A Few Notes on the Life of Warren Harding.


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Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 5, 2011 - 04:13pm PT
It has been sometime since I first wrote of my friendship with Warren Harding. I started with a few reminisces of him, "The Warren Harding I Remember". I have almost finished a short history of Warren. I would like to share some of my thoughts about him while the whole book is being finished. In doing my research I have tried to stay true to him the man I remember, however I now see him in a more complete light.

He has turned out to be more complex of a personality than what appeared on the surface.

Warren Harding was always energetic, often generous, sometimes outrageous character who never believed that he needed to take himself or anyone else completely seriously. Warren would be known for his desire to go his own way, and not follow anyone else's ideas. His stubbornness has become legendary. I remember him always putting himself down. He loved slapstick humor and would always tell wonderful, sometimes off color stories.

He had many contradictory characteristics, some of which have made him a puzzle to unlock. While he loved publicizing his climbing feats, he did not brag about himself. He would wait for you to ask before he volunteered any climbing stories. Then he would answer in short clipped sentences. He often repeated the same answer over the years.
Like why do you climb? "Well you know all us climbers are crazy" or
"You just start at the bottom and go to the top".

For me personally having Warren for a friend was like having a crazy, but always loving older brother around. He was generous, kind and reliable. These are not the traits I expected from the average climber, but then no one ever called Warren Harding average. He was really fun to be with, you would not know what was going to come out of his mouth, but you could be sure it going to be entertaining.

To give you brief history of Harding, I have broken his life up into several segments of time.
One starting in the early 1950s, his first 10 years as a climber, roughly 1954 to 1964. The second from 1965 to 1971. The third period of time, the Batso era from 1972-1985 and the last his retirement years from 1986 - 2002

The early 1950s Harding was all energy and dash. Warren took to climbing like a duck to water and he could not get enough of it. In this period of time he made 22 FA's it was by far his most productive time as a climber. Much of what happened in this early period was trial and error. Climbing was in its infancy and the outcome of a climb was definitely not a sure thing. I think of this as the barnstorming time for climbers. It was the perfect time for someone with Warrens incredible drive and tenacity to be on center stage.

He was entering his 30ties but still had a very boyish look to him. In a few pictures he even resembles the late James Dean, who Warren may have subconsciously been imitating. Warren was driving a Jaguar and even attempted some road racing ala Dean. During this period he was very successful with the ladies and there were lots of them in his life.

He dyed his jeans black to match his very black hair. He worked out to develop his muscles, he would jog up the mist trail the top of Half Dome with a heavy pack and no water to condition himself, always trying to beat his last time. This conditioning program worked his arms became well muscled. He hated being short and did everything he could to compensate.

Warren always wanted to be taller, the fact is his height never interfered with his popularity, especially with the fairer sex. From the beginning Harding loved the ladies and they loved him back. Remember this was the 1950s when men were suppose to be gentlemen and women were expected to act like ladies. You may want to picture an uncaring playboy, but that would short change Harding. When Warren was around the guys he would act like the world's biggest womanizer, his eyes sparkled as he described his love of sex.

When he was with a young lady he was completely different, soft-spoken gentle and completely attentive in other words, just what most women say they want in a man. Harding had that rare ability to be completely macho with the guys and attentive and also tender and sweet, when he was with the girls.

This should help explain his tremendous success with the woman in his life. He was able to make the ladies all feel they were the most important people in his life, when he was talking to them. That is a rare gift and one which he had all his life.

From the beginning of his climbing days Warren was a fierce, tenacious competitor first with himself and later in wanting to achieve first ascents before other climbers. In most of his objectives he was successful, however he did lose out on the first ascent of Half Dome to Royal Robbins and his friends.

In fact Warren hiked up the mist trail with the pack which included orange juice and sandwiches. He wanted to be the first to congratulate Royal and his friends on their accomplishment. This first act of sportsmanship would continue throughout his life, he would always be on hand to congratulate a climber for their accomplishments.

Missing out on the FA of Half Dome would put Harding into competition with Royal Robbins for all of their climbing history, they would both compete to see who was best.

Warrens first ascent of El Capitan was the logical outcome of this highly competitive spirit, and a desire to make a name for himself. When his face appeared on billboards all over California he had feel a great sense of satisfaction.

While it is clear that Warren loved the publicity, he didn't let it change his personality or his humble playful nature. This may seem hard to understand, how could he be so humble and yet seek out publicity. I think the best explanation it is to look at the character of some movie stars, like that of Clint Eastwood who loves being a movie star but in his private life is quiet and humble and respectful. This is the best way I can describe what seems on the surface to be such contradictory behavior.

By the early 60s he had traded in his Jaguar for a Corvette. He continued to work full-time as a surveyor and to spend all of his free time climbing the big walls in the Park. Camp 4 was now his second home. The young climbers were his climbing partners as well as his drinking buddies. In those years much of the drinking might've occurred at the flats outside the Park as the bars stayed open till 2 AM. Warren continued dating many different girlfriends in these early years. He was unattached free to come and go as he wanted, he seemed to relish this lifestyle.

The second period of time 1965 to 1973 found him still in active climber with 13 first ascents during this period.

The mid-60s finds some changes in Warren now in his early 40ties and he is no longer so boyish looking. He is still the life of the party and for the first time he finds a lady who can keep up with him. Beryl is a beautiful blonde debutante, over 20 years his junior and she is wild about climbers, when she meets Warren she will give him a run for his money. He will be with her for the next 10 years. Beryl had to be fast on her feet keep up with him but it seems she had the goods and he was completely hooked on her.

By this time Harding is the senior member of the climbing set, to the ever younger climbers in camp 4. In this period of time climbers like Royal Robbins who was 11 years his junior, were beginning to settle down and start families of their own. Warren had no thought of marriage or of changing his lifestyle.

The closest thing to change came in 1967 when he decided to try his hand at being a civilian contractor in of all places the Vietnam, this is where he meets the real VC. He would later refer to VC in his book Downward Bound only now VC would mean Valley Christians. Warren always liked to play with words. He found working in a war zone to be unpleasant, unprofitable, and dangerous. When he came home he announced that he wanted to do something safe like rock climbing.

His unfortunate stent in Vietnam was only the beginning of a series of problems he would face in the next few years. In 1968 he and Galen Rowell were almost frozen to death when they were caught in a three-day snow storm on the South side of Half Dome. This necessitated the first night rescue using a helicopter. This was a low moment for Warren, especially so because he was rescued by none other than Royal Robbins.

In the fall of 1969 Warren was hit by a pickup truck while at work, his leg was broken and his knee shattered. Galen was pretty sure Warrens life as a climber had come to an end. Despite that in the spring of 1970 he and Galen finished their climb of Half Dome successfully.

That fall he teamed up with a new climbing partner Dean Caldwell they decided to try and do a new route up El Capitan which was called the Wall of Early Morning Light or the Dawn Wall. They planned for a long ascent using traditional climbing methods which involved lots of bolts and rivets. This climb ended up taking 27 days which was a record time on a Yosemite big wall climb. When the climb was finished the press were waiting to welcome the pair.
Warren was elated, he felt the climb had been a huge success. Harding's triumph was to be short-lived. He felt he had overcome his physical disabilities and survived this harrowing climb proving to himself and the world that good old Warren could not be stopped by mere physical injuries and or age.

What he didn't understand was his view of what he had done was not shared by many of his fellow climbers. In fact none other than Royal Robbins would shortly climb the same route with the objective of removing all of the bolts and rivets thus erasing the route permanently. As it turned out within three pitches Royal realized that Warren had actually created a high quality climbing route and he stopped chopping Warrens bolts. Royal finished the climb and has spent years explaining that his actions were his words, a bad idea.

Unfortunately for Warren the clamor over the of use of excessive bolts and out of date climbing style would haunt him for years to come.

I see the Wall of Early Morning Light as Warrens last great climb. It was also the end of his serious climbing history and the beginning of what I think of as his Batso period.

In late 1971 Warren would tell me that he had failed as a climber. He felt that he had lost the respect of his fellow climbers. He felt at that time that only Royal Robbins would be remembered as a great climber. This was truly a low point for Harding it would not really end until he published his own book which gave his side of the story, it would be called Downward Bound.

In 1972 he and Beryl moved to the Truckee area. Harding's sports car days were over, he is now driving a beat up white van. Warren went back to surveying and Beryl started a ceramics studio. During this time Warren who had always had a serious drinking problem, descended into a depression which was fueled by alcohol and a feeling that he had failed as a climber. As a result he wrote the now famous book Downward Bound in which he made fun of the climbers who he felt were persecuting him. He finished the book in late 1974 and it was published in 1975. While the book was success his relationship with Beryl ended during this time.
This later period of his life I referred to as his Batso period. Batso was a pet name that Beryl had given. He begins in the early 70ties to refer to himself as Batso, he was no longer just good old Warren.

Warren would make only 3 FAs in the mid to late 1970s.

You can see from pictures of him in the middle 70ties he has aged considerably and no longer cares about his appearance. For the first time he is without a steady lady in his life. His drinking becomes heavier and many stories about his heavy drinking, most of which are unflattering start to appear. The people who would meet him in these years may have wondered if he was the same Warren Harding who first climbed El Capitan. In many ways he was only a caricature of the old Warren.

Warren will again be in camp 4 but he is no longer as interested in climbing. He will continue to campout even in the winter in his beloved camp 4. While he is no longer able to take on the big walls, he cannot give up his lifelong love of the Park. He would say that being there always made him feel better. Knowing Warren I believe that to be true. He was now totally dependent on alcohol and was often seen stumbling around camp 4.
I view this time in his life as his lost years.

It would be 1985 before he would meet Alice his last companion. Alice was Warrens age and she would remain with him for the rest of his life. Thanks to her, his life would become more stable. He would still drink but he now had someone to take care of him. During these years Warren lived on the East side on the Sierras and for a few years in Moab Utah, in the late 90s they would return to live out his final years in the Redding California area.

Warren finally retires from surveying and he and Alice would travel and do many slide and lectures shows, as well as trade shows all over the country, talking about his days as a climber. Amazingly with all his physical problems he continued to, as he said keep on keeping on. Warren had been in failing health for several years before his death but he refused to stop drinking. He could no more stop drinking then he could start taking himself seriously. He would retain his sense of humor to the last moments of his life.

He was able to speak to and visit with many of his old climbing buddies before he died. It was only fitting that Royal Robbins was at his bedside at the end of his life. The two old competitors had made up their differences in the late 1970s and were now just old friends. Warren had always liked Royal, if anything he had envied Royals success as a climber and professional man, as well as his stable family life.

Warren would have told you that he was not the greatest climber of his age. He always said to me that Royal was a much better climber. Warren did say he got his share of first ascents.
There is no question that he will be remembered, not just for his climbing but for the exuberant, outrageous often entertaining character.

Warren's name will forever be linked with big wall climbing, his dramatic first ascent of El Capitan. The 27 day climb of the Wall of Early Morning Light. His refusal to call for help until he was nearly frozen on the south face of Half Dome, the dramatic rescue that followed.

These feats have left us with an almost mythic picture of a hardman, tough as nails, stubborn and courageous in his resolve. His persona became that of the outlaw or bad boy variety. Harding himself said
"Between the Cowboys and the Indians, I always knew I was an Indian".

His friends remember his playful character, his generous always down to earth nature. He was always wanting to have fun and be the life of the party.

Mountain climbing is no longer for only a lucky few bold young man. It is now accessible to the masses. Equipment and styles have changed the game completely. Both young men and women now race up the big walls of Yosemite. It's becoming hard to even remember what it was like for those early pioneer climbers.

I sometimes wonder how many of the great contemporary climbers would happily exchange their speed records for the chance to be the first man to have climbed the Nose of El Capitan. It is clear that climbing records will be broken over and over again.

However only a few lucky men had the incredible luck to be the first to conquer the big walls. These men will always have a special place in the history of big wall climbing.

Warren Harding was just one of these unique individuals.

Warren will always have a special place in the hearts of the many who knew and liked him. In my judgment that is the way he would want it to be.

Simper Farcissimus,


JAN 2011

Jan 5, 2011 - 04:15pm PT
Awesome stories, pics and info Susie....awesome. Thanks so much!

This is the summit shot that was on the front page of so many newpapers throughout the country when Caldwell and Harding submitted the WOTEML/AKA Dawn Wall.

the Fet

Jan 5, 2011 - 04:17pm PT
Fantastic stuff.

Trad climber
Jan 5, 2011 - 04:17pm PT
Hail to the King.

Jan 5, 2011 - 04:25pm PT
Finally something worth reading....

Thank you.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 5, 2011 - 04:58pm PT
Very nice. Thank you, Susie.

Jan 5, 2011 - 05:02pm PT
Great history and stories. Thank you!


Trad climber
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:03pm PT
What a read, Park Rat. Thanks so much!

Jan 5, 2011 - 05:05pm PT
Many thanks for this!

Gym climber
wussing off the topout on Roadside Attraction
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:15pm PT
Hail Batso! or whatever he liked to be called. Thanks for that.

Every time I get on one of Harding's routes, I am impressed with two things: he had a great eye for location, and he was obviously a tough, persistent climber.

Revelation 7:12
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:27pm PT
Thanks Susie, Cheers to a Climbing Giant, Warren Harding!

Trad climber
santa fe
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:27pm PT
You didn't have to actually know Mr. Harding for him to gain a special place in the heart. Downward Bound was one of the first climbing books I ever read. Once I finished it I had a new hero. His approach to climbing and life resonated with me.

Social climber
the Wastelands
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:31pm PT

Did you get a chance to talk to Beryl or Alice about how they view their own relationships with Warren, their memories of living with him?

Those two knew him best.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 05:39pm PT

That is part of the Harding magic, he was bigger than life.


Yes, I did talk to Alice. She died in 2008, so I am glad I was able to speak to her as she filled me in on much stuff, I would never have guessed about WJH.

I am working on talking to Beryl.

Social climber
the Wastelands
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:46pm PT
Cool, Susie!

Can you give us any idea of when your book will be available?

You are filling a great niche by telling us more about the man himself than just his climbing.

We all appreciate your doing so, thank you.


Trad climber
Bay Area
Jan 5, 2011 - 05:47pm PT
I'd been climbing about 2 years when I read Downward Bound. Had been weaned on Robbins' Rockcraft books. Had read both sides of the WOEML controversy.
Was then, still am, conflicted by the differing climbing philosophies. Have the greatest respect for both men's accomplishments and as human beings. Sorry I never met Warren. In the Meadows one day, TM invited my wife and me to a Warren birthday party near Deadman Summit the next day. We didn't go. Curses. As in Real Life we all have find our own compass.
Paul Martzen

Trad climber
Jan 5, 2011 - 06:18pm PT
Thanks for the good read. Look forward to the book.

Trad climber
Pasadena, CA
Jan 5, 2011 - 06:23pm PT
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jan 5, 2011 - 06:24pm PT
A nice read.

I first met him in C4 in '76. My experience with Warren can be, if you will, distilled into the following; it was best if you caught him between the first and third bottle.

One of these years I'l give Ken the spare bat tent carried on the WOTEML.
I have a couple of his hammers and his home made figure 8 too.

Gym climber
Jan 5, 2011 - 06:28pm PT
Instantly one of the best threads on the Taco.

Bravo Susie, many thanks.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 06:32pm PT
P Ron,

You met him in the Batso period. I am so glad I missed this.

The earlier Warren was so much fun.

He was drinking then, but it was not such a problem.

Social climber
Jan 5, 2011 - 07:19pm PT
Thanks Susie. That's a very nicely written story, with a fine perspective.

Only met Warren once, during a long-ago trip to Moab. My friend Strappo, who had met Warren in the Valley years earlier, brought us round to meet the man. It was not clear why Warren was living in Moab; he had no interest in desert climbing, but he and Alice both seemed pretty contented holed up in what was then a poor, small, unfashionable town. Perhaps the mid- to late-1980s Moab climbing community, mostly consisting of Kyle Copeland and Eric Bjornstad, was irreverent and fun-loving enough--non-judgemental--that he felt some kinship?

Warren was far out of shape, retired from climbing. Warren and Alice both seemed delighted to get a visit, and even more happy because Strappo and I had little interest in talking about famous climbs--the afternoon disappeared in a wine-fueled glow of increasingly outlandish and hilarious drinking stories. I recall they had a dog, the most rotund dog I've ever seen. Like its owners, it made up for its physical condition by a fantastic in-the-moment playfulness.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 07:50pm PT

Your story fits perfectly with what I have heard of him in this period.

I think he was trying to start a new life. A number of climbers did find and visit him there.

Thanks Much,

Park Rat
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jan 5, 2011 - 08:21pm PT
The Moab place puzzled me when I visited.
I last saw him in Telluride.

Since reading this thread I have been inspired to open up a 9 year old Mont Ste. Michel cab (and use some of it to whip up a coq au vin, like I did for Warren and Alice. DEELISH!)
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 08:27pm PT

Was he living in Telluride? If so it is a new address for him.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jan 5, 2011 - 08:30pm PT
No. He presented in Mountainfilm.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 08:39pm PT

That is what I would have expected.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jan 5, 2011 - 08:57pm PT
Workin' on the chicken here, boss.

I remember showing him how the chicken takes on some of the color of the red wine when it is ready to fall off the bone.

But by then I was the only one working on the remnant, as Warren and Alice had moved on to their Manhattans.

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Jan 5, 2011 - 09:39pm PT
Excellent read. The best thing about this site is the history it captures.
Look forward to reading your book.

Trad climber
e350 / Bishop
Jan 5, 2011 - 09:50pm PT

Remember running into Warren in the early 70's at the Lodge drunk on the red stuff myself, he had that satan look but looked more like a god to me....

Keep on posting !!!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 5, 2011 - 10:09pm PT
Speaking of Manhattans

Warren Harding, Lord of Light

Jan 5, 2011 - 10:13pm PT
Just see here


He has the "LOOK"

Trad climber
JackAssVille, Wyoming
Jan 5, 2011 - 10:21pm PT
Warren went BIGGER and BADDER than anyone and he did it first.

Nice Post.


Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Jan 5, 2011 - 10:29pm PT
Thank you for taking the time to do the research and write this story. Unfortunately, I never met Warren.

I would have liked him though!
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 5, 2011 - 10:43pm PT

Nice work, I think the real Batso would have loved it!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Jan 5, 2011 - 11:59pm PT
always found him to be an intelligent and humble and sad gentleman

all the wildness seemed light-hearted over-reacting posturing to me

i was hanging out with Royal, but friendly with Warren; wishing to be a better diplomat

told me how sad he became when Royal rejected his congratulations on Half Dome

in a wiser world they might have teamed on Half Dome and then El Cap

very glad the two became friends


there's a missing piece to the story; the part played by Mark Powell
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 6, 2011 - 03:11am PT

You hit the nail on the head.

I have read a number of accounts of their relationship over the years.
I am sure there is a lot we will never know about both Royal and Warrens motivations.

With Harding what you saw was what you got, that's for sure.

Royal was 11 years younger than Harding that is a big difference.

A young Royal may have resented Harding's even being at the top to greet them.
I will have to think a lot more about that.
I do know Harding wanted them to return and celebrate at the bar that night.
Royal and party chose to return to the base of Half Dome where they spent the night. That is the way I heard the story.

Royal seemed not to want others to know what he had just done.

I have spent most of my time trying to get into Harding's head.
Now I will have to rethink a lot to fill in this gap.

Thanks for your comment it is just the kind of clue I like to get, it make me want to dig deeper.

Now back to bed, I will sleep on it.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jan 6, 2011 - 03:29am PT
Great write up Park Rat.

I have a few treasured memories of Warren of my own. Thanks for bringing it all back to light for me...

Edit #1: Regarding FAs. You refer to 22 FAs in this period and 13 FAs in that period. FAs are not the only measure of the man.
I have only a few FAs to my credit, but have been climbing at a high standard, sometimes with men at the upper end of the game, for most of my life. Sure FAs make the books, but am I less of a climber in my own personal universe because I have less FAs? I think not. I have accomplished more as a climber, than many folks that have twice as many FAs as I do... Let's not discount this other side of Warren's life.

Edit #2: ie: hanging out in Yosemite/Camp 4 well after his "peak time". Drinker or no, there is no shame in returning to the scene of your greatest triumphs. Military men have done it since the beginning of time.

His exploits in Yosemite were amazing, heroic even, to people like Chuck Pratt, which put you a cut above the norm.

Let me put it this way: If I had my way with Sophia Loren, in her prime, on a park bench in Central Park and made her yell at the top of her lungs, I would love to see that park bench all my life.

Warren had El Cap on a park bench....and made her yell......

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Jan 6, 2011 - 03:46am PT
Great recollections of one the truly great ones. Thanks a whole bunch for that, Park Rat.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 6, 2011 - 08:05am PT

"#1: Regarding FAs. You refer to 22 FAs in this period and 13 FAs in that period. FAs are not the only measure of the man."

Well said survival, I needed somewhere to start to describe what he did. I used his FAs to show the progression of what happened in his life.

Remember no one even knew I was his friend, yet our casual relationship may turn out to be important in terms of reveling so much of his personality.

It is often odd how things work out.

"Let me put it this way: If I had my way with Sophia Loren, in her prime, on a park bench in Central Park and made her yell at the top of her lungs, I would love to see that park bench all my life."

I could nor agree more, well said.

Trad climber
Morgan Hill, CA (Mo' Hill)
Jan 6, 2011 - 09:23am PT
I really enjoyed reading your post and can't wait for the book to come out. Keep up the good work, my faith in the ST forum has been restored.

Troy, MT
Jan 6, 2011 - 09:48am PT
Great work PR. We're waiting for more.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 6, 2011 - 10:00am PT

Congratulations on your perseverance in turning a personal interest into a work of art! I know some of this was difficult to delve into, but you have done what any good biographer, not to mention any good friend would do, and taken a balanced look at one of climbing's most memorable characters.

When you've talked to Beryl, you will be ready to finish the book. Meanwhile,I predict that it will sell very well. Classics always do.

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Jan 6, 2011 - 11:49am PT
Thank you for posting that; great stuff. I talked with him a few times up Hy50 in the 70s. I really liked him, he was really his own person. It's too bad he got to feel that he was a failure as a climber because he wasn't, he was one of the greats. Thanks again.
dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Jan 6, 2011 - 12:25pm PT
Thank you Park Rat, that was great.
Warren was always one of my heroes for his climbing accomplishments and his sense of humor. I remember waiting for "Downward Bound" with great anticipation. I was in high school at the time. I still have it in the "keepers section" of my climbing library.
We had the honor of visiting with Warren and Lin Ottenger (Lin many times) in Moab a couple of times when he was there. Were they living together, I don't quite remember the details? I don't think I met Alice though.
Warren was WAY more personable than Royal.
Thanks again, you're the greatest!!!!!

Trad climber
JackAssVille, Wyoming
Jan 6, 2011 - 12:32pm PT
Thanks for posting Park-Rat;

If memory serves and or the rumor mill is correct one or the other, Royal and Yvon had kind-a love hate thing going also. Super competitive sport we have here No?

Bad Climber

Jan 6, 2011 - 01:24pm PT
Keep bumpin' this baby. A great post. Thanks.

Survival: You win a gold medal for this line:

"Let me put it this way: If I had my way with Sophia Loren, in her prime, on a park bench in Central Park and made her yell at the top of her lungs, I would love to see that park bench all my life."


Trad climber
JackAssVille, Wyoming
Jan 6, 2011 - 02:42pm PT

One needs to re-call the time frame Park - Rat is talking about 50’s and 60’some early 70’s Hell the whole valley was wide open. Also their competitive nature why would one repeat someone’s route when the cup runs over with new lines. I think how Warrens FA’s tapered off as time moved on is a pretty good yard stick about where his head was at. (at the time ) Just a guess on my part.

Cheers, DT

Jan 6, 2011 - 02:52pm PT
Thank you. thats what it is all about.

Mountain climber
Anywhere I like
Jan 6, 2011 - 04:11pm PT
awesome worthwhile reading, that made my day before I go to work.

I once put up a route with a buddy of mine in what I think of as Harding's style, even a couple of bat hook moves on it. It's on the Sandia wall in Ouray, and we bolted it with a hand drill on lead. Eleven bolts through a blank, horizontal roof, (which raises the question, "why?") took us multiple days with fixed lines to the ground down four pitches (we did have jobs) but all I could think of was Harding at the end of the Nose, in the dark with HARD rock, just tapping away on a drill all night. What a bad ass.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Jan 6, 2011 - 05:44pm PT
Thanks for this. Your writing is good. Keep it going.

To me, Harding holds a place in history like Columbus. He dared to dream and do what would make most men tremble and shy away. His FA on El Cap was the greatest ascent of that wall because it was first. Though others have climbed harder, faster, cleaner-- whatever, the daring-do that did it first is the greatest.

Big Wall climber
So Cal
Jan 6, 2011 - 06:05pm PT

That was one of the better stories relating history here on ST. Thanks so much for putting that all down. Your sharing those tales bring a smile to my face & that of many others I am sure.

Thanks again for sharing the words & photos.

Bill Leventhal

Trad climber
Humboldt, CA
Jan 6, 2011 - 07:32pm PT
Wow, that you for posting. If you write the book I will be buying.

I once drove a 600 mile round trip in one day to see Warren at Sunrise Mountaineering sometime in the mid eighties. To me it was worth every hour of driving for the brief slide show and handshake; a witty one of a kind iconoclast. The only downside were those few in the audience that just had to give Warren grief over WoEML.

[edit: only made trips like the above for music; WH is the only rock star I ever made a point of seeing in person. The point of the post was how he inspires even the lowliest of the community]
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 11, 2011 - 08:20pm PT

First of all many thanks for all your kind words and encouragements they mean a lot to me.

I often have wondered if I had what it takes to take on this project. Your kind words really help to keep me going.

I thought it was time to share some of my findings with ST, as you are the reason I am writing his history.

Without your stories, I would not be able to write about him.

I have been living with Warrens story for over a year, I sometimes feel I am channeling his thoughts and that he would appreciate what I'm writing about him.

Please feel free to jump in with your own thoughts and stories.

Thanks much,

Park Rat


Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 11, 2011 - 10:56pm PT
One thing that I think is important to note is that many climbers who disagreed with Warren's philosophy of climbing, still admired him greatly as an anti-establishment symbol of the age. For some he was the rock climbing version of James Dean.

In the 1960's anyone who could tweak the establishment, won appreciation from the young, but especially the non conformists who constituted the rock climbing community. Such was Warren's style and character, that even climbing purists like Sacherer admired him greatly for his personal style.

Numerous were the admiring comments about hoping to live as grandly as Warren when we became as old as he was. Fast sport cars and beautiful blonds clinging to his arm, and he could climb and dirt bag it, and tell outrageous jokes about the icons of American climbing. What was not to like at that period of time?

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 13, 2011 - 07:31am PT
And more good news. Park Rat and Beryl Knauth have finally made contact and are collaborating on the Warren Harding story. The last pieces are falling into place.

Trad climber
Jan 13, 2011 - 08:24am PT
Park Rat

Your post is what makes S.T. a unique place. I'm glad I got the chance to meet Warren before his passing. A very interesting character indeed! Thanks!
Captain...or Skully

leading the away team, but not in a red shirt!
Jan 13, 2011 - 08:33am PT

Social climber
the Wastelands
Jan 18, 2011 - 09:30pm PT
Galen Rowell once said that if Harding had been born in 1850 he would have

ridden with Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall Gang.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 18, 2011 - 09:41pm PT
Thanks, Susie - it's nice to read your stories and thoughts about Warren. I think everyone who met you at the Sacherer memorial last spring was quite taken with the idea that someone, a non-climber but still someone who was part of the scene in the Valley, would be so interested as to work on a book about Warren. Hopefully you'll get lots of helps from all his friends.

One thought - include a DVD with the book, with excerpts from interviews with Warren, and so on. There's probably a lot of footage available, and it would be fascinating.

Big Wall climber
the range of light
Jan 18, 2011 - 10:03pm PT
That is marvelous work!

Trad climber
Jan 18, 2011 - 11:18pm PT
I just saw the video Vertical Frontier for the first time I few nights ago, narrated by Tom Brokaw. What a great video on the history of Yosemite climbing! It has all the heavy hitters in it, including lots of footage of Warren Harding climbing early in his career, and later short interview clips of him. He seemed like such a good chap after listening to him! and Royal Robbins came off as a nice guy also, apologetic and somewhat embarrassed for his efforts to chop Warrens WOEML route, as he said after he was climbing it for a bit, it was all they could do to get up it. Good for you Royal, class act for saying that.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 19, 2011 - 05:54pm PT
M. H.

I take your point, how does a non-climber get so interested in the history of a mountain climber. I never intended to write about Harding. It was only after lurking for six months, that I decided to chime in with my memories of Warren. I have always been drawn to characters, and that describes Harding. I have also become fascinated by the "nuts and bolts" part of climbing. Chuckle.

While I am not a writer. I do love to read biographies, especially those of great adventures such as Ernest Shackleton, Alexander Humboldt, Sir Edmund Hillary etc. You might say, I am an armchair adrenaline junkie.

I too often question how do I get off writing about Harding. The answer is that I hope to leave a record of what he was like as a person, not just a climber. Lucky for me, I enjoy researching and trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.

That is why I need to hear from those of you out there that have memories of him. Those memories help to fill out the picture of Harding, so he can become dimensional and not just a caricature.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Jan 19, 2011 - 06:27pm PT
Park Rat and Jan
you both are perceptive and clear writers. It's a great contribution to Yosemite climbing history to have the perspectives of women closely associated with top level climbers of the "golden age".

I wonder if Galen Rowell said that in a moment of pique or fireside humour.
From what I've read of Harding he liked living on the edge of human endeavor, not over the edge of disrespecting others. I can't see him as a robber, thief or other major miscreant. Certainly Galen knew him far better than I, since I never knew him at all.

Jan 19, 2011 - 06:28pm PT
During dinner at Frank's gathering we had four or five climbers including Roger Breedlove, Anders, myself, and Steve Grossman all throwing misinformation at Susie. She refuted us all in real time simultaneously.

I have never before seen footwork that good. As I remember it I told her to get a job with State. After fifteen minutes Putin would be reduced to "Anything you say Susan." And Hu Jintao would be asking if he might buy some more US debt.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 19, 2011 - 07:15pm PT
There may be something to be said about a woman's point of view when it comes to macho man. I think females can accept macho behavior without feeling challenged or threaten. That may help to sharpen our perspective.

I think Galen was saying that Harding was a rugged individualist, yet he respected others who may not have agreed with him. Harding always said he just wanted to do his own thing.
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 19, 2011 - 08:22pm PT

Your description of my dancing around all of you climbers is way too kind. I was so tickled to be sitting in the Mountain Room with such an accomplished and knowledgeable group. I really didn't know which way to look. If I held my own, it was only adrenaline, as I was so happy to be with all of you that night.

If I earned your approval that night, that really does make my day. I couldn't have hoped for more, what fun. If Harding had been at that table, we would have been drinking more and saying less, however I think he would've approved of our discussion.

Thank you so much for your kind assessment.

Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 08:52pm PT
Such a wonderful contribution to this site. Thank you so much. Though I have to confess, when I first read Downward Bound I was a bit too young to get Harding's sense of humor. Still, whenever I climb in places with a history such as the Valley, I'm always reminded of the quote by Sir Isaac Newton:

"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 2, 2011 - 08:46pm PT
Bump for Warren thread.

Big Wall climber
Crestline CA
Feb 2, 2011 - 10:13pm PT
I knew Warren in the late 60's and early 70's mostly and some in his later years. He was always a fun man to be around and quite gracious and friendly to anyone who happened by, unlike some of the "big names" at the time.
Thanks for your post and please keep posting about a man who was then and now an inspiration to me and many others!

Revelation 7:12
Feb 2, 2011 - 10:46pm PT

Nothing like hauling while you prusik!

Big Wall climber
Sedro Woolley, WA
Feb 2, 2011 - 11:15pm PT
What an inspirational figure in Yosemite's Golden Age!

Thanks for the post Susie,

Revelation 7:12
Feb 13, 2011 - 10:29am PT

Looks like he ran out of rock to climb!

Social climber
Feb 13, 2011 - 05:44pm PT
Thanks Susie - what a heart-felt and beautiful bit of writing. Your effort really shines.

Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 13, 2011 - 08:05pm PT
I have just read "The Writings of George Mallory" on climbing Mount Everest. He wrote beautifully of his effort to seek a route up Mount Everest. He was very aware of the dangers he faced in his 1924 attempt.

When I Goggled Mallory learn more about him I noticed an interesting fact.

George Mallory was born on June 18, 1886,
he died on Everest on June 8 or 9 on 1924

Warren Harding was born June 18, 1924, on George Mallory's birthday.

I find it interesting that Mallory and Harding shared the same birthday.
Warren Harding was born 10 or 11 days after Mallory died on Everest.

Kind of an interesting coincidence.
Off White

Tenino, WA
Dec 14, 2011 - 01:43am PT
I missed this thread the first time around, thanks for the bump, its a great read.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Nov 7, 2012 - 03:01am PT
Time to bump this thread again.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Nov 7, 2012 - 03:19am PT
I was looking for election results. Sorry.

Was Bill Dolt a Republican or a Democrat?

Was Batso a white wine man or a red wine man?

Stupid questions. Sorry again.


"if it came in a bottle it was good to go..... Mountian Red I think was his fave."--Russ Walling

Ahwahnee Bartender
Big Wall climber
Fog Town
Jul 18, 2008 - 09:28am PT

I had the honor of being Warren's Wine Steward (heh, heh) at the Ahwahnee Hotel in 1977. No joke! I was a bartender for my first summer and worked in the dinning room as a wine steward for the next 5 years. Anyway, I believe the occasion was for Warren's birthday but I could be wrong - but it was some big celebration that Harding organized.

He reserved the alcove area in advance, that's the very back of the dinning room that looks directly at Yosemite Falls. The table was a giant 12 top with as many chairs as we could squeeze in and he had all the surrounding tables reserved as well. So around 8:30 PM, all these dirt bag climbers started filing in with loaner sport coats on.

When everybody was assembled I approached the table and went directly to Warren and asked if the table wanted to see the huge Ahwahnee wine list. "Nooooooooo" was his reply. Instead he ordered a number house carafes of red wine which was some rot gut we carried that was poured out of half gallon jugs back at the bar.

He keep me busy that night with many, many carafe refills. But I didn't mind as he was my hero back then. As the night drew on, the entire table was completely hammered by the time the dining room closed it's two large doors and we told folks that we were closing. Would anyone care to guess who was the very last person to leave?

Yep, 'ol Warren was finally persuaded to take the long walk down the dining room's red carpet at about 11:30. The mighty red wine had produced the desired effect, but Warren's stride was remarkable steady. Then I saw my chance to pull a sharpened RURP out of my pocket that I had been working on and asked him what he thought. "Show 'em to Porter" was all he said. Then he was gone.


mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Nov 7, 2012 - 03:48am PT
this just in

north fork
Nov 7, 2012 - 09:48am PT
Really cool thread park rat, thanks for the stories
Park Rat

Social climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 9, 2013 - 07:45pm PT
I thought this might be a good time to bump this thread.

I find myself changing a few words here and there and adding phrases that come to mind. I think writing is somewhat like painting are never sure when you're finished there always seems to be something you could add, especially to Warren story.

For those of not read it, I hope you enjoy hearing his saga.

I can be pretty sure that Warren would've enjoyed it.
He might've said is a great party while it lasted.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jan 9, 2013 - 08:29pm PT
I'm pretty glad Warren didn't place bolts like you describe your writng style, Susie. I mean, it's tough to erase that bolt hole, much less delete the entire last pitch... :O)

It's a good observation, though, and I like it a lot.

First-person stories are so rarely published in the original form. Our history society is very strict on letting folks edit their words before they go into storage. I personally use the edit process here on many occasions. It's a blessing.

Warren seems to have invented himself to a great extent, letting others take away a pre-determined and cultivated view of his personality. Your insights show this, too. There is a lot to ponder in this thread.

One thing I have learned in going back and re-reading this in sobriety is that the lady second from the left in the photo by Kelly Laakso could well be Alice.
Bob D'A

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Jan 9, 2013 - 10:09pm PT
Great stuff parkrat...knew Warren in his Moab years...left my shoes at Wall St and remember on my way back to Colorado. Called Warren and he when out and retrieve them for me. Nice gentle man.
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Jan 10, 2013 - 12:08am PT
Great job, Susie!

Guess I could add a few minor things - if you do a book, I’d be honored to take a look at a draft and mention possible additions.

Mouse, he was definitely a red wine man when I climbed with him, though I saw many pics of him with white in later years. Might have become easier on him as time went on. In those early years, I remember Pedrizetti at $1.25/gal., Vino de Tavola in a bottle with a red-checkered tablecloth-like label, various reds from Masson and Beaulieau, and there are a few which were blurry then and invisible now. All were passable table wines, and the jug wines were much like what you can get from roadside stands in Italy where they will refill your empty bottle from a cask. We refused to drink Gallo, which wasn’t very good at the time. On a very special occasion (which meant a few bucks in the pocket) it might be a Lois Martini Cabernet. Or for super-special events, a Paul Masson Rare Tawny Port or a Ficklin Port.

Those were the early years. His tastes may - or may not - have become more refined as time went on. But his capacity was as big as his climbing dreams. He must have had a liver like a basking shark.

Oh yeah - on the Nose we had a pint flask of port with us. We drank it on Camp 6 during the storm. Being in an aluminum flask it was pretty bad, but we got a good laugh out of “any port in a storm” and slept better for it.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Jan 10, 2013 - 12:56am PT
"Vino de Tavola in a bottle with a red-checkered tablecloth-like label"
is one of the brands I saw advertised on fifties TV and remember on our table at home--Italian-Swiss Colony, Mogen David, these were the bridge to the emerging "California nomenclature." Old country know-how allied to new climates, my ass, just hype.

Joe Fitschen's got the Teton Tea recipe in his book, and he states that the cheaper reds are the best for the buck and I'm sure they're perfectly adequate to a walk on the wild side of the Wine Boulder among others.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jan 10, 2013 - 01:00am PT
In my beer drinking prime I courageously tried to see him under the table after a show in Seattle. Many pitchers later I think My honor was saved by the closing time bell. He didn't seem to mind drinking beer but perhaps it was a case of 'when in Rome'.

Trad climber
Feb 23, 2015 - 12:56am PT
my favorite quote from harding is when he heard they had freeclimbed his east face of the column(astro man) he said"those guys are just jacking off"or something very close to that.

Social climber
Mar 1, 2015 - 09:06am PT
hey there say, all... just was reminded about this thread, the other night, and wow... came to see it WAS recently bumped up...

parkrat is one very fine person... am happy to re'read this...
i only had a vague memory of the stuff on here...

i got to enjoy seeing warren harding remembered here, :)
thank you susie, parkrat...

really neat and nice gal...

Mountain climber
Mar 3, 2017 - 03:51pm PT
I have just finished to translate DOWNWARD BOUND into Italian; the book will be published in a month or so. It is the first translation of this book into another language, and the Italian fans of Warren Harding are impatiently looking forward to reading it.
I appreciate your description of Warren and of is life: it helped me very much while I was working at the translation, because to translate does not mean just to write words into another language, but it is necessary to capture what the author wanted to transmit to the reader. Your notes helped me to understand him and his feelings behind his apparent nonchalance and farcical language. Thank you very much.

Mountain climber
Colorado & Nepal
Mar 3, 2017 - 04:32pm PT
Thank you Mirella for translating one of my favorite climbing books and favorite climbers from the 1960's. It sounds like you really understand the spirit of a good translator.
Fossil climber

Trad climber
Atlin, B. C.
Mar 3, 2017 - 05:12pm PT
Nice article, Suzie! Can't wait for the book.

Harding did other things than just climb. I think it was around '60 - in that neighbourhood anyway -
that he and I got interested in gold diving. I was a new ranger and actually had an income, and we got a couple of wet suits, a small suction dredge you could operate from under the water, and a "Hookah" air compressor which floated on an inner tube and pumped air down a tube to a mouthpiece. We dived down in the Merced and in the South Fork. One time we even went into a hole in the South Fork when there was a glaze of ice on it. We didn't have very good gloves, and the 1/4" wet suits weren't good enough. Talk about pain when the blood came back! And we never saw a speck of gold.

Some folks think that Warren didn't give a damn what anyone else thought, but that wasn't true. When he had a bit too much he'd get a bit maudlin at times and brood about how "everyone is out to get Harding". And he could get combative too when in his cups. But he had a great, wry sense of humour and I'd like to know how many hours we spent laughing together. Good memories.



Ice climber
Pomfert VT
Mar 3, 2017 - 08:43pm PT
is there a book out??

Sport climber
Sands Motel , Las Vegas
Mar 3, 2017 - 08:49pm PT
Drove by Warren's bust just off 395 yesterday....Could have sworn he winked as i passed...?

Big Wall climber
Mar 4, 2017 - 08:32am PT

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