History - Harding and.....?


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Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Nov 30, 2012 - 10:53am PT

I regret to report that I was one of the only two bipeds on the trail the day Snake died. Immediately following Snake's demise we regretted our action because, in retrospect, we might have enlisted the Crotalid to lead and then hang on by its teeth to provide a prussik line up some difficult pitches we envisioned.

Now, 60+ years later I no longer place bolts or kill anything bigger than an insect. (With only one exception that I can think of, but though snake-related it had nothing to do with climbing.)

Nov 30, 2012 - 05:59pm PT
Wayne - here's what I said in another spot about that adventure. I was under the impression he lost his middle finger...

In early June, 1962 I was approached by a newcomer to the Valley and asked if I would take him up Sunnyside Bench by the waterfall route. He said he had steaks in an ice chest in his car for later. Of course I agreed and we set off. He wanted to rope up at the base, so we did, and I led up the third class part. He considered that was pretty easy and asked if he could lead the next pitch, the “crux” if you can think of a fourth class climb as having that, which takes you to the top. Sure, OK by me. So he goes up a ways and I ask him to put a sling around a tree or a branch before the steepest part for protection, and he does. He continues up a couple of moves and I hear, above the roar of the lower falls, “I’m hit”. “What,” I holler. “A snake.” He had been bitten on the middle finger of his right hand as he put it in a crack. So I say “Step down and relax” and I pulled in the slack and lowered him down to me. Then the trial began. “I have to lower you down and we have to get you to the hospital right now. Are you ready? You walk back and I’ll keep the belay tight on you.” The reply: “No.”

Our conversation was the most difficult I have had in my entire married 44 years life. He wouldn’t do anything, wouldn’t move, just looked down and kept refusing whatever I suggested. So I said I should go down and get help, and he said no to that. What a quandary. So I tried screaming at people walking on the trail, and they didn’t respond to the obvious madman on the ledge. Or maybe it was because the falls were at high volume. Then Joe Fitschen (Fitschen’s Folly at Tahquitz) comes strolling along and, miracle of miracles, he looks up, he hears, and he seems to understand and asks where is the bite? I hold up my middle finger and he starts turns and starts walking away thinking I’m joking around and giving him the finger. And I start screaming and jumping up and down and he comes up and sees we have a real problem and heads down to get the rangers.

Soon Wayne Merry arrives and says we have to give the victim cryotherapy which he happens to have in his pack to administer. That is where you more or less freeze the affected part so the poison doesn’t spread. In my academic “career” I had taken a biology course at UCLA from a herpetologist who insisted that cryotherapy was the worst thing to do. Anti-venin was the only way. The venom of a hemotoxic snakebite (like a rattlesnake bite) injects a digestive enzyme that wrecks tissue big time. I mentioned this to Wayne and he ignored me and got to freezing the affected finger by spraying it with something from a small canister, maybe CO2. As your physics tells you, an expanding gas cools. The idea is that the venom wouldn’t spread, although in this case the swelling already appeared localized. After that my climbing partner seemed OK and agreed that if embraced by Wayne they could be lowered together. Done.

I visited him in the hospital daily and his finger was all bandaged. He ultimately lost it. Snake venom digested so much that it had to be amputated. On the third day he thanked me for trying to help him and gave me his car keys so I could at least have a steak for my troubles. Wow! Cool! A reward for being good! How unexpected! Unfortunately, after three days the meat had gone bad, and boy, did that ice chest smell. Later that day I returned his keys to him and the next day his car disappeared and he left the valley.

By the way, your rescue of Glen Denny and Colliver from the Lost Arrow notch was quite interesting to me as a participant in helping haul the winch and cable to the top of the falls in the moonlight.

Bill Amborn


Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Nov 30, 2012 - 08:34pm PT
When I met Harding in the early 70's his climbing days were largely over but he still had a larger than life persona especially when he held court around a campfire, much younger woman at his side and a glass of cheap red in his hand.
A legend already, I remember thinking that he was still young and vital but seemed to be in the first stages of throwing it all away. Here at ST we seem to be guilty of either seeing no wrong in our heroes or cloaking there excesses with humor and even a form of reverence....boy, can he drink!
If you consider the toll alcohol, drugs and depression have taken on our community, sugar coating and tacitly approving destructive behavior helps no one.
Our legends deserve more than slavish, unquestioning glorification. They are heroes to us because of who they were and what they accomplished. In the end, like all of us, they are/were also flawed. An honest examination of their lives can serve as beacons to help us all get thru this gauntlet we call life.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Dec 1, 2012 - 01:44pm PT
Listen up lads, well spoken by one of our elder statesman-I'll drink to that!
tom Carter

Social climber
Dec 1, 2012 - 05:36pm PT
Jim well said - I concur.

Social climber
Butterfly Town
Dec 1, 2012 - 07:49pm PT
Ya' hit the piton on the head, Jim!

Social climber
Flagstaff, AZ
Dec 14, 2012 - 05:29pm PT

You mentioned the greasy spoon. Batso's disdain for following the rules was probably reinforced by having followed the "Please order by number" dictum at the Spoon. His order for "5, eggs over easy" (5: 2 eggs (specify your preference) with hash browns and toast) was misinterpreted as "5 eggs over easy" and that's what he was served. Yech.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Feb 8, 2013 - 11:07pm PT
History bump.

"Eek! Eek! A dead snake, mon!"

Jun 5, 2013 - 01:45pm PT
What a great thread. Thanks for sharing it fellas!!!
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