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


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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 canít 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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