Why do we idolize John "Yabo" Yablanski?


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Disaster Master

Social climber
Born in So-Cal, left my soul in far Nor-Cal.
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 18, 2011 - 11:18pm PT
I never met John "Yabo" Yablanski. I think I would have liked him. We have some things in common, including an off-kilter personality. We are both Preacher's Kids.

Why, though, do we seem to speak more fondly of those like Yabo who took their own life, or died doing something like soloing? Is it the music star / rock star syndrome?

I like wild stories. I tell them. And from what I hear, when I am not around they are often told about me. But I wouldn't want to be remembered more longingly because I off-ed my self than if I died old and happy.


Don't take this as a slight against a good man and great climber. I simply wonder if he would be as lauded if he had lived out the rest of his life.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 18, 2011 - 11:20pm PT


Jan 19, 2011 - 12:07am PT
Just cuz
The Warbler

the edge of America
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:11am PT
I think the people who really knew John don't idolize him, seems the ones that do idolize him didn't know him.

The question remains.


Big Wall climber
San Luis Obispo CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:17am PT
Don't you blaspheme in here - - - - DON'T you blaspheme in here!

Social climber
State of decay
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:19am PT
Kevin nailed it.

Sport climber
Silverado, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:21am PT
Ditto what KW said above...

Jan 19, 2011 - 12:25am PT
Some people like other people who are a little different. Climbers by nature are a little different. I didn't know Yabo, that's just a guess.

Boulder climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:26am PT
Credit: Bullwinkle
Wade Icey

Trad climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:52am PT

We don't.
Double D

Jan 19, 2011 - 01:02am PT
Kevin nailed it. Yabo had some incredible talents but I don't think anyone who really knew him idolized him, rather they tried to help him out of compassion.

Oakland: what's not to love?
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:10am PT
OP: Read Lynn Hill's memoir? Good read, and some material on Yablonski from her point of view.

The NW edge of The Hudson Bay
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:12am PT
Ditto for what Kevin said.
I remember Yabo as an enigma and a veritable force of nature with a huge heart.
He was someone to marvel at, not idolize.
Wish he didn't have to leave the way he did.
Spider Savage

Mountain climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:33am PT
I met him. He could climb really well and did some bold things. He was not that friendly to me and perhaps to some others but his work has earned the respect.

We'd like him even more if he choose to stick with it and work through the difficulties and keep climbing.

In my garage, in a box of artifacts, I have a chalked up hold he pulled off B3 project he was working on: "Boy Elroy" on "Jetsons' Rock" at Stony.

In some future sci-fi scenario a mad scientist could use skin cells from this artifact to make an army of Yabo clones. He could release them on the world and all the boulder problems would be climbed leaving no FAs left for anyone.

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:35am PT
Big ditto for several posts here. No idolatry here, just respect for a beautiful, yet troubled soul.

Jan 19, 2011 - 01:45am PT
I think the people who really knew John don't idolize him, seems the ones that do idolize him didn't know him

Says it all...

Disaster Master

Social climber
Born in So-Cal, left my soul in far Nor-Cal.
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 19, 2011 - 02:07am PT
All excellent responses.

Post On. :)

hanging from a crimp and crying for my mama.
Jan 19, 2011 - 02:13am PT

From those who knew him, all I hear is how they still value his imprint upon their lives. He was greatly loved and they will not forget him.

As for Yabo the legend... Well, people need folk heroes which they can have a connection to. Especially ones that excelled despite their troubles. It helps us have hope when we face our own demons. Maybe with Yabo in mind, it will somehow help a person not fall as far... Especially since most climbers can see how much nicer it would have been if he had stuck around.



Trad climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 02:23am PT
I wouldn't say people idolize him. More like respect him, for being a bad ass climber. At least that's how I regard him. And I don't think the way he left, has anything to do with it. I never met him.
ß Î Ø T Ç H

Boulder climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 03:12am PT
...in a box of artifacts, I have a chalked up hold he pulled off B3 project he was working on
That itself, prettymuch debunked the op's topic title right there. Yabo's rep and all that was fully established long before he died. I don't know what you are trying to intimate with this thread. You could spell his name right while you're at it.

Social climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 03:27am PT
My little brother shares a lot of personality traits with Yabo, including many of the dark ones that I am sure bore on him every day. All I can say is love the ones around you and hope they see it.

Trad climber
quaking has-been
Jan 19, 2011 - 09:25am PT
Yabo was a good guy (with self esteem problems). He'd give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it.

Mike White said it best, "Loan him 5 bucks? Sure I'll loan him 5 bucks, it might buy him the last meal he'll ever eat".

Yabo would always pay you back.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 09:35am PT
Never ever met the man. I only know of him what others have written. The following is an impression, or maybe a vision.

Think back toward your youth, to some perfect summer's day. The sun is shining bright, so bright it hurts your eyes and makes you squint. Think on it some and I expect you'll find that perfect day.

Everything was new and fresh under a young sky. Grass grew tall and green, trees enveloped in their mantle of leaves. A breeze surely blew for how could it be a perfect day without breeze? It blows across honey golden fields of wheat, first rolling the tall stalks one way and then another.

You are strolling around with your honey on your arm, dressed for the occasion and proud as a peacock. This might be down at the beach, up in the the mountains, out in the desert, on the deck of a cruise ship - I don't know. Its your vision and your memories, not mine. Visions can jump from fields of wheat to decks of cruise ships, no problem.

This perfect day of your youth, when your mind was filled only with possibilities and none of the later 'I can't do that' negativity that experience brings. There is so much to do and so much that could be done, often you feel manic and want to run about all over the place and DO IT ALL!

This day, this bright sunny perfect day in your youth... it might have gone on forever? If only forever existed, eh?

The seemingly tragic but at once beautiful flaw to this perfect day of your youth?

It came to an end.

It was finite.

It could not last.

This image, this fleeing image, of being young in a universe of unlimited possibility, strong and young and beautiful, flowing through time, tasting it all and then....

the sun set and the day was over.

A person can sometimes think back on those days with varying degrees of pride, regret and pleasure. Some might think you idolize that perfect day and perhaps you do just that... but it is your guilty pleasure and your memory of that perfect day and I for one think you are probably entitled to remember your youth any way you wish.

How's that?


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Jan 19, 2011 - 09:38am PT
With John, the words "care for" seem more appropriate than "idolize."
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 10:18am PT
Disaster.......uh, we don’t idolize our friends, we love them in one way or another and fill up our days alongside. In fact I bet no one is idolizing Yabo but many are fascinated by the wildass doings of the man. Among many things, Yabo was a phenomenon, and we often have “phenomenon-type” climbers in our history. Tobin was another. Waterman another. Gary Hemmings in the sixties. The stories that came out of these characters really are legendary; they are accounts from the nearly superhuman. So some “idolize” but probably as I say, their own fascination with them is personalized. And in all these cases, Tobin and John, Gary and Waterman, they’re sadly dead which is what you (Disaster) are also dealing with here I think, dear bro. That which makes the idolization of Yabo even more likely for some is they are finding symbolic his life and undoing.

If nothing else climbing should never be forgotten to have stemmed from the Romantic Tradition, going back to Byron and others. And so idols seem to stand in our landscape and contain powerful value and meaning to some.

Here, Wikipedia says it well:

The Byronic hero presents an idealised, but flawed character whose attributes include: great talent; great passion; a distaste for society and social institutions; a lack of respect for rank and privilege (although they possess both); being thwarted in love by social constraint or death; rebellion; exile; an unsavory secret past; arrogance; overconfidence or lack of foresight; and, ultimately, a self-destructive manner.

Social climber
State of decay
Jan 19, 2011 - 10:32am PT
And now Peter has nailed it.
End of thread.
dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Jan 19, 2011 - 11:20am PT
Dingus, Peter AND Bullwinkle nailed it.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jan 19, 2011 - 11:21am PT
Kevin defines it
Peter refines it
Dingus reminds us

Trad climber
Lander, WY
Jan 19, 2011 - 11:45am PT
He was a great guy, really fine climber, and had a good heart. He had a lot of demons inside, but he remained a good man. That's the finest any of us can hope for in our own lives.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:48pm PT
My comments are on my take on his legend, not the person, who I didn't know.

I've known a couple of people who were really fascinated by his legend. These seemed to me to be the aspects of his that they envied:

1. He climbed like he wasn't afraid of death.

2. He went through with it and was remembered well.

Although I've had way too many friends and acquaintances kill themselves and a few more who seemed close to the edge in the last few years, I think even happy, emotionally solid people are drawn to empathize with a way of feeling and being that is pretty far outside of our own.

Fearlessness, recklessness, whatever he had that most don't, had it's upsides. While hardly anyone would want his emotional pain, he was able to do some things that our careful/fearful ways keep us from achieving or experiencing.

His legend is of the sort of climber that most of us want to be and never want to be all rolled into one, so it gives us a lot to consider.

from where the anecdotes roam
Jan 19, 2011 - 12:48pm PT
wow peter, you've got more than a knack for putting your finger on things and then getting the point across.

yabo laid himself so wide open to others one could see his gyro spin.
that alone was enough to make me care for him, but in a paternalistic way
that summoned some discomfort at being called upon to promote those pesky issues
surrounding prudent constraint of wild ambition.

it's a pleasure really, to see him mythologized beyond the grave.
that his life force should spin on in creative ways seems right,
and if i may presume, would spark that sly, redeeming grin ...

and scores as success
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:25pm PT
I grew in up OC and spent most of my weekends at Josh in the early 80s and suumers in the Valley/Meadows during the same period, so it was pretty much impossible not to see Yabo often. However, I and the guys I climbed with--Eric Held, Bob Cox, Andre Olibri, Bob Critchfield--were several years younger than that core crew of Sheepbuggers, et al., and so, for me at least, I never really got to know him.

From that perspective some of Yabo's behavior seemed a little off, especially since I didn't have that friend-type interaction with the guy to counter balance it. He wasn't a bad dude, he just seemed to occupy a different level than most.

I think the most unfortunate thing about him (apart from how he died) is that the overblown and often untrue legends that sprung up about him have defined him more than his friends warm recollections of him.

Trad climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 01:31pm PT
I think the people who really knew John don't idolize him, seems the ones that do idolize him didn't know him.
Mark Not-circlehead

Martinez, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 02:36pm PT
I knew Yabo....

Also, I would like to point out (as some poeple are suggesting he died while soloing...) that he committed suicide, and did noit die while climbing.

Truly a sad event for someone who was as full of life as anyone i've ever met.
rich sims

Social climber
Jan 19, 2011 - 04:01pm PT
With John, the words "care for" seem more appropriate than "idolize."
Too true
I like him from the start even if he lost (or gave to someone else) my head lamp I loaned him for TD.
I only wish I had met him the time I set up my tent below a problem on Colombia Boulder. After I move my tent I may have ended up climbing a few years sooner.
I found many really great climbers open and generous with us noobs of the 70s. Can't say I ever loaned John money after the head lamp but I know we shared a lot of meals. I liked to cook John liked to eat (he was not alone Ha Ha)
Heloise Pendergrast

Social climber
Tahoe City
Jan 19, 2011 - 04:03pm PT
because he's the only dude who actually ASKED to see my bare breasts. politely i might add. you got to hand it to the guy.

Trad climber
quaking has-been
Jan 19, 2011 - 04:10pm PT

Heloise Darling,

So did you??

Call me!!
Heloise Pendergrast

Social climber
Tahoe City
Jan 19, 2011 - 04:25pm PT
i'll never tell...
Disaster Master

Social climber
Born in So-Cal, left my soul in far Nor-Cal.
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 19, 2011 - 06:52pm PT
Excellent! Smart posts about a very interesting person. People agreeing instead of flat out arguing....

Is this Supertopo?
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jan 19, 2011 - 08:17pm PT
I knew John Yablonski and climbed with him some. I didn’t idolize him, but respected him. Camp 4 was a meritocracy and no matter how offbeat the personality, a person was respected if he or she could climb well. And of course, John could climb as well as almost anyone back then.

He could also be crazy and obsessive, as chronicled elsewhere. But I had times with him when he was a different person than the one usually talked about. He could be as earnest, kindhearted and eager to please as a child. I prefer to remember that side of John.

Jan 19, 2011 - 08:20pm PT
He could be as earnest, kindhearteed and eager to please as a child. I prefer to remember that side of John.

Well put, Ricky. We knew the same YaBlowMeOutSki.


Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 19, 2011 - 08:29pm PT
Disaster, you might enjoy having Yabo's short climb, Soul Sacrifice, pointed out to you.

It is on Lower Cathedral Rock. Three distinct cruxes in a single 100ft lead, 5.11c. Quite a cool route and highly respected though not often climbed. Down at the toe of the North buttress route. It is in Donny Reid's guide for example.
Disaster Master

Social climber
Born in So-Cal, left my soul in far Nor-Cal.
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 20, 2011 - 10:10am PT

Some of the responses to my question are well written, indeed.

I was thinking of John because I was just in J_Tree. And I always hear stories of him there. Oddly enough, options / end of life issues were also on my mind. So the two converged in my head.

I love a real conversation on this place, instead of a fight. It seems that thereare two responses here:
-the real John.
-the ledgend john.

I am glad we got a chance to hear more about the real John, instead of the "I can't believe it" fireside stories.

Extremely moving thoughts here.


Trad climber
It ain't El Cap, Oregon
Jan 20, 2011 - 01:15pm PT
John was a ball of nervous energy. Strangely, he could be a voice of reason among a camp full of bloated egos.

Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Jan 20, 2011 - 02:18pm PT
Is it true he once jumped out of a car at full speed on the highway? I heard this from a lady who was dating him at the time and i just thought that now way did he do that and live. Open door jump out at over 60? Dud e must have been a little off but from reading above it seems you had to get him on the right day and you got the goods instead of the bads.

Anyway the guy had some mad skills, and some huge balls. RIP

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jan 20, 2011 - 09:13pm PT
Idolize him? I remember more chastizing him! Like for not doing the dishes when that was the agreement for getting an otherwise free Clean Dan meal. Darn fool kid...
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Latitute 33
Jan 21, 2011 - 01:39pm PT
As others have said, I don't think most people who knew John idolized him at all. But, for some of us, John reflected a part of our own nature and we felt a kin-ship with him.

Pees on beard to seek mates.
Jan 21, 2011 - 02:39pm PT
From Lynn Hill's piece in the Stonemaster book, "As crazy as Yabo could sometimes be, he made me think a lot about living life to its fullest. Though Yabo is no longer with us, he had a radical effect on my life as well as the lives of many others. Yabo has become legendary, even among people he never met. Signs have been posted and graffiti written on boulders that says, "Yabo lives!" I can attest that in some form, Yabo's spirit does live on."
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Nov 12, 2012 - 07:58pm PT
Found this today in a box while cleaning out my closet ........

Yabo owes me $60...............(Catch you on the flip side, Yabo...you can pay me then...)...


Social climber
Moorpark, CA.
Nov 12, 2012 - 08:18pm PT

is that autograph worth anything????

Keep it for next SM auction/ fundraiser.

And Yabo would give you the shirt off his back if you needed, he was that kind of a person.


Trad climber
BackInTheDitch BackInTheDirt BackInTheDay
Nov 12, 2012 - 08:31pm PT
I gave him the shirt off my back one time and it, quite literally, rotted off his.

Trad climber
Nov 12, 2012 - 08:34pm PT
A couple of years ago while talking about Yabo this Hawk lands on Yabo's mantel, struts all around boulder 1 & slant rock, looks everyone square in the eyes & flies off.
Credit: FRUMY
yabo on boulder 1 watching over things
yabo on boulder 1 watching over things
Credit: FRUMY
Credit: FRUMY
Credit: FRUMY
Credit: FRUMY
rick sumner

Trad climber
reno, nevada/ wasilla alaska
Nov 12, 2012 - 09:50pm PT
His hold on life was much like his climbing, tenuous and shaky.I climbed with him in '74 and i was in a cast from an "in effect solo fall" myself the day i watched his first solo of Leave it to Beaver (at a certain point i ducked behind a rock refusing to watch what i thought could well be a suicide in progress).His climbing often was not a thing of beauty to behold, but you had to admire his unbridled determination.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Nov 12, 2012 - 10:07pm PT
Yabo had a big heart and was kinda wild, larger than life. He was "idolized" in a way, well before he killed himself. We all know he had as many demons as super powers.

here's a little story I wrote about Yabo back in Rec.climbing days


Meeting Yabo
In the early 1980¹s my best compromise between living and climbing in
Yosemite while avoiding poverty and parental heartbreak was to work for
Curry Company. For three years, I was the Night Housing Supervisor, in
charge of all the Curry employee housing areas between the hours of 5pm
and 1am.

In some ways, it was a dream job for a climber. I had a private tiny
cabin in Yosemite and was free to climb until 5pm every day. There was
a downside though. I was in charge of enforcing a plethora of rules and
keeping the company facilities free of exploitation by unauthorized
persons, particularly climbers.

I was a climber. Curry Company hated climbers. Resolving the dissonance
between these realities nurtured diplomacy in Karl and, eventually,
fostered tolerance within Curry Company.

Curry Company¹s strict grooming code made it easy to divine the
difference between the dorm residents and the Camp 4 residents. I
remember a funny cartoon on the wall of an employee bathroom. It showed
a guy with long hair and a crazy and confused look on his face. The
caption read "Before" Next to it was a drawing of the same crazy and
confused face but this time with short, clean cut hair. The caption
read "After" (employment) Years of the clean-cut company culture
inbreeding made it easy for long-term employees to adopt the attitude
that long hair or a beard were marks of dereliction.

The ex-marine president of the Company was chief among the those who
were pissed at climbers. After some random act of vandalism attributed
to climbers, he took a tour through Camp 4 to the boos and jeers of the

The behavior of the climbers sometimes didn¹t help matters. Besides
snaking showers and drunken deli rudeness, some climbers would camp out
in the cafeteria and scarf leftover food, or shoplift from Curry

Worst of all, climbers seeking comfort and love as part of the same
deal would seek out girlfriends among the Curry Employees. Many a young
damsel would be seduced into supporting the lifestyle of a "Park Bum"
or PB as it was abreviated. Now it wasn¹t as if there were enough of
these beauties to go around. These were OUR women! Just like in
Alaska, in Yosemite, if you¹re a women, the odds are good, but the
goods are odd!

As for me, I definitely had friends on both sides of the fence. I lived
across from Camp 4 and climber friends would come hang out with me. I
tried to encourage a bit of harmony by taking different managers
climbing. I started taking the Manager of Employee Housing climbing and
he got pretty good. We even climbed the grade 5 North Buttress of
Middle Cathedral in a day. One time I had numerous managers and
supervisors camped out on Yosemite Point and dragged them across the
Tyrolean Traverse to Lost Arrow. I hope I played some role in teaching
the Company that climbing wasn¹t intimately linked with acts of
vandalism and dereliction.

At night, I tried to strike a reasonable balance between protecting the
company¹s facilities and allowing people to live their lives with
minimum harassment. I wouldn¹t bug John Bachar about his Saxophone
playing or hanging out with his girlfriend in the dorms, but when a
world famous cranker emptied a fire extinguisher in the hallways, we
ran him off.

One night I got a call on the radio that there was a violent
disturbance at the Women¹s dorm. I headed my company truck straight
over there with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Responding to
unknown chaos revs the adrenaline, but also the humbling anticipation
that some drunk idiot might be inspired to break beer bottles over my
head. As a standard precaution in potentially violent situation, I
radioed the NPS to send a ranger to the scene as well.

When I arrived, I met a muscular guy of medium height at the foot of
the steps of the dorm. He looked battered. Next to him was a high-end
road bike that looked battered as well. He was reasonably calm. I
asked him what happened. He said his name was John Yablonski and that
he BEAT HIMSELF UP! Naturally, I wanted a further explanation. Yabo
said that his girlfriend lived in the dorm, she dumped him and was with
another guy at the moment. He was so upset that he kicked his own ass!
I thought he was pretty lucid for a guy who just whuuped himself, but
Yabo said he was a non-violent kind of guy who wouldn¹t hurt anybody
but himself. He really did an impressive job of hitting himself. You
could tell he was headed for black and blue.

I quickly confirmed the story with Yabo¹s girlfriend (and her male
companion) and, since no more conflict seemed eminent, called off the
rangers before they arrived. It seemed like the last thing the
heartbroken Yabo needed was an encounter with the law.

I went back and met with Yabo again. He also managed to totally destroy
his $1000+ (1981 dollars!) road bike that he won in the "Survival of
the Fittest" TV contest. I told him to throw his bike in my truck and I
would give him a ride back to Camp 4. We talked about life, climbing,
and women. Before he got out of the truck he asked for $1 for a pack of
cigarettes. I gave it to him even though I am a cheap bastard and hate
smoking to boot. Somehow, my heart just told me it was the right thing
to do.

The next time I patrolled the women¹s dorm, I was surprised to find a
$1 bill lying on the ground at the very spot that I first met Yabo. It
stuck me at the time that I was being repaid by the Spirit of All
Things for my gift to Yabo.

In the course of years since then, I heard a number of amazing stories
of Yabo¹s larger than life existence. Apparently, he would go
free-soloing in fits of despair over relationships. He wouldn¹t always
make it. He would always miraculously survive. One time he was caught
in the branches of a tree after falling off an 11c crack! Werner Braun
said "The Angels were watching over Yabo."

Sadly, tragically, Yabo eventually took his own life. He said if
natural forces wouldn¹t take him, he would have do it himself. The
incident involved a woman and a relationship, but ultimately, it was
just Yabo¹s inner demons. I thought he was a great guy in many ways.
Unfortunately, we are all a bit nuts and those of us with an extra dose
of energy and passion can sometimes be even more nuts. May his Spirit
reach the Summit after a dramatic climb.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Nov 12, 2012 - 10:12pm PT
^^^^^ wow Karl


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Nov 12, 2012 - 10:16pm PT
Yeah. As many people as I know who figuratively beat themselves up. He was the only one who did it literally....

Nov 12, 2012 - 11:29pm PT
Bullwinkle, can you post up that short slide show with music and Yabo photos you showed at Yosemite Facelift a couple years ago?
Russ Walling

Social climber
from Poofters Froth, Wyoming
Nov 13, 2012 - 12:24am PT

Nov 13, 2012 - 01:11am PT
FISH pants!

'Like the Housekeeping ledge too!

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Nov 13, 2012 - 01:36am PT
Thanks Karl!

I met Yabo a couple times at Stoney Point but he was always occupied. Your story is a great insight.

Trad climber
Fumbling towards stone
Nov 13, 2012 - 02:51am PT
I come from the perspective of someone who never met Yabo. But I've always had the strong impression that those who knew him or encountered him pretty much saw him from a place of compassion rather than idolization.

Appreciating the stories and conversations here.

can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Nov 13, 2012 - 08:34am PT
I knew Yabo pretty good. He was a tortured yet happy soul. I never saw any hate in him and he was in many ways emblematic of what I think of as a "wild child", always in conflict with the society he came from and happiest when he was in his natural environment which of course was climbing.
young Yabo
young Yabo
Credit: Errett Allen
Yabo, C4 parking lot, 1986 grinning about some drilling on a route he ...
Yabo, C4 parking lot, 1986 grinning about some drilling on a route he had just done or was about to do.
Credit: can't say

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Nov 13, 2012 - 12:23pm PT
I really love the story and photos of the hawk.

Trad climber
Bay Area
Nov 13, 2012 - 06:29pm PT
I never met Yabo, nor Karl, but Karl's dorm story reminded me of one or two of my misadventures chasing after Curry Dorm girls.
And even more odd, this morning my wife was telling me the Los Gatos theater is being remodeled (I've been away for two weeks). Which made me think of Yabo since I believe his Dad owned or ran the theater and Yabo had worked there.
Mark Rodell

Trad climber
Nov 13, 2012 - 06:34pm PT
Yes, his dad ran the theater and owned the sweet shop next to it.

Trad climber
Cali Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
Nov 13, 2012 - 08:01pm PT
First time I ran into Yabo was either 1971 or 1972. It was my first trip to the Valley, so I am pretty sure it was 1971.

Him and another young guy were camped fairly close to us. The whole camp (C4) was talking about these two young guys (13-14, or so) who were going to do the Salathe Wall. It turned out to be him and his friend. I was kinda doubtful about the reality of the whole situation, since back then that (their young age) was totally unheard of (as far as I new). But when i went over and talked to them and looked at their rack, etc, it seemed more of a plausible (i think they had done some other grade V, or whatever).

We left the Valley the next morning so I have no idea whether or not they were successful. Of course John was not even "Yabo" yet, let alone anyone I would have heard about. But I did recognize him as the kid I spoke with when I saw a pic of him leading "Orangatan Arch" a few years later ('73/'74).

I also recall him as being a very nice guy that very first time i met him. Very friendly.

Trad climber
santa cruz, ca
Oct 3, 2013 - 03:17am PT
i was a personal friend of yabo. i am one of the few who knew his family.
i worked for his parents for 6 years. yabo was like a brother to me.
he once offered to drink a whole bottle of tabasco sauce for my weight set.
i gave it to him. he took it to camp 4.
yabo was a big yes fan. we went to see the yessongs movie at century theater in 1978, yabo climbed up the walls of the theater and freaked out the staff.
he was a great friend. he had serious passion for for what he was doing back then.
i won't go into his family background, but his dad was one crazy dominating man.
i'll never forget yabo. he was a good friend. his passion and devotion to the sport will never be forgotten.
his legend is well deserved.
by the way it is spelled yablonsky.
shine on john. you are legend.
jeff altman, conrad van bruggen, simon king, jeff panetta, mark blanchard.. we had some good climbers from los gatos.
Yabo is the legend.
may his legend sparkle for many years to come

Oct 3, 2013 - 12:07pm PT
Why, though, do we seem to speak more fondly of those like Yabo who took their own life, or died doing something like soloing? Is it the music star / rock star syndrome?

Because we see ourselves in them.

It would seem that we are so very different from others, but we are the same. Men, women, republicans, democrats, climbers, Europeans, aborigines--what is different are only surface features.

You recognize yourself in flawed greatness in these people, but for the smallest of differences.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Oct 3, 2013 - 12:18pm PT
I sure do miss Juan de Fuca. Even though I never met Jeff Batten his suicide has haunted me to some extent.

I bet Yablonsky's friends shouldered a lot, through the years. I'd allow them the comfort of their fond memories. The harsh realities were all dealt with and settled along ago. Their friend passed through the Veil, Darkly, and this is all they have left of him.

Peace be with you,

Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Oct 3, 2013 - 01:11pm PT
I've always held off from posting on this thread since John was so well known to so many here, and I only knew him in the last year or so of his life. I had been introduced to him in the gym (City Rock) and after one day that we spent together bouldering with a mutual friend at Castle Rock, we would chat a little whenever I ran into him at the gym.

I found him to be a very sweet person. I always called him John, and he never said to call him Yabo. During the time I knew him, there was an undercurrent of melancholy. I remember thinking at the time that it was a good thing that I was married, because he would have been easy to fall in love with. He had these gorgeous eyes and sensitive aura about him. Physically beautiful.

Whenever this thread pops up I feel I little pang of regret in my heart. The last time I saw him I was coming into the gym and had just finished a hard day at work. All I wanted to do was get into the locker room, get changed and get climbing. I was full of antsy energy after sitting in meetings all day. I saw him on my way in and could tell he was sad. I asked him "why the sad face today, John?" and he made a vague reply about troubles. Because I was in a hurry, I just made some stupid comment like, oh everything will be OK, or some generalized crap like that, and went past. I've always regretted not taking the time to really connect in a genuine way that day. Not that I have the illusion it would have changed the outcome, but just because it would have been the compassionate thing to do.


Sport climber
Oct 3, 2013 - 01:35pm PT
These lines from the Yabo part of The Stonemasters are among the best finishing lines I've ever read: "Ultimately, Yabo had to jump off himself. Into the void went a rogue prince and a strand of memories I'll laugh, cry, and tremble about for the rest of my life".

Trad climber
4 Corners Area
Oct 3, 2013 - 01:45pm PT
Not having read the thread . . .

I think we are wise when we are able to separate the accomplishments from the personality attached to them.

I definitely "idolize" Yabo's accomplishments. Ahead of his time, he was.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Oct 3, 2013 - 02:55pm PT
I do like Peter's quote:
uh, we don’t idolize our friends, we love them in one way or another and fill up our days...
I, too, knew John pretty well and I climbed and bouldered with him a lot. I lost touch with him a few years after he "moved" to the Valley. I remember him fondly but also recognize that his wilder side did not exist without a reason. As was said up-thread, he was a kind and gentle soul when he was very young; his life became more troubled as he matured.

When one shares parts of the remarkable thing called life, with perspective, love is the natural outcome.

Trad climber
Oct 3, 2013 - 04:46pm PT
I met John in the early 80's, had no idea who he was. I lived near Stoney Point & would go bouldering early on my way to work & we crossed paths several times. One day we were on the same path & started talking. We had a good morning workout & off to work I went. Next morning same thing & so on for a couple of weeks, he never showed off, I had no idea how good he was. He could do everything I could do but never did anything I couldn't & would say little things like "if you shift you weight a little it might make it easier." Then one morning there was a famous climber & his side kick struggling up Crowd Pleaser. John & I were up the hill. Yobo saw them & headed down to them to say hello, which he did as nicely as could be said. They both looked down & would not acknowledge him. After Bob the side kick came down from Turlock they both brushed passed us & left. I could see deep pain in John he didn't say a thing he just went & did Crowd Pleaser Direct & then we walked around & he did Fvking hard problem after hard problem many I have never seen repeated. I was completely blown away. From that day on we were more than friends.

Boulder climber
Oct 3, 2013 - 05:46pm PT
Because he may have seemed like the innocent and the lost, and most of us have compassion for those souls.
Mari Sullivan

Mountain climber
Hansville, WA
Jul 16, 2014 - 10:27am PT
Yabo was a tortured soul who was at odds with much about life but sure about his love for the rocks. We hung out a lot at Camp 4 and drove to Joshua Tree when the weather got too bad to climb there. Paula (my dear friend and traveling partner) climbed with Yabo a lot. I drove his blue Volkswagon bug to Joshua tree because he didn't want to drive it. He belayed us up some route I can no longer remember in 1978 and I was mortified to reach the top of the pitch and he was laying down holding onto the belay rope with one finger. Paula and I reconnected recently and were talking about that. He loved the song "Dust in The Wind" and ultimately became just that. He did not like working in his parents Greek restaurant. At all. There was conflict there although I was too young to understand it fully and am sure his family suffered greatly when he died. Such a wild spirit and a gentle soul...but tortured for sure.... RIP Yabo! Love and Peace, Mari Sullivan

Trad climber
Jim Falls, WI
Feb 12, 2016 - 02:39pm PT
John Yablonski and I learned to climb together while in high school. Obviously his lack of experience at that time did not kill me, and my lack of experience did not kill him. My favorite climb, and the one that still makes my palms sweat, was a first ascent that John and I did in Pinnacles National Monument (now National Park). I led the crux pitch on-sight and without any protection other than the belay anchor. The crux involved a layback, which is very unusual for Pinnacles. After John followed the crux he told me that I was a better climber than what people said I was. I knew John well enough to know that he intended his statement to be a compliment, so I interpreted it as such.

Many people have difficulty anticipating how their words or actions might offend others, and perhaps John had this difficulty. There are also people who don't care if their words or actions hurt other people. I saw no evidence that John was this second type of person. While John continued climbing I got too busy breathed poisonous vapors in the semiconductor fabs in Silicon Valley.

I will try to attach an image of John's first climbing hammer, which has found a new life banging on metal in my shop.
John Yablonski's first climbing hammer
John Yablonski's first climbing hammer
Credit: DanMan9

John Yablonski sent a description of our Pinnacles climb to the person who was ostensibly the keeper of such information. The next revision of the guide book had the right climb description, had about the right date, but had the names of different climbers as the first ascenders. John just smiled his famous smile when telling me about this, but I felt righteous indignation. Such a coincidence seemed very improbable to me, both then and now. We never discussed the possibility of changing the record, and I won't try now. My righteous indignation has often cost me retaliation by people who wanted to take credit for inventions that were not their creation. Our experience regarding this climb should have taught me a cheap lesson of some sort.

The way John and I climbed this route was the best in terms of leaving no evidence behind; no piton scars, no bolts and no chalk. We also maximized the danger to ourselves, and did no decrease the danger for subsequent climbers. Lynn Hill knows the mixed feelings associated with climbing with John, outside the fuzzy bounds of safety.

My Dad deserves credit for driving John and I to Pinnacles since neither of us had cars. He climbed Mt McLoughlin in 2014 in spite of being 83 years old and with 3 stents in his heart. I should call my dad now and ask him what he wants to climb next.

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2016 - 03:36pm PT
Upthread someone said they thought it was amazing that John soloed without fear. Well that wasn't John, he always looked scared to death but did it anyway. That was probably what made him most different to all the rest.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 12, 2016 - 03:48pm PT
Cool. DanMan9, could you tell us more about your first ascent at Pinnacles?
What formation? Near other climbs? I've worked on Pinnacles guidebooks and I'm not sure if the climb made it into the guidebook.
P.S. My first hammer was exactly like that - got it from REI, probably in 1974 or so.

I met John once at Goat Rock (Castle Rock State Park, above Los Gatos), probably around 1988.
He was super nice and told me about some of the climbs on the lower and upper left side. I got up one of them a few years later, after *many* tries!

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2016 - 06:54pm PT
I first heard about John in the Bugaboos hut in 1980.
Kevin Powell spent days telling hilarious stories about this Yabo character and other Calif people. At least the rainy days were fun.

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Feb 12, 2016 - 07:43pm PT
My first summer in the Valley, Yabo would throw rocks at my tent in the morning to wake me up. A good alarm clock is hard to find.

Feb 12, 2016 - 07:53pm PT
One summer he did the LSD free soloing trip every other night or so for a month or so.

He dropped the acid in the late evening.

Then disappeared to free solo something from midnight on.

Every morning I had to look for him to see if he's still alive.

Some mornings I could not find him.

I figured he's toast and will have to get the body bag and everyone will be sad.

Buuuuttttt he always appeared at some time later, his hair all over the place and his face had the look of a psycho .........

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2016 - 08:13pm PT
^^^^^^ that is classic.

Social climber
Feb 12, 2016 - 08:18pm PT

Feb 13, 2016 - 06:20am PT
Fly on, Disaster and Yabo!

Trad climber
Feb 13, 2016 - 06:30am PT
because he's the only dude who actually ASKED to see my bare breasts. politely i might add. you got to hand it to the guy.

Ha! I remember you telling me that story when we were over at the LaFlamme's house one afternoon.

Edit: Whoops! Just realized that I had you confused with someone with a somewhat similar name, but the same story. :-)

Feb 13, 2016 - 08:37am PT
i heard a story long ago that Yabo was free soloing Short Circuit and fell near the top and turned and landed in the sapling (at that time) nest to the route. the sapling gentle bent and lowered Yabo nicely right to the ground where he stepped off like nothing had happened. is this a true story?
Double D

Feb 13, 2016 - 09:41am PT
Yes oldtimer it is. The yelp he let out and the look in his eyes defied sanity but then again...

Social climber
An Oil Field
Feb 13, 2016 - 11:10am PT
I only met him once, but tortured souls are drawn to climbing. I think often of Walt, who I knew well. He would go off and solo routes right at his limit, especially when some girl had broken his heart.

Shine on you crazy diamonds....

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Feb 13, 2016 - 04:49pm PT
Damn, you really do have it in you to tell a good story, Werner. I forget that sometimes.

Ice climber
Feb 13, 2016 - 06:53pm PT
One summer he did the LSD free soloing trip every other night or so for a month or so.

Kinda makes me wonder, why he stopped, if he did.

Anybody ever ask him?


Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Feb 14, 2016 - 06:45am PT
It went out of fashion for a while
jeff constine

Trad climber
Ao Namao
Feb 14, 2016 - 08:06am PT
Credit: jeff constine
Yabo Father Figure.
Dave King

Trad climber
Nov 6, 2016 - 01:01am PT
Hi all,

I was googling and stumbled on this site and wanted to add my two cents.

John was a best friend in high school, like 1971-4. We'd hitchhike or find any way to get to Castle Rock and spent wonderful rainy days studying all possible moves in the rock's cave. We eventually conquered a short 5.9 (I think) a short ways from the front of CR.

Does anyone know who Betty Jo Yablonski is? I saw this name online. I think (long time ago?) John had a younger sister, maybe that's her or maybe it is just a route name. I'd ride my bike from Cupertino to Los Gatos and John and I would play soccer, not the real game, just controlling the ball and keeping it away from the other. Enormous fun.

John and I spent the summer of '73 in Yosemite Camp 4. We smoked pipe tobacco and pot and bouldered and climbed. There was a pull-up bar near our camp, Jim Bridwell sometimes walked by and did pull-ups and we'd count and he'd do like 36 and we'd agree he was the rock god.

The highlight of that summer (for my ego at least) was a climb John and myself and an older better climber (Ron Thompson?) did on a pitch under Half Dome (The Prude?) that started with a narrow crack and finished with a wider gap, the hard kind that is too wide for a fist, too narrow for a forearm. Ron started the route, fell off, asked me to try leading. In retrospect, I think he was a good teacher. So I made it up this beast, very slowly, then John followed, then Ron just screamed up the pitch saying casually that "fast climbing" was a helpful skill...

The dumbest thing we did that summer was a climb up a class V (?) pitch near the beautiful Yosemite falls. I think I was into the third pitch and wondering why we weren't seeing the top yet and it was getting dark and I said, "John, it's getting dark," and we decided to go down and I have this memory of both of us hanging from a single piton, one- or two-hundred feet up, in the dark. The immortals? ;)

The next climb I remember with John and a sweet fellow named Craig was at Pinnacles, I think it was a 5.9 called Fly-By (?) and I led it and wasted energy learning that the problem was a chimney with your butt in space rather than a face and I fell, maybe my first big fall, and almost passed out.

I don't know if that is why I stopped climbing, I was being pulled in different directions, John had stayed in Yosemite in '73 and was up there again in '74, he loved climbing. I drove up to visit him in '74, I remember talking about how we were going different ways, he was kinda stoic saying "Yes, that's how it goes." We did one more climb together, he led a route up Glacier Point. He had continued climbing while I drifted and he looked really good then, a spider.

Bless you, John, you were a great friend. Here are some photos for readers.

Tweetie Bird, Pinnacles.
Tweetie Bird, Pinnacles.
Credit: Dave King

Death at Guadalupe Rock circa '72
Death at Guadalupe Rock circa '72
Credit: Dave King

Dave King.
steve s

Trad climber
Nov 6, 2016 - 05:31am PT
Thanks for that Dave. Yabo was a good friend and one of a kind. Bless his soul. Peace .

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Nov 6, 2016 - 08:38am PT
So many interesting times with John. He didn't always seem so incredible much of the time back then. He was just one of us, just another inmate at the asylum.
My parents were proud to buy him breakfast when we got off Tribal Rite, even though he was just tagging along.
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