Who Did The First Ascents At Big Rock- A Historical Survey


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Keith Leaman

Trad climber
Jan 16, 2012 - 01:26pm PT
Hey Steve,
We're pleasantly frozen in just enough to not have to drive to work today. Minnesotan, Okanagan and Alaskan buddies would scoff and jeer. Just sent you an email.
adventurous one

Trad climber
Truckee Ca.
Feb 27, 2012 - 03:43pm PT
Got a chance to climb here last week for the first time, for a day before heading to JT for the week. Fun paddling around on a cool slab. (Though English Hanging Garden is certainly not "slab paddling". My hats off to anyone with the poise and skill to clip that first bolt) A great place to teach begginers the art of slab climbing, and bolts spaced far enough apart to keep things "interesting".

Looked like there would be plenty of additional climbing on some crags high on the hillside above the main slab. Anything up there or nearby? Would like an excuse to explore there a bit more next time we are passing through.

Social climber
State of decay
Feb 27, 2012 - 04:04pm PT
That was Gary Lilligard, son of the owner of Pack and Piton. I'm not sure if Gary ever put anything up there. I know Don C.(Chambers) put up a few routes.Gary, Rick Graham and I climbed there a lot in the 70's. I agree Keith would prolly know best (nice to see you post up here Keith). I replaced a boat load of bolts over the years. A lot of folks cut their teeth here.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Mar 18, 2012 - 12:32pm PT
I used to go there a lot early on because I grew up in Upland and knew all the guys at Pack and Piton (where I bought my gear) and later at the Backpacker Shop, where I worked when I was in college nearby. Rick Accomazzo, Richard Harrison and I must have done all those routes 1,000 times. Ricky could float English Hanging Gardens but I never fit into the moves and it always felt horrendous. And some of those other hard slab routes were quite hard in the old PAs and RDs (pre-EBs).

But the most memorable time I had out there was on The Nose. We were told that it had never been climbed all free (by Paul Gleason, I think). That there was one or two aid bolts yada yada. Anyhow, this was probably around 1973, after the dam was in full construction and the Nose area was off limits.

So one weekday Tim Powell and I snuck over there and managed to free climb the whole thing. The bolts were uber mank and I remember thinking that something might rip if I pitched off big time - and the pro up top was crap. Not much on the bottom, either. Tim got way up there on the lead and came down because the bolt protecting the crux was hanging half way out. I was impressed with the run out Tim did getting to the first pro. Tim was very active BITD (with bro, Kevin, Big D Hensil, and Bobby) at Rubidoux and could crank on those dimes like all get out.

Those old quarter inch bolts were all rusty and sh#t and the climbing was heinous crimping on a fantastic convex prow. If that route was near the main area it would be a mega-classic. Last time I looked the bottom of it was underwater. I remember thinking the moves were very close to 5.12, which was an unheard of rating back then.

Interesting to hear the history of that route because it was probably one of the hardest face climbs in the country at the time and if it went free pre-1970, The Nose would be very historical achievement, IMO. MUCH harder then Valhalla, which got all the press.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 18, 2012 - 05:13pm PT
John- Great story!

When you look at that list in the OP did you or anyone you recall put up those lines?

So we have:

E) English Hanging Gardens FA John Gosling no date
N) Vigin FA Lee Herrell as party aid climb no date
FFA Phil Gleason
M) Crater Maker FA Darrell Hensel no date

Not shown in topo is:

The Nose FFA John Long and Tim Powell 1973
Sickle 5.11+ FA Phil Gleason and Keith Leaman 1968

You must have drilled or belayed somebody working on a route. A half dozen bolts on stance takes some doing.

Phil G- Where is the supersecret topo from the vault?!?

Proud climbing you guys were pulling off at this secluded spot. Love to hear whatever you can recall about the scene there.

What was your fist visit like?

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Mar 18, 2012 - 06:32pm PT
great thread! So many of us so cal'rs got our early slab on there. Back when I used knotted 1" webbing for a "quick draw".

I don't remember if it was someone I met out there or someone that worked at the Mountain Shop on Tustin ave @Katella in the early 80s, but we talked about getting strong on "dimes" at Rubidoux and that for endurance one should go to Big Rock and send as many climbs as possible in a day. But if you didn't have a partner you could traverse damn near the entire base of that rock. Good to know it has a name. :)

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Mar 18, 2012 - 06:53pm PT
I think it's either going to be Keith Leaman or Phil Gleason who is going to know the low-down about FAs out there. I could possibly get hold of Charlie Reymond who was active out there in the early 1960s, that was a full decade before we started going out there.

We used to hear stories about routes like "Trapese" that supposedly were quarried for the dam, classics, reduced to dust.

Somebody must have old photos of those days.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 18, 2012 - 06:57pm PT
Catch anything?!?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 24, 2012 - 04:03pm PT
Oh,that's right! Yer pole's in Colorado!

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Mar 26, 2012 - 12:29pm PT
Sorry, no "supersecret topo from the vault" that I know of. Perhaps I have one of Pat Merrill's topos, but it's hidden in a rather disorganized collection of books, magazines and papers. I called Pat to see if he still had a copy and sadly he didn't.

Two corrections with your list: it was Paul who did the first free ascent of The Virgin and The Sickle and not me.
Paul and Keith were the "leading" climbers in those days. Paul with his incredible strength and Keith with his unbelievable balance. To watch Keith float up a face climb was to watch pure climbing art


Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Mar 27, 2012 - 10:44am PT
"What was your first visit like?"
Big Rock was such an impressive, "big" place when we first visited. After going to Yosemite and coming back I couldn't believe how "small" it was.

In the 60's Keith and I spent a week out there camping, bouldering and climbing. We were still learning how to tie knots in those days and we scored each other for good leads or well placed pitons and gave minus points if we fell or backed off leads.

I remember sleeping in the back of my pick-up truck waking up with frost covered sleeping bags each morning. Also remember seeing a satellite going across the night sky for the first time.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 27, 2012 - 10:57am PT
Thanks Phil!

I'll email Pat and see if he would be willing to join in here.

I bet that he can recall a couple of adventures...

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Mar 27, 2012 - 11:34am PT
Here's a picture of a climb as John said "quarried for the dam, classics, reduced to dust."


Trad climber
30 mins. from suicide USA
Apr 9, 2012 - 01:56pm PT

Apr 9, 2012 - 03:46pm PT
Cheap Thrills - If I recall correctly, Don O'Kelly did the first ascent of Cheap Thrills as an aid climb on the lower portion with bat hooks. Shortly after, Phil Haney put bolts in a few of the holes and did the FFA.

Let it Bleed - myself and Doug Tilleskjor, around 1969.
Keith Leaman

Trad climber
Apr 9, 2012 - 06:36pm PT
Does anyone remember the abandoned two story building (house?) and eucalyptus trees situated in a hollow near the base of Big Rock? There was once a slight uphill approach to the face from that building BITD. When we first climbed there (early '60s), we rode in Paul's old pre-VW Corvair across the dirt road that went through large potato fields which are now underwater.

Once, while half way up a climb on the main face, Paul and I heard gunfire and saw bullets ricocheting off the rock beside us. After descending and confronting the shooters, they said "Oh, we weren't trying to hit you, just seeing how close we could get"!

I recently wrote to the Perris family for any information/photos they might have, but waiting for a response. Here's a slightly more concise list for the original question re: FAs. As far as I know, almost all the climbs were done in the early to late '60s up to early '70s.

Lower Face:

A,B We used to top-rope the faces around the Rat Crack, don't know about Edger Sanction bolts.
C Lee Harrell early '60s
D ?
E FA? FFA John Gosling 1970
F Lee Harrell mid '60s
G Sierra Club late '50s-early '60s
H I thought Paul and Phil G did this one ?
I Lee Harrell mid '60s
J ?
K Pat Merrill?
L Pat Merrill?
M Darrell Hensel, Bob Kessinger '74
N FA Lee Harrell-aid, FFA Paul, Phil G, Keith L. 1969
O Air Force
P Pat Merrill
Q ?
R Pat Merrill?
S Pat Merrill?
T ?
U Sierra Club
V ?
W ?

Upper Routes:

A, B Top roped for a long time
C Sierra Club
D Sierra Club
E Don Chambers, Doug Tilleskjor '69
F Sierra Club
G ?
H FA Don O'Kelly-aid, FFA Phil Haney '68
I Sierra Club

The Nose (remarkably still visible on Google Earth-I think those climbs are still there) formation had four distinct routes. From east to west they were:

A a 5.7 route that Phil G just posted a photo of above. FA?
B "Roman Nose" 5.11? FA Lee Harrell-aid, FFA John Long, Tim Powell '73. I lead past the crux in the '60s, but Paul and I never completed the thing ground-up
C "Runny Nose" 5.9 FA Lee Harrell
D "Sickle" 5.11+ Paul Gleason, Keith Leaman 'late '60s

That's all I know, feel free to chime in with corrections/additions.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Apr 9, 2012 - 06:59pm PT
What would be really fun would be to see some more old shots from those days. I never took any that I can remember because we always figured we were must practicing at Big Rock, but English Hanging Gardens, Giant Step, Let it Bleed, Roman Nose and a couple others were quite challenging for us in the old red PAs.

I think I'll start another thread on Rubidoux. That's where a lot of us really got started and most of us are totally in the dark as to when most of the classic lines were first done and by who. We climbed a lot out there in the early 70s with my mentor, Paul Gleason, but we never talked about who did what and were always focusing on what the new stuff was. I'm sure there are people on his list who have great info on the place.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 9, 2012 - 07:53pm PT
Outstanding Keith!

Thanks for putting that list together.

I just sent Pat Callis an email so hopefully he can contribute.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 15, 2012 - 07:29pm PT
Pat said that he didn't do much here but put me in touch with Lee Harrell who will hopefully join in.

Trad climber
Apr 15, 2012 - 09:16pm PT
My son's first trip to Big Rock. I am getting him ready to do Snake Dike next month.
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