Why do we idolize John "Yabo" Yablanski?


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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 donít 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.
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