Historic Root Found on the Column

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 20 in this topic
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 13, 2006 - 11:42am PT
For a few decades the Direct Route on Washington Column received frequent ascents, and was originally a significant milestone in Yosemite climbing, dating from 1940. Only 5.7 and 11 pitches, it had nonetheless certain legendary chimney pitches such the Reigelhuth, Fat Man, Charley Brown, and Great Chimneys, as well as a subtle, intimidating and airy friction step that got you access to one of the cruxes. By the late sixties it had become a trade route and was usually included in spring training, sometimes unroped. It was harder and steeper than the Arches and could be used as a link to North Dome routes above. These Dome routes are some of the Valley’s finer and popular routes. The Column route had lots of trees, ledges at all belays, and some route finding challenges, kind of an adventure climb from way back. This route still exists, can be climbed in the original manner, although there are a few bolts and pins on it now and I imagine that months and months go by with it seeing no one. You either descend North Dome Gully or hike down the Y. Falls trail.

So by 1965 I had done the Column, and had a great time on it as a 17-year old. The historic aspects of the climb were thrilling to experience for a young aspirant. There really weren’t traces of prior climbers on the route--- except for some unusually cleaned-out cracks. But very oddly the only fixed point on the whole route was one soft iron vertical piton pounded into a root, freakishly bent over on it, high up in the decomposing second pitch of the Great Chimney. At this point the once noble polished chimney has deteriorated into a large gross seam with all the inner stone guts having fallen out of it, revealing tree roots that had grown in the cracks of that mess, forcing the blocks out into the void who knows how long ago, and so forming a shallow granular chimney with some danger to it. Some of the roots thus revealed were kind of square and flat from growing and forcing their way through these fissures now long gone. And perhaps on the first ascent, this pin had been driven desperately into a root to provide the only protection in many feet in the rotting mess. And as time went by, this root got weaker and weaker and although used as a handhold by hundreds of parties, the poor thing was ready to give up when in the early 70’s I was up there again, unroped, alone and flashing through on my way to summit North Dome as well one spring.

So of course I tore that thing right out of there, throwing it down the Great Chimney, which about 200 feet below, had this nice sand floor and alcove at its base. I thought it was just dangerous and a scary nuisance to lesser climbers who I imagined would be freaking out in the rubbishy upper section, feeling they needed to have at least something to pull on, only to have it break off. I rushed on towards the wonderful open South Face route of the dome above, a crazed young athlete craving many things, forgetting all about this root.

But Royal was up to the same thing, soloing the Column and North Dome on a regular basis and it turned out that in ‘75, he and I actually unroped this together, including the variation of Charley Brown Chimney, pushing the route to 5.8 and went on to North Dome as well. But I also worked for RR at times a few years earlier, when he would receive big containers of climbing equipment from Europe and would have to distribute it to all his retail climbing store clients waiting all over the country. This was the fabled little operation he was running in the basement of Valley Paint which his father-in-law owned, although sometimes we used vacant retail spaces on the main drag too. So Vandiver and I would spend a week or more doing this, periodically in the early ‘70s. We would stay with Liz and RR at the house on Durant in Modesto, where they hosted us in a generous manner, every night involving lots of wine, Liz’ great cooking and the unique friendship and mentoring of these two unique and powerful characters. Sometimes we would play tennis too, usually for many hours, in the Modesto heat.

One week I arrived, and in the living room was the root with the flatten piton in it, resting on the mantel. At first I did not even recognize it, so removed from context and at the time so insignificant to me. RR had clipped it on to his sling not long after I had brusquely thrown it away, both of us on crazy unroped outings, unbeknownst to anyone. It had been waiting in the sandy alcove for Royal’s keener sense of its meaning. He even doubted my story of throwing it away, probably because it seemed too coincidental or perhaps he thought I would hungrily, pretentiously, try to insinuate my personal importance in this little piece of history now enshrined in his house, the father of modern American rockclimbing.

But he went on to say, mentoring me, that Chouinard had been keeping all kinds of historic items for years. He had observed this in Yvon and originally thought it was petty. But he soon realized the provenance and joy of these things and began another hobby. So I kicked myself mentally, understanding too how wonderful the old squarish root really was, with this forty-year-old piton flatten on it. I saw in the living room, how much it told, how much it meant to those of us who had climbed past it for decades, and that it was of a time when such things were done in the dawn of our history. And I also quietly played a cinema to myself of Royal dragging this oddly shaped root clipped to him, all the way up the rest of the climb, through the forest, and then much further, up the South Face of North Dome, rounding its spectacular arch and reachy stretch, unroped with this wierdosity hanging off him, totally committed to bringing it back to the central valley and his living room. And how I had not been in that movie.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Aug 13, 2006 - 12:23pm PT
Nice story Peter,

I wonder if he still has it?

Ken
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 12:35pm PT
This also explains RR's utilization of the Tretorn Tennis shoes.
I had a pair, they were very soft and sticky, albeit a bit flimsy.
I preferred the Adidas Stan Smith on the court and they edged better too.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 13, 2006 - 12:36pm PT
Ken,

RR would never have thrown this relic away. Maybe you can get a photo of it. We both really liked this old climb too and besides the public historic aspects of it, the root was personal to us. I suppose I should actually expand the story using the root even more as a symbol than I do here.

best to you, P.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 01:07pm PT
Hey Ken,
Here's an idea which would be cool for the archives:
Out here in Boulder I know a woman who does "Oral Histories" for the Boulder Historical society.

She records interviews, conversations, stories from locally relevant peoople. I may have mentioned this before.

Imagine having Peter's and other's stories recorded in their own voice and made available in playback, adjacent to the appropriate artifact.

Just having a cataloged auditory archive is quite a task and a great contribution.
deuce4

Big Wall climber
the Southwest
Aug 13, 2006 - 03:06pm PT
What a great route the Direct is, one of the best secrets of Yosemite.

I think it was Werner, or maybe it was Cosgrove (who had climbed it with Werner), who climbed it with me (on the solo); then I showed it to Schultz, Walt, and others on subsequent solos. It was one of those routes where to show the line was to climb it together-- the line is difficult to point out from the ground. We always did the 5.8 variant down low, spectacular.

Must have climbed it a dozen or so times total. A wonderful morning or afternoon jaunt, depending on the time of year!
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 13, 2006 - 03:10pm PT
Hi all,

RR was actually thoughtful, creative and independent. He was using a Stich belay plate back in 1970, trying to make the earliest hideous nuts work even in Yosemite, climbed in his Tretorns quite alot (which he also used to play tons and tons of tennis) and was bringing over Edelrid, Galibier, Peck for american climbing shops about that same time. He had lived in europe already, and was going to the Isles to climb on a variety of trips. He was the first to actually try to stop the emerging destruction of the stone by use of other means than pitons. Climbing with him in those days was not altogether fun as he worked all this agenda out, using slings, knot nuts, and the horrid Peck crackers on California granite and belaying not entirely well with his plate, while also worrying about his business, his love life and family-to-be, his climbing school, and his place in climbing history, all while aging and enduring his hurting feet.
Jaybro

Social climber
The West
Aug 13, 2006 - 05:44pm PT
That route was a rite of passage for me, when I was a teenger, jonsing 'the Wall experience™. Somehow we hit on that as a pre-No,butt,mid- goal (why we neglected RA, I have no Idea). We had about four nuts and carabiners, after the first pitch all leads were mine, the Charlie Brown or maybe the reguliyeah chimney was my first wide venture. It was June, our pint of water was gone early. We topped out in the dark and somehow got down the ND gully alive around midnight, leaving a rap rope to be retreaved the next day.

I need to go solo it and enjoy a rasta meditation on top.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
one pass away from the big ditch
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:26pm PT
After reading tarb's idea above that we already have all these stories on stopo. However, what in the f*#k happens if the database gets corrupted or if Chris loses his hosting prematurely, or something.

What is there to archive our stories from supertopo?
What is the back up device for our 'oral/aural' stories?

Chiloe

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:29pm PT
Thanks for telling a great story, Peter. When I first saw your title, I thought "Oof! What a typo!"

Many years back, when Roper's red book and Ament's blue one were my touchstones, I had this goal to climb all their recommended routes. The Column direct is one of the few I never got around to. Maybe that's because Roper himself wrote a disparaging description in his later edition? The climb sounds connoisseurs' fun.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:39pm PT
Isn't it ironic that Peck Crackers only work, sort of, in pin scars?
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:49pm PT
Roy,

YCA purchased a high quality video camera for interviews and gathering these stories. I need someone to head that project as I don't have the time to do it properly. This project was started 15 years ago. I have footage of Harding meeting Ax Nelson. They talked about the Lost Arrow chimney with gleaming eyes and juvenile smiles on their faces. It turns out that Nelson went through the Harding hole too though I do not know how he fit because he had to be 6'6" tall.

Ken
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:53pm PT

Ken,

Tom Carter once implored me to interview Walt.
I didn't.

Much love to you all...
Let's keep the ball rolling.

-roy
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Aug 13, 2006 - 06:58pm PT
I have video footage of Walt on two different climbs and some of him at Stowe's bachelor party. I wish I had taken more. I also have a good portion of his rack, his Robbins boots and the axe he used on Cerro Torre and Fitzroy and the ice climbs he did around the Valley.

Ken
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 07:42pm PT
Well,
There you go.
And here we are.
Nice job Ken,
Thanks.

See you next time around the loop.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Aug 13, 2006 - 08:07pm PT
This one is for you Roy. Here he is Larger than life.


Ken
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 13, 2006 - 08:25pm PT
My parents gave me life.
All of the people I have known who have died are my spiritual heirs,
Thanks Ken.
lazide

Big Wall climber
Bay Area, CA
Aug 13, 2006 - 08:30pm PT
ken - sent you an email. I've been looking into doing a 'history of yosemite climbing' vid for awhile, and I've got a full editing suite.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Aug 13, 2006 - 09:07pm PT
Lazide,

Thanks. I tried to return your email three times and some sort of error occured. Sometimes my anti-virus screws things up. I am pasting it here.

Thank you for the generous offer. I am interested. I need all the
professional help that I can get. I have been toying for years with the idea
of making a climbing history movie. I wrote up in the by-laws of the
non-profit that we may pursue that avenue to generate income. Where do you
live and do you go to the Valley often? It would be good to talk to you in
person and see what we can come up with. My phone is (209) 379-2302.

Ken
John Vawter

Social climber
San Diego
Aug 14, 2006 - 12:17pm PT
That's a gem Peter. Might be the kernel of something longer. This evokes in me a strong sense of what we pass on to one another as climbers, the shared oral history, the collective consciousness, and how ephemeral it is. How many of these routes, once well-known, but now rarely climbed, have been forgotten? But not this one. Wonderful, subtle insight into RR, without revealing too much.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 20 in this topic
Return to Forum List
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta