classic pairing of a hyper-artist and a keen and beautiful woman with sharp business skills.

I miss them.


May 20, 2010 - 11:02am PT
I only met him once and liked him immediately, never got to tie in though. I really enjoyed reading the story of him later getting kicked out of Tibet as he showed up with a big stack of Dali Lama pictures and was freely distributing them to the grateful and overjoyed Tibetians: until this got noticed by the Chinese and he was arrested and kicked out of the country.

It was the right thing to do and not of insignificant personal risk either.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 20, 2010 - 12:23pm PT
I also only met him once and he didn't know me from Adam yet he was very sincere and friendly. He was someone whom you know your first impression is correct about. It is also clear that his work will stand the test of time.

I just read the NTSB report. If anybody is interested they can PM me for a plain-english synopsis.


Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
May 20, 2010 - 12:34pm PT
His photos always inspired me so much.

I have a signed, numbered limited print of the Rainbow in Tibet picture that I bought in a small climbing store in Denver in 1980 (think I paid $125 for it). I need to get to Bishop to have the Rowell gallery there take a look at it and tell me what it's worth.
Jerry Dodrill

Sebastopol, CA
May 20, 2010 - 12:41pm PT
That was a good investment. How big is the image of your print?

Trad climber
Santa Monica, California
May 20, 2010 - 01:28pm PT
I have it in storage right now, I'm thinking the image is about 24" X 18"? There's probably about a 40% error bar on that size as I'm not sure if that is picture or frame size.

May 20, 2010 - 04:04pm PT
Galen is surely missed by many (Barbara too). I met Galen and Barbara by chance back in the mid-80's. Sitting in a parking lot in my VW Van reading a book behind some mexican restaurant in Bishop during a solo trip, James Wilson (Wilson's Eastside...) walks up and invites me out to introduce Galen and Barbara and subsequently to dinner. Galen was scheduled to do a slideshow that night...

Sitting on the terrace that splits the Rowell/Jones route on Hetch Hetchy Dome, Ron Felton and I notice the trace of a cleverly placed fire ring at our chosen bivy spot. It was the FAist's also. Cleverly as to being on the northeast side of a small boulder. It could have been anywhere, but there, it would be invisible from the dam...That night was like being there on the FA...pondering what was going through their heads...

Years later our paths crossed as both of us had been involved with peregrine falcon studies in the Sierra through Lee Aulman (cover of National Geographic). This trip was to The Needles. Down at Needlerock Creek he was really clowning it up; putting on a central valley farmer's hat and biting on a weed. Up in the rocks though, Galen was driven. We could hardly keep up with him, especially when the shadows started to grow (he really was going for the 'money shot'). A couple of times we found ourselves literally diving to save a lens he'd seem to carelessly set down near the edge, only to have it stop rolling on this special 'knuckle' he had installed just for those occasions. Galen would grin an tell us not to worry. Of course, Galen had his sh*it together.

After all of the 'work' was over, Galen didn't want to have visited The Needles without having climbed. We were now up in the upper area and he asked what the 'best' route would be to do (if there was one recommendation for that, i.e., 'the most bang for yer buck'). That task given to me, I chose Igor Unchained. I expressed that IMO epitomized The Needles experience. Galen was stoked (but we were stoked times ten). Ron Felton, my partner at the time made a perfect party of three; one lead for each. Ron had a score to settle on pitch one from a previous burn-out and hang because of the 'enduro/relentless' nature of that lead, so it was his. Galen was open to any choices, so I told Galen that the final lead should be his. (If you've done it, you may agree of that decision.)

Having done that route numerous times, I had the rack pared to just the essentials. However, when Galen prepared for the lead, the weight just wasn't his style and began tossing some pieces back at us. I said nothing, but Ron muttered some cautionary opinion...But Hell, this is Galen Rowell! STFU! The third lead looms over our small niche at the base of the headwall. Galen casts off..."Hey! What about this block?! Is this O.K. to grab? Galen asks about the freaky-looking, possibly body impaling block one must mount some ten-feet out from the belay. I figured that Galen had seen a gazillion like 'em..."Yeah, it's alright, it's solid.

Galen climbed out of our sight shortly after, climbing steadily and only a few times took pause; a couple of times to remark his regret that he had left those pieces of pro...

That trip was the last time I saw or spoke to Galen. I regret not having connected more.
Galen, Needlerock Creek
Galen, Needlerock Creek
Credit: Lee Aulman

National Geographic article spread by Galen. Lee Aulman being swooped....
National Geographic article spread by Galen. Lee Aulman being swooped...
Credit: Rowell

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