The Birth of Wheat Thin


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Dingus Milktoast

Sep 25, 2006 - 10:52am PT
Great writing Peter. Loved it.


Social climber
kennewick, wa
Sep 25, 2006 - 11:03am PT
Great story. Thanks.

Ron, I actually was afraid to open this thinking that ouch would have posted a gruesome pic of birthing this route....
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 25, 2006 - 11:04am PT
Thanks for the many compliments! Come to think of it, SteveG, yes, the overhanging Split Pinnacle Lieback bolt was not placed on a free lead; it would not be possible to bolt even today without hooking or other tension. In the 60’s the decision not to put pitons in it was smart; it is too fragile.

It has been about 34 years since I was up there on the excellent East Arete route, but I guess you could use modern camming stuff in the lieback now. Wasn’t that Mort Hempel’s lead? I can’t find my two old Roper guides at the moment. That short little pitch is really intimidating though obvious and straightforward. The ledge under it and the leader is no fun. It would have helped if it weren’t kind of crumbly and the flake not clearly expansive. It’s odd what climbers would focus on, with the whole Valley nearly unclimbed at the time. But considering the thing is maybe 25-30 feet long, has but one bolt in it, I was thinking that it was hardly a route, rather a practice curiosity, but technically you are right. I guess it was the thinnest edge of the coming wedge . But to repeat, the idea was the first rapbolting (such as our Wheat Thin and Split Lieback) was done on freak formations that weren’t able to take our pitons without collapsing dangerously. Protecting on lead on sound rock was carried to extreme difficulty even in the fifties or earlier.

Juan, it’s true, there is a lot to tell, and I guess I have done about 10 stories so far here and previously, with maybe 40 more to go---I have this list of topics I am ticking. No publishers beating the doors down since Roper put my 1971 Salathe solo article in his “Ordeal by Piton” book, by Stanford recently. But the mere act of writing brings me not only consolidating happiness but also a lot of great friendliness from all of you characters! It’s been 43 years now, this climbing thing, all starting on a YMCA teenagers’ ten-day cross-country Yosemite high country hike lead by the climber Les Wilson. We even did a first ascent on Mt Lyell then. It was if I had found the secret of life, at least for some years afterwards. I was as awestruck in the sixties as Roger B was in the seventies! Deer in the headlights, really.

Trad climber
tucson, az
Sep 25, 2006 - 11:47am PT
I check in on ST for the history lessons, such as this thread, as I'm not in California. Awesome stuff, especially for a new climber like myself.

Here's my question: Are threads archived indefinitely on the SuperTopo server or are they automatically deleted after a year or so? I would hate to lose this history.

About a book: There's a new movement in publishing about one-off book publishing. Anyone can publish these days: it's a matter of submitting files on a website and maybe paying a modest one-time charge. After that, anyone can order a copy and it will be printed on demand.

'Course, this brings money into the equation, and human nature being what it is.... I love having these stories free, but I'm sure that others would also love having these stories collected into a bound book. Um, if anyone is interested in this, let me know and we'll see what we can do.

Mark T.
scuffy b

The town that Nature forgot to hate
Sep 25, 2006 - 11:51am PT
Nice story, Peter. I remember the first time I went up there.
After Waverly Wafer, it was my lead. Wheat Thin was so spooky
looking I decided to try Butterballs instead.
Not my first mistake, or my last, by far.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 25, 2006 - 12:12pm PT
Hi Steve (scuffyB)! Wheat Thin really IS spooky. Fortunately it is not what climbing is about mostly! If it was I wouldn't be a climber! I did as little liebacking as I could on it, for fear of tearing off huge plates of it. If you hit it with your hand, it rang way too freely…. I kept jamming and combination climbing it as much as possible but this was awkward, freakish and not fun. I did lieback it some though, and worried so much. After all I was the first human on the thing, and a big one at that. I would have chosen gorgeous Butterballs too. Thank god Bridwell wanted to do the route; I never would have dared to mount a FA on it. Bridwell was such a great productive influence on us sometimes. I visited with him a few years ago; it was if we hadn't seen each for a few hours, just wonderful.

Chollapete, yeah I am roughly aware of one-off publishing. That is what I might end up having to do, probably. Do you know sites etc?

Best P.

beneath the valley of ultravegans
Sep 25, 2006 - 12:58pm PT
Man, taking a screamer before the bolt rings a bell. My first trip to the Valley I dropped straight down, caught the backs of my legs on the traversing line, flipped upside down and clanged my melon about ten feet below the ledge. I think the rack I had on softened the blow. No blood, though I was immediately of numerous bleed-out deaths from exactly that spot (not sure if that's true.) I still have no hair behind my knees!

Can someone scan and post that shot of Yabo leading out? Or that rad black and white Epperson shot in RockPrints ("little Sue"?)
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
Sep 25, 2006 - 01:47pm PT
Excellent writing about a really historical FA on an important bit of climbing real estate (i.e. the Nabisco Wall).

Wondering though Peter if you ever heard about Barry Bates and Bev Johnson up on that same ledge with Bridwell? Barry told me one afternoon at Castle Rock SP about the time he and Jim and Bev were up there having a great time throwing carpets of munge off the ledge at the top of Waverly Waffer to improve it for hanging out. Did you ever hear anything about that?

Just wondering . . . Did JB just keep returning again and again to the Nab Wall until he'd picked all the plums to the top?
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 25, 2006 - 02:29pm PT
Hey Peter, I still have that deer-in-the-headlights look. Only now my antlers are way bigger.

Your stories and those that you cause others to remember are great. Unlike the heroic stuff that we all read and some of us have written (collectively speaking), the stuff on ST feels more like the real thing of climbing in Yosemite. Getting up, getting coffeed, getting going, spotting interesting projects that were under our noses for years, and then deciding to give it a go. My climbs were never so near to the cutting edge, but that is how Allen and I free climbed "Beverley’s Tower," right there on the low-cal, healthy, meat and potatoes wall, below the desert wall that you and Jim started climbing on. And, how I decided that "Crack-a-go-go" wasn't really "Crack-a-no-go" and spent the time to clean it out. I do know that for me it was always easier to work on my own first ascents than psych myself up for someone's else burn off. Never did get up the Nabisco Wall. It's a desert thing.

I'll post some ideas on a new thread about about how we might work collectively to capture some the first person accounts and repartee in a more robust and long-lived way. Think wikipedea.

Best, Roger

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Sep 25, 2006 - 03:04pm PT
Nice yarn, PH.

Per Waverly Wafer, pulling yourself out of that wide section on the thin lyback is made all the more difficult because the wall is so smooth and there's no footholds. For those crazy enough to just run it out it might be 5.10c but if you stop in the middle and slot a nut it has to be harder.

I remember doing (with Kevin W.) the 3rd ascent of the Nabisco, right after Chapman and The Bird, and belaying Kevin on Wheat Thin with the rope running straight right about 20 feet then straight up and thinking if he fell the rope drag would pop that dinky wire out and KW would plunge down and smack the top of the Cookie Pinnacle. I don't think we understood about directionals at that time--but Kevin cruised it. He and Mark C. were really talented back then, espcially with bunk pro. Mark (who has small fists) led Goldrush off the worst hexes imaginable. That route was solid 5.11 for me and my fists fit it perfectly. I still don't quite know how he led that thing.

RE: Split Pinnacle. I think the lyback on the Dihardral was a little trickier (but was done what, 10 years later)? But hey, that so-called 5.9 variation on Higer Spire (with a big string of ancient fixed pins) was harder than both of those routes. Always wondered if I was off route on that one, but apparently not. I could climb 5.12 back then (72??) and I barely made it.
Someone made the first free in hiking boots--sure don't know how.

For pure technical difficulty--as I mentiond earlier--I thought the hardest Valley climb (in terms of moves) up to around 1970 was Abstract Corner. I think I remember hearing that Peter H. did the second ascent of that one as well.

These are great stories. Wonder what folks would think about these routes if they too had the pro we had back then and the shoes (I also climbed in red PAs till '73).

Peter, you might talk about how poorly protected some of those off widths were back in the day. I recall routes like the Left and Center of Absoltely Free (with nuts), Crack of Doom (at least the crux), Edge of Night (one bolt), Left Side of the Slack, Right Side of The Hourglass, Leverage, and many others as having almost no pro, at least where you wanted it. I think those off sized cracks were about the only kind of routes where being big was an advantage.


climber a single wide......
Sep 25, 2006 - 03:11pm PT
Roger wrote "I'll post some ideas on a new thread about about how we might work collectively to capture some the first person accounts and repartee in a more robust and long-lived way. Think wikipedea. "

These remembrances also deserve a place in the Yosemite Climbing Museum- which will also have a virtual/ web presence (right, Ken?- -- I am sure there are dozens here who can help you set up a web page….).

One of the things I would like to contribute- --- if possible- are Mark Powell’s stories and recollections. Tarbustier and I were chatting recently about how Powell is the original Stonemaster. That prompted me to email Bonny Kamps asking her to ask Mark if I can perhaps do some manner of interview. He initially said no, but Bonny asked again recently and Mark changed his mind and said “OK”.

I’ll be moving back to CA in a few days., and once the dust settles I’ll write him and pay a visit. If he is jiggy with the idea, perhaps me and a couple other people could sit down over tea and beers and spend some time with a tape recorder. His experiences merit being recorded for posterity and the Yosemite Climbing Museum.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Sep 25, 2006 - 03:39pm PT
Peter, thanks for sharing the stories! I always feel "cautious" (scared) hanging on to place the cams in that lower crux. Very glad to have cams there and not just nuts or pins.

The photo of the climber in red is Jared Brown, leading it in March 2005.

Here are some of Chris Chan following it in May 2006:

Sep 25, 2006 - 04:03pm PT
Peter, Mark, this has been great to hear about. It seems the Nabisco Wall was indeed one of those places that intimidated all in some fashion. Mark, you were so strong and solid to have cranked up Waverly Wafer as you did. I know I took a pretty good whipper the first time up.
Butterballs was one of those routes that held off a lot of folks, talented climbers who could certainly have climbed the thing but for the intimidation/reputation factor. Steve Wunsch is one of those who comes to mind, particularly. I went up there with Henry Barber, a guy never to let a reputation intimidate him, to finally do the route. Well, of course it was all him. There were three of us, Henry, myself, and a kid I only met that time, but we were all three alumns of the Appalachian Mountain Club --we were AMCrs-- since we were all from Massachusetts originally. I remember we all thought that there was some irony in cranking a hard Yosemite route by a bunch of geeky Eastern yahoos. I don't remember how we got to the base--probably the Wafer. I do know that Henry cruised up to a nut on Butterballs where all previous suitors had retreated, then for some reason we lowered him off. While we awaited what I assumed certainly would be his heading back up again, I tied in and pretty much floated the pitch to that point, which brought the comment that "ya shoulda taken some pro." from below. Of course the lie to that was clear when I followed the pitch after Henry's second and successful attempt; I didn't float anything, now convinced that this was a hard climb. Barely made it as I recall. The younger AMCr took a picture of us that made it in to some magazine or something.
I should say that I knew Henry a bit from back east, from about 1966 or 67. I was a climbing instructor with an AMC trip to Joe English Hill in southern New Hampshire (all of 15 or 16) and Henry was there as a student. An eventful day as it turned out: he caught me on my first leader winger as I barndoored off a steep little headwall. A sunk lost arrow down 10 feet was the pro. I remember that I was "just making up the route" as I went along, not really thinking about "new route" or such, but regardless, too tough for me and my RObbins boots and Henry got me with the goldline. Shaken a bit, I continued up another easier way and when we got down one of the other instructors --Geoff Edmonds, a schoolteacher I think-- had fallen off the 5.2 traverse on some route --as impossible as that sounds now (heck it seemed unlikely then) and broken his leg. I and others climbed up to Geoff from below while Henry ran around and rappelled down to him from above. Don't remember much beyond that. It was quite the surprise to me when years later I first started hearing about Hot Henry. I suppose with his penchance for renaming unclimbed routes to his liking, we are lucky Butterballs didn't become Appalachia or some such...
Standing Strong

Mountain climber
the trail
Sep 25, 2006 - 04:25pm PT
That's awesome Peter Haan. I super enjoyed reading your tale. Thank you for taking the time to write that out for us. :)
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 25, 2006 - 04:26pm PT
Vis a vis thank-bird holds, dare I ask, what is the history of crack "enlargement" on the Nabisco?
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 25, 2006 - 05:25pm PT
Roger I think you mean, “dessert” thing, not desert thing, don’t you? I never did Beverly’s Tower but I remember Al was proud of it. It looked fun too.

Crack-a-Go-Go is truly one of the finest early 5.11’s ever. Vandiver and I did the second free ascent of it, right after Livsey and Fawcett. Unbelievably continuous and a very engaging, tricky crux low down that is a bitch to protect with confidence. Incredibly classy lead! It might be harder than 5.11c too. I could hardly stand this route mentally it was so intense even after the crux. The Brits were really proud of it too. To me this was one of the opening salvos for really modern Yosemite climbing. And of course it had to be the Brits that showed us.

Thanks Bruce, Rog, Johno, Clint et al. Stoked that this stuff works for you guys; your complements and encouragement are fantastic.

That’s right John, I did the second ascent of Abstract Corner and it was absolutely at my limit, 5.12. And friable too. Really hard and powerful. Unfortunately for how damn hard it is, it’s not a spectacular thing, honestly. And ditto on your comments re. Waverly Wafer. I actually did it with pins the first time, and what a race with time that was for a 5.10c rating. Very cool route, especially coming out over the roofette thing and having to confront the last section. In the beginning it was supposed to be a huge deal, really significant and so forth. We got used to it though.

Yes, Johno, I think I should write some stuff on this wide-crack protection thing. It is hard to believe nowadays, isn’t it, how bad-ass it was. The climbs you quote are all pretty much significant runouts of varying degrees of severity, none trivial, some very scary. And mostly I bet they are hardly ever done now. We just did not have squat to protect them and just climbed the bastards anyway. It is not that I disliked protection (as Vandiver did), it’s that we did not really have any and we had trained ourselves to proceed without it as Pratt had. Very hungry in those days. And yeah, being 195 lbs and super strong then, was actually an advantage over being really lanky and light. Inez Drixelius and Brutus o'Wyde used to call this, "blue collar climbing" .

Sewellymon, your Powell project is really important. This has to happen for you. Much praise to you for coming up with this! Powell was our boldest, best free climber for awhile. He was gone by the time I came along though so filling the picture would be important to three generations or more, now. Test out Al Steck for your get-together with Powell btw. You might prepare Powell et all with kind of an outline plus some example questions, so he/they have time to conjure up all that stuff so long ago.

Clint, love your immense wealth of info and photos! I guess if Bridwell and I had been real rapbolters then, we would have had to have established triple anchors right at the base of Wheat Thin rather than using the old station way over to the left 20 ft which makes it so much ickier. When we began the FA, we had no clue that the first 20 feet were important at all. We were so lamely into the kooky thin flake. The flake was kind of a circus-trick, while getting to it was tough old-school Yosemite.

Bruce, your story about Bridwell, Beverly and Bates nest-making on top of Waverly is incredibly funny. They had to have been stoned. Considering that through time Bev was partnered to each of them consecutively, this is real fun to hear. God I miss her. Our very own climbing Carly Simon. And a wonderful ribald laugh too. I saw Bates a few years back, he is not really healthy now, and is living in Santa Cruz County.

Ron, crack enlargement on the Nabisco definitely happened. The targets were Butterfingers, and a little bit, Butterballs (which rightfully Henry bagged out from under our noses). I can’t remember Lady Fingers. I was not involved in this but yes there was some activity where pins were driven in and taken out a whole bunch of times in a row to develop some slots, and I think up on Butterfingers there might be a foothold or two that got “enhanced” too but I am not sure, its been 33-35 years since I was up there. Some of us were scandalized for sure. It is a wonderful little pitch regardless with this great distinct top edge. This also happened to Gripper and Freestone. Bridwell took a couple of swats at stuff on Wheat Thin but it didn’t end up making much difference. He just couldn't help it. The crux at the beginning was not toyed with at all; we thought it would be casual. Except for his widening activities, often the rest of his manufacturing was kind of off-based or delusional, if I may say so myself. Gripper crux doesn’t need his stuff either. It’s a mellow climb either way. It would be easy to exaggerate JB’s activities, but in my view, it ended up not being too bad. At one point during this period, RR said, "I think Briddy is slipping". RR was trying to sound literary and English, always styling you know. No one called Jim "Briddy". The real villain was Jardine on the Nose, outright cutting it up as if it were an ice climb. And with Ray hiding his "friends" devices in his shirts for many years too, wow, and even hanging on them secretly. What a guy. But that is another and very much covered subject.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Sep 25, 2006 - 06:33pm PT
Ladyfingers was not pinned out, but it wasn't as thin as Butterfingers to the left, but was somewhat harder because it was wide fingers and the crack is shallow. Mike Gramham and I just climbed up there and did it-no top roping or pining out the crack or any such jive. It seemed like the probable finish to Wheat Thin instad of traversing left to Butterfingers and then traversing right to the thin crack to the top.

Another crack that got away from us was Haard, just left of Crack-a-go-go. It has a really good thin crack on the first pitch and a nice technical second pitch as well.

Peter, I'd like to hear your stories on leading some of those old ofwidths. I remember on the left side of Absolutely Free only getting two nuts in the whole lead--and thinking that was enough because you could stay plugged into it all the way. But coming out of the flare on the center route was really sketchy on the old hexes--looking at a fifty footer if not more. My hands sweat thinking about it now.

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 25, 2006 - 06:36pm PT
I remember meeting a bloody scruffy Jardine on the Column in the '70s and him covering up his rack in a way that made me suspect he stole it!

NOW I understand.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 25, 2006 - 07:05pm PT
Hi Peter: I think it is a "spelling thing." Sheese.

'Beverly's Tower' was just sitting there. We were all climbing the all free cracks on the Cookie and nobody thought to climb "Beverly's Tower free. I was snapping pictures one day and climbed up to get a good shot of Jim Pettigrew leading "The Meat Grinder." I got a great shot that Roper used in Ascent and then as the lead picture in his collection, "Ordeal by Piton." (Steve gave me a badly needed $50 for Ascent and we shared a bottle of wine of the “Ordeal by Piton.” Maybe more than one.)

After taking the picture, I turned around and saw "Beverly's Tower," not as an old, boring aid climb, but as a new, free route. Allen and I were climbing together then and I roped him in--he was always game. The route was a non-event, mostly. We roped up, I climbed up a ways, had to clean some dirt out the crack to get pro and my fingers in, and led to the top. I have a vague recollection that there are some neat moves getting into a chimney. Does that sound right?

I remember Allen busting my chops because I did not come all the way back to the ground and pull the ropes after hanging on a low nut to whack at the dirt. I was standing on big edges, at a rest spot, so I ignored him. It was a fun, no angst climb.

On the other hand, "Crack-a-go-go" was one of my biggest disappoints. We all knew it was there--it was a stupid aid climb on the Cookie cliff. We walked past it to get to anything left of the Cookie itself, particularly "Outer Limits" (I have some nice slides of "Outer Limits" that I am having scanned.)

But "Crack-a-no-go" had lots of vegetation and dirt. After spending time at the base of "Outer Limits" in the standard group assaults that we cooked up, I decided that it was worth some effort to clean it out. I spent the better part of two days--on rappel--getting the dirt out. The first day was for major cleaning. After the remaining dirt dried, I went back and brushed it off. I thought it was going to be stellar.

I started up it in the company of Ericson and Higbee, and I think Bragg and Wunsch, as they waited for “Outer Limits” or one of the other climbs in the area. Each of us gave the lower section a go, until we felt comfortable enough to move up into new territory, and get to new protection point. The pro was sketchy, so the up and down was geared to getting something in. I spent the better part of the day, working on it.

Unfortunately for me, I had to start the summer guiding season the next day or so. I told everyone that I finish it the fall. I actually worked on tuning myself to that sort of thin crack/faced climbing while working at RockCraft that summer.

When I returned to the Valley, with "Crack-a-no-go" and other projects in my sights, Mark Chapman told me that Livsey had been told about the efforts on "Crack-a-go-go" and had done the route. I was sort of shocked. It is an incredibly obvious line—you walk right by it—and one that no one paid attention to. So it is not like someone can say, "Oh, I discover this new line." It was easy pickings for Pete because it was clean and had been pointed out.

Bummed me out.


Sep 25, 2006 - 07:20pm PT
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