climbing myths, golf, and El Capitan


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Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 11, 2006 - 04:35pm PT
Chris McNamara once asked: "how far can you drive a golf ball off el cap tower? that is the kinda stuff i would like to be reading about." His wish is my command.

A story was once told of two climbers hauling golf clubs and balls to El Cap Tower, sometime in the 1970s. The two imps - let's call them "Steve" and "Hugh" - then did a little driving practice. Some of their drives landed in the El Cap meadow parking area, even on vehicles, causing considerable consternation. Rangers feared a sniper and closed the road.

That, at least, is the story as published. I always suspected it "grew in the telling" (to quote Tolkien, who surely knew whereof he spoke). Golf apparatus is not easily obtained in the Valley, even by creative climbers. Many climbers never get around to trying let alone mastering golf. The physics of the situation are challenging. What is the horizontal and vertical distance between El Cap Tower and say the bridge? Allowing for aerodynamics, could even Tiger Woods hit a ball that far? Given the vastness of the target area, and the tiny proportion occupied by windshields, what are the chances of a ball actually hitting something? And so on.

The subject was also mentioned in:

In the latter, the storyteller admits that the story had been enhanced, though it's not clear exactly how. It would be interesting to know how much truth there is in it. Possibly Steve and Hugh did at least obtain the equipment, haul it up, and fire off a few balls.

Stories are an important part of our community, though some are forgotten, not well remembered, or "evolve". Even if Steve and Hugh didn't do quite what was claimed, it was believable that they had. A cautionary tale that nicely illustrated the spirit of climbers, and something of the "scene" in the Valley at the time.

So, does anyone know more about this story, or have other similar stories? They don't have to be entirely true, but should be believable, and stories that are in general circulation.

The recent biography of Don Whillans - The Villain (Jim Perrin) gives a good example. Whillans was legendary for his pugnaciousness, which on examination seems to have been somewhat exaggerated.

Modest digressions into physics and aerodynamics are acceptable, e.g. which El Cap ledge offers the best possibilities, whether a V2 or Saturn V would be the best ball delivery device, whether the ball will travel farther if prayed over. Bonus points for anyone who can plausibly link this to Delicate Arch, Ann Coulter, or sushi.

Tahoe climber

Trad climber
Jun 11, 2006 - 06:31pm PT
Thanks for that enlightening reply, locker.
Something about dehydration and stating the obvious.
No, wait - I'm sure no one had considered that angle.


Gym climber
Jun 11, 2006 - 06:37pm PT
I know of a couple of climbers that are pretty darn good golfers, TomM being one. However, to hit it from El Cap Tower to the road (what's that, a 500 yard drive?), you'd need to have a pretty good drive in your bag of tricks. You'd also have to be pretty careful hauling up a nice driver for the job. Not that those things aren't possible, but my biggest question is "How the heck did they tee it up?" You sure as hell ain't gonna make that distance hitting it off the duff. Maybe Steve held if for Hugh.

I myself like the old Vulgarian stories. The pictures alone tell a good tale.


Social climber
The West
Jun 11, 2006 - 07:08pm PT
What about frisbees?

From the summit of deto, past the visitors center.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jun 11, 2006 - 08:40pm PT
Another thing commonly done back then was to haul up a big bag of bottle caps and see how far you could flick them. A good "sailer" might travel a mile or two before hitting bottom. Maybe farther . . .


Trad climber
Jun 11, 2006 - 10:53pm PT
here's my answer: Reardon!, Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden(golf) and climbed it just once.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 11, 2006 - 11:04pm PT
seems unlikely...

the distance from the South Buttress of El Cap and the meadows is like 1850 feet.

El Cap tower is at an elevation of about 1000 feet above the meadows.

The longest golf drive is something like 1374 feet.... but amateurs are considerably shorter, maybe 600 to 900 feet.

That would be at 1000 feet altitude, but the subsequent trajectory is unspecified, my gut says the pro might just reach but no amateur effort would.

You all might have more time then I do right now... check out this simulation. I am hoping that the established historians of the Valley scene do not banish me for this heretical opinion.

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Jun 12, 2006 - 12:19am PT
I remember Largo hitting baseballs off the top of Intersection Rock with a fungo bat and the Fish would be waaaay out there trying to catch 'em !
bryan howell

Big Wall climber
Jun 12, 2006 - 01:03am PT
throwing paper airplanes off the top is much for rewarding and entertaining.

Trad climber
Gunks end of country
Jun 12, 2006 - 06:00am PT
Ed makes an interesting point...

But there are many amateurs capable of hitting a drive about 260-300 yards, which gets you about half way. (On level ground.)

But hitting one off El Cap is a little special. As Ed mentions, you have a vertical drop of about 1000 feet. Let's assume we launch on a hot dry summer day and ignore aerodynamic drag.

Then gh = 1/2 v^2. So the velocity at the bottom will be about 250 feet per second (170 mph). So a first bounce will be flying off a lucky rock at the bottom as a launch speed similar to a Tiger Woods drive.

I think a couple or three lucky bounces and you are on the meadow laying one.

What is par for that hole?

"Fore!" or "Rock!"?

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Jun 12, 2006 - 11:48am PT
sitting on the Island in the Sky a couple weeks ago we were contemplating how far you could ricochet a ball off the South East Face....and what the climbers over on the Trip and Zodiac would think about it... ;)
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Jun 12, 2006 - 12:52pm PT
Fatal flaw: I don't think El Cap tower is wide enough to square up to blast at the meadow. You'd be able to whack a few towards the NA, but no way on the meadow.

But, we used to use the road as a tee box and whack them out into El Cap meadow and guys would try to catch them way out there.... I mean we were hitting driver after all.

As for the fungos, baseballs, and Largo.... I remember Largo having me try to throw a baseball over Intersection Rock in JT.... mission accomplished, but PDH for sure. Need a pretty big hose to pull it off.

Big Wall climber
Everett, WA
Jun 12, 2006 - 02:21pm PT
El Cap Spire is big enough to swing a club on and direct it towards the meadow. However, the distance is greater and it's higher.


Jun 12, 2006 - 04:37pm PT
Sutton and Burton did have a fire inside their haul bag while they were on the 'shroom.

I've heard of bottle rocket wars taking place from across different routes on Half Dome I think it was.
Don't let go

Trad climber
Yorba Linda, CA
Jun 12, 2006 - 10:03pm PT
I have the answer! I have the answer!

Or at least how to get the answer.

Haul up a driver and as many golf balls as possible. Have fun. If you hit enough balls I'm sure that you could manage to crack a windshield.

Of course, none of this is recommended due to things like littering (a serious concern), public property (somewhat less serious), damage to trees (trees grow back,) and people's health (not a good enough reason, but some may think so,) also you could kill a fish in the river, then you would have sushi, (I get extra points for including sushi right?)

In all seriousness, golf balls are as aerodynamic as they can be (that's what the dimples are for.) However drag is still rather high on a sphere. The dimples allow for better "carry," meaning that they have a higher lift to drag ratio. The extra elevation definately helps just considering an assummed parabolic path. A ball traveling that distance through the air will experience an excessive amount of drag over all of that time and will lose most of and eventually all of its horizontal velocity. To optimize distance, do not put any back spin. Lift will be detrimental in the long run. Low angle trajectory. I'd guess around 10 or 15 degrees above the horizon, although I have no calculations to back that up.

And I believe that instead of yelling "Fore" or "Rock" you just scream "HAHAHAHA Suckers!"

Trad climber
Gunks end of country
Jun 13, 2006 - 07:28am PT
Littering! You'd have to hit quite a few balls before you could actually find one. I guess you probably would not be laying one in the meadow, because of all the provisional balls that would eventually be deemed lost.

The reason to eliminate drag. Really only concerned with the downward component of velocity. A nicely angle rock can convert that back onto a sort of parabolic trajectory with a nice horizontal component.

Golf balls can bounce at least 80% of their height.

Windshields could be an issue. You might be able to get away with hitting car at your local course from a bad shot, but here that argument probably does not fly.

When is the next ST long drive competition? Sponsored by FISH and Nike? Catered by nature, naturally.

hither and yon
Jun 13, 2006 - 08:32am PT
When I was a kid my brother and I used to make tennis ball cannons out of soup cans. Squirt a little lighter fluid in there and let 'er rip. The advantage of the tennis balls (over, say, potatos) is that you can soak them with the lighter fluid pre-launch and get a flaming projectile. Might create some interesting visual effects if done at night.
Careful though; we set the neighbors' yards on fire more than a couple of times. Perhaps this should only be tried in foul weather.
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jun 15, 2006 - 02:11am PT
Like many of the fun yet stupid things that we used to do as kids, back in the day, it's fun to talk about this stuff...

Yet I'd suggest the access issues that could arise from continued horseplay aren't worth it.

Shooting, exploding, or projectiles off El Cap or anywhere else in the public world is an invitation for trouble for all climbers.

Low reward, high liability


Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jun 15, 2006 - 04:26am PT
Anders wrote:
> Some of their drives landed in the El Cap meadow parking area
If it was early enough in the 70s, this could have been the "El Cap parking lot" which is now just a big clearing where the climbers' trail from the road intersects the valley loop hiking trail, just before the climbers' trail heads uphill towards the base of the Nose. This old parking lot is not as far as the road, of course.

There might be room on a lower level of El Cap Tower to get a full swing (not that I'd recommend it).
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jun 15, 2006 - 05:10am PT
But while we're talking smack, I heard they used to water ski Tenaya lake by running a tow rope from a car on the road next to it.


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