Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 19, 2006 - 01:04am PT
I have had the strange occasion of knowing Frank Sacherer stories in the two communities that he was associated with, the climbing community and the particle accelerator community.

By Roper's accounting, Sacherer started climbing in 1960, in Berkeley (see Camp 4 page 183). That was probably the year he entered the physics program at UCB after graduating from University of San Francisco.

His work at graduate school intermixed with his climbing. In 1964 he did the FFA of the Salathe Route, 5.10b, on Half Dome with Bob Kamps and Andy Lichtmann. I had a discussion with two accelerator physicists in the mid-90's who were good friends with Sacherer in which they recalled him pointing out the route he would be doing on Half Dome.

By everyone's account, Sacherer had "a short fuse" which would detonate a stream of profanity when he went off. This was both in climbing and physics.

In climbing he has the distinction of having pushed the free climbing standard in Yosemite Valley in the early 60's, along with Chuck Pratt and Royal Robbins. However, Sacherer was mostly a "weekender" with his other professional life developing with his physics.

The first ascents and first free ascents in which Sacherer participated reads like a great tick-list for a Valley climber working through the 5.10's. Many of these climbs are Valley classics. See the list below. This activity spans the years from 1961 through 1965, which is a typical length of time for climbers participating in FA's and FFA's.

He graduated with a PhD in Physics from UCB in 1968. His thesis was with Prof. Lloyd Smith on aspects of the theory of particle accelerators. In 1970 he went off to CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Physics in Geneva, Switzerland. He worked on the staff there (very unusual for an American to get a staff position at CERN at that time) addressing the issues of collective effects on the accelerated beams as well as on stocastic cooling. This later work laid essential ground work for the development of the SppS collider which was the machine that produced the W and Z bosons, winning the Nobel Prize in 1984, with Simon van der Meer awarded for "Stocastic Cooling and the Accumulation of Anti-protons".

I have very little information of Sacherer's climbing activities in the Alps in the 70's. Only the obituary in Physics Today Feb. 1979 (page 68) provides the information that Frank Sacherer and Joseph Weis were caught in a sudden storm on The Shroud on the Grand Jurasse, August 30, 1978 and died.

I do not know of any obituaries in US climbing journals, and little is written of the important figure in Yosemite Valley history.

El Cap Tree Direct 5.9 A4 IV FA 1961 Glen Denny Frank Sacherer
Coonyard Pinnacle 5.9 R FFA 1961 Chuck Ostin Frank Sacherer

Bishop's Balcony 5.5 A3 FA 1962 Frank Sacherer, Gary Colliver
Reed's Pinnacle Left Side 5.10a FA 1962 Frank Sacherer, Wally Reed, Gary Colliver; FFA 1962 Frank Sacherer, Dick Erb, Larry Marshik
West Buttress Ribbon Falls 5.8 A3 IV FA 1962 Frank Sacherer, Bob Kamps
Crack of Despair 5.10a FA 1962 Frank Sacherer, Galen Rowell; FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Chuck Pratt, Tom Gerughty
Wendy 5.9 FA 1962 Frank Sacherer Bob Kamps; FFA 1970 Kim Schmitz Marty Martin
Right Side Worst Error 5.10a FA 1962 Frank Sacherer Galen Rowell
Right Side of The Hourglass 5.10a FA 1962 Bob Kamps Frank Sacherer FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Tom Gerughty
Koko Ledge, Continuation A4 FA 1962 Glenn Denny Frank Sacherer

West Face of Lower Cathedral Rock 5.8 A2 III FA 1963 Frank Sacherer, Wally Reed
Tweedle Dee 5.8 FA 1963 Frank Sacherer Jim Baldwin
Lower Cathedral Spire, Northeast Face 5.9 FA 1963 Mark Powell Frank Sacherer Bob Kamps
Moby Dick, Left 5.9 FA 1963 Bob Kamps Frank Sacherer
The Rorp 5.7 FA 1963 Wally Reed Frank Sacherer
Moby Dick, Center 5.10a FFA 1963 Frank Sacherer Steve Roper

The Flakes 5.8 R FA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Mark Powell
Moby Dick, Ahab 5.10b FA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Jim Bridwell
Reed's Pinnacle Direct 5.10a FA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Mark Powell, Wally Reed, Gary Colliver, Andy Lichman, Chris Fredricks
Sacherer Cracker 5.10a FA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Mike Sherrick
Sacherer-Fredericks 5.10c FA 1964 Frank Sacherer, Chris Fredericks
Bridalveil East 5.10c FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer John Morton
The Dihardral 5.10c FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Tom Gerughty
East Buttress of El Capitan 5.10b FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Wally Reed
North East Buttress of Higher Cathedral Rock 5.9 IV FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Jeff Dozier
North Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock 5.10a V FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Jim Bridwell
Observation Point 5.9 III FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Wally Reed
Yosemite Point Buttress, Direct Route 5.9 FFA 1964 Frank Sacherer Don Telshaw
Salathe Route, Half Dome 5.10b R IV FFA1964 Frank Sacherer Bob Kamps Andy Lichtman
Lost Arrow Chimney 5.10a FFA1964 Chuck Pratt Frank Sacherer

Dromedary 5.8+ FA 1965 Frank Sacherer, Gordon Webster
Lower Cathedral Spire, Fredricks-Sacherer Variation 5.9 FA 1965 Chris Fredericks Frank Sacherer TM Herbert
Direct North Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock 5.10b V FFA 1965 Frank Sacherer Eric Beck
East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock 5.10c FFA1965 Frank Sacherer Ed Leeper

Oct 19, 2006 - 01:11am PT
That is an impressive list Ed. Very impressive.

I remember how hard some of these routes actually where back in the early 70's leading free climbs with pitons and hammer with weird boots.

Trad climber
LA, Ca
Oct 19, 2006 - 01:12am PT
This is a great post. Thanks so much. Really first class.


Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Oct 19, 2006 - 01:52am PT
"I do not know of any obituaries in US climbing journals, and little is written of the important figure in Yosemite Valley history.

dude, i don't know what cave you been livin' in, but i heard about a dozen stories about the guy within six months of my starting climbing. he was, rightly so, widely regarded as the precursor of the "modern" freeclimbing movement of the early '70's.

"get your foot of that bolt!!"

sacherer is legend. mountain did a forthright obit on him when he got electrocuted on the GJ.

chris jones wrote quite convincingly of him and his having established what can only be called "the sacherer era" in "climbing in north america"

by the time i did my first trip to the valley, my burning ambition was to repeat every sacherer route. i remember me and watusi getting our asses kicked on dihardal in '75....

props for bringing sacherer back to the limelight with this thread, but don't think for one moment he is an underated or poorly documented figure in american climbing history....

Social climber
The West
Oct 19, 2006 - 02:28am PT
"I do not know of any obituaries in US climbing journals"

-I read about his passing in either Mtn, Off Belay or climbing, shortly after the fact. My droogs and I thought it was weirdly low key.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Oct 19, 2006 - 02:54am PT
Thanks, Ed!

I looked in Mountain's obituaries for that period, and the indexes, and didn't find anything. Strange. It was more or less the magazine of record at the time, even for things in the U.S. Summit and Off Belay were dwindling if not vanished, Rock & Ice didn't exist. Perhaps there's something in Climbing? Or the American Alpine Journal?

KP Ariza

Oct 19, 2006 - 03:31am PT
Got to agree with Ksolem, great thread. Sounds like Frank was a very talented guy in more ways than one. It is amazing to me the routes these guys were free climbing(both steep cracks and slabs)with the gear availible to them at that time. Thanks for another intersesting writing-
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Oct 19, 2006 - 04:17am PT
They didn't know that their gear wasn't very good.
In the 60s we thought it was state of the art.

I didn't know he died on the Shroud. But according to Bird he was the first to decry sling belays on "free" ascents.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 19, 2006 - 04:28am PT
no obit in either Climbing or American Alpine Journal

bvb: I think that given the importance of his role to that era, there is still relatively little written about him. Roper and Jones... but the stories are always the same.

He wrote little himself (thought AAJ has some stuff he authored)...

Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Oct 19, 2006 - 05:09am PT
The Dihardral and Sacherer-Fredericks (on Middle) are both pretty stout for 5.10c. Not to say that Ahab or Reed's Left Side are are easy, either (I just haven't even been on those). Sacherer was clearly ahead of his time and established quite a legacy for Bridwell and others to measure up to.

My understanding is that Kronhofers were the magic shoes in 1964, so they were probably used in many of those impressive FFAs. I found a pair in the mid-70s and they actually frictioned better than my EBs! But they were poor for crack climbing, without a rubber rand.

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Oct 19, 2006 - 08:03am PT
Jeez, all those stellar FAs while getting a PhD in Physics...very impressive. I gotta say, with years of perspective behind me, I'm most impressed with individuals like Sacherer - who could climb at the very highest levels without doing it full time.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oct 19, 2006 - 09:05am PT
Just an interesting footnote--the ratings shown by Ed are the modern ratings: Sacherer rated almost all of his free climbs 5.9. It is also interesting to note that several of his climbs, Sacherer was on the first ascent using aid and then would return with a different partner and do the climb free. Sort of like a personal generational hinge point from the earlier style of aid and free being equal to the later style of drawing a shart distinction between the two.

I agree with Ed's sense that very little was written about Sacherer. But at the same time, everyone seems to know enough to revere him. There are a few stories that Roper, Beck, and Bridwell have told, but there don't seem to be many relative to the number of first ascents, and they all seem to revolve around his 'short fuse' as Ed calls it. I don't even recall any climbing pictures of Sacherer. I asked Roper once about what was different about Sacherer's climbing and he told me that Sacherer believed that if a certain grade was secure a few feet above protection, it should be the same run-out. The difficulty didn't increase with the risk. In this sense, he had a huge influence on later generations, along with defining the idea of a climber being only a free climber.

Truckee, CA
Oct 19, 2006 - 09:45am PT
Bridwell often spoke about how fast he was. It would be interesting to see some of the times on the long routes he repeated.


Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Oct 19, 2006 - 09:47am PT
Rad stuff Ed!

Wasn't FS the guy who was known for telling the Bird, "shut up you chickensh#t." (?)

Gym climber
Otto, NC
Oct 19, 2006 - 09:55am PT
Yeah, for 'drawing a shart distinction?'
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 19, 2006 - 10:30am PT
Good thread! I met Frank a few times, as we both were in Berkeley. It was in the early to mid 1960ís. I was quite a bit younger of course. One very important ascent Ed doesnít note here is Frankís first one-day ascent of the West Face of Sentinel. I canít remember his partnerís name on that ascent. Maybe Beck. Easy to find out though.

Frank had the perfect build for off-widths. He was reasonably tall, but quite thin and somewhat wide, so fitting into climbs like the right side of the Hourglass was easier. And he was fairly light and fit by our standards today even. He was really bright, intense and usually quiet. Although polite when calm, the stories of his temper continue today. Unbelievably productive climber.


Oct 19, 2006 - 11:24am PT
Wasn't FS the guy who was known for telling the Bird, "shut up you chickensh#t." (?)

i think it was Steve Roper, not Bridwell.

i love the story in Camp 4 about failing on the Crack of Doom (?)

"Tell them it was your fault."

Excellent post, Ed.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Oct 19, 2006 - 11:26am PT
I also just noticed that the list Ed put together does not include the FFA of the 'Stove Legs.' I think that Sacherer climbed with Jim, probably in 1964 or 1965, and that that maybe the idea for the NIAD was born when they climbed the 'Stove Legs' free. Do I have my facts straight?

The bits and pieces of stories that I can recall:

Refusing to let Jim lead any more on the FFA of the North Buttress of Middle after Jim fell off the first crux--the bulge--and landed on Sacherer.

On the FFA of the DNB, Beck was struggling on one of the leads, and said he wasn't sure he could do the next moves. Sacherer told him: "Don't you dare touch that pin."

"If you don't climb, you don't eat," was a response to someone's lazy attitude--probably Jim's.

Stories of Sacherer pulling on up on weeds on the "Sacherer-Fredericks." That and the fact that Sacherer gave it a rare 5.10 rating, pretty much kept that route clear of any sensible climbers.

I think Tom Higgins has a story about Sacherer telling him that he would pull if off the lead if he touched a pin. I think this story is either here on ST or Tom's site.

The story Roper told about failing on "Crack of Doom" in Camp 4 and Sacherer telling him as they drove into the parking lot that Roper should tell everyone that it was his (Roper's) fault.

There are probably many more--anyone have other bits? Unfortunately, they all seem to be humorless and charmless commands exhibiting toughness and resolveóone tightly wound Catholic boy. I don't think I have ever heard a retelling of any story that exhibited warmth. Nevertheless, I knew a knew a fair number of the folks Sacherer climbed with and they all had the capacity for warmth and humor.

Did you ever climb with Sacherer, Peter?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 19, 2006 - 11:27am PT
One of the difficiencies of posting only the FA and FFA list, but my point is made: what documentation we have left from Sacherer's legacy is this list. Since the West Face of Sentinel Rock was not either an FA or an FFA, it doesn't show up.

Perhaps the most audacious story I heard was from Bridwell, who said that the idea of the NIAD grew from the attempts he made with Sacherer to free the Nose. Apparently Sacherer took a very long ride out of the Stove Legs. But that would have been in the early 60's! only a few years after the route was established.

I am sure that Sacherer was much more active than just the list we have there. I always marvelled at West Crack on DAFF in Tuolumne Meadows, when you look from the ground you cannot see a route, when you climb it it is such a mellow climb.

What stories are left untold or never written down? There must still be people out there who had climbed with Sacherer, he seemed to climb with everyone. I know many of those 'old dads' don't post here, but I'm hoping that they might lurk and perhaps this might give a tiny nudge to collect the stories from others and get it written down before those stories are lost.
scuffy b

The town that Nature forgot to hate
Oct 19, 2006 - 11:36am PT
Ed, thanks for getting this going. I like the chronological
arrangement of your list.
I'll echo another poster, being very impressed with the wide
spectrum of types of climbing on his resume.
He's got significant firsts in OW/chimney, slab, thin cracks,
One of the things I remember from when I was a tyro was a tip of
his for climbing jamcracks. You should almost be falling out
of the crack backwards
Figuring out how little strength to expend in hand jams is really
a tricky process. Though I never met him, I'm always thinking of
him when I'm climbing cracks.
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