Billy Westbay on the 2nd of Butterballs


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The Warbler

the edge of America
Jul 23, 2013 - 04:12pm PT
Yo Chappy -

Don't remember who did the SA. JL and I did the 3rd ascent of The Nabisco Wall. I led every pitch unexpectedly as Eric Shoen balked at The Wheat Thin and rapped off after I led The Wafer. Largo was up to bat for Butterfingers, but his sausage like digits thwarted his efforts, and he handed the sharp end to me. I was only 18, had never done a 5.11, and he just said try - what's the worst that could happen. Next thing I knew I was past the crux, but positive that the hard part had to be higher up the pitch. Largo insisted I had it in the bag, but I couldn't believe it. There was what looked like a fixed nut up higher and I went for it, only to find it was just a piece of sling wedged in the crack with some dirt. I was rattled and in disbelief when I pulled over the top.

Ah... Good Times!

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Jul 23, 2013 - 05:16pm PT
I guess that makes my ascent in 1980 the 249th ascent? HA HA HA!!!
the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Jul 23, 2013 - 05:26pm PT
such a great route..

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jul 23, 2013 - 05:27pm PT
I think warblers ascent of b fingers is one of the coolest ascents of....anything!

In the fall of 1979 I followed Dingus McGee up butterballs. He flashed, not sure if he on sighted or déjà viewed. I made it except for one tiny little biscuit and nonetheless felt on top of the World!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 23, 2013 - 07:22pm PT
Chappy, please don't misunderstand or mis-read what I wrote. No
one loves or respects the Yosemite boys more than do I, and
that includes my friends Ron and all those mentioned above. I
don't think in my post I said one single thing about their
being better at cracks than face. I'm not sure where you got
that. If for some reason I made such a suggestion it was
unintended. I only was trying to say, and probably in an inept
way, that at times when we think certain individuals are gods
they will prove at least in some small measure to be human.
That was a relief to learn, for most who couldn't conceive
of some of their climbs. I had no intention of belittling in
any way anyone. Face climbing? Ron was perhaps the best of all
the Yosemite face climbers, truly brilliant. His footwork, I
think, added to his tremendous crack ability, such as on
Magic Line. All the Yosemite climbers of that era
were incredible, even as kids, and then more so as they matured
and continued to gain experience and strength. But my own observations
through the years have shown me that most climbers, even the best,
have to get used to another, different area. I have a photo of
Ron sitting frustrated on a ledge below Foops, after several attempts.
He's subtly flipping off the photographer, and it's kind of funny.
He was very impressed with the standard of difficulty Stannard
and other Gunks climbers set way back in the '60s. Yes
Ron did tear things up in the Gunks, as he was expected to do, but
because of its very different nature he, like most, had to get
used to the climbing, and it took a while to adapt. He did not
walk everything, by any means. My dear friend
Bachar, who I feel was very likely for a rather impressive length
of time the best pure rock climber in America, if it wasn't Ron,
came to certain areas and had to spend a little time learning
the nature of the climbing in that area. He was perhaps the best,
though, at making such a transition in rather short order. We spent
a day at my Eldorado cabin in 1977 patching up a whole lot of wounds
when John thought he could simply free solo Greg Lowe's "Clever
Lever" and took a very bad and dangerous ground fall. He
came close to dying that day, and I was really really concerned
and appalled when he crawled in through my front door, bloody
and bruised over his entire body, gasping, and barely
able to speak. I don't know how he got down by himself after
falling twenty feet to a rock ramp and rolling another fifty
feet. I could not imagine how he could get to my house, other
than his tremendous strength of spirit. He told me he had learned
his lesson, not just to assume he was invincible and could do
any climb. Of course just to think about soloing Clever Lever
showed how far out John was. Ron was, in my opinion, right there
with John all the way.

I love the history people are sharing here. Those were really
significant climbs, the Nabisco Wall, Butterballs, and all
those. Henry, though, I think we can safely say was more than
simply older and more experienced. He had a rare gift, a rare
ability, both physically and mind-wise. His one and a half hour
solo of the Salathe-Steck was pretty impressive (or was it 2 and
a half, I'd have to check). Bachar was the first to admit, and
told me many times, that Henry was simply ahead of everyone at
that time and nothing less than some kind of phenomenal genius.
In terms of the consciousness of each time period, it builds
and expands in some part as a result of one or two genius
individuals who do certain climbs that push the standards. People
learn from those standards, those breakthroughs, and we gain
consciousness. Or the climbing world itself gains consciousness.
I think Henry was one of those who brought the next level, upon
which then climbers could begin to build and expand.... John and
Ron were among those who were at the head of the level
of consciousness that soon was to follow, to use rather poor
wording probably....

I love these stories, such as Kevin leading toward that nothing
sling... and Tobin's falls, how determined and brave and brilliant
he was, and the size of Long's fingers. All these details are
the essence of the history, and of course each area has its own
stories and history and genius. I am grateful for the climbs I
was blessed to do with John and Ron and Bridwell and so many of
those inspirational people. I feel a bit cheated, though, that
I didn't get to climb with John Long or Chappy or a number of
great individuals, such as Graham, though I have hob-knobbed a
bit with many of them. Graham came to boulder and promptly
taught me some of the secret tricks of arm wrestling!


Social climber
Jul 23, 2013 - 07:23pm PT
Good effort Kev. I think it was probably Henry who did the SA of the Nabisco Wall. I remember seeing him up there while Ed Barry and I were headed up to do the Enigma with the Abstract Corner as our objective. It was probably May of 73. In typical Henry fashion he was cranking the routes...I believe earlier that day he had been climbing at Arch and done New D. among other routes. Your ascent of the Nabisco reminds me of some of my early 5.11 ascents. I couldn't quite believe I was doing them either. None of us knew our potential. When I did the FFA of La Escuela I was with Wunsch and Reider. I couldn't believe it was me who ended up leading the first pitch--my first 5.11 lead. Steve had ago at the second pitch, placed a few nuts and came down. If it were up to me we would have gone down. Steve would have none of this and handed me the sharp end and basically ordered me to climb the pitch which I proceeded to do. He told me to lead the last pitch as well which I did. In the end I led the whole thing. Unbelievable really. I always felt lucky to have guys like Donini, Wunsch and Bridwell there pushing me. In 74 I had a better sense of my ability and really wanted to do the second ascent of Butterballs. I was climbing really well that spring but before I got on it I popped a tendon bouldering with Wunsch and that pretty much shut me down until the fall.

Social climber
From the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Jul 23, 2013 - 08:09pm PT
Now I'm even more confused (than my usual state.)

Mountain Project says that BB was done by HH in May, 1973. My own climbing resumé indicates that we did Nabisco Wall--including Butterballs--in April, 1974.

I have the NW rated as 5.11a, while other sites indicate that it's 11c. Grade inflation, I can understand...

Can we pin the dates down a little more closely? Fading memory is such a sad thing...
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 23, 2013 - 08:33pm PT
Mountain 29 (September 1973) records Barber as doing the FA of Butterballs, which: "...had repulsed many of America's leading free climbers". The correspondents were Bridwell, Dill and Covington. If that issue was printed and sent in September, the climb must have occurred by June or perhaps July.

Mountain 31 (January 1974) includes Bridwell's article "Brave New World", which includes a photo of Henry Barber leading Butterballs, belayed by George Myers. (Photos by Pete Ramins, Keith Nannery and Jib Knight.)

Mountain 36 (June 1974) includes a photo from above of Dale Bard apparently leading Butterballs, taken by Gene Foley. No other information provided.

Mountain 38 (September 1974) says: "The much-coveted second ascent of Henry Barber's test-piece, Butterballs, in the Cookie area, was finally achieved by Billy Westbay, seconded by Jim Bridwell. This ascent was somewhat flawed, however, as the climbers returned on several occasions to gain height on previously abandoned ropes. On the final try the rope was so high that it acted as a top-rope for much of the ascent. No such flaw was evident in the third ascent, when Ron Kauk and Charlie Porter made the first complete Nabisco Wall ascent by the Waverly Wafer, Butterballs and Butterfingers combination. Ron Fawcett and Pete Livesey made another integral ascent shortly afterwards, via Waverly Wafer, Butterballs and Ladyfinger." Correspondents: Rowell, Boardman, Bocarde, March, Dewhirst, Livesey and Covington. It doesn't say who sent the Butterballs information, or place Dale's ascent (attempt?) in the chronology.

Trad climber
JTree & Idyllwild
Jul 23, 2013 - 08:51pm PT
photo by bob gaines
photo by bob gaines
Credit: BG

Trad climber
Canoga Park, CA
Jul 23, 2013 - 08:57pm PT
Onsight flash is when you upstage the older generation .... :-)

Bonus points for who belayed Westbay and who belayed Kauk.

If you don't know ....

You weren't born yet :-)

I don't know the answer to this, but speaking of upstaging the older generation, didn't Jason Campbell flash Butterballs at age 14 in the early 80s?
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 23, 2013 - 09:11pm PT
As I said in a post above, and as my records show,
Henry led Butterballs in May of '73. Wunsch had worked on
the route and made progress over 11 days. Bachar told me
Henry rated Butterballs 5.10c initially. At that same time
and in a single short day, Henry led Nabisco Wall, New
Dimensions, and then on-sight soloed Midterm. That same
trip he free soloed Ahab.

Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Jul 23, 2013 - 09:33pm PT
Wow, that brings back memories. I remember being up there with Kevin on Nabisco but I was just out of school and hadn't climbed and Kevin was in great shape and he just ruled up there. I could barely follow. I went back a month later in shape and did Nabisco again and finished by doing the FA of Ladyfinger to avoid Butterfinger which I coundn't get my fat ass fingers into. Later I figured out a way to face climb the thing but it was horrendous, like twice as hard as Butterballs, which fit my fingers fine.

It's still an amazing achievement that Bachar free soloed the route back in the 70s. That was also a great FFA of Chappy's on La Escuela. I did the 2nd FA with Bachar shortly after and remember thinking how I wished I'd gotten the FFA on that one. Just a great route on flawless rock. I think Bridwell did the FFA of the 1st pitch the previous year but the 2nd was much more continuous and super slick rock. A 5-star route. Mark was really strong back then and super thin. I remember thinking how it must be nice to be light like that. One of the most impressive free climbing performances I have ever seen was also Mark C. on the FA of Mother Earth. He hadn't face climbed in months and just got back from Alaska I think and we just chucked him out ther on the lead on pitches that had like no pro at all. Chappy whimpered a little at the prospect of taking a 100 foot whipper but he ruled as usual.


The Hot Kiss on the end of a Wet Fist
Jul 24, 2013 - 12:32am PT
Credit: Walleye

Gym climber
sawatch choss
Jul 24, 2013 - 12:43am PT
The photos finally emerge!

Jul 24, 2013 - 12:54am PT
but speaking of upstaging the older generation, didn't Jason Campbell flash Butterballs at age 14 in the early 80s?

You'd have to do far more then that.

He asked me to take him up Astroman.

I told him to bring water as I will not be bringing any myself.

I didn't need any in those days.

It was hot and like a fool he thinks he's going to imitate me.

He brought no water.

We get to the big ledge below the changing corners and he drops, with white flakes coming off his tongue.

He's toast.

I thought I was going to free solo off to get help.

Instead I hauled his ass hand over hand up the rest of the way to the top with him barely able to climb.

He was fuked up for a day after ....

Social climber
Jul 24, 2013 - 11:15am PT
I always thought they should have changed the name of Astroman to the AutoBraun there for a while. You were a machine up there. Pat, you are right in your comments. All climbers take a while to learn the subtleties and techniques new areas have to offer and can only become better climbers by experiencing new areas. Henry certainly was a better climber because of his travels. I always wished I had traveled more to climb back in my younger days. Can't believe I never made it to Eldo in my hey days. Largo I have to laugh thinking of you and your large digits on Butterfingers.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 24, 2013 - 02:10pm PT
My fingers are and always were pretty thin. I found certain
climbs quite hard because of that fact. I led a thing called
Vanishing Point, one day with Higgins, and on that crux
section my fingers don't fit and hands are too big, and
I really had to call on some sort of miracle to make something
work. Other climbs, though, my fingers fit perfectly whereas
some friend of mine could get his fingers in. On several
occasions someone with thinner fingers than mine did some
solid lieback, fingers shoved in to the hilt, and I couldn't
get my tips in. It was like 5.9 for that person and pushing
5.12 for me.

Largo makes a good point about finger size.
It's true about hand size as well. When I did Supremacy Crack
one day with Lynn Hill, her hands went all the way in so deep the
edge of the crack was practically at her elbow where I struggle
to get my big knuckles in, a rattly section where those with
smaller hands get bomber jams.

Largo always impressed me with his great strength and
the fact that he has a rather solid, large body. It simply
is more difficult to climb
when you're bigger and heavier. That's one reason I always thought
Gill was so amazing, that he was no flyweight but rather approaching
two hundred pounds. Yet he could do a one-finger, one-arm front
lever. And to turn the coin the other way, that's one reason I
have always been so impressed with Henry. He wasn't that strong,
and he's fairly big. But he had incredible technique
and was full of fighting spirit and go for it. I could
boulder circles around him, so to speak, but
get him on some horrendous pitch, and away he went like none
other. One day I followed Henry on Roger Briggs' Death and
Transfiguration, a 5.12 overhanging thing. Henry led that entire
pitch with four points of protection. I was appalled as I would
unclip one point and look upward and backward and see how far it
was to the next. And then the crux, a backward leaning, horribly
off-balance shallow dihedral above a big roof, overhanging the
base. He didn't slow down. He was something. There has never been
another like him, just as there has never been another like any
of the great individuals of climbing, in Yosemite or elsewhere.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 25, 2013 - 04:45am PT
I guess I am still a bit unsure who climbed with Billy Westbay
that day on the second ascent of Butterballs. Everyone was
saying Charlie Porter, then unless I got lost someone else
said they were the partner... or was that Ron's partner? Anyone
ready to sort all that out? Or maybe it's just my own brain
that needs sorting....

No matter what, it amazes me that Billy could fire off Butterballs.
He never ceased to imperss me. What a great soul. Of course it
doesn't surprise me that Ron would fire it off, being such a
Yosemite master. All these great ones, Kevin W., Mark Hudon, jeeeze,
there were so many magical spirits. Charlie, by the way, may have
had some trouble on Butterballs but was a very good free climber
most of the time. I know he did some 5.11s, straightaway. I climbed
with him in Boulder and found him to be in great shape.

Social climber
Lakewood, CO
Jul 25, 2013 - 04:44pm PT
Daniel McClure climbed it with Billy the first time they did it. Same day as Tobin Sorenson and John Bachar. Daniel says the photo is from the second time Billy climbed it.

Daniel has some great old photos and I will work on getting him to post up! And he affirms that Donini was already the old man at the start of the'70s!

Billy, Daniel, Tobin, Bridwell, and Donini, all of them are my true heroes!!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 26, 2013 - 12:31pm PT
The Colorado Springs climbers were always an undersung bunch of
really fine climbers. I spent some time with Pete Croff (not Peter
Croft), who was, at one time, the best of the Springs climbers,
an amazing boulderer and really nice guy. I was very sad
when I heard he took his own life. But there were other very good
climbers then too, Steve Chaney, who now lives near me in Grand
Junction and repairs instruments at a music store.... I gave a show
years ago, maybe in the mid-70s, at Chaney's little Cobbler
climbing shop in the Springs, and Gill attended, because I showed
my first little black and white Gill film. The event was later called
the Cobbler Massacre. As I delivered my talk, some juvenile
delinquents in the alley in the back got into a fight. Someone in
the store stuck his had out the back door and told them to be quiet.
One of them went home and got a gun. Shots were fired in through the
wood of the back door. The whole crowd of people at the show hit
the floor. I had no idea what was going on and continued to stand
there and talk. Suddenly Gill and his wife ambled past me, on their
way out the front door. He chuckled and said to me, as he walked by,
"I think it's time for us to go." Or something to that effect. The
rest of the evening, police patrolled the area and shined big
spotlights in through the front window as they drove by....
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