First Solo Ascent of the Salathe Wall (AACJournal: 1972)


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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 3, 2006 - 02:47pm PT
At Ken's (Chickenskinner) request, here is the article about my 1971 climb, writing a couple of months later. I was 21 years old. I thought that I had posted it here, but apparently only on rec.climbing some years ago.

The Salathe Wall Solo
by Peter Haan
Reprinted from: American Alpine Club Journal, 1972

With so much history and poppycock tales about the Salathe Wall, a solo of it might seem outrageous and desperate. But it wasn't that way at all. Climbing stories and the climbing imagination in their new hyperactivity and peculiar neediness brusquely race past the humble realities of rest places, large ledges, good protection and fun climbing, or in the "professional" or hard man arena, past climbing itself. When this modern trend, these fantasies, and gossip are contained in a little Yosemite Valley campground, covetousness and absurd slickness develop; an opaque fog gathers while the mud begins to form. It is no one's fault, this mud, but yours or mine if we sling it. So who, in 1972, can tell the way back or out to the clear and simple privacy of one's own climbing and love for the granite experience? Personal hardness or cynical pressure cannot render crystalline and geologic an indefinite smog of feckless rumor and struggle. The Valley climber is both the victor and victim of his brothers and an international theater of acclaim. A small bay of confusion and carefully silent jealousy often form behind him, as he becomes a part of that international theater and the first ascents prayer wheel. To pay attention to this reaction is to give it currency, and to open oneself to it, a grave injustice to one's passion. So we have to ignore everything but what is up there: one is always more skilled than almost anyone else wants one to be. Push off from all the articles, guides, ratings, reputations, fads, teachers, and even friends; in good sense do what ever you will. Thus my ascents or yours, as well as this article, are actually no one's business, especially since it seems inevitable that integrity and inspiration become identified nowadays in cheap dramatic terms with any problems (real o fabricated) to which my climbing or yours might be imagined by others as a kind of answer.

What is the moment when a climber or anyone steps out of his boring routine, risking his satisfaction to an ominous future and possible failure? I was in better shape than ever; I was prepared for intense climbing. And for me, it was inevitable that somehow I would have to attempt for better or for worse a resolution of the desire I had to develop friendship of solid and true character within thorny Camp Four and thus ratify climbing as a sufficiently rich life style. And it was in the cards that in searching for respect, understanding and meaning there that I would attempt first a rejection of the arena and then maybe its reconciliation. The Salathe Wall done solo would catch it off guard both kick it in the teeth and then bring that motley crew's respect, primitive as it might be. But also I, even more unrealistically, hoped for their love.

Beyond this basically petty and irrelevant realm of social pressures, there remained the intense and I suppose primordial desire to contact on however a temporary or make-believe basis an original human experience of persistent self-control and critical awareness that in turn leads to freedom and the elation or revelation of one's survival, of one's life hood and lust. This climb, which I had secretly, boyishly, thought of for five years was in complete disjunction with my experience. Since I had been basically a free climber for eight years, Yosemite’s big walls were not familiar to me. I had failed on several attempts of them, one a horror-filled solo, of Quarter Dome, North Face, and was quite awed by El Cap in particular. So with many needs and no formal credentials, I inspected this "Salathe Wall" of my fancies. But unlike other previous times, I examined the entire route spending hours on features of the pitches. I was bent on determining if the Salathe could be done solo; I knew this was not to be assumed. It was an ancient place; I knew it by the side lighting higher on the wall: orange dark red, and yellow ripples and horns visible half a mile below; rock that must have been above and untouched by more recent glaciations, unshorn, wilder than the correct stiff smoothness lower down. This was a place to hold me for a while in my fastlike resolutions.

Moderate low-angle slab climbing, unexposed at the start and I am slowly eased into graver consequences and more dramatic views. Worried that the heat, in spite of steady breezes might sabotage my whole effort, I carry extra water and heavy cans of fruit: I want the wall. But the expense is to my hands: soreness I have never known develops as the first day passes and nearly thwarts my entire adventure as I awakened the next morning to bloated fingers and burning skin; all this damned hauling. If only one could just climb---climb without bags, water, packs, shoes, rurps, ropes, porters, maps, oxygen, and radios---merely as an incandescent unfettered being given to ascension, upwardness, climbing would not have the trembling impact it has. Life without death, eternity, might be worse than life after death and I am laughing. After all, soloing, save from being away from other climbers, seems to be no step towards freedom in climb. God, that prusik knot and Jumar can drive me frantic sometimes. I lower myself laboriously down the line to the normally easy pendulum into Hollow Flake Crack. I attempt the pendulum; I am short. I take slack, prying loose the flesh-eating Jumar's bite on the rope and the prusik knot's death grip below it. I try penduluming again: I am short again. Again and again. Well it's only the second day, but no one would believe it took me five times to get that crack, I think, as I cranked off the heel and toe jams up to Hollow Flake Ledge. Sleeping here will be weird: it's right in the line of recent rock falls! Worrying will do nothing so I fix one pitch at dusk.

Days are passing and the wall is falling slowly away. My anxiety does not bubble off in joy but instead my climbing gets better, swifter; the Jumar-prusik self-belaying is executed more methodically and seems to become a skill in itself. The bivouac spots, the nesting places I make up this wall are more meaningful than most of the climbing I am doing. Reaching the end of the day and a place to take stock of the situation, to lie up against the wall childlike and tired. To wake to another blue morning, another day within days on this wall: this many days alone. Would this solitude be unbearable without El Cap?

If one needs people, one wouldn't be here. In fact a climber is by virtue of his respect for life and safety philosophically "for himself" on any climb, and often afterwards too, sadly. "Am I slipping?"; "Am I tired?"; "Is my foot properly placed?": all questions concerning minute conditions of oneself and the rock, and all these are logically, necessarily prior to those between partners, even in emergency. But I have no partner and it seems emotionally simpler this way at least up to now.

From Hollow Flake Ledge the wall steepens quickly to vertical or more. The Ear, a thick flake probably fifty feet through with a moderate by exposed bomb-bay chimney, and scanty protection challenges me now three leads into the day. Facing out with back against the wall, I nervously work along horizontally. Each move relaxes me more though, and, my God, there are giant holds in here! Coming around the corner is getting to be a problem...go slower. Fine, I am up, but now it's really steep. A giant 150 foot aid lead just above will be time-consuming and I've got to finish before night or I'll be doing that short 5.9 jam crack in the dark to dinner and sleep in the Alcove. This aid lead is the first of many other steeps ones like it but because it's the first, it's the worst. Exposure, strenuousness, anxiety about time, and fear grip me, as thankfully they will not again.

Inside the deep Alcove, I lie, eating and drinking everything I can afford to, the plan being for two more bivouacs. Is it the Fourth of July? A mad string of car lights is daubing along the Valley floor in the warm night air.

These last days. I am climbing; I am pushing upwards, rising in a cloud of new life; no one is up here; fifteen-foot roofs and 200 foot overhanging headwalls; not a soul is up here; I am alone. I say, "I am climbing the Salathe Wall...solo"; it means nothing because I am there: a climbing being, a simple force, nothing more and this is all really that should ever be important to us. A certain mind, two strong hands: I kind of love myself up here as the blond world of Yosemite granite holds me, but with no passion, none of its own. Much as any surfer feels that he has the voice of the wave, I sense having the body of this mountain: mineralized and transfigured into a 3000-foot wall, a man of granite a half-mile-high and a spirit as arid and vast. The awareness and critical attention I have to pay El Cap can invert to a passivity: I have committed myself to it; whatever it offers, I must take; whatever it is, I am. But at the same time I know and admit the real separation between us. The splintered wall, the pillow head of man.

Night is coming; I must reach Thank God Ledge. But now dark is here and I haven't a chance. A remaining headlamp lead up the 70-foot pitch of aid (is it really that short?) attracts me less than rest and a last radical fling of sleeping in a two point hammock strung from a single vertical crack slicing up the Headwall now over 2700 feet above the talus. My sleep comes and goes, drifting slowly through the night. I am finding peace, for tomorrow will be the end; only several leads remain but I know the last pitch could be a terrible solo problem.

The last day is the same warm fair summer day that all the others were. I relishingly climb on, untangling the incredible mess of equipment I made in my fatigue last night wanting quick release to sleep and reverie. Several mixed pitches and I've arrived at the low-angle apron below the summit lead, a short nailup to an overhanging narrowing squeeze crack that becomes hand jams. With greater effort than anywhere below (God this is 5.10!!) and a disturbing risk due to slack paid out in advance, these last feet are gained, and after rappelling, cleaning and hauling, the whole adventure has suddenly ended. Two laughing camp friends have come to greet me and help me off with all this gear. I can't recognize them...they are so dark and ordinary expressions on their faces seem as blank contortions. Well I know it's them....a rock is thrown just missing my head.

Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Sep 3, 2006 - 03:08pm PT
Thanks Peter,

That was an awesome achievement and I still say "Burly". Was the jumar backing up the prusik?

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 3, 2006 - 03:14pm PT
Thanks K. Yeah the large prussick was above the jumar. Not a good outfit by present-day opinion, but it did work. I am sure that on a really big fall there was the possibility of tearing the perlon with the jumar though. Silent Partner etc techniques are the way to go now.

Big Wall climber
the Southwest
Sep 3, 2006 - 03:25pm PT
Peter, you're not only a Hardman, but a gnarly Hardman!


Sep 3, 2006 - 11:18pm PT
Yep Peter

I remember it very clearly to this day when you were up there soloing that monster wall on El Cap. Bridwell and Klemens were saying Peter is soloing the Salathe.

That's with pins and way before any of the great modern gear they have now. The usual shoulder bruising loads as Roper described it in his little green book.

And it was hot, I was thinking, how does he do it. It sounded and seemed so hard to me back then.

It was a very good time in life back then ........
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 3, 2006 - 11:33pm PT
Inspirational then and now.

The Eye of the Snail
Sep 4, 2006 - 12:28am PT
Thank you, sir. Yeah, that's hard.

The Ear: WAY easier than you expect (since you expect to die.)

Hollow Flake: slightly easier than you expect.

The 5.9 squeeze above EC Tower: much worse than you expect.

The last 5.9 topout squeeze: worse than you could ever imagine by a factor of several infinities.


Trad climber
One Place or Another
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:02am PT
bump for a great tale
paul roehl

Boulder climber
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:24am PT astonishing achievement at an unexpected moment.

Trad climber
One Place or Another
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:36am PT
It amazed me when I bumped this that there were only 8 replies.

So many hidden gems - let's find them and give 'em the polish they deserve.

Trad climber
One Place or Another
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:55am PT
It's weird - maybe nobody else sees how much Peter creates the world around him in his stories - it is magical to me, bardic.

He's like a spirit of life that describes the living of it without pretense, but fantastical nonetheless.

Feb 25, 2009 - 03:38am PT
Nicely done Peter, thanks.

Social climber
Feb 25, 2009 - 05:16am PT
hey there peter.... say, you got a great way of writing so as to make us feel how you felt up there, as to being:


great job...

i liked the:
is it the fourht of july down there

and the row of car-lights, too...

Trad climber
The Circuit, Tonasket WA
Feb 25, 2009 - 08:27am PT
I agree with Werner, that was such a mind blower back then. It was an effort and an accomplishment that seemed to launch a new perspective of what was possible in Yosemite.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 25, 2009 - 09:13am PT
Jeez Peter, way to make us all look like P*ssies.....

Seriously, what a great post.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 25, 2009 - 09:26am PT
More like poetry and a spiritual journey than a climbing story.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 25, 2009 - 09:59am PT
Thanks loads, but don’t you characters ever sleep? Looking at the times at which you’ve been posting...

Anyway 38 years later, it turns out that solo was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. And I was so young. It is true that the equipment changes since then have made such ascents quite a bit more feasible. But no matter what, water still today weighs about 8 pounds a gallon, you know. Can’t do any better with that one. I guess I had about 40-50 lbs of it!

And yeah, it was really hot, Wern---a classic July heatwave. I think it was coasting around 100 degrees for the first couple of days. Cooler higher up of course. Being on the Freeblast slabs that first day and then the second over in the slabby Heart area took a tremendous amount of drive. The one giant canvas haul bag almost was impossible; so heavy, so primitive, so much friction over all that lower angle terrain....Ugh. All by myself.

To make it even more daunting, there was daily rockfall in the afternoons that was spraying the lower half of the wall from about La Escuela to Pine Line. You see one of those upper towers on the Heart Route of Chuck and Scott had fallen off, completely denuded the forest below the winter before---it looked horrible for years--- and still bits of the main event were being blown off here and there for months every day if there were afternoon breezes. That whole portion of El Cap was to most of us, unclimbable. It was a sniper zone, really.

I actually got hit by a small stone the first day. It was in the head, but only glancing. It bled but wasn’t too bad. Can you imagine my determination? I kept climbing. I had borrowed Richie Goldstone’s hard hat but wasn’t wearing it after awhile due to the three-digit heat. And was thinking that as I got closer to Mammoth Terraces I would be out of the line of fire. Also figuring that as I crossed the Heart to Hollow Flake, it would be early enough in the second day to avoid the daily afternoon blitzing. When I got to the famous Hollow Flake Ledge---what used to be a classic, perfect ledge--- I was impressed that it had been turned to a fractured ugly stack of unstable rock debris. It had received a direct hit from some part of that tower that had let go on the Heart. The predictability of the rockfall times was pretty tight so I knew that as I slept there more rockfall would be very unlikely for the period I was in that area. Above it, nothing had hit the route.

The voice I used to write the story way back then was partly shaped by RR coaching and reminding me that the real point of writing about the experience was not so much to once again report on the route which by then was well enough known (11th ascent) but to related the emotional and humans aspects of such an ascent. I might otherwise have issued a much more mundane view on the whole thing---like bad travel writing, you know. And so it took the form of a emotional and almost disturbingly personal reverie, quite in distinction to most climbing writing, especially back then. And a form that I still sort of use today in various ways.

best to you all, p.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 25, 2009 - 11:05am PT
Keep using it's a great voice.

Wow, rockfall tales/ Something we are often blissfully free of on El Cap. It was not until my 9th El Cap route, Excalibur, that I had a premonition and wore a helmet up there for the first time. A party above and right of us knocked a few stones down on our first day. That sealed my decision.

On the second or third day my partner who has done many walls with me dropped a giant cam from a full pitch above me. Beeline straight for my head as I tried to hide under that helmet. It hit the helmet, and glanced into my shoulder with enough force to spin me over in my gear. I hung there for a moment, thinking what a bad place this was to get hurt, as my shoulder went numb and a wave of nausea swept over me. Keith was screaming at me as to whether I was ok. I realized I would make it when I yelled for him to shut up and give me a moment to think about it!

It took a quarter sized piece of meat out of my shoulder but luckily it hit on muscle rather than directly to bone. This after glancing and slowing on the helmet, so we were able to carry on, even though my shoulder hurt like a motherF for a couple days....

My brushes with hardness.

Edit: Peter, what music was playing in your head in those days??

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 25, 2009 - 12:15pm PT
I remember hearing about this solo ascent back when I was a newcommer to the Valley and I couldn't imagine myself being up on the Salathe headwall alone, leading and rapping to clean and all that jazz. Th idea scares the crap out of me . . .

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 25, 2009 - 01:21pm PT
A marvellous adventure, and story! How long did the climb take altogether?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 25, 2009 - 02:11pm PT
That's funny, Survival. The song I most often "played" in my little interior cinema for a lot of climbs was Sly and The Family Stone's "Sex Machine", a rather obsessive, funkadelic-ish longer track that lent itself to "one-move-after-another" type of activities if you get my drift. I really couldn't get that tune out of my head when I soloed Despair; it was as if there was a modern-day ghetto blaster on the climb with me!!

Johno L. Yeah agreed, and when I was on the headwall and later that day bivied up there from the tiny triangular hole half way up, it was truly like being in another world, as if I could fly or now had finally "found the truth".

When I went to clean the first pitch---the pitch that carries you over the roof and up the headwall about 50-70 ft, I rappelled down and when i got just above the roof, i turned upside down and faced out and slide a little further on the rappel to see what it would be like. I can tell you it was ever ever so much more hideous than even i at that point had expected. I immediately resumed the proper position, having almost lost all control. The vision of going further down the rope for just those few feet in this presentation was really surreal; the image didn't "scroll" but jerked as if this would be the last I would ever see or know---letting go of everything was going to be the next move. You know, 21-year olds are rather impressionable. When I look up there now, like you Johno, my effing toes curl up with horror and the hair stands on the back of my forearms!

Mighty Anders, It took five bivies; I was on top about 1 or 2 pm on the sixth day which was going about as fast as regular parties were climbing it. Kor and Galen I think did it in 3 days or slightly more a couple of years before me. I had fixed the pitch up to the roof at the start the day before the start. July 2-July 7, 1971.

Back then writing this story which much to my delight was then printed in AAJ 1972, was incredibly hard; it was all new to me. The draft was handwritten of course and an insane mess. It took a couple of months. RR kind of edited it with me and H. Ad Carter took at AAC and did very little more to it. I know it verges on the trite at times but recognize I was basically practically a child.

best, p.


Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:18pm PT
That's great! But not the tune I would've expected.

Got me smiling. My wife loves that stuff.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 25, 2009 - 02:22pm PT
I know, I was scandalized when my idol Alex Honnold indicated in an interview what he was listening to on his ipod when climbing. It was all heavy metal, gothish stuff. Like Royal, I was hoping he was listening to Mozart. (g).

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:26pm PT
Ha!! In my head back in the day, it was all Zeppelin, or Beatles. Even though I listened to a lot of other stuff.
Somewhere I had read that some liberal U had done a study and discovered that good athletes performed better when listening to the Beatles. Worked. In my head at least...

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jul 28, 2009 - 03:33pm PT
I just HAVE to put this up!
If this is what the man had playing in his head during the first solo ascent of the Salathe, then I gotta put it in here for him. BOTH PARTS!! Dig it man. Get your groove on Mr. Haan!! Part one Part two



beneath the valley of ultravegans
Jul 28, 2009 - 05:01pm PT

Peter, wasn't there a shot of you--taping up, as I remember--in the reprint version in Roper's 'Ordeal by Piton'?

I'm having a hard time getting my head around that much solitude. Did it feel lonely or just alone?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2009 - 06:28pm PT

Yeah, the shot my girlfriend at the time, Marian Lever, took with my Nikon. Vandiver and I went to do Meatgrinder again and our two ladies had to come with! Glen Denny and Roper had the slide forever; it finally made it into "Ordeal by Piton" with my story. I have that slide somewhere in my heap. I have to scan it again since my first attempts 15 years ago were as hideously primitive as Bridwell at the Notions counter at Macy’s.

Since it was my first big wall I did not have a realistic idea how much fun doing one with a good capable human being-type friend could be! Later on, I got the clue on subsequent climbs, basking in the fabulousness of having other of my species at hand. Now I crave the idea of having basically a multi-day party with someone, losing 20 lbs a week. I will never solo a long climb again, I suspect. But I guess one of the principal benefits is that you really do get to imagine you own the entire line for awhile.

As I describe in the article itself, the amount of solitude had been so great that when I got to the top I could not recognize the expressions on the faces of Klemens and Bridwell--- they had come up to help me hike off. In fact for more than a few minute I had to consciously work at understanding what humans might be. (It is also extremely funny: imagine Bridwell’s face is the first one you see after a week! Klemens wasn’t too far behind him in this respect either!)

I had “left” this place, you see, set up my very own quasi-reality actually. I was not delirious; in fact I could have climbed quite a bit longer, had no injuries, had had enough to eat and drink the whole time thank god. The only thing wrong was I was down to only one hammer since I had dropped the other one two days prior. And of course back then we were using mostly pitons, just a few nuts.

Marty, it was as you suspect, highly psychological, this experience. Nearly a full week without any kind of human contact while under tremendous stress and ambiguity and a limited menu verges on being able to damage a person, you know. Normal people would have begun to see George W images in the granite, I suspect.

But I will add that although the solitude was one issue, much more daunting was HOW MUCH BASIC WORK it took to climb this very long route by oneself, haul it including the wretched low angles parts, and clean the whole thing. I was shedding skin from my hands for a month afterwards--- it was falling off me like a tree discarding bark. I guess the hope was that after all the shedding I would emerge a prince among men like the story about the toad.

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Jul 28, 2009 - 06:37pm PT
Now that is writing!

Thank you for the story!
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 28, 2009 - 07:41pm PT
The dashing young knight, off to do battle for the Siege Perilous:
I wonder if it helped him win the heart of a fair maiden?

Photo taken from "Ordeal by Piton" - I tried different scans, but that's as good as I could do. It seems dappled due to some artefact of the paper or something.

Peter's climb was only the second solo ascent of El Capitan, and his first wall. The first solo ascent was Robbins' climb of the Muir Wall a few years before.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 28, 2009 - 07:49pm PT
yeah it did, Mighty Anders. In fact these two girls---they were best friends too---followed us up from Santa Cruz, stalked us actually. They were all over us like cheap suits. This was a unique time in Vandiver and my friendship. We had adjacent tents near Columbia Boulder at the time and were sleeping with these gals for about a week, going climbing during the day, and generally having lots of fun. It was kind of a foursome but with nylon separators (lol).
Mark Hudon

Trad climber
Hood River, OR
Jul 28, 2009 - 10:06pm PT
Great story, Peter.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jul 29, 2009 - 12:57am PT
Grainy or not, that's a really cool picture.

beneath the valley of ultravegans
Jul 29, 2009 - 01:11am PT
"a foursome but with nylon separators"

Um, Peter, that sounds like something available only at the WideFetish store! Best left to the nether regions of the inter-tent and/or trained professionals.

You should call up Alex and arrange a time to climb this fall. You both'd probably get a gas out of it.

Social climber
Across Town From Easy Street
Apr 16, 2010 - 11:45pm PT
What a great story.

Trad climber
Boulder Creek CA
Apr 17, 2010 - 12:20am PT
This is a fantastic accomplishment. I speak as someone who repeatedly tried to solo an El Cap route in the late sixties. I was obsessed with the idea for years and put a lot of time and energy into training and innovating equipment. I had succeeded elsewhere, but here it took everything I could do to get part way. I have a great appreciation for what you managed to do. I knew about the ascents by my friends Royal and later Beverly. But I hadn't heard your story before. Thank you!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Apr 17, 2010 - 12:29am PT
What a Classic!

Trad climber
Apr 17, 2010 - 12:31am PT
Way badass Peter!

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Apr 17, 2010 - 12:50am PT
Peter: A great achievement! Thank you for sharing the story on ST.

You the man!

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Apr 17, 2010 - 01:08am PT
Haan......didn't know sh#t about climbing but was in awe of your accomplishment soloing the Salathe' of those notions that stuck in my mind....congrats on your palmare's...don't let it go to your brain...rj

Trad climber
san diego
Apr 17, 2010 - 02:02am PT
"What a classic."


Missed this first time around(here)although gorged on it years ago when it first premiered.

S&TFS was da' bomb back then...although i woulda thought it would have been "I Want To Take You Higher"...Boom shuk-a-luka luka, boom shuk-a-luka luka...

EDIT: were da' Bomb Peter!!!

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
May 14, 2012 - 07:46am PT
We all were gobsmacked on learning Peter had done a Royal. I was on a road trip prior to July 4th and had to return from wherever to work. When I got back Peter had just topped out. My van might have been in that mad string of car lights on its way out of the Valley.

I'm with Werner. It was a great time to be living in the Valley back then.

I like what Peter writes about the Ear, in his re-write:
"moderate by exposed"--thinking, oh, he meant "moderately exposed," but that's a bit of an understatement--is in actuality "moderate but exposed."

I realize it is a typo, but you sure got me with that one! Kind of needed it with all the serious reflection in there, which is what we expect from good climbing write-ups, but you were young and finding that voice. So is Alex Honnold, young; and though he may have a voice, I haven't seen any writing, though I have heard him speak (but only on 60 Minutes, so far.) I won't prejudge him: you sure surprised all of us. Maybe Alex has never heard Mozart's Symphonie Concertante for violin and viola.

That love you wanted to experience from Camp 4, it was hard to find for some, easier for others, and never happened for some. The campsites and boundaries have changed, many times. But it is and always will be our "home" in a splendid way, with brothers and sisters, troublemakers and jealousy and back stabbing, over girls, climbs, reps. It is also a joyful place, hardly ever dull. It is a "Peyton Place" (if you don't know the reference to PP hit Wikipedia, kiddies; Grace Metalious is the writer) and it was a large part of the charm of Camp 4, which is not missing, or gone; I am just not privy to the dirt.

Your introspection kindles all sorts of ideas in our minds of how we should act in society and how we fear lack of contact. Royal always provided me with worthwhile things to think about. You're a worthy acolyte, if anyone is.

I waited a long time to read this, but now realize that I am glad I never read it before I went up there two years after you published. Damn, that was an awesome effort you put forth on the climb and the writing. Congratulations on the second solo, Dude!! Proud to know you. Better late than never.

Aside to Peter: Have you read the book Peyton Place? I know it seems like it's a quaint '50s thing, but far from it. Universality, O Shakespeareans. It is what makes classics so well worth the time. You can expect to be entertained, is what I am saying. Maybe learn something more about yourself. Read it with your lady. There is one quote I am leaving here, which, by the way, follows a discussion of sewage, of all things, which is why I picked it. Page 70:

"Later, after Albert Card had told this story to his wife Mary, she said,

'This certainly must be quite a town for characters...'"--Grace Metalious

One final thing, a question loaded with overtones of Peyton Place, where is Chris V.? He owes me a set of Jumars.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 14, 2012 - 10:29am PT

Chris Vandiver lives in the Seattle area and is doing well, married to an absolutely stunning gal now for more than a decade. I talk with him all the time still and he was down for three weeks babysitting me last fall when I had my right knee replaced. He was so cool, helping me out post-op. And he brought one of his current Irish Setters, the young male O'Reilly. That made the recovery and his visit even more lively and fun. He really loves his dogs.

Yeah, it was a typo. The Ear is moderate but certainly exposed in a bombay sort of way. It is like 5.6 at most if your keep your eyes open and use the many holds to be found in there.

"Sex Machine" was not a song that I normally would have thought of. I used its building, driving, sexy push to get hard runout lengthy stuff done, the song is so primitive. And yeah I had a ton of sex drive and could address climbing with it in a sublimated sort of way, especially offwidth. Lots of climbing is about long sequences of repetitive tense and exciting moves, much like sex.

When I came off the Salathe, by the way, I weighed about 175 lbs. When I started, I was a proper 190-192 lbs. And that weight was lost in a mere 5-1/2 days even though I had more than a gallon a day of water. I hadn't been that light since perhaps high school, like 10th grade, being rather muscly and big boned. And as I said above years ago, it was amazing how much skin I was losing off my hands afterward. The hands were so sore from the morning of day #2 onward but I had no idea that I would end up shedding sheets of calloused skin for so long afterwards. These things and perhaps having to have a new right knee decades later were my costs along with the insane amount of drive and work required, no real rest at all with the huge route looming overhead no matter what.

A rest day wasn't possible as it would begin the softening, doubting cycle that would always lead to the ground or a rescue. I had to keep my 21- year old self in a mind trap in order to succeed and work like an idiot slob on the climb. No one knew if the route could be soloed. The endless toil, the lateral traversing mixed nature of the line, the gobs of obligatory free climbing---- we just didn't know and so undertaking the solo was just a huge adventure even though the route had been climbed about 14 times by this point.

One of the few things that a solo brought me was the opportunity to climb ever inch of this sacred historic route and also review the whole thing all over again immediately when I cleaned the pitches. That was almost worth the inhuman effort required as the quality of the climb is just unbelievable most of the time.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
May 14, 2012 - 11:29am PT
I suspect the paucity of responses is due to most of us not feeling worthy
enough even to express our admiration. I recall that article most vividly.
Ensconced in our parochial wet little corner of the Pacific Northwest you
blew the lid off of my self-imposed mediocrity with your raising of the bar
and the soulful telling of it. I had by then dabbled at soloing with just
a jumar so I was even more dumbfounded by your achievement. I don't recall
that I even tied in short behind the jumar!

Peter, thanks for being who you are.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
May 14, 2012 - 12:11pm PT
Has anyone else ever soloed the route?

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
May 14, 2012 - 01:10pm PT
Well, I yield to no one in unworthiness, but my hard hat, which happened to be with me in the Valley for alpine applications later in the summer (no one wore hard hats for rock-climbing BITD), accompanied Peter on his paradigm-shifting journey, and so perhaps just a smidgen of worthiness wore off on me? But no, like all admirable traits, worthiness is non-transferable.

What I remember about the Valley at the time Peter was up on the Salathe was how hot it was. Stannard and I had climbed the West Face of Sentinel around the same time, a climb vastly less challenging, and I recall having literally no voice left from dehydration after a single hard day.

Peter's feat was futuristic, and his writing matched it. There was so much unknown back then, both in terms of terrain, technique, gear, and human capability. Peter's adventure was of that time, El Cap was still huge, mysterious, and foreboding, and we were, as Royal once wrote, little more than tiny mites tied to a great rock.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - May 14, 2012 - 02:06pm PT
Mighty, it has been soloed at least once probably several times since, of course with new age equipment thank god. My friend Chris Vandiver even made it up quite a ways but got stuck behind some really slow foreign team and then descended. That was back in the later seventies. But yes, even in recent years there was a solo I recall. Probably one of the more "physical" of the solos to do on EC due to the 1000 ft slab at first, then the slabby long traverse to Hollow Flake. God what work.

It was over 100 degrees F for days, right. Only when I approached the Ear was I finally high enough to be in cooler air and finally getting into some of the shade produced by the dihedrals and flakes higher up. Just the blue-collar quality of hefting a hundred pounds of water and gear through those friction-filled first two days was unimaginably hard. Nearly at my limit, anyway.

Thanks for the kind comments; we are now forty-one years later!


Social climber
Jun 5, 2013 - 03:43pm PT
Yikes, forty-two years later, now!

Magnificent achievement, Peter
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 5, 2013 - 05:04pm PT
Yeah, Cruncher, in one month it will be forty-two years later. July. I turn 65 a month later and today filed online for Medicare. Much has changed! I am sore and stiff upon waking these mornings and am too dismayed to even look in the mirror for what time has disfigured, even making me invisible to many.

I even sometimes let myself understand that perhaps the loss through aging will only get worse. Most of the power I once rode so ecstatically up climbs has also fled the barn and the memories of those days ever so long ago, though still bright and detailed within me, now are a large part of what keeps me going forward in hope.

But, and I can’t stress it enough, I so love my mind these days, its much deeper vision and warm bath of resources. I somehow know that I have come to this level only by paying for it by the loss of my youth.
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