Unplanned Bivouacs: Dreadful or Delightful?


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Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 27, 2012 - 02:22am PT

I think one of the big factors in how much you suffer is whether you have to bivouac after a successful climb or you still have more climbing to go. Psychologically it's a lot easier if you're done with the climb.

Another big difference is whether everybody's the same gender or it's a mixed group. Age and marital status makes a difference too. Young, single people in a mixed group can make a party out of almost anything. Older folks of the same gender or long time marrieds, not so much.

Luckily, I always bivouaced after the climb and in a gender mixed situation. One of the several advantages of being a single woman climber.

Social climber
Apr 27, 2012 - 02:38am PT
It also depends on what expectations there are on account of your having an unplanned bivi. Do you have a freaked out mom or spouse in town wondering if yer alive or dead ?

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 27, 2012 - 02:51am PT

Good point.

They too need to be prepared by being told that the unexpected can happen and that times of return are only tentative within certain limits.

Probably there should be an agreed cut off time at which point they notify others that you're missing. I think they worry less if you have an agreed on procedure set ahead of time.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 27, 2012 - 07:08am PT
Taco Tribune
Sunrise edition

Sleepless in Merced for many nights, I finish a refreshing bivvy in my own bed, rising to find a vista of stories...

Jan?!! Om eye god, that was you in El Portal? :)

That is a great Bridwell story. I like JB, always have. He defines the phrase, "a prince of a fellow." (I realize that opinions on definitions vary--we are not here to praise Caesar, however. And he has dossed down in some incredible situations, one of which I will relate in a bit.) But, Jan, that sounds like something he might do. We'll keep that one. Gold star. Two in fact. One for the JB story, the other for its homiletic value in portraying the evils of drink. ( and one more of these dang deals :) ).

I love the comments you make about the completion of a climb being a mitigating factor in relative enjoyment of a bivvy situation. Have you read the article by my good friend Annie Rizzi who had some choice words for the mixed-gender climb? You probably have; if not, it's a recent post by Grosser Man. You sound like a person I want to talk to in person. Thanks for your input. More more more.

who would think a bivvy would be needed for the Carbon Wall? The time was late when Bruce Price and I got finished and headed back along the bench to the descent route via Swan Slab. It was so dark we opted for the doss. It was one of those excellent nights, but dark. Not cold, but we opted to build a small fire. I listened to his tales of the COLD F*#KING BIVVIES in the Dolomites and moved closer to the fire, probably. One night in a hundred. Next a.m. I found a bitchen sporty tweedy hat that I kept for years, which somebody had dropped (and don't tell me it was your hat).

With regard to your E.Buttress yo-yo thing, I take it you are not in the Robbins camp, along with Pratt and young Tom, regarding the ethics of the continuous ascent on longer routes? A very serious question, here. I mean it. No finger-pointing, just curious. Sounds like an early version of you; not knowing you personally, it is hard to figure, though.

The space blanket is the most single over-looked item in a climber's arsenal in the fight against "the elements," especially wind, everyone's bane. Thanks for the reminder. Gold star.

Wayne, I gotta say it here, it's unavoidable:
The best-laid plans of mice and men, aft gang a-gley.

DMT, (the mention of N.C. Peak tweaked this) nobody planned for any situation better than Norman Clyde, the hundred pound pack that walked like a man, simply because he was always ready by virtue of carrying the "whole she-bang." When I heard him speak at the AAC meeting (planned remarks, I would think) in 1970, about which I have posted, he assured us there was no "Norma Clyde" in that pack, he wanted to clear the air of that vicious rumor and retire that joke about the "whole she-bang."

This is one helluva lot nicer than waiting for the sun to come up or the fog to lift so one can move and shake some warmth into ones bones.

There is a spirituality involved in spending the night outdoors. Not many of us do it after scouting, or military service, but the ones like you guys who do it know what I mean. You realize how frail and expendable we are and that even thought he/she may smell bad and have lots of live things growing in the hair, your partner is warm and willing to share. No sexism in my house.

I am going to share some more stories a bit later so I will remind myself here: Half Dome, North Dome Gully, the Tower, JB and Schmitz on the Quarian. No more adventures in foreign lands like BC. "Never been east of Fallon nor north of Banff, though it's farther to the east than Fallon." No wonder old Mousie gets lost so much.

Gold star for t*j just cuz you wanna have fun.

There are many more stories out there. This thread is fated to last a while, I feel.

And after a rest like I got and the news from overnight, I must say, as did Curly Bill on the streets of Tombstone,


Th- th- that's all, folks.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 03:03am PT
Half Dome on a Friday night in August, 1974. Day two. Thank God Ledge.

Half Dome is the architectural masterpiece of the Sierra Nevada. The Northwest Face route, back then, was "Better than Zappa, but not as good as Captain Beefheart."
-My own Robbinsian observation on this climb

Jerry Coe and I parked here just at dusk, but we figured, "Awesome bivvy. Let's stay here tonight." DON'T!
We spent the night back to back, just barely uncomfortable enough to wish we had pushed on through. It was perfect weather but we would have made the top easily and could have spent the night blissfully looking at the whole sky, not just one quadrant of it; we could have slept stretched out; we could have done it right. The pitches beyond Thank god are easily done, and certainly no problem if you have a good headlamp. There is no romance in spending the night on that ledge. And no good reason to bivvy there. Ask around.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 28, 2012 - 03:16am PT
Since you asked, here's another fun bivy.

I got in to writing up my bivys in response to a really funny story that Layton Kor sent me about his bivouac on the Grand with a French girl that he had met and climbed with in Europe. It's part of his Scrapbook Stories that I hope will be published some day.

As you can see, the summer of 1972 was a really fun time for me.

The Grand Teton

I flew into Jackson Hole the summer after I had returned from Europe. I was going to school in San Francisco, and had just visited my parents in Colorado. My first surprise was the discovery that although it was the gateway to a National Park, there was no public transportation. Not having much money, I decided the only thing to do was hitchhike to the climberís campground.

Soon I had pickup loads of drunk cowboys cruising by yelling insults and throwing empty beer cans at me. It seems they didnít like climbers in any form and they had spotted the crampons and ice axe strapped to my pack. Welcome to Wyoming! Of course I later learned from an ST post by Jim Donini, that climbers deliberately picked fights with cowboys in Jackson, so then I could understand my reception a little better.

Eventually a park ranger came by and gave me a ride. He told me it was against Wyoming law and government rules to give a hitchhiker a ride, especially in a government vehicle, but he felt sorry for me. And so I arrived at the climberís camp in a National Park truck.

Shortly after my arrival I met Hank and Dan who were drinking beer and discussing their climb of the Grand the next morning. Hank was a tall construction worker dressed in cowboy boots and hat; Dan was a short and gentle college student. I asked to join them and they readily agreed. The next morning we set out and had a splendid day together, being all about the same level of competence.

Distances were long however, and we were still descending through the meadows when night fell. We were tired and really didnít want to run into bears or moose after dark, so we opted to bivouac under a large overhang. Being the only woman with two guys, I got to be in the middle, which was warmer for sure, and we ended up laughing, talking and singing most of the night. In the morning we continued to the campground, ate breakfast, and went to bed.

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 03:26am PT
North Dome Gully. It is not a place to be screwing around in at night. If you are lamp-less, for gosh sakes, stop and find a place to crash. I came down this way after climbing the S.Face of Washington Column with an impetuous fool named Crazy Larry. He had a couple of well-earned nicknames besides Cowboy.

He was worried that he would be late to work in the morning. So he led me down the path and it was total darkness and we either had no lights or no batteries. It's a gully for gosh sakes. There are lots of bushes and trees, so no light gets in to the spots which are potentially lethal. The slab? He pendulum-ed across in the dark, messed up his ankle, and I had to clean it! Not to mention help take some of his load so he could negotiate the rest of the gully hobbling. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Never attempt this idiotic maneuver. The slab just disappears and if you go down there sliding, you won't stop. It is a death-trap. Wait for daylight, for gosh sakes.

Remember, the way goes high, above the slab. If I have got this wrong, some one correct me. If I am right, which I feel is the case, some one back me up. I have been down the NDG at least six or seven times and I still don't like it, even though it isn't all that nasty in the daytime.

Bottom line: I should have let Larry go ahead on his own if he needed to get down that bad, and just bivvied on my own.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 28, 2012 - 03:34am PT
I came down that in the dark with a guy named Chuck Ostin
who was famous for starting climbs in the afternoon and finishing in the dark.

And yes, sometimes a bivy is preferable to a descent in the dark.

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 04:06am PT
Thanks for the Wyoming warning, Jan.

The West Face of the Leanng Tower. March, 1971. One pitch from the top. One pitch above the "Evil Tree."

It is barely adequate, not recommendable for bivvies. There just isn't much space, as I remember it. I led the tree pitch, the last half in darkness. I had no headlamp back then. The irascible Dillis Millis cleaned it in total darkness and we were piton pounders back then, so it was quite a light show as he bashed the steel and granite. A regular 4th of July show.

The boys really cocked this one, up, down, and sideways, not to mention backwards. We had brought, we thought, though it wasn't the case at all, four quarts of water. We wanted to go light, but not that light. We mis-communicated and paid a price. No water in a miserable spot, a couple of Rolaids for supper, one each for breakfast, maybe. They were peppermint.

Don't spend the night on this ledge. Avoid it, or at least have lots of water. The thing about the Tower is this: it's all overhanging, so hauling is as good as it gets. Take the whole hog. You will be staying at the Ahwanee, for gosh sakes. Live a little!

On one of their attempts on the Aquarian, in the Spring of 1971, Jim Bridwell and Kim Schmitz were bashed on the head by a very nasty storm, lots of wind, big wind, and soaked through.
I got this from Kim as he was coming down the talus from the climb, with JB bringing up the rear. Kim told me they, "almost died up there." It was a near thing, and he regretted not having one good really thick sweater instead of a fairly thin blend of wool and something else which, on looking at it, was a downhill skier's sweater.
I didn't talk to Jim, he just looked at me and rolled his eyes, dragging a finger across his neck, grimacing. He shook his head and muttered, I think, "Never again." Always cryptic.
They had not planned on the water works near the top of the climb, which is apparently riverine in that section of the Captain. Soooooooo, beeeee-waaaaare.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 04:15am PT
Dillis Millis told me about Ostin, even more of a mystery than...well, there's plenty of Ostin in other threads.

I always pictured him as being a muscular Herbie Swedlund with a faster car.

Ever climb with Herb? I never got to. I have to tell you about running into him as he came out of the 4 Seasons, but not in public. Thanks for the rap, Jan.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Apr 28, 2012 - 04:22am PT

> With regard to your E.Buttress yo-yo thing, I take it you are not in the Robbins camp, along with Pratt and young Tom, regarding the ethics of the continuous ascent on longer routes?

Yes, we were not following that model.
This particular climb was the big grey corner out left of the East Buttress and has a fairly short season - too wet from Horsetail Falls in the spring, too hot in midsummer (unless it's a cloudy day), and then daylight gets pretty short in the fall.
I had previously climbed ground up to the base of the corner, which has just a tiny seam for its first 25' or so.
I didn't want to scar up the crack by slamming pitons into it,
so the plan for a minimal impact climb was to come in from above and
see if we could even do the moves, then maybe bolt the crux blank section.
I'm really bad at stemming, so I tried fingertip liebacking the seam,
but could not link this even on toprope. My partner could stem it, though.
We cleaned a lot of dirt out of the upper dihedral.
I went back a couple more times, but we never freed it on lead.
Abandoned it, and later it was done by others as Lost in Translation.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 28, 2012 - 05:31am PT
I would never have equated Herb Swedlund with Chuck Ostin myself.

I knew Herb from conversations in the student union in Boulder and
beer drinking in the Sink. We were at a few mutual parties as well.

Later on in the winter of 1974, I bumped into him in Kathmandu.
We went out to dinner a couple of times and he introduced me to
Al and Jennifer Reed when Al was still working at the American Embassy.

Herb had passed through Rolwaling Valley where I was headed to do my
ethnographic research. I think it's safe to say that he did not appreciate
his Third World experience. Of course whenever things got rough up there,
I had cause to remember his warnings! He did give me excellent advice
however, on what was available and what supplies I would need to porter in.
Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Apr 28, 2012 - 08:15am PT
they can do wonders for the generation gap:

differing perceptions
differing perceptions
Credit: Tony Bird
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 10:08am PT
Tony, Tony, Tony,

What's an old hard guy like you doing out of bed this early? If this is all you can think of, I pity you.

I wish Felix the Cat was on Saturday a.m.s, myself; but he/she isn't so I am here with the old farts.

As long as I'm here, this is for all the old hard guys/gals. (It could take me a bit to type it out. Stay tuned.)

Peter Paan

Peter Pain he was
with the Norwegian
but the Flames
melted the klister,
the wood bright burnt orange,
away from the skin.
So he Bard the damn thin instead,
away like an angry Gym Bird,
like a TM guru,
the words of mem
or he might never
see the top.

But Peter Paan
(not his real name)
descends from the line
of Laarson the Caterpillar man,
who dropped an A
but never took the Entrance Exam
nor even a Quickie Quiz.
This is a test of his Commitment,
gas like a holy man,
him proud to be big bro
to such a bright gang of youths
who belong to the f-f-flames
for all time.

Why did the chicken cross the road
if he was afraid
of the truth?

the chicken instead of the road,
the old man back to where he started,
he suddenly farted,
up the squeeze,
out on top after all
to bright blue sky-sun;
the anger bled away on the breeze.

He gets on his knees to give thanks,
but they are too sore
to serve that need.

Everyone said, "Yes. He's back."
But he never left.
It was Peter left.
Then everyone left
in a pique,
in a huff:
more anger yet.

puffin-stuffin' off-width,
done by "thrutch and clutch,"
along with desperate

"My, what technique you have, Grampa.
What kept you?"
"All the better to scare myself, child."

Yet we have joy.
"Five-nine-y as hell, boy.
It's Miller time again."
Except there was no Miller time
back when
we raced,
//en rappel
and my time won.
"Loser buys the Schlitz."

We're buds in a frenzy
a way to get away,
what wer are not yet
in the Camp 4
cool as Flames on a hot summer day.



Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Apr 28, 2012 - 01:21pm PT
With all due respect I don't believe that spending a night in a dirt gulch
in Yosemite merits being called a bivy. ;-)
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 01:37pm PT
And a big sh#t-eating grin back at you, Smiley Reilly. You've "caught me out," but I thank you for the respect.

Semantics, you know, shades of meaning, really the same as pottering over the difference between 5.10a and 5.10b. Potato, tomato. Bivy, bivvy.

"Don't give me no alphabet soup."--TM

If it's dark, cold, you'd rather be in bed with your lady--it's a bivouac.

It may not qualify as a "climbing bivouac."

Well-pointed-out, as Roper, the pointing-out-the-obvious master might write.

Planned, un-planned, you got a kid, you are still a parent.

We cool? I gotta go water my plans.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Apr 28, 2012 - 01:48pm PT
One man's embarassment is another's unplanned bivy.
I've plenty to be embarassed about too.
How embarassing was it to set out on a FA high in the Cascades in October
with nothing other than a day pack and a T-shirt and a cotton anorak?
It was so nice and warm during the day! Of course the bloody Scot I was
with sawed logs with a vengeance the night through! ;-)
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 02:01pm PT
Actually, be-nightment may be equally embarrassing.

Of course, we are both prone to confusion due to residual PTSD.

And I am shameless. It is useless to attempt to embarrass me. I got little enough to be proud of except that I am still alive in spite of the blunders.

Social climber
Greensboro, North Carolina
Apr 28, 2012 - 03:44pm PT
I've had two of them. Both dreadful.

Door Number 3
Apr 28, 2012 - 03:49pm PT
A few years ago two friends and I were trying to climbing a new route in Argentina. We were slow and had to bivy. We had all agreed before the climb to go super light and try to do it in a push. When I hunkered in down for the night on the ledge in my raincoat, I was surprised and envious when my friends pulled out their big puffy jackets :(

1:40 in the video for the bivy shot

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