Bev Johnson Stories


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Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
May 19, 2006 - 05:37pm PT
A couple more stories:

Bev was on the rescue team for a while. One day she gets summoned over to Manure Pile Buttress. It seems that three guys were climbing Nutcracker and the leader decked. One of the remaining two climbers went off to get help while the other stayed with the body. When Bev arrived the guy who had stayed with the body is leaning over his fallen partner flicking the flies off of him. Just as Bev walks up to the body, the guy bolts upright and exclaims, "what happened!"

We were climbing at Reeds, Bev and Ajax Greene on Reed's left and I was on Reed's Direct with another climber. Bev and Ajax topped out just as we were starting up the final pitch to join them. All of a sudden there is a whooshing sound and Bev exclaims, "oh, no, Ajax what have you done!". Somehow Ajax had dropped their rope down behind the pinnacle. Luckily, we still had a rope and when we start down, Bev makes us swear to tell noone about what has happened because she didn't want to embarass Ajax in front of his fellow climbers in Camp 4.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 20, 2006 - 12:31am PT
Yosemite Valley FA's

Absolutely Free, Left Side 5.9 1970 Jim Bridwell Bev Johnson Mark Klemens
Dromedary - The Hump 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Girl Next Door, The, Left Side 5.10 1972 John Bragg Bev Johnson
Grape Race 5.9 A5 VI Charlie Porter Bev Johnson
Lunatic Fringe 5.10c 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Siberian Swarm Screw 5.10a 1972 Jim Donini Steve Wunsch John Bragg Kevin Bein Bev Johnson
Strangers in the Night 5.10b 1972 Jim Donini Rab Carrington Bev Johnson Steve Wunsch
Supplication 5.10c 1971 Barry Bates Bev Johnson
Waverly Wafer 5.10c 1970 Jim Bridwell Barry Bates Bev Johnson

other notable ascents in YV (see Clint's website):

Triple Direct - Sibylle Hechtel, Bev Johnson 1973 Grade VI
Washington Column South Face - Bev Johnson 1973 Grade V solo
Dihedral Wall - Bev Johnson 1978 Grade VI solo

from The North Face web site:

1978 Forbidden Plateau, Antarctica. Bev Johnson, Mike Hoover, Mike Graber and Rick Ridgeway.

1980 Greenland Ski Traverse, Greenland. Bev Johnson and others.

1981 Trans-Globe Expedition - around the world. First circumnavigation of the world via the North and South Poles. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Bev Johnson, Mike Hoover and others.

1983 Women's Trikora Expedition (elev. 15,585') Papua, New Guinea. Kayaking and trekking in Irian Jaya and New Guinea, with ascent of Mt. Trikora. Bev Johnson and others. Filmed by Bev Johnson.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
May 20, 2006 - 01:42am PT
Beverly Johnson

I met Bev Johnson in Yosemite. We climbed there that summer, 1972, and when the season ended, she decided to come north to Squaw Valley, near the shores of Lake Tahoe, to try alpine skiing. Through the winter I worked on ski patrol at Squaw while she, using her creative talents, made custom down jackets and backpacks. Bev's ski equipment was comprised of hand-me-downs. I gave her some 207 French skis and cut-down poles, and she got boots from the sister of a friend.

Bev would emerge from the trapdoor of her basement sewing room in a puff of feathers and head for the ski slopes. From time to time I would see her long enough to pass her some brief instructional tips, and then she'd ski off on her oversized skis.

A month passed. One stormy day, I was stationed on the steepest hill, KT-22; the Saddle run had been freshly groomed and four of us patrollers were cruising at 30 to 40 mph down the rolling terrain. Up ahead I spied a lone skier making big, smooth, fast turns. I knew almost all the fast skiers at Squaw, but this person I didn't recognize. I opened it up but only slowly gained on the skier. After 200 yards of semi-reckless abandon I could make out it was a woman smokin' down the hill. She wasn't a racer. Her turns were elegant but lacked the controlled precision. She was a cruiser, but who? When I got close enough to see her, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was Bev.

Bev was like that when it came to picking up skills. You'd turn your back and the next thing you knew she had improved twice as much as you thought possible.

Bev Johnson, of Wyoming and Los Angeles, died at 42. Most of us know her best for her climbing feats: the first woman to swing leads on El Capitan, the first all-female ascent of El Capitan, the first woman to solo El Capitan and the first woman to do a first ascent on El Capitan (Grape Race, VI, 5.9, A5). She was also the first woman on the Yosemite search and rescue team, taking part in two big rescues on El Cap.

"It seems I knew about Bev Johnson from the first time I donned a pair of Robbins shoes, borrowed six steel carabiners, and crept up a 5.4 lead," reflects Molly Higgins Bruce, another leading woman rock climber in the 1970's, who was based in Colorado. "There was a girl somewhere who could really do this, who could hammer large-angle pitons all day long up endless cracks that reached for the sky. She was leading 5.11, climbing huge granite walls, hauling robust haulbags, and living and breathing the fine granite dust and Camp 4 dirt in Yosemite when I was just leading Finger Traverse, 5.8, on North Gateway Rock. But I knew about her. In my newly developed ligaments, muscles, and bones I knew there was a woman who could swing leads with Jim Bridwell, Yvon Chouinard, Kim Schmitz, and Royal Robbins. And if she could be so strong, and so capable with ropes, carabiners, jumars and pulleys that she could be on the rescue team, plucking the stranded or ignorant off ledges way up on those walls, maybe I too could be good. To be somewhat like Bev Johnson inspired me. She was my myth."

Even so, Beverly Johnson was much more than "Big Wall Bev." She did it all -- free climbing, technical ice, and expeditions from the jungles of South America and the deserts of Africa to both polar regions. She visited Antarctica several times, climbing ice there and flying a gyrocopter. A few of her climbs in Yosemite include the Prow{ in a day (with Kurt Albert) in the early 1970's, New Dimensions (the first climb to be rated 5.11), and Fatal Mistake (5.11a, A1).

Following her marriage to Mike Hoover, an adventure film producer, director and cameraman, Bev devoted her talents to working on films. Her genuineness and quick thinking helped the two of them through many tough negotiations and tight situations, from dealing with Afghan freedom fighters to African bureaucrats.

Anyone who knew Bev, whether close friend or casual acquaintance, will remember her winning smile, clever wit, and sincere persona. She has been called the Amelia Earhart of outdoor adventure. The energy that animated her body has moved to another place, but the spirit of Beverly remains an inspiration to us all, as she has been for a long time.

--Jim Bridwell
Climbing 145
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Jun 12, 2011 - 10:35pm PT
This deserves a bump !
Bad Climber

Jun 12, 2011 - 11:06pm PT
Yeah, bump this thread. I'm getting seriously inspired and humbled. Largo, I can see how everyone would fall in love with her. Oy!

Great stories.


Trad climber
San Diego
Jun 16, 2011 - 04:44pm PT
I too fell victim to Bev's smile. Mike Brown and I were carrying loads to the base of El Cap when we ran into Bev who was carrying her stuff up to solo the Dihedral wall. Next thing I new, chivalry reared its ugly head, our gear was stashed in the boulders, and Mike and I were carrying 8 gallons of water to base of the Dihedral for her solo
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 16, 2011 - 04:48pm PT
this may still be up on my site...

gives you a person, her movement and her voice... I didn't know Bev, and that I count as a loss...

Big Wall climber
Nor Nev
Jun 16, 2011 - 05:37pm PT

This is some more good stuff on Bev Johnson.

Social climber
May 11, 2012 - 04:56am PT
hey there say, all...

i was thinking about this special gal tonight, due to something i accidently read...

i never knew of all the other things that she did in life, as, i am knew at
learning about all you folks, here...

folks who are dear friends and companions, live on, by the sharing of who they were, while they were here--the still inspire others, and they still are loved...

thank you for sharing about bev...
god bless to those that hurt from her passing, so very long ago...
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
May 11, 2012 - 09:00am PT
"...Lynn Hill finally free climbed the entire Nose in 1993, something that no man, no other climber at all, has been able to repeat. Then, a year later, she free climbed it in a day.
It was a bittersweet year. Also in 1994 Beverly Johnson, who had gone on to become an environmental film maker, and whose high-spirited enthusiasm and great common sense still delighted us, died in a helicopter crash in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada."
-Doug Robinson, A Night on the Ground A Day in the Open

I got a lot of mileage out of Doug's book while posting today. It was a timely thing to have read when I might have been instead up in the Valley schmoozing. I never would have seen the photo of Bev on page 223. It is just so dirtbag, so "Bring it, dude." Every word of the Zim article on her from the book Rocks and Roses, supplied courtesy of CC, rings true. I am looking forward to reading it.

" all the years I'd climbed I never saw another woman climbing other than my mother. Climbing through '69, '70, '71 without seeing another woman climbing, not even once."
-Sibyle Hechtel in Rocks and Roses

This statement mystifies me some. But it is Sibyle's observation, so I can only relate my own observations on the relative abundance of girls who climbed. They were there. Sometimes even in pairs. On one foray into the Valley in I'm sure was 1968, Jeff Mathis and I and Annie Rizzi and her pal, another San Fernando Valley girl like Annie, chatted each other up in the coffee shop. We became acquainted with one of the most accessible and witty of any women I have met in the Valley. She became a very competent climber. And that's about all, because it hurts me to think she quit the wall-climbing game. It meant a lot for me to read her article which CC posted. It is gratifying to have traded hellos with her. After something like forty years.

1968-On yet another slow Flames midnight cruise up the Merced canyon with the month of May just arrived, Jeff and Mark and I partook heavily of eight-track rock--Butterfield, Beefheart, Chambers Brothers--and two-paper jays of recently arrived Cambodian laced with opium (courtesy of The Boy Scout of Cu Chi, US Army Corps of Engineers) and the slowness of it all, the stunning silence of solid silver stone on entering Bridalveil Meadow in the oh so slow low ride, the Cream, the rock, the stoned "ness," and then we got to Camp 4, found the Bircheffs ready for a stroll in the light of the fact we were holding really good shizz, man, let's jam; and so we did it like you used to do too, watching giant shadow-shapes change in the moonlight. Except you was not blest with ope-laced Cam.

We slept innocent of the sun for hours, had coffee while watching the brothers meditate (my tacit meditation on their meditation, so smug with the mug at my lips). We two, Jef and I, decided to bring a fatty with us. Who knew who had found Mark to occupy herself with? He was flown, on his own. We set off for the Sunnyside Bench.

I was a virgin, here, climbing-wise. I can't recall ever having set foot on rock with the conscious desire to go up there for the hell of it; for whatever mystical or psychological reasons at all. Jeff claimed to have been on the route earlier with Dave Bircheff, roped up, I have no doubt. Since we had none--and Jeff considered borrowing one but didn't want to bug Dave when he was TM-ing--we just figured WTF. They are just numbers, those climbing class numbers, those grades, ratings. Just go. "Wherener" hell have I heard words of similar in-caution lately? Well it's 5.0, so I suppose "he" has a point.

Mountain out of a mole-hill just now. It is the ideal climb for someone like me who had no desire to work out. I always climbed it for the simple task of moving up on rock, for the fact it was so close to where I lived later on in 1969, and I could do it in the short interval between dinner and dark, with time enough to descend before full dark.

So on this May morning Jeff and I got to the ledge which is your n00b's first exposure, typically. What is it, about a hundred or more feet to the base of the cliff there? And there is the traverse right over that void which makes or breaks the fraidy-cats and the height-tolerant. As we arrived here, there were two women of roughly our own age and cute, dressed in shorts, equipped with ropes, biners, and runners.

To our surprise, we were invited to tie in, shown the method, amazed them with our mastery of the rabbit trick (be the f*#k prepared) on our bowlines, and brought us up to standard with respect to very loud belay signals. Make no mistake, these two ladies knew their stuff, but never really bothered to encourage anything beyond the climbing. Nice. You get sick of being chased. You know.

So that was my first exposure to exposure, how I met two climbing angels, and got really fried on that greatest of May weekends. And Sibyle says she didn't see any. Well, it was 1968, a year before she got there. It's still a good couple of stories.

I once had the job of herding my wife Dolores, her sister Shari and brother-in-law Ike, Dolores' friends Julie Mathis, Karen Anders, and Marion Joerres, all Lodge maids, up the Good Old Bench. From the bottom of my ungrateful heart, thank you Cowboy Larry for showing up with Moore foggin' rope than ever I saw. My ripe old Eddy, a new Chouinard, but you had a couple of nines, thank god, which helped in the ensuing debacle.

Nobody got hurt, not so much as a thrill. But there were three of us and five of them. Not a demure one in the bunch. We "her"ded them. We always joked about the cattle drive up Sunnyside and Cowboy's Herd. Ooh, Dogies! The cheapest thrills are the best. I cost me nothing but grief but I can share the memory for as long as I live.

Oh, and I didn't have to train for it. We just went and did it. Screw the numbers. Right?

Wherever you are, Bev, I hope you enjoyed my trivial reverie.

Neebee, I'm Mouse Bee sometimes. Glad to know you. I just got a place at the campfire recently, too. Bev was special. Hope you become so, too.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
May 11, 2012 - 02:58pm PT
Werner, Yes Ed was one of those pound-for-pound
strongest guys, I'm sure. I
bouldered with him once or twice. The guy that really fits that
description, though, was Rich Borgman, Gill's bouldering partner in
Fort Collins. Although unsung and mostly unheard of, he could climb
anything anyone put before him, the only person I've ever known who
could match Gill practically, route for route. He wasn't Gill,
but he had great talent.

Bev was a beautiful spirit. I didn't actually rope up and climb with her,
but we hung out a lot in the Valley, as she was close to Bates, my
main bouldering partner in the later '60s. Bev just had a lot of
energy and desire, and a lot of spirit, the good kind. There was a lot
of sexism back then, and Bridwell downrated the first pitch of New
Dimensions when he heard Bev had climbed it. She switched back and forth
between Bridwell and Bates, for a time.... I still see those warm,
gorgeous eyes and that smile... She would look right into you. I think
she knew, had I not a girl friend those years, I might have tried to
steal her....
dirt claud

Social climber
san diego,ca
May 11, 2012 - 03:52pm PT
Thanks for bumping this thread, some great stuff on here

Trad climber
Lander, WY
May 11, 2012 - 04:22pm PT
My honey, Kristi Stouffer, learned how to sew from Bev Johnson.

Merv and Mary were (still are) good friends with Wayne Merry and Cindy. They were staying with them in the Valley one Spring in the late 60s and Bev was helping out looking after the kids one day and taught Kristi how to sew that afternoon. Kristi was only 9 or 10 at the time but she was quite taken with Bev Johnson, says she was a really nice person to be around.

Sport climber
May 11, 2012 - 04:25pm PT

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
May 11, 2012 - 06:49pm PT
By 1974, the year I had decided to stay in the Valley rather than return to college one Spring, I had already seen Bev a number of times in C4 and elsewhere around Yose. One of my climbing partners had befriended and climbed with her and had developed a serious crush, but it never went beyond that. Although I had been in their immediate company several times during brief exchanges regarding what they were considering climbing, etc. I never spoke a word. I don't believe I ever took my eyes off her during those moments either. Like most who have commented here, I to was seriously smitten with everything about her.

Later that summer, after I had run out of all funds, I had taken a job at the mountain shop. One day I found myself in the wells fargo/valley bank making a withdrawal. Bev was at the counter and noticed me waiting in line as she left. She walked over and without saying a word, cocked her head to one side, lifted one eyebrow and gave me the most heart melting smile, then turned and walked out. That is how I will always remember her, that day in the Valley bank, with her nit/crocheted cap and cut off levi shorts with the slit sides and a smile that was meant for just me.

Social climber
May 11, 2012 - 10:05pm PT
hey there say, mouse from merced...

welcome here.... thanks for sharing about bev... she's one of the
kind of folks i wish i had met in my life... yet--we can still learn from them, after they are gone--we just never enjoyed them as a friend, or traveling companion in the journey of life...

it really made me sad to read how at this point in her life, she was married and settled-in for the long haul, as to traveling the 'old age' trail and being that 'fine wine' that we should be, after we've become 'seasoned', to enjoy that 'fruit of our life' session (which can still be working, too, but it's just that we are in some SPOT where we should be at SUCH an 'older seaon' in life)

as we see here, many older climbers have found/or are finding, a 'rock in life' where they are settled and they become more of the fine wine that they are to be, from all their life-long experience... sure wish bev had HAD a longer season of that, :(

we don't know why god had different seasons that change in our lives, as said times--but--seasons do come and go...
that was her last season for folks to enjoy her... :(
(i had a few friends that left 'seasonly' earlier than i'd have expected, so i understand that feeling that her friends went through)...

as to your quote:

Neebee, I'm Mouse Bee sometimes. Glad to know you. I just got a place at the campfire recently, too. Bev was special. Hope you become so, too.

thanks so much for sharing that too...
i love the merced river, so your 'handle here' is
a fresh reminder of it, :)

god bless--i got to go, not much play/study here tonight...
i've had a project i'm near finished with, :)
got to get it done, :))

Trad climber
Hodad, surfing the galactic plane
May 11, 2012 - 10:26pm PT
Mouse Bee- "I just got a place at the campfire recently, too..."

Actually, Neebee has been posting here on ST for several years and rarely if ever has a bad word to say about anyone or anything. So some would consider that 'special' in its own right. Perhaps you new her brother back in the day, Mark Chapman, whom also occasionally posts here.

May 11, 2012 - 10:37pm PT
Amen to that, splitter.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
May 12, 2012 - 12:55am PT
Hoover and I have been a bit like two brothers always sort of competing without necessarily admitting that's what we were doing. I spent the 70s at sea, only occasionally meeting Mike or talking on the phone, and didn't know anything about Bev

Then one time we made plans to meet at Mike's cabin in the Tetons. Over the phone Mike told me, 'Just so you know, I saw her first! And we're already married!' 'Uh, saw who first, Mike?' ...Anyway we immediately became great friends.

We used to talk airplanes a lot and she was getting tired of flying in the weather. She was consulting with me over the phone about what plane she should buy that could get her up above the weather on their regular migrations between LA and Jackson. At the time I thought a Velocity might be a good choice.

My friend Jeff Braun, CEO of Maxis, listened to me tell about Bev flying to the south pole. Jeff had always wanted to go to the north pole. I mentioned this to Bev and she volunteered to fly the two of us up to the North Pole in a Cessna 180 and land on skis. Contingency plan for a forced landing was to ski home, with a shotgun for any too hungry polar bear. We were making phone calls planning the trip up until a couple of days before the helicopter crash.

In our last conversation we were commiserating about losing one of our friends on an Alaskan Peak. Her comment to me as we rang off was, 'Live every day to the fullest, as you never know when it might be your last!'

I keep thinking that if she had been the one flying the helicopter, she would have handled the situation and flown them all home safely.

Social climber
May 12, 2012 - 04:05am PT
hey there say, splitter....

yes, very true.... i been her for a bit... i just feel so new, as to knowing anything about all the 'back in the day' stuff as to all the
climbers.... i have so much to learn... :))

*i should have clarified how my newness really was, :)

say, and wow, i sure wish mark would post, be he really is busy, and with good stuff, as well... i would just love to hear the many stories that he must have... adnventures, and tales of good-buddy-ship, etc...

and the feel of finding, testing, doing, routes, and all that...
as you see--i mainly knew him as: the brother, from little kid to teen...
after that, i was married and then heading to south texas, starting a family...

man oh man, i sure missed out knowing so much:
but my kids had a chance to know the greatoutdoors, as, we really could not afford to live in calif (and it was not near a 'silicon valley' as it is now a days)...

we had the wide open spaces of south texas, fishing, beaches and all close by, near for free... (except for a bit of gas to get places)...

thanks spitter, :)
i reckon i'm part of the fabric here, after all, more than i think...
sewed into a right nice quilt here...

back to bev stories now, :)

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