The Birth of Wheat Thin

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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 24, 2006 - 07:05pm PT
The Birth of Wheat Thin

After a fairly big season, summer wearing on, Bridwell and I went up to the Meadows to climb with Robbins and Jeff Dozier for the day. RR had just arrived for a quick trip with Jeff and his idea for an outing with the four of us, was Rawl Drive on Lembert Dome Appropriately the only real pitch followed a line of widely spaced bolts up the handsome west face of Lembert, after negotiating a rib lower down after the first belay. With RR leading off over the horizon in fabulous blue skies, and Jeff then also disappearing, Bridwell and I, being the youngsters of the group and certainly the self-styled bad boys, were left alone briefly to hone our skills of abject ridicule. You see, by this point, August 1971, we both knew RR and Jeff were just grand old men and had had to give up their reins to us squirts who certainly would know how to finally kick the horse in the flanks.

So toward this end, Bridwell performs, entirely for my benefit at our smidgeon of belay spot, and realize, very close at hand since he was tied to Jeff’s trailing line and anchored at our belay, a hilarious mocking of RR’s showboating style of face climbing. Lots of stepthroughs with uncanny hops, operated at a frequency far beyond what RR had performed but indicative of the wasteful and exhibitionistic quality they had had, say maybe ten stepthrough hops within 25 seconds, reminiscent of Irish clog dancing. He went on to add for me, several very “alert” memorable and classic RR facial profiles requiring he also flare the hell out of his nostrils and do RR eyes, as if to signify that in the beautiful alpine scene below us he as RR had sensed the Larger Picture from our aerie. As he actually began to follow the pitch, he continued this comedic routine with other Stony Point maneuvers, with lots of complicated back stepping, and a pronounced butt-outward posture to technically diminish the effect of the rock’s angle and add the last possible bits of fun to our skit. We had seen it all, and now we were having fun. It was one of the funniest things I have ever witnessed Bridwell do. It was somewhat born of affection for Royal but it also was to call a spade a shovel, I have to think. Anyway our shenanigans ended, RR never knew and thus would never be hurt by it and there went a couple of hours in the Meadows.

But Jim and I weren’t done. We salvaged what was left of our productive day and roared back down to the Cookie area 50 miles away leaving the old farts with their memories, rappelled the soon-to-be Wheat Thin, and checked out this phenomenal formation. We were roped on and over the edge within an hour and half of leaving the Meadows.

Wheat Thin, on the Nabisco Wall, was not thought of as something a climber from Good Society would have bothered with. The silly thing is about 1” thick mostly, a flake so thin that in its expanse has many actual weathered through-and-through holes in its face as it stands mostly detached about 100 ft high above the actual Cookie top. And when I had been over in this area climbing, I of course had seen it, as everyone else had, and it did not even occur to me that it was a possible climb. What it looked like was mere ugliness and non-being---Nonclimbing, really, which can fill many climbing areas, especially 35 years ago.

But Bridwell, in his March to the Sea, had noticed it and had decided we were going to make this thing happen somehow, so that other climbers could not have it. Kind of how Richard Pryor says, “Women, they’re weird, they buy shoes so that other women can’t have them”. And so over we go, bolts and hangers at the ready, and place a few really ugly, hideously protruding 1/4” compression units in the vertical cliff wall just to the left of this piece of granite paper shuddering on the wall, while taking out a few razor-edged flakes staked in the crack here and there. Bridwell did most of this as I hung out above him.

I am looking at him, he is wonderfully garbed in his all-white full-sleeved shirt and pants, but he is not happy. He is hammering away at the drill, but way fast, and doesn’t seem to be enjoying anything anymore. We had been having such fun. The drill in those days was not carbide and would narrow out and bind quickly. The bolts are bottoming out too soon. I don’t know. With him it could be anything. But eventually he clues me in. And then I see some blood, it’s near his crotch, let’s me know his hemorrhoids are killing him. And he is in white.

So in the spirit of our raucous day that had begun in the Meadows, I take a motherly tone with him hanging 50 feet below me, trying to soothe him, advising my daughter about how this kind of thing happens to young ladies around this age, that it would become a regular thing, and that he should not be afraid it is just the weeping of the disappointed uterus. And he enjoys this new riff, jugs up, and I finished the last messed up bolt and we are out of there. So in a matter of an afternoon, Wheat Thin became the first rap-bolted climb in the Valley, only because it was such a fragile wildly expanding structure, and ironically authored by extreme trad climbers.

We instantly went back the next day I recall, and started to climb our monstrosity. Since it was Jim’s idea, as we stand on top of the Cookie, he leads off way to the right on a flake ledge to access the incipient crack that runs up to the actual defined left facing 1”-4” thick lieback flake. He has hammered the sh#t out of a Long Dong trying to get it into the meager bottoming crack; there is nothing between him and I besides this and he tries to develop the moves above this A3-quality placement to reach our fancy flake.

He hates it; the situation is unexpected because the day before we had just looked at the flake higher up and not how to get into it. After about 30 minutes he actually backs off, gives me the lead. I am sure he was not at par either with his hemorrhoids. My advantage of course was that I did not drive the one and only point of protection between us, so I did not understand how it probably would not have held a real fall. I beat it a little, didn’t love it but went ahead anyway. So bold and ignorant, I established these fairly hard 5.10c barn-door moves to the flake, thinking that they were gross, inconvenient, and just in the way of our special-assed flake rather than the actual beef of the whole route. Climbing onwards to the top of Butterballs for the belay, I encountered nothing as difficult as this technical start I had just done and had actually kind of gotten bored tippy-toeing around this dangerous thin feature for a hundred feet. Jim swarmed up the route, and we were off.

It turned out during subsequent ascents years later, a couple serious falls took place at the beginning, and that although it was to become a unique airy three-star route, the thing was nobody’s little plaything. It was just put up by clowns.

previous posted image of a climber years later on the crux: Jared Brown:
]

previous posted image of a climber years later on the lieback/jam section above:





Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 24, 2006 - 07:53pm PT
Great story, Peter. For shame that Jim in the flesh and you in the next century should mock Royal so. The truth always comes out, in all its senses.

I do recall that that was about the time that Jim was learning to deal with the mantel that he inherited from Royal. I don't think it was easy for either of them.

Funny tale.

Best, Roger
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 24, 2006 - 08:31pm PT
this is a great story!

The day-to-day flow of climbing has always been missed in the various bits and pieces of writing from the past. I think it's because space was so limited and precious that the focus needed to be on the "important" aspects in a story. This story sort of ambles, like climbing does in the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. I always have a fun day when I climb in both places, much fun, even the quick drive getting from one place to the other.

Rawl Drive is a 5.10a R/X climb, probably doesn't see a lot of traffic these days. (It's on my list, but I need to find a partner willing to go up there, there are a lot of other climbs to do, good climbs, that are more mildly protected).

Then to go down and work on the Wheat Thin FA, so casual... taking time out to climb with the old dads, then back to work on the next generation of climbs. All in a day...
Crimpergirl

Sport climber
St. Louis
Sep 24, 2006 - 08:33pm PT
Very fun! After having climbed this super fun route just last week, it was an especially interesting read. Thanks -
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 24, 2006 - 08:36pm PT
Well Peter, when I suffered from a similar malady on Experimental Earth with Jim he was hardly motherly.
Instead he insisted that I was going to need a medical procedure akin to passing 3 miles of barbed wire. As usual he could be prone to hyperbole. In this case it was barely a half a ropelength.
Then again, the surgeon was a climbing partner and the tools have vastly improved since the good old days so maybe he was speaking from experience.

In any case he said that after it enabled him to succeed on the PO.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Sep 24, 2006 - 09:01pm PT
Peter,

Thank you for all of your wonderful stories. They are getting better and better. Keep them coming.

Ken
pc

climber
East of Seattle
Sep 24, 2006 - 09:22pm PT
Great story Peter. Thanks. The Taco is gaining quite a climbing memory.

And for the "soon to be old dads" here-about, so that you might avoid a similar fate...

Hemorrhoids: Introduction
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hemorrhoids/DS00096

Hemorrhoids: Prevention
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hemorrhoids/DS00096/DSECTION=6

pc
WBraun

climber
Sep 24, 2006 - 09:46pm PT
Nice history writing Peter.

We were watching you and Jim place the bolts on the wheat thin.

So then Jim's hemorrhoids become too inflamed. The warbler and I said we go get the Bird some preparation H for the relief, at the lodge gift shop. Warbler says he'll buy, so I go to magazine rack to look at some dumb magazine. Back then the magazine rack was by the window looking into the lodge mezzanine. While leafing through the magazine waiting for the warbler I suddenly see the warbler outside the window running while dragging this 260 pound female curry company security guard through the bushes as she's hanging on to his T-shirt.

Hahaha like WTF is this. He shook her loose after a ways. He escaped into the woods with the preparation H. The Bird must be saved at no cost, I guess.

A few days later, with the Bird feeling better we eat ice cream at the lodge ice cream shoppe. There we were the usual crew slurping away when low and behold big Bertha security guard shows up. She immediately gives me the big harry eyeball. She leaves and returns a few minutes later with reinforcements.

"That's him" she points to me. "He's the guy with the preparation H who escaped a few days ago" she tells her crew. Huh? Me? Oh man, now how the fuk did this happen? Mistaken of the identity or memory loss for sure.

But she was 100% sure it was me. The cops (ranger) show, and wants my ID. I left it in C4. He tells the Bird that someone has to get it for me, as I might take the flight. Bardini gets dispatched for the ID by the Bird. Meanwhile the cops chastise me for no ID and that if I fell off the rock how would anyone know who I am.

Yes, pretty stupid all in all. They had to let me go as there was insufficient evidence and I'm the wrong man.

The next day the sun still rose in the east ........
chappy

Social climber
ventura
Sep 24, 2006 - 09:55pm PT
Hey Peter,
Great story...I love the hearing about how all these classics came to be. Us young guys that followed in your footsteps had a little more sympathy for the Bird's roid problem. One night I was hanging out at the Lodge when the Warbler came out of the gift shop. Some guy came out and grabbed him by the arm. It was a under cover security guard. Turns out Kev had liberated some preperation H for the Bird's problem. Kev ripped his arm free and took off a runnin into the night towards Swan Slab. It was a clean get away! At least that is how I remember it. Kev help me out here. Jim finanly got the problem taken care of in Tahoe summer of 74 I believe. I seem to remember he had a little donut type pillow to sit on after the operation. Wheat Thin and the whole Nabisco Wall had kind of a rep there for a while. Hard to believe now as it is has become sort of a trade route. How times change. People had trouble with the thin little barn doory section before the first bolt. The first time I climbed it was with Jim when we did the first complete ascent of the Nabisco Wall. It was May of 73. We started at 6am to beat the heat. We actually started by climbing the left side of the Cookie. I led that pitch then Jim led Waverly Wafer. I had already done the Wafer back in March. I was the first person to do it that year and the first to climb it with chocks. I remember the previous fall watching John Stannard of Gunks fame struggle on it. He placed an inch and a quarter angle in the final lieback section. That pin was still in place when I did my earlier ascent. I liebacked up to his pin clipped it and it promptly fell out. I hastily stuck a seven stopper in and took off for the anchors. The upper lieback was wet but I made it. Anyway here I was facing your Wheat Thin a couple months later. Having no pins I placed two opposing nuts at the base and liebacked up a few moves and placed a stopper and then down climbed back to the base. I gathered myself and then climbed up through the crux, reached the main flake and clipped Jim's first manky spinner quarter inch bolt. As you said the upper part was pretty straight forward. I believe Jim did a little creative work on the flake that made things easier for future generations climbers. The birth of the Thank Bridwell Hold! I belayed Jim up, he complemented me on my measured approach to the pitch. I completed the ascent by leading Butterfingers. I remember getting an atta boy from you Roger back in Camp 4.
Chappy
KP Ariza

climber
SCC
Sep 24, 2006 - 10:02pm PT
Great story! These are threads(Yosemite Climbing) that keep me checkin' in on the ST forum. I first met The Bird in Tahoe City at a superbowl party in 1982, felt like a kid getting an autograph from Willie Mays. I remember asking him about what it was like in those days, bagging the classic fa's of the lower canyon and beyond. You guy's had it made. This forum needs more legends-and their old school stories, keep em comin'.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 24, 2006 - 10:09pm PT
You deserved an attaboy, Mark. How old were you then, 17 or 18?
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Yosemite
Sep 24, 2006 - 10:10pm PT
I always felt sorry for Bob Bartlett because LEO thought he was the Warbler and would get harassed every time he showed up.

Ken
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Sep 24, 2006 - 10:12pm PT
Yes!
More great stuff to read; thanks boys.

Then, there is/was the "Robbins Hop!" (as recalled by Peter), a maneuver infrequently relied upon and for years I thought I was missing out because it was so rarely prompted by necessity...
chappy

Social climber
ventura
Sep 24, 2006 - 10:19pm PT
A couple more Wheat Thin stories. This was the first place I saw Bachar climb. It was the following spring and he and Tobin were up there. Tobin was having a time of it on the Wafer. I believe he took a fall on the final lieback. I thought if these guys were having problems here they were in for it higher up. John led through and cruised up Wheat Thin in the cool and in control manner that he would become famous for. I remember being impressed. I believe they completed their ascent. About some of those long falls... I think it was the same year. A group of us were hanging out down on the road. It was great back then because you could actually drive up the old road and park. Bridwell was there. Perhaps Kevin and Dale?? I can't really recall. Some one was just starting up Wheat Thin. He traversed out placed a nut and headed up towards the crux. He placed a few more pieces and neared the first bolt. The next thing we saw was his first piece lift out and slide down the rope. He had failed to place opposing gear after the traverse! So he's up there and we see a second piece lift out slide down the rope. Tension was mounting! Finally his last piece lifted out and he had no gear between himself and the anchor at the base of Butterballs! He was right there at the first bolt but couldn't keep it together, He started shaking. His belayer clipped the rope through the anchors and he was off. It was a nasty looking fall. He plummeted down until the rope came tight and he was then whipped in an arc coming to rest in the Wafer dihedral. Fortunately he wasn't seriously hurt. It was quite a show. Of course Cams have made things much safer here and made clever nut placement a thing of the past.
JuanDeFuca

Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Sep 24, 2006 - 11:49pm PT
Bump
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 25, 2006 - 12:28am PT
Thanks tremendously buds! I have much fun writing these vignettes, pulling out the details during an hour or two, and then your adding to the tale so much! This forum makes a kind of community that has never been possible before, frankly. Maybe the guys before me would have been more interactive had they been able to communicate so readily, richly and so widely.

It’s true, the Nabisco Wall was badass for awhile. Probably Wheat Thin being the only part of it that was actually dangerous, everything else being harder but safer. And the Wall had two early 5.11 pitches in it. Every year or so in the Valley there would be an area or section that was endowed with special bad boogie powers, only to eventually be towed back into the realm of the possible and even the delightful. We would chat these things to death, scare ourselves, and try to figure out when to do them. Kind of like kids scaring themselves telling ghost stories during their first overnight outing.

Waverly Wafer was a real sandbag at 5.10c. It probably has to be called harder since it is so continuous and to be in comparison with other routes of that grade. It is actually a bit sophisticated too. I guess I should have added I was climbing in the 70’s in PA’s (Pierre Allain shoes) up until about 1975. Jim was in early EB’s.on Wheat Thin.

I didn’t know that Stannard had labored on Waverly, interesting. He was having a hard time though in general in the Valley then. He was used to the Gunks.

The problems with the rangers never ended and I have to think that they must have begun at the latest, in the early sixties. I remember them question me wearing a swami belt (early handtied harness) back in 1964 as I tried to fill water bottles up at the Lodge water fountain in view of tourists in the restaurant. They thought I might be some kind of deviate, with this thing on. My friend and I had been nailing the Swan Slab route; I was 16. Fortunately I didn’t have much more trouble with them, although nearly everybody has some hideous tale encountering their absurdity and misplaced hatred. They were almost another species.
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 25, 2006 - 12:45am PT
Well, criminy Peter, it wasn’t the swami belt that tipped them off, it was you. Hee he.

Why were you still wearing PAs? I switched immediately. I didn't like my PAs--too skiddy.

It really is amazing how telling stories on the internet is a major step up from the old single line approach. I wonder how many tubes of Preparation H Kev stole for Jim?
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 25, 2006 - 12:45am PT
We need Ouch to create a picture of Big Bertha going around tacking up posters of Werner saying "WANTED for Ointment Theft".
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 25, 2006 - 12:52am PT
Great stories!

Peter, not to detract from the history of Wheat Thin being one of the first rapbolted Valley routes, but I think the honor goes to Dave Rearick on the Split Pinnacle lieback pitch (5.10c) (as mentioned in the '71 Roper guide). Pretty good lead for that era in hard-soled shoes. Rearick was a CO climber best known for doing the first ascent of the Diamond with Bob Kamps.
JuanDeFuca

Big Wall climber
Stoney Point
Sep 25, 2006 - 01:00am PT
Peter,

Have you been approached by any of the publishers?


You seem to have enough material for more than one book.

JDF
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