New Book on Yosemite Climbing History

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Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 14, 2010 - 12:13pm PT
I just received my copy today of Joseph Taylor's recently published, Pilgrims of the Vertical: Yosemite Rock Climbers and Nature at Risk.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0674052870/ref=oss_product

In some ways it is like a rock climbing version of Ortner's Life and Death on Mt. Everest in that it is an academic book critical of the sport in a typically post modern way.

It is unique in rock climbing literature in that it relies heavily on personal letters and other documents which have not been previously published, along with accounts from the time, rather than personal recollections after the fact. As a result, it captures the spirit of the various climbing eras as they appeared at the time, rather than through a romanticized remembrance.

The portrait is undeniably accurate though not always flattering, and is thus sure to provoke much controversy on sites such as this one. On the other hand, it is full of details which have never before been revealed, which most members of our community will want to be privy too, so I predict that it will sell rapidly.



Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Sep 14, 2010 - 05:59pm PT
I guess I've never heard of James Taylor (other than the singer).
I have always been suspicious of writings by people who weren't a
direct part of the scene somehow. Maybe he was, but I don't know. I've
never heard his name, associated with the climbing history. Is
this an early history or later? We know of quite a few histories that
have been written by people who look back fondly at a time but were not
part of it, and thus they don't get the spirit of things right or even
close. Two notable British climbers wrote histories and, all the many
wonderful and good things notwithstanding, loaded those pages with
errors. I've learned that Yosemite is a very precious place to a lot of
people, and to which people are very protective, and most have
their own memory and take on things. No one really has much more
than his or her own sense of things, and most find
everyone else's viewpoint quite different from their own. I mean, even
our most respected friends, such as Roper, see things very different
than others did.
Not sure exactly what I'm saying here, other than that I am
naturally a bit skeptical, but I am happy to learn and
have my skepticism proven entirely wrong.
pc

climber
Sep 14, 2010 - 06:07pm PT
It's Joseph Taylor III, not James...

Seems he's a professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

http://www.sfu.ca/~taylorj/Pages/Vita.html

edit.

Patrick said, "I have always been suspicious of writings by people who weren't a
direct part of the scene somehow."

And I'm always suspicious of writings by people who were part of that history. Perhaps it'll be nice to see how you/we're viewed outside our "scene". Look forward to reading it.
Ghost

climber
A long way from where I started
Sep 14, 2010 - 06:17pm PT
I have always been suspicious of writings by people who weren't a
direct part of the scene somehow.

On the other hand, history also teaches us to be suspicious of stories from participants in just about anything -- war, finance, politics, even climbing.

Whether this guy's book is worth the paper it's printed on remains to be seen, but there's certainly no law of the universe stating that research by a non-participant is necessarily wrong or worthless.

Like you, I'm a skeptical, but hoping to be proven wrong.
Brokedownclimber

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Sep 14, 2010 - 06:43pm PT
Jan-

You really need to write the first review on Amazon!
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 14, 2010 - 07:33pm PT
It will have to be exceptional to get my attention, that particular part of climbing history has been picked over with a fine tooth comb.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
SoCal
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:08pm PT
Looks like the author is a Journalist. Probably writing by formula to the non-climbing crowd. Filling their heads with crap. (sorry Tony)

I've not seen it up close. Hope I'm wrong.

I've found the best source on Yosemite climbing history to be this forum.
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:11pm PT
If Cohen recommends it, i'm in for a read. Just ordered it.

Clear, original, rigorous, and convincing, Pilgrims of the Vertical is like nothing else written on the subject. It represents a huge advance in the history of climbing as a sport and lifestyle. Taylor argues that climbing was always a complex social activity and offers valuable context in which climbers can accurately assess the value and risks of their sport. I believe this book has the ability to alter the way climbing literature is written, and I recommend it with great enthusiasm.
--Michael P. Cohen, author of The Pathless Way and The History of the Sierra Club
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:40pm PT
Yeah, I just Amazoned it too. We will have to regroup in a few; should be interesting.
klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:46pm PT
I have always been suspicious of writings by people who weren't a
direct part of the scene somehow.

Pat, I trust you're referring specifically to Yosemite?

Otherwise, you'd be arguing that the only reliable writings on Nazism would be those by Goebbels or Goerring.

Jay's book isn't focused on who climbed what when. It's not really a different version of Wizards of Rock or even of Mountaineering in North America. It's a scholarly work and it's primary interest is placing climbing in a larger historical context. Although Jay make some judgments at the end that I expect will make a significant chunk of ST readers unhappy. And that's partly a good thing.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:47pm PT
Let me know what you think Jan. I have a copy but no time to read. I took him climbing several times.

Ken

Spider Savage, You are wrong. He did not write it for the masses. He is intellectually intrigued with climbing and it's historical/cultural influence outside the climbing world.

Ken
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:47pm PT
The context in which climbers evaluate their "sport" is themselves. Why an individual climbs is too personal and complex for academic examination. Surprisingly, the decision, when made, seems so intuitively obvious that it becomes simple.
klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:53pm PT
The context in which climbers evaluate their "sport" is themselves. Why an individual climbs is too personal and complex for academic examination.

You could say the same thing about any activity, from pinochle to Civil Rights Marches to terrorism.

Actually, Donini, I think you'd be inclined to like the earlier part of the book, especially, since one of the things Jay found was just how vital and important social institutions-- namely club culture--were to making climbing an accepted and legal recreational practice in the National Park.

All that metaphysical navel-gazing came later, once community organizers had done the hard work of making it possible for baby boomers to go in search of their inner mystic.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Sep 14, 2010 - 08:58pm PT
KLK, I respect your and Mike Cohen's opinions- I'll give it a go. I'll probably learn something
Walleye

climber
The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Sep 14, 2010 - 09:06pm PT
"All that metaphysical navel-gazing came later, once community organizers had done the hard work of making it possible for baby boomers to go in search of their inner mystic. "

Man, I couldn't agree more.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 14, 2010 - 09:44pm PT
Donini-

I think you will be very surprised at how individualistic climbers turn out to be much more a product of their times and the American social milieu, even when reacting against it, than we would like to believe.


klk

Trad climber
cali
Sep 14, 2010 - 09:46pm PT
donini--

likewise, and i was especially happy to see cohen's puff on the book, because a lot of what jay says differs from cohen's pathless way. in this business, the best friends you can find are the smart, hard-working people with good craft skills whose judgments sometimes differ from your own.


Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 14, 2010 - 10:05pm PT
Spider Savage-

There's not a single person, event, or issue in Taylor's book that has not at least been touched upon in this forum, particularly from the 1950's on, but the advantage of Joseph's book is that he is able to put it into one continuous and coherent narrative.

One could certainly put together a narrative of quotations from what has been posted here, but that would be a gargantuan task.
BBA

climber
OF
Sep 14, 2010 - 10:31pm PT
He was a professor of history at Iowa State University when he wrote to me on February 9, 2001 saying such things as , "Steve Roper suggested that I contact you about my project." "I want to assure you that this is a serious academic study." "Yosemite climbers have been articulate and verbose..." He must have meant to say full of it.

Sounds like he spent 9 years on the project and is a serious academic. If he can write an interesting book, then it's worth a read before speculation about it.

I must admit, however, to this feeling that if you want to know something about Yosemite climbing, search Supertopo and you'll find it. It's worked for me in my recent bout of attempted authorship.

Bill Amborn
Ihateplastic

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Sep 15, 2010 - 02:00am PT
I am in the process of transcribing an interview with this author for a climbing film project. The film project was done by serious climbers so I imagine they sought him out as he had something valuable and accurate to add to the project.

Having said that... does anyone remember a climber/author named Michael Tobias who wrote a obtuse, intellectual treatise in Mountain magazine entitled, "“The Anthropology of Ascent.” ? Well, I must admit that the current interview has the same tone of "WAY above my head" and far removed from the day-to-day activity of runouts, manky bolts and life in the dirt.

Oh well, should still be a worthwhile addition to the library.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 15, 2010 - 02:01am PT
Maybe we should have a book club discussion of this at the FaceLift. Does anyone know if the book is available anywhere in the Valley?

The historiography of climbing is an interesting subject. I certainly agree that someone who's a non-climber may be quite able to write something original and illuminating about climbing. Not that it's happened much, but an academic (sociologist?) might have some interesting and perhaps uncomfortable things to say about us.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 15, 2010 - 02:35am PT
I remember Tobias and the Anthropology of Ascent which I also didn't much care for (probably just over my head).

Taylor's book is way more entertaining because he includes so many first hand details of events ranging from climbs to ethical debates, to sexual attitudes, parties and ranger run ins. He includes a lot of opinionated commentary from climbers themselves though he doesn't list the source if they were spoken in an interview and requested confidentiality.

Surely part of the interest of the book is trying to figure out who he interviewed and what they said about others. In that regard, it is an interesting mixture of academic analysis and Camp 4 gossip.
Mike Bolte

Trad climber
Planet Earth
Sep 15, 2010 - 11:19am PT
I'm laughing at this thread as it is so typical of ST. A bunch of opinions expressed about the book and author, some pretty strong opinions, before anyone but Jan has read the book!
BBA

climber
OF
Sep 15, 2010 - 11:19am PT
I didn't have much if anything to contribute as Taylor was looking for original sources. I referred him to Guido. Taylor mentioned he had already received help from a number of others, some of whom he named, and they were the real deal. I'll leave their names out so as to make the guessing game of who said what more interesting.
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Sep 15, 2010 - 11:24am PT
IHP,
I still think of Michael Tobias, especially whenever I see something about
Mt Sinai. As I recall he wrote a nice piece on climbing that in Mountain Gazette.
I thought he was an excellent writer. Whatever became of him?
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Sep 15, 2010 - 11:57am PT
Joseph Taylor was on the east side a few years ago doing interviews and we had him over for dinner. Still at Iowa State then. Seemed like a good guy and I am looking forward to the book.
Ihateplastic

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Sep 15, 2010 - 12:25pm PT
Reilly... I met Michael once in the Mt. Room Bar. I was young and not supposed to be in there. I just remember listening to him talk and thinking I needed to go back to school ASAP! His vocabulary and ability to string words together into circumlocutory sentences astounded me.

Here is a link about him and his current activities:

http://www.dancingstarfoundation.org/biographies.php
AlexReinhard

climber
Sep 15, 2010 - 08:02pm PT
Just recently met and interviewed Joseph Taylor for a film project I'm working on. He knows a ton of stuff and a nice guy to boot (fed us after the interview). Here's a link to an article "Climber, Granite, Sky" he wrote if you want to get an idea of his writing style http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3854/is_200601/ai_n17177356/?tag=content;col1
rrider

climber
Mckinleyville, Ca
Sep 16, 2010 - 12:51am PT
Thanks Alex Reinhard, for the link to Taylor's sample of writing style and perspective. He sounds like a very intelligent guy who likes to take the art of climbing, and weave historical tapestry to make his art. Nothing wrong with that.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 18, 2010 - 01:04am PT
The book is much more interesting than the article!
Ihateplastic

Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Sep 18, 2010 - 02:39am PT
My copy came in the post today. A quick (okay 45 minutes) glance through convinces me this guy did some MEGA research and it should be a great read.

Gotta love this Chouinard quote in the book:

"I have begun my campaign to wipe out CMI and Long and Leeper too. Phuck them all. Leeper gets phucked up for even thinking he can make a better piton than I can."

Don't worry, the book does not edit its expletives.
PhilG

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Sep 18, 2010 - 11:53am PT
Thanks for the post, Jan. And for the turn on to the book.
I, for one, can't get enough Yosemite history!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Sep 26, 2010 - 08:32pm PT
Okay, I am now halfway through the book. Thanks tons, Jan for bringing our attention to it. It is rather academic and scholarly but still engaging reading. The author has done his own massive review of the extant material and parts ways frequently with conventional views of climbing's development here in the U.S. It is quite interesting although nearly approaches redundancy at times with his thoroughness and review. It also achieves a pleasing intimacy at times with the principal characters in our past.

I should have it finished by next weekend. The second half is going to be addressing late forties and forward; this more recent period will be more familiar to me and maybe I can offer more of a critique. I am grateful to him for this impressive volume and I think it takes our whole American climbing history to new levels of scholarship.
couchmaster

climber
pdx
Sep 26, 2010 - 10:50pm PT
Hopefully enough of you hit on this book that the price of it used drops to my price point for a used, hardcover book. $ 1.75.
mark miller

Social climber
Reno
Sep 26, 2010 - 11:01pm PT
Is this turning into another..."Bring me the Head of J Taylor ",threads? Sometimes we forget it's AmeriKa and folks should be able to say anything they want. Oh well, I'll read it.
The R. Messner Book was tough to get through the first stuff, all the soloing and killing of partners (and brother). But the end seemed to reveal a different man and I'm glad I stuck it out.
TomCochrane

Trad climber
I've lost track...
Sep 29, 2010 - 12:45am PT
I've had problems reading various accounts of Yosemite climbing history, because I wind up sticking them full of tabs where my personal experience disagrees with the account reported. I managed to make it through this book without adding post-it tabs on the pages. I very much appreciate the honest reporting.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Oct 14, 2010 - 01:05pm PT
There is a lot of buzz around this book and several academics that I know are engaged by it. Jan recently sent me a copy as a present and I can't wait to read it once my writing workload eases up.

The sections that I have sampled have been right on the mark and Taylor has really done his research well.

Jan-Thanks for starting this thread and turning me on to such a great book!

I recently talked with Mark Powell and he got a real kick out of being described as climbing's first ambassador of the beat generation! LOL
JEleazarian

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Oct 14, 2010 - 02:04pm PT
I'm looking forward to reading it, but I must admit I'm jealous of Taylor. My dream job has always been to be a professor of climbing history at Berkeley.

John
steelmnkey

climber
Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Oct 14, 2010 - 03:32pm PT
I'm glad to see this getting the thumbs up... I pretty much pulled the trigger when this thread popped up and the book is now sitting in the queue awaiting reading.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 14, 2010 - 04:04pm PT
Thanks for the heads up Jan, I'll look for it.




I met Tobias 35 years ago. Poor guy accidentally ingested a thesaurus and has been coughing up $3 words ever since. I don't think there is a cure.
klk

Trad climber
cali
Oct 14, 2010 - 10:16pm PT
Oct 14, 2010 - 11:04am PT
Im looking forward to reading it, but I must admit I'm jealous of Taylor. My dream job has always been to be a professor of climbing history at Berkeley.

John



Jay is actually a historian at Simon Fraser in BC.

Funny this thread popped up, since I just saw him about an hour ago at the conference.
BBA

climber
OF
Oct 30, 2010 - 12:05pm PT
A review of Taylor's book is in today's Wall Street Journal.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 30, 2010 - 02:29pm PT
Here's the Wall Street Journal Reference

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304772804575558583991768908.html?mod=WSJ_Books_LS_Books_5

Based on this review, I think the New York Times does a better job of writing about climbing.
Mighty Hiker

climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 30, 2010 - 02:59pm PT
Well, I got a copy (courtesy Tricouni), and now just have to read it.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2010 - 08:51am PT
The easiest way to get started I found, was begin with the chapters about myself and my friends and work up to modern times. I then went back and read the really ancient history.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 31, 2010 - 10:03am PT
Ybarra’s review is more a frisky swiftboating and polemic of Taylor than a review; it’s a lightweight skimming roughup of the author and the tasks he accomplishes. Ybarra apparently is unaware or unappreciative of the groundbreaking findings Taylor develops through his many pages, noncognizant of the many unanswered questions many of us have had about the past eras and their sociologies. It has not been enough to simply say "they are just there", please. Of course his work is scholarly, which by itself seems to be the basis of Ibarra’s main thrust; it has to be as the subjects Taylor is working with have only been treated facilely so far in our literature and without significant substantiation. I am working on a review myself of Taylor but it will be quite a bit longer and quite a bit more sympathetic to his mission than the NYT’s piece.

Here is a tiny Ybarra piece which goes well; it's on Norman Clyde and the Eastern California Museum:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203863204574345003001544422.html
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2010 - 10:50am PT
Peter-

I'm glad to hear you are doing a review.

I was impressed that Taylor is the first historian so far to discuss many of the issues that were raised on the Sacherer thread here on ST in regard to the 1960's era. I was remembering some of that today when I wrote up my remembrances of Larry Dalke, and was reminded again of the totally different ethos of the Colorado climbers toward women climbers in contrast to the Yosemite climbers of the era. Of course I was already biased in Taylor's favor when I found he had referred to me as an independent who was exceptional!

Meanwhile, I thought that he was the first historian to really do justice to Frank and his legacy, probably because Frank's impact was greater on the '70's climbers than on his contemporaries who wrote the first histories. Taylor did so and at the same time conveyed a real sense of Frank's sometimes difficult personality I thought, putting it all in good perspective.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 31, 2010 - 11:06am PT
Agreed, Jan. I will have the advantage that he doesn’t mention me at all! How funny.

Jan I agree; looking at the role women had in those past days and in the seventies reveals even more about the entire developing ethos of those years. He is able to give shape to what happened to us all from the twenties on through the seventies. It is quite useful and hasn't really been done before. I also very much love how he holds Yc, RR, and others' feet to the fire in pointing out their essential hypocrisy, however self-justifed they may feel. It's good stuff.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 31, 2010 - 11:12am PT
We are indeed on the same wave length here. I particularly liked how he portrayed the Robbins - Harding feud. I liked what he wrote about Layton Kor as well, both on and off the walls.

I hadn't noticed that he forgot to mention you although it seems there were others left out as well. I'm sure that Hope wishes there was more on Jim Baldwin, especially since Hope interviewed several times with Taylor.


Edit:
I've just been informed by another source that Baldwin's family would not give permission to quote from his letters. Since this was a scholarly work, anything said needed to be authenticated with a living interview or a document. Hence much was known but left unsaid for Baldwin and I'm guessing others as well.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 31, 2010 - 11:22am PT
Actually (DR has my book right now so I can’t check) I am remembering that the footnote section is huge; isn’t it like 70-80 pages? Taylor really worked hard didn’t he. The NYT Ybarra snippet could have done better, been fairer, putting this important effort forward to the reading public.

The notion that present-day climbing is simply more of what they were doing back in the forties and fifties and sixties is a fallacious one. We have something very very different now that has both quantitatively and qualitatively transformed since those years and is largely apart from what those folks 50 years ago were doing and imagining. And it deserves a big and scholarly effort like Taylor's.
MHope

Big Wall climber
Scarsdale, New York
Oct 31, 2010 - 02:33pm PT
The only other book as definitive as Jay Taylors "Pilgims of the Vertical"
is Glen Dennys "Yosemite in the Sixties" the two books say it all. Hey guys who woulda thunk, us rock bums made the Wall Street Journal!
Swifter

Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Nov 3, 2010 - 08:31pm PT
I met J. Taylor some years ago but the only contact with him since has been by mail. I've sent him some photos he wanted, presumably for the book, but wasn't aware that the book had been published...almost 2 months ago, yet! I guess that means I needn't expect to get a copy of the book. I really don't feel like buying a copy but would like to see if I got any credits for my pix. Maybe the library can get one that I don't have to pay to read.

Bob Swift
colin rowe

Trad climber
scotland uk
Nov 4, 2010 - 02:16pm PT
Patrick
You mention in your post "two notable British climbers" who in their accounts produced "errors". Would you mind clarifying what they were please. Thank you, Colin
crunch

Social climber
CO
Nov 4, 2010 - 07:05pm PT
This book grated on me, sorry. Taylor has two main points about modern climbers:

1. Risk. Climbers take risks. It is selfish and morally wrong to take risks, therefore climbers are selfish and morally wrong.

2. Environmental issues. Climbers recreate in nature. Climbers have impacts on nature. Therefore climbers are self-deceiving and/or dishonest if they claim to be supporters of the environment.

He goes to a lot of trouble to dig up quotations to buttress these two points. The final words of the book are an appeal for climbers to “grow up.”

This book starts out really well. One chapter explores the early history of climbing; the upper-class, wealthy Brits who roamed the Alps, formed clubs, excluded women and non-wealthy participants. Taylor takes this unpromising material and brings it to life. He excels at the early history of climbing in the US and the rise of the US mountaineering-club scene--the clubs arose so that climbers could share knowledge, equipment and opportunity. He explains how ideas, some essentially American, some just new, shifted climbing from its European roots into a strongly egalitarian and community-based club/social scene during the 1920s and 1930s.

Excellent stuff. Then, in the second half, the tone slowly shifts and becomes more and more critical. I reached the end disappointed at the negativity. My own take is that Chuck Pratt’s The View From Deadhorse Point contains more truth about wilderness ideology and Heidi Lockwood (in the book “Climbing: Philosophy for Everyone.”) offers a far more enlightened analysis of risk-taking. But I probably need to “grow up.”
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 25, 2013 - 06:13am PT
Since Chris McNamara posted a threat by Joseph Taylor on the history of Yosemite Guidebooks, I thought I would bump this thread for his book as well.
QITNL

climber
Jan 25, 2013 - 06:30am PT
Threat level = zero. Good thread. Bumpalicious!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jan 25, 2013 - 08:20am PT
Soooo, that's where the hell that came from!

"Picture Book"

Picture yourself when you're getting old,
Sat by the fireside a-pondering on[?].
Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago.
Na, na, na, na, na na.
Na, na, na, na, na na.
Picture book.
Picture book.

A picture of you in your birthday suit,
You sat in the sun on a hot afternoon.
Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out boozing with their friends. Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend.
Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago.
Na, na, na, na, na na.
Na, na, na, na, na na.
Picture book.
Picture book.
Picture book.
Picture book.

Picture book,
Na, na, na, na na,
Na, na, na, na na,
A-scooby-dooby-doo.
Picture book,
Na, na, na, na na,
Na, na, na, na na,
A-scooby-dooby-doo.

Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Long time ago,
Long time ago,
Long time ago,
Long time ago,
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Phenomenal Cat/Kinks
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmySezU9NwA
Gerg

Trad climber
Calgary
Jan 25, 2013 - 12:57pm PT
I don't get it, nobody was around for the civil war, napoleon, etc as they were not theree either to expierence it firsthand.
Have not read it, but the guy is at least a University historian and can dig for info, just as any author gives us insight into events waaay before our time.
jstan

climber
Jan 25, 2013 - 01:32pm PT
Amazon lists one seller asking $201 and the used copies have highlighting. A climbing book with highlighting?

Holy crap! That's some serious recommendation.
bit'er ol' guy

climber
the past
Jan 25, 2013 - 10:46pm PT

it's been played.

save yer $$$$$

buy a Gopro.
Tricouni

Mountain climber
Vancouver
Jan 25, 2013 - 11:44pm PT
Amazon lists one seller asking $201 and the used copies have highlighting. A climbing book with highlighting?
Forget Amazon. ABE.com has as-new copies for $20 + $4 shipping. Cheaper than the new price.
deuce4

climber
Hobart, Australia
Jan 26, 2013 - 01:39am PT
Just scanned the book's preview in Amazon. The author calls me a "dirtbag" a couple times. I don't recall ever meeting him.

Funny thing is, these historians really have little significant source material for what I consider an important era (nothwithstanding it was the era which I thrived in), which is the early 80's to the mid/late 80's.

Roper does well to document the so-called Golden Era to the late 70's, and of course in the late 80's/ early 90's the boom of MTV, video and and print of the main threads, then followed by the internet in the early/mid 90's, but the 80's period has never really been documented very well with the type of broad perspective you see by authentic climber historians (such as Roper).

The 80's was really a time with some unique transitional characteristics between the "olden days" and the modern realm of rock climbing. Certain boundaries were innovatively explored and pushed, with some key seeds and roots of today's mainstream climbing culture (albeit which has evolved considerably since then).

EDIT--just thinking about it a bit more, and perhaps one of the things that was significant about the 80's era was that it was the last era prior to the "MTV era" which portrayed climbing to the public as "cool" which in turn influenced its essence-- and the resulting popular reformation provides fodder for academics like the Pilgrims of Vertical author to write books "explaining" climbing's evolution.
crunch

Social climber
CO
Jan 27, 2013 - 04:10pm PT
Hey Deucey,

Yeah, incisive observation. Maybe Taylor had preconceived ideas about climbing, from the media, and, when he tried scaling rocks himself, found that it very different to the “cool” sport he envisaged.

In his book he relates a story of an ordeal he had rope-soloing Snake Dike, where he ran out the rope to the point where he suddenly realized he was both off-route and looking at a huge, perhaps deadly fall. He became very scared and eventually backtracked with care, survived, retreated. Decide that the risks in climbing were not justifiable. As written, a non-climbing reader would surely agree that he had made a heroic effort to try this sport and the unjustifiable risks make it not worth embracing. One of the big themes of the book is that climbers take unjustifiable risks. And they deceive themselves about the risks they take.

I read this sorry tale of nearly dying and thought, Why the hell would anyone rope solo Snake Dike? You have to carry all the gear up there, the route is unsuitable for rope-soloing as it is runout and has much easy terrain which would require dragging/carrying the gear with you (or rapping, cleaning and jumaring endless easy slab pitches). He made a poor decision and it seemed entirely predictable that things went wrong. But that’s not at all how it reads.

His study of Yosemite climbing started out superbly--I learned a lot from his insights into pre-WWII history--but something went wrong; maybe he was slammed and had to rush to finish, maybe the more recent material was too overwhelming in scope and scale for him to grasp, maybe personal experiences, including his Snake Dike scare, colored his judgement.

Getting into the recent decades, Taylor is roundly critical of the wanna-be dirtbags, the risk-takers, the misogynistic attitudes, the pro-environmental hypocrisy of climbers who pounded pitons and place bolts. He does not really differentiate much between the recent eras.

There are criticisms to be made, for sure.

But the book gets confused, simplistic, picking odd quotes and dubious statistics to buttress what appear to his already-formed opinions about risk-taking and environmental values. Toward the end, disappointing (maddening at times!).

All sports, all persons have contradictions. The best histories spell these out but have empathy for the characters involved. By explaining the characters (ie Robbins, Harding, Yabo, Haan, Chongo, Bachar, Hill, etc, etc, yes, even that pesky Middendorf) as best one can, with empathy, then the contradictions can be, if not explained, at least given some context.

There’s little empathy here; Taylor manages to criticize Lynn Hill, which is quite an achievement.

Roper’s faults lie in the other direction; he is full of empathy and understanding--love, really--of the Camp 4 scene and its characters--his writing is always a pleasure to read--but steers clear of wider judgments. Maybe he's too much a part of the scene to step back very far.

No one has really tried what Taylor has attempted here. Taylor’s book’s a good start to a discussion over the significance of the Yosemite/Camp 4 scene, how it fits into a larger picture--and what picture, exactly, it should fit into.

You should order a copy and read it, deucy. I know you care about this history.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 27, 2013 - 08:36pm PT
I agree with crunch that the end of the book seems kind of rushed. My guess is that Joseph ran out of both time and energy. He has written other academic books on other topics and probably did not want to devote the rest of his life to the history of climbing.

Perhaps a better or at least easier approach would be to limit the time span from early history to early 70's perhaps, and then write volume II, or let someone else do it who lived through the later eras. The problem with that approach is economics. The average academic book sells only 600 copies. The other problem is academic.

To be at the top of one's field, one can not write mere description if doing any kind of social science, but have to have some kind of theoretical slant that is supposed to be new and highly critical of the subject and other accounts of it, to prove the worth of one's own contribution. This approach has of course been criticized as being too formulaic and sacrificing information for theory.

I encounter this dilemma all the time in my own academic writing. I've seen numerous theories come and go in the years since I went to grad school, while the descriptive accounts of people and places (ethnography) remain interesting. Of course this brings up another problem for social science academics anyway. If social science doesn't keep theorizing then many branches of it will be subsumed into historical studies. The difference between ethnography and anthropology is that of description versus description plus theory.
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Oceanside
Jan 27, 2013 - 11:48pm PT
Google books has the first 49 pages you can review, looks like an interesting read

http://books.google.com/books?id=jl1RVN79N-EC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Edit: I just bought the book from Walmart online, 20 bucks including tax, I went with the free store pickup.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 28, 2013 - 12:19am PT
Awesome remarks, Crunch! As you say the initial section on early climbing history in California,
"The Sierra Club Days" period, is remarkable and I would have to say what makes the book invaluable.
deuce4

climber
Hobart, Australia
Jan 28, 2013 - 08:07pm PT
Crunch, I'm only pesky when it comes to telling the story of how you climbed the PO through storms with a lawn chair and carpenter's hammer.

Perhaps with your talent for writing, you can lead the academics to the essence of the true dirt-bag's perspective.

Someday I plan to put my thoughts and feelings to pen once I have the time and perspective to peruse the various journals I've kept of the good ole days...
Captain...or Skully

climber
Jan 28, 2013 - 08:10pm PT
I'd say get on it, Deucey. Life is unpredictable, you know.
Maybe that crunch would also? You guys Are Our History, (like it or not)...
deuce4

climber
Hobart, Australia
Jan 28, 2013 - 08:35pm PT
now, saying all that, I do think that Paul Pritchard does well in describing the era for the British scene in Deep Play, which has just been reprinted:

http://www.amazon.com/Deep-Play-Paul-Pritchard/dp/1906148589

The US 'scene' during that time has some parallels...





klk

Trad climber
cali
Jan 28, 2013 - 10:38pm PT
some good comments on this thread-- cumulatively, the good ones add up to a smarter review than the ones in the WSJ or the AAC. i'll try to do a few posts. i'm not speaking for jay here. i'll try to explain the process from the inside of the profession as best i can.

crunch (echoed by peter, jan and deuce)
I learned a lot from his insights into pre-WWII history--but something went wrong; maybe he was slammed and had to rush to finish, maybe the more recent material was too overwhelming in scope and scale for him to grasp, maybe personal experiences . . . colored his judgement.

you forgot to leave out-- maybe he didn't get good advice. heh

he wasn't rushed. except insofar as books are shaped by logistical and market forces. i suggested breaking it into two volumes. but the financials weren't in favor, and i think jay was ready to be done with it. and i honestly don't think it would've mattered, because of two generic problems.

there are two generic issues in treating history (especially US history) after the 1960s. (actually, there's more, but i'll highlight these two.) the first is a problem with all recent history: we don't know how it turns out. constructing a historical narrative means you have a temporary fix on the endpoint and can read back from there. we don't have that here. the fight over "risk" (i.e., between "trad" and "sport") is ongoing. the fight over access is ongoing. there isn't a nice clear endpoint that provides a criterion for deciding which story lines are important and which are subtext, which characters are key and which minor, and so on.

the second problem is indeed the problem of stuff getting overwhelming. this is a generic feature of sources and topics in recent history, but in climbing it's like this: for the period up to the early sixties, jay has a limited set of institutions that provide the key story threads and archival sources: NPS, Sierra Club, RCS, AAC, a few important climbing clubs, and a pretty limited total number of actors. but in the '60s those institutions collapse (save for the overwhelmed and increasingly distant and underfunded NPS), and whirl is king. C4 becomes a tent camp of randoms from god knows where, and turning over every other week. the problem isn't lack of sources-- it's the surplus.

too many potential story lines, too many actors, and way too many sources. EPA alone means that just the NPS documentary side explodes. so if it feels like the wheels are coming off at the end of the book, that's actually a pretty faithful recreation of what's actually happening.

That doesn't mean that no one can write histories of the late seventies and eighties-- but it does mean that those histories are going to get either increasingly narrow and focused. free climbing? soloing? hard aid? tourism? the changes in the NPS? the changes in the Sierra Club? changes in the sociology of the climbing community? the closing of California's mental institutions? globalization and consumer climbing culture? international air travel? we can go on forever.

i do think that as a "book," pilgrims would've been "better" or at least neater had it tied up all its loose narrative ends by ending with the dawn wall. but it would've sold way fewer copies, this thread wouldn't still be up (and may never have happened), and there are stacks of really good research in that last bit that other folks can now build on. and we would've lost that had jay taken my advice more to heart. heh



btw, jay was a serious lifestyle climber long before he became a historian. i recommended he 86 all the personal memoir sh#t in the book, but editors, publishers, and the vast majority of americans-- including everyone on st this thread just more evidence-- believe that memoire is the ultimate form of expression and way more "authentic" and believable and "historical" than anything else, let alone something as lame as histories based on primary research that has run the gauntlet of peer review.

btw2, i haven't asked him about the snake dike deal. but i have a hypothesis. heh.





McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Jan 28, 2013 - 11:03pm PT
I did it again! I read halfway through this thread before realizing I was reading posts from 2010! I'll have to get the book just to see quotes like,

"I have begun my campaign to wipe out CMI and Long and Leeper too. Phuck them all. Leeper gets phucked up for even thinking he can make a better piton than I can."


Haha! That's classic. I hope there's more sh#t in there like that or I'll want my money back. I did buy a GoPro today though, so the book might have to wait. I did that even before I saw Bit'er Ol Guy's post;
it's been played.

save yer $$$$$

buy a Gopro.
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