Bev Johnson Stories


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Mountain climber
May 12, 2012 - 12:16pm PT
I meet Bev in Yosemite Valley in 1978 while climbing with John Fischer. She was getting ready for her solo of the Dihedral Wall and everyone thought that it would be a cup of tea for her . I mentioned it to my friend Bill Stall of the Los Angeles Times and the next day she was on the newspaper's front page and national television ! Bill was also a climber and AAC editor .
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
May 25, 2012 - 02:05am PT
Sometime between April of 1966, when we opened our first little 600 sq. ft. store on Pico Boulevard, and September of 1969 when we expanded into our new 25,000 sq. ft. store on Olympic Boulevard, somewhere in that brief period, something wonderful happened at West Ridge Mountaineering.

Those early days at West Ridge we opened the store at 5 PM because the owners worked in aerospace from 8 to 5. We also only hired climbers to work sales. On that particular wonderful evening, I happened to be the working owner. As I recall two young climbers were also working that evening when a stunningly attractive young woman wearing an exceptionally short mini skirt entered the store.

She announced that she was a student at USC and was interested in rock climbing. She had no experience – zilch. She was a student taking ballet and gymnastics. All the while, she is doing these incredible stretching exercises – one leg up on the waist-high sleeping bag table, her forehead pressed to her knee. These are very vivid memories.

She wanted someone to teach her rock climbing. My co-workers that evening were crawling all over each other trying to set up lessons.

As it worked out, neither of these handsome young lads was to land the job. Instead, one of our newest employees, and one of our least experienced, a lad named Alan Roberts, happened to be working the weekend she walked in and set a date for Stoney Point. Alan Roberts was, at that time, sort of the Woody Allen of West Ridge – not considered by his peers as anybody that should be teaching others to climb.

Ends up, he took her to Stoney twice and then to Tahquitz – where they failed miserably on the White Maiden.

Alan went on to become a highly respected rock climber and Tuolumne climbing guide. She went on to become Beverly Johnson.

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Feb 14, 2013 - 02:40pm PT
Time for the annual bump!

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Feb 14, 2013 - 02:58pm PT
I would suggest that the only appropriate definition of failure on Alan Roberts'
part would have been the failure to ensure a benightment on the 'White Maiden'.

Feb 14, 2013 - 04:24pm PT
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 14, 2013 - 04:51pm PT
Great story Don!

Bev wasn't one to go unnoticed...

Trad climber
Feb 14, 2013 - 06:20pm PT

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

I will never forget Bev Johnson. She seemed like such a free spirit, with an almost constant radiant smile. I assume many guys had a crush on her, as she was a special person.

Many speak of her climbing skill, but she was a pretty mean seamstress as well. I still have a haulbag she made for me, back in 1971. It has seen better days, but I don't have the heart to throw it out, considering the wonderful human being who made it--Bev Johnson.

Feb 14, 2013 - 07:08pm PT
I remembered running across a note about Bev Johnson in the Mt. Starr King registers. She didn't sign the book, left it to the newbie:

8/21/74 Dear old patient Beverly brought me up here for my 3rd climb. Neat experience. I can fly.
Lynn Hammond
B. Johnson

All the register entries from the begiining to 1982 are at

Sport climber
Home away from Home
Feb 14, 2013 - 07:23pm PT
this is an awesome thread.
thanks for starting it, 10b.


Sport climber
Home away from Home
Feb 14, 2013 - 07:52pm PT
I've got to B U M P this again because Politics will not over power great climbing stories/history

Social climber
So Cal
Feb 14, 2013 - 07:58pm PT
She was the subject of one of my first posts here back in 05

Only met Bev Johnson once, when a stunning woman in a meticulously pressed smoky bear outfit saw the rack in camp and told us that between 5:00 and 6:00 was a good time to go bouldering, but to try to pay at least a couple of times a week so her boss wouldn't figure out the book keeping discrepancies.
McHale's Navy

Trad climber
Panorama City, California & living in Seattle
Feb 14, 2013 - 08:00pm PT
Here's a ST link to more Bev stories;

When I came upon her halfway up the Leaning Tower she caught me by surprise. I was just rounding the corner below the Ledge (Lunch Ledge?) and I see this woman with what amounted to a see-through bra! I immediately turned my gaze to a nice looking dihedral across the way - to get my eyes uncrossed! Actually, I don't remember what my eyes did after that ( I'm sure she quickly covered up ) but we finished the climb together, but still solo, and bivied on the last ledge of the climb a pitch below the top. The most memorable thing at the ledge was thowing my rope into the void to unkink it, and when it staightened out, the end of it exploded - making the sound of a .357 going off! I saved the 8" to 10' long tassle for many years in a jar but it finally dissapeared. Bev ended up with a roll of my film from the climb that I have never seen so please if you know of the pics please contact me. I have no others from the climb.

That reminds me, I recently found another photo of her from the climb - I must have had a partial roll also - the photo must be from the last pitch, but she is looking up at me through a narrow crack - like where a crack in a dihedral goes around a corner and the eyes can take a shortcut through it, and all you can see is her eyes - I'll have to find it.

Social climber
An Oil Field
Feb 14, 2013 - 10:23pm PT
I grew up almost ten years too late to meet her in her time in the Valley.

From what I read and the pictures I can tell, I would have fallen ga ga in love with her like every other guy. I mean, the best woman climber happens to be a go for it beauty? Lynn Hill was so pretty, too. Still is, I guess. I never met her. It is really who they are that turns a girl into a beauty in your eyes.

I only fell in love once in my valley time. Life moves so fast when you are young, and I was gone so quickly. Man, that hurts.

Fortunately, when you are young, you get over it.

Seriously. I'm sorry I never met her. She sounds like she was an amazing person.

My only connection with Mike Hoover is that when I worked on movie X, we had a camera that we rented from him, and the camera operator knew him.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Feb 14, 2013 - 11:21pm PT
One of my favorite Bev memories is over on the TM Herbert Appreciation thread.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
May 19, 2013 - 11:47pm PT
hard to deal with the loses

Bev Johnson told me a few 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!'


Ice climber
Soon 2B Arizona
Topic Author's Reply - May 20, 2013 - 10:52am PT
I am bumping this, because of what has transpired in the climbing community over the last few days.

"Live every day to the fullest, as you never know when it might be your last!"
-Bev Johnson

Social climber
May 20, 2013 - 12:18pm PT
On the lighter side of things, here is what Warren Harding had to say about this amazing lady. From the "Glossary of Climbers According to the Zone System," near the end of Downward Bound:

BEVERLY JOHNSON............................ZONE 2.
Affectionately known as Beverly Buns, this shapely young lady combines feminine charm with brute-strength manliness.

Zone 2 was defined as ordinary super-climbers, especially excelling in high-level free-climbing.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 20, 2013 - 12:33pm PT
hamie, did you know that Warren was Betty Friedan's cousin?

Social climber
May 20, 2013 - 03:50pm PT

Trad climber
May 20, 2013 - 09:17pm PT
Beverly and Astroman

I knew Bev from climbing with her some in the 70’s. We did a number of short crack climbs in Yosemite. She had an infectious energy, raw power and determination on the rock which I much admired. I also loved how she handled being a woman climber when there were few and when lots of men were threatened by the thought of a woman entering their prized mostly male sanctuary. She entered the holy place without knocking and blasted around with such confidence and verve it made all the chauvinism look utterly silly.

I have not told the following tale anywhere because it is hardly my proudest moment or hers (I can’t find any writing of hers on the climb either), but Beverley and I did Astroman in the early 80s, nearly coming undone in the process. I was determined to get it free within my old traditional standards of few falls, no hangs and starting over after falls from free stances or pitch starts. I was still in rebellion against style transitions of the day and prone to occasional mad proselytizing on the subject. Beverley respected my desire and knew about my stylistic warring but mostly just wanted to do the climb however we did it. Off we went.

All went well until the Enduro Corner. Beverley tried to lead it but half way up got tired and started hanging for rests. She was angry at herself the more she rested. I was quiet at first, and then in a rising pissy mood protested, “NO AID.” She told me to f*#k off. I said we should rap off if we couldn’t do it in good style. She challenged me right back saying something like, “Let’s see you do it right.” Now I was wildly fired up to give it a go, just the mood I needed looking back on it. Down she came and up I went. She was grim faced but I ignored her. We should have talked it out but didn’t. When I was about a third of the way up the corner, she told me she wouldn’t hold me if I fell and I’d just have to start over. “Fine” I yelled back. The camaraderie we had established over several climbs together was falling apart. I found there were a few edges on the right wall allowing rests here and there and managed to get near the end of the corner without a fall before the crack opens up. Suddenly a batch of swallows burst out of the crack into my face and off I went, screaming. Before I could say anything, Beverly, true to her promise and the very rules I touted for the climb, lowered me away to start again.

At the belay ledge I looked at her and said, sheepishly, “It wasn’t my fault!” She looked at me with her soft but penetrating eyes and slowly started to smile, then laugh. Our temper tantrum melted away thanks to her good heart. She, unlike me, was looking beyond the climbing to its meaning for two people who loved the walls. We sat and laughed for several moments. Then, looking over to Half Dome starting to turn golden she slapped my leg and said, “You’re a f*#ker!” I said back, “I know.” I remember that interchange like it happened yesterday. I guess it was what I needed, because I got the corner next try and Beverly followed it with only one fall and rest, and was fine with it.

Higher, the other remaining challenge for us was the Harding Slot. Beverly wanted a go at leading saying something like, “I want this sucker.” Looking up at it, I was happy to let her give it a go. I had never been on the route and was horrified by the slanting bomb bay look of it. She fired off the lower layback but had trouble getting into the slot. I told her to come down and try it again, though getting down from such an overhanging thing was not easy. She came back after some rope shenanigans, looked out at the waning light and told me to give it a go. Now we were comrades again, trying to get up the wall and get off with whatever combination of climbing worked. Perhaps it was because I was pretty skinny in those years but I found I could get into the slot as it widened without too much effort. The only problem was the minimal protection. In current parlance, I think one needs about a #6 to adequately protect the slot and we had nothing close.

A strange thing happened as Beverley followed: she turned the tables. She tried the chimney part twice without luck, but insisted on down climbing each time to start over. Down climbing the Harding Slot from almost anywhere beyond the beginning probably is harder than climbing up it. I couldn’t tell if she didn’t want to weight the rope or take a big swing. It was getting late. Now I was the one concerned about getting up before dark versus style issues. “Beverley, we’ve got to get going.” Or words to that affect. “Shut up Higgins. We’re doing it your way.” And those words are exactly hers. Even in my frustrated state I thought, What a woman. Third try she got it.

Above, there are a couple of strenuous laybacking pitches. I remember Beverley zoomed up one of them in waning light (I think it’s called Changing Corners). I got the last pitch in near dark, for me the toughest on the climb. While it’s face climbing, right up my alley, it was hard to see and protect and the rock seemed crumbly. Unlike me, Beverley didn’t whimper about the oncoming dark and try to hurry me. She followed with no problem or comment.

We had lights and got down the descent gully gingerly, feeling wasted and not talking much. The minimal dialog I remember with her, and the last we spoke to one another due to her untimely death, went something like:

“Not the best climb,” I said.

Unfazed, “It was OK.”

More skittering down the gully.

“Sorry I got pissed,” I said.

“OK, f*#ker.”

Farewell again, Beverly, good and brave soul you were.

Tom Higgins
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