Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 18, 2006 - 10:04pm 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
"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....
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?
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-
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.
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.
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.
Good thread! I met Frank a few times, as we both were in Berkeley. It was in the early to mid 1960’s. I was quite a bit younger of course. One very important ascent Ed doesn’t note here is Frank’s first one-day ascent of the West Face of Sentinel. I can’t remember his partner’s 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.
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 resolve—one 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.
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.
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.
Nice Thread Ed,
Always cool to see a bunch of us wake up and post up in comment on the real goods.
Having gotten into his territory in the later 70's, I often use to invoke memories of Sacherer's legacy when climbing valley classics from his era, whether they were his FFA's or not; for me he was one of the beacons for that sort of tuff minded athletic climbing. Flopping along in EB's then Fires, with nuts or cams or whutever, I'd visualize the stoutness of his Krony & Piton protected free moves on those long weird sized cracks.
Frank Sacherer's example was highly instrumental in my own choice to forego big wall aid climbing, and replace it with big wall free climbing. By 1973 I'd done enough big walls in the old aid and free style, that I had little doubt about my ability to get up anything, that way. What fun is that? I actually analyzed the list of Sacherer's free climbs - that I knew of - and saw that if you became well-rounded in your free-climbing skills, you had a pretty good chance of being able to free climb some impressive walls. Even though I was never a top free climber, an absolute committment to free climbing, ala Sacherer, and to boldness in the Sacherer mold, helped me to get up about twenty big walls completely free. Frank Sacherer's ideas, along with others such as Peter Haan, kept rock climbing ever-fresh for me, and contributed directly to my personal climbing evolution and satisfaction.
> 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?
FFA of Stovelegs was Jim Bridwell and Jim Stanton, 1968. But probably it was Sacherer's idea first (Bridwell's book may say that).
One graphic I'd like to see again was Sheridan Anderson's cartoon of a couple of guys topping out on the Nose, with a tourist lady peering down from above and asking "Did you free the Stovelegs?" What a classic.
Thanks for the corrected facts on the 'Stove Legs' Clint. I am pretty sure that the original ideas for doing the 'Stove Legs' free and the 'Nose' in a day are tied back to Jim and Sacherer in 1964 or 65. But I don't have anything concrete. I also sort of remember Jim saying that Sacherer climbed 'Ahab' with only a few points of protection in the entire pitch. That was common to lead it that way later, particularly with only nuts, but on a first ascent that was really bold. I hope Jim write all that stuff up someday.
It is interesting how Sacherer seems to have been the first 70s free climber--in the mid-60s--but as best as I can remember his friends and climbing partners didn't see the connection. Maybe because the 70s had just started. Sacherer seemed to also have been viewed as a bit crazed. Didn't Chris Jones make a comment in his history that Sacherer was going to kill himself with his climbing if he continued? Nobody made comments about Pratt like that and Chuck would climb hard stuff run way out. Interesting.
Looking back in the mid-1970s it seemed so clear that we were all trying to climb like Sacherer even if none of new climbers had even met him. Until I counted the routes on Ed's list, I had no idea how many ascents he was on. As Peter said, super productive.
I haven't included all the "variations" attributed to Sacherer either... I'll review Roper's guide. It seems that there are a number that are used today as the "standard" route, his variation on the Steck-Salathe being one that sticks out in my mind.
It is interesting that Roper wrote that he missed the whole point of short, hard climbing a la Pratt. I believe, however, that Sacherer and Pratt are the groundspring of modern free climbing in Yosemite Valley
Here is another interesting aside. If you look at the early ascents that Sacherer did with others, such as Bob Kamps, he returned in a short time and did them all free.
However, he didn't return to 'Wendy' (5.9 FA 1962 Frank Sacherer Bob Kamps). The first free ascent was in 1970 by Kim Schmitz and his beautiful and lovely girl friend Marty Martin. Kim rated the free climb 5.9 becuase, and I qoute, "Girls cannot climb 5.10."
I never could tell if Kim was kidding. He didn't seem to be.
Frank Sacherer is buried in the Chamonix cemetary. I've seen his gravesite there (along with a LOT of other famous dead climbers). The first gravesites one sees when entering the cemetary are those of Lionel Terray (one of my personal heroes) and of Edward Whymper. I've been to the cemetary there a couple of times, and am never sure whether to be awestruck, or simply shocked by how many climbers have died in the Mt. Blanc massif.
It is worth a visit for any climber interested in history.
I believe Sacherer was struck by lightning on the Grand Jorasses.
He also mentions Sacherer but mistakes him for a theorist?:
"Over the years physicists have given their names not only to the phenomena of physics but also to routes up obstacles of rock. Theorists at CERN, the leading European particle physics laboratory, refer to the Sacherer frequency and the Sacherer method for computing something called "bunched-beam instabilities" in a particle accelerator. And climbers in Yosemite tackle the Sacherer Cracker, part of a route up the treacherous El Capitan. All these landmarks were named for Dr. Frank J. Sacherer, a theoretical physicist at CERN, who was a world-class expert on the behavior of particle accelerators."
"Roper was an avid speed climber. In an ostensibly uncompetitive sport the time taken to complete a route was a simple method of comparison. The Steck-Salathe on Sentinel Rock was at this time a standard test piece among the better climbers. Robbins had done the route five times and eliminated all but forty feet of aid. On their first trip up the Steck-Salathe Roper and Frank Sacherer shaved two hours off Robbins' time.
When the jubilant pair arrived back in camp, a subdued Robbins offered his congratulations and magnanimously opened a bottle of champagne. The chronically shy Sacherer had never tasted champagne before and remarked that it tasted like Coke.
Two days later Robbins and Frost ate an early breakfast in the Yosemite cafeteria and let it be known that they hoped to be back in time for lunch. They made it back just too late for lunch. After breakfast they hiked up to Sentinel Rock, climbed the Steck-Salathe in 'three hours and fourteen minutes,' and returned. Robbins had made his point."
"The young Berkeley group were back the next year. The rapidly emerging technical force among them was graduate physics student Frank Sacherer, an intense, thight individual whose concentration on climbing and physics was fanatical. He climbed like a man possessed and deliberately forced himself to use minimal protection. On one occasion he was way above Beck's belay stance without a single intermediate piton. Beck anxiously called up to him to put in a piton. Sacherer spat back, 'Shut up, you chicken sh#t.'
Sacherer directed his energies toward eliminating aid and was scrupulous in his demands that his partners not 'cheat.' After leading the first ascent of the ominous Crack of Despair (5.10), Sacherer belayed his second from deep inside the crack. Tom Gerughty was in his first month as a climber. As he struggled up the crack, he took a quick rest on a bolt. Sacherer heard his panting slow down, sensed what had happened, and mercilessly yelled, 'Get your foot off the bolt, Gerughty!'
In short succession he led Gerughty up the fingertip crack on Dihardral and up the overhanging jamcrack on the right side of the Hourglass. Sacherer cursed when their rappel rope hung on the descent from the latter climb. In a burst of fury, he climbed back up the rope hand over hand.
Pratt and Robbins had been the star free-climbers of the early 1960's, but Sacherer surpassed them. They had a deliberate, controlled style; his was to get mad at the rock, and he often appeared on the verge of falling. If Pratt initiated 5.10 in Yosemite, it was Sacherer who brought it to fruition. When Pratt and Fredericks repeated his Hidden Chimney on Bridalveil Fall -- East Side, they had to struggle hard to get up. Perhaps the best free-climbing achievement of 1964 was Pratt and Sacherer's one day ascent of the 1,200-foot Lost Arrow Chimney (V, 5.10). Sacherer later said, 'The day you do the Arrow Chimney is the day you do more work than any other day of your life.'
The next year Sacherer had to spend more time at his physics books. To stay in shape, he and Beck undertook a vigorous course of training. When they got back to Yosemite, it was with telling effect. They eliminated eighty aid pitons on Middle Cathedral Rock's Direct North Buttress (V, 5.10) and created a stir when they did the west face of Sentinel in a day, the first one-day ascent of a Yosemite Grade VI.
By 1966 Sacherer was through. He realized that if he kept up this pace, he would probably be killed. His nerves were frayed, and there was an offer of a good job in Europe. His companions carried on the free-climbing boom: Pratt and Fredericks on the poorly protected Twilight Zone, and Fredericks on English Breakfast Crack. In a different vein Beck soloed the northwest face of Half Dome. The next years saw a consolidation of Sacherer's achievements, but it was to be some time before free-climbing standards were raised once more."
from Steve Roper's Climber's Guide to Yosemite Valley 1971
"A surge of free climbing by Pratt and Frank Sacherer led to about fifteen first ascents in 1964 and 1965. One of the most important of these was the Arrow Chimney. Seven of the routes were led free by Sacherer in a single month."
the only variation not mentioned in the list above:
Crack of Deliverance 1965 variation Frank Sacherer and Chuck Pratt
Brett-lightning, if memory serves. The 'obit' I read was the tail end of a 'current news' sort of peice in, I really think climbing or Off belay. The very last line along the lines of "Oh yeah, Frank Saccher got hit by lightning on the shroud, killed him."
I will research this and other things when I am back in touch with the source material, at the ranch.
"The day you do the Arrow Chimney is the day you do more work than any other day of your life."
I've thought a lot about this one over the years, could be, though running a 50 miler and couching a 14 hour labor are up there too.
As a once "tightly wound Catholic boy" too, I could relate to Frank. He was very driven and principled yet kind and warm to me as a newcomer to the Valley scene. Bob Kamps introduced me to him. We did a few short climbs together but I never saw his legendary temper.
Frank kept a notebook of first ascents and yet to be done FFA targets which he showed me once. I noticed he had his sights on the NE Buttress of Middle as a FFA, as did Bob and I. Given Franks drive and tick list, we knew we had better get cracking and did the Buttress before he did. He later did it too and said he didn't like some layback pitch which he found a way around. Still not sure where he went.
As for his threat to pull someone off from standing on a bolt, that was not me but Tom Gerughty on Crack of Despair. Tom was still learning off-widths and started to stand on an old bolt on the wall (still there?) for rest. Frank yanked the rope and yelled he would pull him off if he touched the bolt. Tom relented, continued to tremble upward, pooped but able to finish. As Tom and I both found, mentors of the day were pretty strict on style matters.
Beck seems to have "At either end of the social spectrum lies a leisure class" - but it is derived from "The Theory of the Leisure Class" by Thorstein Veblen. A witty send up of "upper class" behaviour, particularly if you know a bit about economics and sociology. I suspect it was popular reading amongst the Camp 4 set in the 1960s, and it was and is still often required reading in undergraduate courses.
Scuffy b is right about the quote attribution. All the factual evidence says it is Eric Beck's. Thorstein Veblen book has often been cited as the source, but there is nothing in Veblen's book that talks about the least successful being part of the leisure class.
However Veblen's book is part of the genius of Eric's comment, Roper was reading Veblen's book on a rainy day in the Yosemite Lodge lounge, and reading parts of it aloud. Eric read a bit of the book quickly and said, in his sarcastic way, "There is a leisure class on either end of the social spectrum."
During the ST debate that Scuffy b refers to on the attribution, I read Veblen's book to find a similar quote. I found nothing that came even close to the same idea. I also searched as many other sources I could think of or that were suggested and found nothing. If you have a specific citation, you should post it.
Thanks, Roger. Perhaps I could have been more careful with wording. I wasn't suggesting that Veblen said it, only that his book and its title might have had a role in the genesis of Beck's bon mot. Which seems to be the case.
One of the highlights of my climbing life in the Valley was meeting Sacherer and speaking with him briefly in Camp 4. We were leaning up against Columbia Boulder catching some morning sun. He was definitely an inspiration to me and others of my generation. I loved the verbal descriptions of his routes from Roper's green guidebook--especially the Sacherer Fredricks on Middle and the Dihardral.
I agree Mark. And the Sacherer-Fredericks is a really good route inspite of its lack of popularity. I have done it 2-3 times. Another neglected route of great interest and quality. The second time was with Will Tyree, remember him???
And don't even start about the Dihardral, and the other Slab Happy Pinnacle routes. Or that whole area up there. And much congrats on scooping me on the Left side, three years later. I can't believe I never went back up there to work on it. Another unique route that goes ignored.
Amazing AP. I had no idea that Fermi was a climber.
When my mother attended the University of Chicago in the early '40s he was her basic physics professor until he departed for "unspecified" reasons.
Unfortunately my mom couldn't explain how a wheelbarrow worked.
Just one of the sacrifices we made to become the first superpower.
Here is a shot of the Grand Jorasses and the Shroud, the climb on which he died. The Shroud is the narrow icefield just left of the Walker Spur, which is the buttress that leads directly to the summit.
Sacherer was climbing hard to the very end. The Shroud was one of the prize ice climbs of that era.
So it was Bridwell and Frank Sacher who first freed the Stove Legs on the Nose in 1964 or 1965? (Which makes me wonder whether anyone has compiled a FFA list for each separate pitch on the Nose year by year?)
I remember Eric Beck told me some Frank Sacher stories once but can't remember them too clearly. Better check with Eric. Seem to recall one, though, about Sacher pulling someone off a pitch for tainting a free move? It sounded like he had some "stern" ethics . . .
I just spent an hour looking thru this thread and didn't find
any referance to one interesting quote from Steve Ropers 'Camp Four'.
He said that he had never been able to locate a picture of Sacherer on lead. His partners were too gripped watching him to take pictures.
A couple of interesting things about the collective memory expressed in these various threads: 1) no one person, even a principal of a period, was party to all events or remembers everything and 2) what sticks in one person's mind, especially after all these years, is often different than another's. Here's one of the things that sticks in mine.
I made my 1st trip to the Valley near the end of the "Golden Age". The gods still bestrode the earth, but the arrival of a wide-eyed kid who could struggle up 5.8 on a good day with a top-rope wasn't noticed. My dint of showing up most weekends for many years, I met a few of the gods and even climbed with one (thanks, TM!). Sometimes, fate intervened to arrange these introductions.
By '73 or '74, I was struggling up 5.10 on the other end of the rope. This was long before plastic, but George Goodman's artificial stone at the local U, was an excellent substitute. I was out one evening on the Art Wall and, as the light was fading, out of the gloom came a man with a briefcase. He stopped and asked me if I climbed anywhere else. While this wasn't commonplace, I did get questions from time to time and, as long as it wasn't coming from the local politzei, I was usually happy to chat.
I answered "Yosemite" and he asked, "what's happening there these days?" Usually, the people asking me questions were generally clueless about climbing, but this question led to suspect that he knew at least something about climbing. I gave a brief summary of things and mentioned that Bridwell was BMOC. He casually let slip that he had taught Bridwell to climb. Who is this guy? The monogram on his briefcase caught my eye: FJS -- "oh, my gawd, you're ..." The conversation continued, but I was a bit more tongue-tied than before.
I still get out on weekends, but not nearly as often as before. When I do, I find myself often stopped in my tracks by the weight of the memories. Yes, I've become somewhat of a nostalgiaholic. Thanks to those that have shared their memories -- especially those that knew the gods that I glimpsed from a distance long ago.
Nice to see this thread re-appear - I wonder if somewhere we can find a photo to add to it?
Speaking of mountain-climbing physicists and mathematicians, who are legion, I once read Enrico Fermi's biography, Atoms in the Family. My admittedly distant recollection is that he was more what we would call a mountain hiker - I don't know that he ever did anything requiring a rope. A bit like Pope John Paul II, who was a strong mountain hiker and skier, but never quite a true climber. Still, all part of the family.
there are a couple of images of Sacherer in Chris Jones' History of North American Climbing
Denny's book also has a couple with Sacherer in the wedding party in El Cap meadows. I believe I've seen a couple of other images, but that would be it. Maybe someone is sitting on a treasure trove out there?
As for his history in the Alps, I have tried to inquire among climber/physicists that I know at CERN but have not come up with anything. My guess is that only written correspondence to his friends "back home" might reveal his program. But I have not seen any letters refered to, an indication that he did not write, perhaps.
I'm wondering if there are a collection of his papers archived somewhere that might have some primary information on his climbing. Anyone have communication with Sacherer when he was in Europe?
This is a second hand story from long ago ao I can't attest to it's accuracy. Dick Erb lived at my house in the early 70's and we worked together as carpenters so we had a lot of time for story telling. He said that he and Frank were doing a FFA in the valley and Dick was leading a pitch when he fell near the top, resulting in pulling all the gear, falling nearly 300', and being caught by a hip belay through one pin by Sacherer. Franks hands were burned badly and when Dick got back up to the belay he was instructed by Frank that they shouldn't lose the FFA so since Frank couldn't lead because of the condition of his hands Dick should relead the pitch and had better not hold on to any pitons. It is my understanding that Dick was intimidated enough to do so. I suspect that fall was onto a swami as well. I later listened to a conversation between Dick Erb and Yvon C about what is was like to fall 300' and Yvon saying he was fighting all the way down and Dick saying that as he spun out to face the valley that he had accepted his coming demise and was quite peaceful.
It seems to me from long ago (1970) that it was Robbins who said not many photographs of FS climbing existed because his belayer was inevitably too worried to handle the camera while belaying. Wish I could be sure of the source. Just last year I heard Robbins refer to Pratt as having been the "best rockclimber of his generation." Now I'm wondering if he considered Sacherer to be of the same generation. BA
Chris Jones sent me that Denny photo of the people standing around in Camp 4, namely the three most prominent people in the center supposedly being Frank Sacherer, Jim Bridwell, and Ed Leeper. I can tell you they got that caption wrong. I told them who the tall person in the middle is/was, but they apparently didn't believe me. It's clearly Layton Kor and not Jim Bridwell. Look closely, zoom in, whatever. There is no mistaking that. Bridwell is not that tall. You see how Kor is quite a bit farther away from Sacherer, yet still is taller (head higher, in the perspective).
The story Logan cites was related to me also by Erb. Jim has it quite wrong. I remember it well. Dick Erb and Frank Sacherer were doing a free ascent on one of the Cathedrals and were nearing the top. They were trying to free what had been a short pendulum. Sacherer, while a great climber, was less than desirable at times in terms of safety. He placed a piton for a belay anchor, and it wasn't too good, so he anchored his rope loosely to it. As Frank belayed Erb, who was trying the pendulum move, Dick slipped. Sacherer, not tight against his belay anchor (since he had left a lot of slack in it), began to be pulled off the ledge, so he (Frank) reached back to grab the anchor. He let go with his brake hand, which resulted in losing control of the belay and letting Dick slide down a smooth wall the full remaining length of the rope. It wasn't 300 feet or any such thing, and it was a controlled slide, as Sacherer squeezed the rope with his hands. Sacherer burned both of his hands, though, and when he got Dick back up to the belay ledge, he said Dick would have to lead the last few pitches. Frank said to Dick, "Don't fall, because with these burned hands I probably couldn't catch you." On one of those last pitches, Erb found himself in an off-width, rather awkward and strenuous. Someone had placed a bolt on the wall to the left of the crack, right at the crux move (possibly 5.8+ but a bit runout). Erb glanced down at Sacherer, who was mostly holding the rope in his lap and hardly belaying. Erb thought it would be the better part of valor to use the bolt to ensure his safety, getting past that section. He clipped the bolt and grabbed the carabiner. At that instant, Sacherer yelled up, "Let go of that bolt, or I'll tie you off." Sacherer was not about to fail at this free ascent!
Maybe a bit late for this forum, but I climbed with Frank quite a bit, especially in 1961-1962. Frank was a junior at the University of San Francisco in the year 1960-1961 and a senior in 1961-1962. He graduated in Physics in June 1962.
In early spring 61 or late winter 1960 I was in the valley climbing Rixon's east with Galen Rowell and Frank and someone else were on the other side getting defeated. Roper made unflattering comments about them as loser climbers, but Frank seemed to me to be on the right track for climbing. All Roper wanted to do was nail everything and Frank and I had a little more of a sympathetic feeling that free climbing was the goal, as time went on.
In the fall of 1961 Roper and Hempel set out to climb the Worst Error and were defeated. Frank loved to one up people and so he and I and Frank's friend George (I can't recall his last name) zipped up the Worst Error in short order and I retrieved Hempel's retreat piton and gave it to him at UC on monday. Ha! That fall was the season we agreed to repeat the hardest free climbs in the valley, and we pretty well did it but for Slab Happy.
Slab Happy, as Robbins had done it, had a pendulum and Frank couldn't get a grip in the crack as he swung over and was getting angry and full of curses. George was belayng him and I was sitting on a rock and laughing my ass off. Frank was dangling from the rope and screaming "what's so funny you a..hole," and I said "you lok like a big bird, a robbins", and then I laughed so hard I fell over backwards into a manzanita bush. My hands went out instinctively backwards and my right thumb was impaled up under the nail for about a half inch by a dead piece of manzanita branch which then broke off.
George told Frank we should go down, and I said I think I need to get someone to get this piece out of my hand as it was disturbing to look at. Frank was livid about me ruining the climb and said he should make me walk to the dispensary which I thought was hilarious and started laughing again.
It was one of those incredibly beautiful October days and we were the only people in the valley that weekend. Frank relented and drove me to the dispensary where I had a choice of $5 and the doctor would see me or $2 and the nurse would do it. "What's the dif?" I asked. "The doctor gives you a shot, I just pull it out." So I paid $2 and almost passed out with the pain. Frank thoroughly enjoyed it.
Next weekend we did something in the Arches area, but I don't recall for sure. Mayber the Crack of Dawn or Doom. It didn't seem particulary hard as I recall.
This thread is so great. THE reason this taco deal is such a nice place to go. With a Tarbuster trip report on the same page it really helps to combat the glut of OT threads that need some other place to go!
I posted this in the past on the Hourglass Post. Soon I hope to post some photos of Sacherer in the early 60s. cheers
is Route... Oct 18, 2008, 12:07pm PT
From: Santa Cruz
Funny, I didn't recognize this. But 46 years is a long time and there are some gray areas, whereas other memories are still vivid. The summer of 1962 was a busy one. Lots of climbing with Sacherer and Kamps. Sacherer and I had an agreement to climb all the classic Grade 5 routes. In between we would work on shorter first ascents that we both had our eyes on. Ribbon Falls area always had an attraction, especially the Hourglass. After several attempts on the right side we reached the tree.
Time for a break so we headed off to climb the first one-day ascent of the North Buttress of Middle Cathedral. I had done lots of climbing with Sacherer, but on this occasion all hell broke loose in our relationship. At one point, he was out 60 ft on a blank wall, off route, zero protection, flagellating and screaming at me some of his famous epithets. I threatened to keep belaying but detach myself from the rope; I would have my own anchor. Near the top, on some fairly dicey third class he asked me to throw him a rope. I let loose with some fairly abusive language myself and quickly headed down to the Valley. Needless to say we climbed together little from then on. We remained good friends, but our climbing relationship suffered.
Back to the Hourglass; Sacherer teamed up with Kamps to finish the Right Side. Later Kamps and I would make the first ascent of the Hourglass Left Side. As always climbing with Kamps was the ultimate pleasure and a memorable experience indeed. As always I wore shorts and deservedly suffered for several weeks from abrasion.
For years I would return to the majestic Ribbon Falls amphitheater, sometimes set up a "base camp" and just explore. Thank you for opening up the doors for a memorable peek at the past.
There is "The Frank Sacherer Prize for an individual in the early part of his or her (physics) career, having made a recent, significant, original contribution to the accelerator field." It's awarded by something called the European Physical Society Accelerator Group. http://www.epac08.org/index.php?n=Main.2008AcceleratorPrizeWinners
Here's a little more on Frank. He was a real smart guy, and as such he had problems with reconciling physics and his church. I, a dyed in the wool atheist, told him he was a chickensh.. for sticking to it because of the money for a free ride in school. He would tell me about the crazy stuff of the church and as the fall of '61 progressed he said his theology class had a single question for the final, prove or rebut the five proofs of the existence of god as set out by Aquinas. Through the various weekend climbs I got him to agree on how to rebut four, but we hadn't gotten to the last one about there needing to be a beginning point.
In November or very early December Frank and Lito Tejada-Flores and I went up to the valley in Frank's little car. Frank and I discussed what we planned to climb, and when Lito heard said he would just stick around the Lodge and study. On the ride up Frank and I were telling Lito about the five proofs, and Lito said, as a math major at Berkeley he could show Frank the proof for infinite regression when we got to the Lodge. Frank ate it up as it meant there didn't have to be a beginning and so he later used it on the final exam; he disproved all five and was quite proud of his feat. Then the untoward happened. He got a grade lower than an "A" for the first time in his college career in the theology class. So he went in to complain that his logic was impeccable and the priest told Frank they were concerned about his faith. And, for Frank to continue he must go in for some number of Saturdays for extra propagandizing. No more Valley trips for a bit!
He told me, and I think Roper was around, too, "You see, I can't go climbing now and it's all your fault."
The falling out I had with Frank concerned the Cookie. I believe it was December '61 and I was already living in Camp 4 (December 61 to July 62 in a pup tent). We went up to climb it and I belayed him up. My stomach started not feeling well and I said I'd pass as from watching Frank I could see that the crack required a lot of work. So Frank berated me, and I said "You made it, so what's it matter". Then he went of on a "We're a team" rant. I said to myself, "not anymore". He came down and the rope got stuck so we left it and he headed back to the Bay area. A couple of days later I rented a bicycle and went down and did a hand over hand to the top of the Cookie and unstuck my rope.
In May or June 62 Frank was up and doing a lot of climbs, then mentioned to me he had to return to the Bay Area for awhile. I asked why, and he said a Doctor he saw said he was suffering from malnutrition and that was why he didn't feel well.
When we climbed together we used to take a can of tuna and one of those little packages of mincemeat pie filling. It was really just sugary dried fruit and you couldn't eat much, but Frank thought it was the most compact high energy food you could find and would get us up those cracks.
For technique we discussed the optimal way to do certain things from a physics perspective, principle of the lever for tight chimneys, and always ensuring the proper resolution of forces. That's why he looked like he was going to fall over backwards sometimes, but it was all thought out. I don't recall doing a single direct aid climb with Frank. It was all about free climbing.
please feel free to tell us something about levers in tight
The bit about almost falling over backwards, that was still
being tossed around in the 70s. Plenty of newish climbers knew
they owed a debt to Sacherer.
Frank and I did the first one day ascent of the West Face of Sentinel. This is one of the climbs I am the most proud of. The previous three ascents were done by the best climbers in the country. Chouinard and Frost, 2 1/4 days, Robbins and Pratt, 2 days, Kor and Baldwin, also 2 days. Robbins came down saying "Chuck and I just weren't prepared for anything that difficult". We planned on one day, took one rope, one quart of water, one large candy bar and cut the hardware down to 25 pitons, heeding the dictum that those who prepare to bivouac will.
I had the odd pitches. We actually waited on Tree Ledge for 15 minutes for it to get light enough to climb. On the second pitch, Frank was already trying to do a free ascent, and I thought, wasting time, which I knew we none to spare. Higher up, I had the undercling flake, probably now trivial with small cams. I found a small knob on the face of the flake I could set a tieoff loop on and never had to place more than two pitons consecutively. On the second dogleg, Frank led it with no protection, pretty solid really, and probably the easiest pitch on the route. I noticed an old wooden wedge (relic from 1st ascent?) way in the back which Frank hadn't even made an effort to clip. On the next pitch, we lost forty minutes when Frank couldn't hear my "off belay" because of the wind. On the final pitches both of our arms were cramping. Our effort took 14 hours.
"he said his theology class had a single question for the final, prove or rebut the five proofs of the existence of god as set out by Aquinas. Through the various weekend climbs I got him to agree on how to rebut four, but we hadn't gotten to the last one about there needing to be a beginning point."
This is such entertaining reading!
Eric Beck: your passage is really fun too.
Getting first-hand impressions of people like Sacherer,
Many of us, in particular those focused on free climbing, have been thirsting for stuff like this for over 30 years.
In December 1961 the snow cone had grown to huge proportions under the Upper Yosemite Falls. It is a phenomenon caused by ice forming high on the cliffs and then crashing down in the morning and piling up. In a dry December with very low night temperatures it got big. Maybe global warming has stopped the formation. Down the middle of the cone was a hole into which the falls disappeared.
Roper was recovering from his near fatal accident with Frank on Clouds Rest, so Frank asked if I wanted to go up and climb the snow cone. So we headed out. The hike was nothing and we got to the cone and started kicking up in boots. It wasn't steep and we both had ice axes. Frank was going ahead and getting very high and I said we should rope up and set belays. "What's the matter, you chickensh..? I want to look down the hole."
I replied that if he wanted to it was OK with me, but what if the lip overhung like a cornice. Frank absoultely froze at that point, came down and we belayed each other up for a look over the lip. It was so strange to see all that water disappear without a whisper.
I've asked around a bit, mostly my CERN physicist friends who climb, about Sacherer's climbing in Europe but didn't get much of a response. Anyone here have any leads on who climbed with Sacherer there?
I've talked to people who were involved in the accelerator work, but they weren't climbers. There are a set of Sacherer stories from that side of his activities which sound a lot like the climbing side...
Little Joe (Guido), as he exits the USA, just sent to me the letters I'd written to him. This one is from 9/3/62 while I was in the army:
"...I got a letter from Jeff[Foott], and things sound pretty wiped out up there [in the Valley], especially with Sacherer being in the hospital. It was bound to happen to him the way he climbed with his head up his ass. Maybe he will have learned something that will keep him alive from here on if he continues to climb. Then again, maybe he climbs the way we all should; perhaps he is the only courageous one and we're all chickenshits..."
Does anyone know what happened to Frank to put him in the hospital then?
One of the ideas Frank and I used to talk about was why seeming buffons like Cooper would do big walls. We came up with a list, and it included resources (money enough for all those ropes and time away from work), some physical condition and some degree of technical ability. It left off courage, putting yourself out there and going for it, pushing limits, and that is what Frank did in spades.
Frank took an 80 footer on the North Buttress of Lower Cathedral Rock, a route which I believe is no longer done. He was aid climbing and had omitted clipping into a number of pitons(Chickenshit to clip them all?). I think he was with Kamps but not sure. He cracked a rib. He was tied in with a Swami, which caught under the lowest rib. The prescribed treatment was no treatment. It eventually healed, but with an asymmetric bulge on one side.
I am writing this from snowy Kalamazoo where Lori and I are visiting her Mom.
While you are present...what was the bargain between you and Roper which allowed you to step out and and he to step in on the FA of the West Buttress with Kor. Kor mentioned recently that it was a small amount of cash and a couple of bongs. Would you care to elaborate?
The North Buttress of Lower was one of the least appealing climbs I remember doing. Lots of dirt. So Frank came out lopsided! That also happened to Tom Naylor on a 120 foot fall I held on Ahwahnee Buttress when he didn't exercise care in using pitons left in the route. Big zipper. No swami belt, just a knot that pulled his rib cage up permanently.
Speaking of the Ahwahnee Buttress, I have a letter someone named Wayne who worked at the Lodge sent to Little Joe on 2/7/62:
"...The day before yesterday Frank Sacherer and I started the Ahw. Buttress on my afternoon off and we left a rope to sunset ledge and we were going to finish it yesterday on my day off but it rained and that really shot the sh#t out of that and really looked like a good climb. If I don't get it done before you get up here this summer you and I will have to do it..."
With Roper still under the weather and Frank and I no longer climbing together, Frank hooked up with this fellow Wayne. I attempted to one up Frank by doing the route with Tom Naylor, and he took his huge fall which was really traumatic for him to take and for me to hold and then have to get him down with one rope.
Since I left so much iron up there I had to get up it quick and luckily Kor became available and we were up in 4 hrs. For a time after that it seems Frank wasn't around. Maybe he was doing his Saturday penance or couldn't stand to hear anyone ask him why he'd placed a fixed rope on a four hour climb.
Thanks for clearing up that little historical tidbit, Eric. How is it that you and Layton teamed up for such a grand project at the outset, just one year after doing the Kor-Beck together? Had you done very much aid climbing at that point beyond one Grade V?
Was the Wayne in question Wayne Merry? Great tales of BIG FALLS, Bill!!!! Caught with a hip belay, no less! Thanks for sharing them.
Wasn't Wayne Merry. Merry was a ranger (he rescued one of my partners who got bit by a rattlesnake - another story). This was a kid working for Curry, and he only signed his letter to Joe with "See you, Wayne". Maybe Guido will check in and tell. Catching Naylor I was in a hip belay standing in slings and there were a couple of pitons above so it was a no sweat hold for me. Naylor goes flying down by me then takes a glorious goldline bounce back above me and settles almost next to me. I was lucky he didn't land on me. The timing was excellent for Roper. He was working in the Ahwahnee kitchen and came out for a break to watch us climb and saw the fall as it happened and came running over to the talus to see if we were OK. It was hard getting down with one rope and an injured partner. The worst part was at the bottom Naylor insisted I find his watch which had been stripped from his wrist in the fall. He couldn't walk due to a severe ankle sprain and here I am wandering the talus looking for a watch. I found it, and it stopped at the time of the fall, 9am+ something.
"The climb was the North Buttress of Lower Cathedral Rock. I think it was aid and Frank was clipping about every third shaky piton. When he fell it zippered.
You said Sacherer was semi conscious. I am sure that he didn't recover consciousness until about the time Bob got him down. That task was worrisome and not easy. He was bleeding quite a bit from head lacerations and was a dead weight on the rope. Help arrived as they got back to the base. I remember going to the hospital with them. If the fall bothered Frank he was careful not to let it show and I don't believe he climbed more safely after that.
Bob enjoyed climbing with Frank because they shared the goal of pushing the limits of fifth class, but like others he was concerned that Frank tempted fate too often."
Good to hear from my old friend Eric Beck. Do you remember that climb we did on the Owls? Others... trying to dig them out of my memory... Sounds as though you are well...
Good stuff about Sacherer. As I read through this whole thread I see lots of factual errors, but oh well... people don't seem to like it when you suggest things happened a different way, so I'm shutting up on correcting things.
I will say Sacherer pushed the limits for his day, but more accurate might be to say he pushed HIS limits. He was a wild man of sort. By the way, he called several people chicken-st, including Kor one day. They were doing a route on the Arches, and Sacherer started leading a long traverse left. The only hard part of the traverse is the first move off the belay. He made the move, with the protection of Kor right there nearby, but then ran it out a long way. Kor said, "Frank, put something in for me." Obviously if Layton fell off that first move he'd take a huge, wild swing. Sacherer turned back and said, "Shut up, Kor, you chickenst." Layton himself told me that story, so I think it's reliable. And I have already written above about the Erb story, how that actually went down.
Pratt had that remarkable control and beauty of technique. Sacherer had the go for it mentality... TM tells a story only as TM can tell a story, of roping up with Frank, and Frank assessing the crack pitch ahead and saying something to the effect of, "I don't think I'll have the strength to stop and put anything in. Watch me, here I go." And that was a little like Frank, to just go up and do it, and not worry about things too much, but be very determined, somewhat at the risk of companions... He didn't have the raw talent of several of the others, as he is often touted to have had, people such as Kamps or Pratt, or probably even Robbins either, but Frank had that will to push it, and that kind of mind can take you some pretty wild places. He also had a perfect body for certain types of cracks. Someone mentioned his thin chest and relatively wide shoulders... perfect for such a crack as Hour Glass right side. He was dang good and bold as heck.
Frank came to visit me in Boulder once, and we had good conversations... I had climbed a fair bit with his wife, Jan, before they were married. And before that, briefly, she was Layton's girl friend. Haven't seen Jan in a long time...
This is one of the best qoutes on Sacherer "...especially with Sacherer being in the hospital. It was bound to happen to him the way he climbed with his head up his ass. Maybe he will have learned something that will keep him alive from here on if he continues to climb. Then again, maybe he climbs the way we all should; perhaps he is the only courageous one and we're all chickenshits..." The existential question of all great climbers.
Hey, Jeff, can you talk Bonnie into posting up on ST? I know she reads it a bit. It would be so nice to have here post Bob's side of these tales and her take on the Valley history from the 60s.
BTW Bill, do you climb any these days? You would have enjoyed the Nose 50 reunion. And we would have enjoyed you.
Bonnie- come join the fun directly if you please! Your input would be greatly appreciated and respected so pull up a virtual log round and chew the fat with us by the fire. We would love to hear your perspective on the many characters that you and Bob hung out with BITD.
Thanks to everyone for their contributions. I learned some things about Frank that even I didn't know and I was his wife from 1965-1971.
I also spotted a few errors along the way but wanted first to correct information about the circumstances surrounding his death. Unfortunately, I learned about it six weeks after the fact, from a condolence letter written by Chris Jones. I had just returned to Kathmandu after several months away working in a remote Nepalese village on a Swiss Aid project. I then wrote to friends at CERN and sent for the official accident report from the Chamonix Rescue Service.
Frank and fellow physicist Joe Weiss died from a fall on the summit ridge on their descent after completing their climb of the Shroud. It is impossible to say why they fell although high winds were suspected. Probably they were moving down the the ridge simultaneously in the interests of speed because of the oncoming storm. There was lightning spotted but no indication that was the cause. Frank was killed instantly and Joe survived long enough to set up a bivouac and then died of hypothermia and shock. They were still roped together when found. The actual date of Frank's death was Aug. 30 but the winds were so high, a helicopter confirmation could not occur until the 31 so that is listed as the official date of death for both men.
The storm was such that a helicopter retrieval of the bodies was not possible until the 4th of September. By that time Frank's father had arrived in Chamonix from San Francisco. He stayed just long enough to do the necessary paperwork and then returned home to be with Frank's mother as it was not certain even then, when the funeral would be, since everyone was awaiting the uncertain arrival of Joe's father. The funeral finally occurred on Sept. 8. CERN chartered a bus to take their employees to the double funeral so many people were there, but unfortunately, not one person from Frank's family. So far none of us have been able to visit the gravesite either. In fact only his brother survives at this time. If anyone has a photo of the gravesite, we would be happy to have it.
People react to grief differently. For Frank's parents, the decision was made to try to forget the past. No obituaries were published and thus the event has been shrouded in mystery. Five years after his death, Frank's father still did not want his name even to be mentioned. Both of his parents have passed on now, so I feel it is time to be more forthcoming.
Hello Jan. Welcome to SuperTopo and thanks for posting.
As you can read here, there are many of us who trace the Yosemite's current free-climbing styles to Frank's climbing in the 1960s. However, most of us who spend time in the Valley in the late 60s and 70s never climbed with him or even met him. He seems to be unique, somehow, amongst 60s climbers in having a shrouded personality: we all know his climbs, temper, and his quotes, but we don't seem to know him. These stories and details are very welcome.
Thanks, Jan, and welcome to wonderful wacky world of SuperTopo! We're a pretty diverse bunch, but one strong common thread is interest in climbing history, and the stories, people, and photos. I think we'd all be very happy to have you add corrections to this thread, and other stories and pictures. There are a half dozen or more posters who knew and/or climbed with Frank, and perhaps some lurkers also.
These threads tend to bob to the surface, generate some interest, information, and discussion, then submerge for a while. So it won't always be on the front page - keep a note of the URL so you can easily find it again. There's no subdivision or index, and the search function is a bit clumsy.
A buddy of mine who has done a ton of hard Valley climbs and elsewhere says Sacherer Cracker was his first 5.12 climb and he didn't even know it!
The guy was definetly way ahead of his time and his fitness level must have been quite superior for the times.
He is a legend and rightly so.
This is so cool. Thanks for your post Jan. Frank has probably been one of the biggest free-climbing meantors for several generations of Yosemite climbers. I've always been in awe of his acheivements and bold routes, especially for the day. I only wish that I had the chance to meet him.
Physicists as a class of people have some odd, and seemingly contradictory personality traits, and Frank Sacherer was probably no different.
There is an attitude that is described as "arrogant" which I think is more an assumption on the part of people familiar with physicists than some belief that what they are doing is "important" in a general way. Now that is not to say that a physicist probably thinks what the problem is that they are working on is the most important thing at that moment. The degree to which they attend that work, the concentration it requires and the devotion to seeing it through to the end might also be interpreted as exaggerating its worth. But that is how a physicist is wired, to take something apart and understand it's working. It can seem totally trivial and inconsequential to someone else, even another physicist. What drives this is a belief we can understand nature that way and the pleasure in finding that out. Maybe it is the curse that Newton bestowed on us all. Einstein said: "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible." (Scripta Mathematica, 1932).
Anyway, a physicist goes into the world armed with this belief, and is certain that it is true, even when they have doubts about their ability to actually achieve that comprehension. This all looks odd to someone not trained as a physicist, on the one hand very sure, on the other very doubtful, both emotions contained within the same thought.
Another strange behavior is to be somewhat shy in the company of others who are not physicists, at least to a point. Physicists are uncertain of the "rules" of engagement in "other cultures," and lacking the certainty of mathematical logic, often will keep quiet rather than speculate idly. Philosophy has no "truths" that can be demonstrated, literature is opinion, art is emotion... but physics is something demonstrably real, and there are provably true and false statements.
One of my interests in Frank Sacherer was to try to understand the person and how these two cultures, climbing and physics, came together in him. While physics is a supreme intellectual exercise, climbing is the physical realization of the solution to a puzzle about how to move from here to there in a vertical world.
An interesting similarity is the certainty in solution. When I have worked out a problem in physics, I have done it with certainty, I can prove it, someone else can show it in a calculation or in an experimental result, and understand what the physics means. When I solve a problem on a pitch there is a similar certainty in it, given a style, I have actually overcome the obstacles, I have figured out how to get my body up, there is no uncertainty in the final result. The rigorous application of "style" serves the same discipline in climbing as the requirement for mathematical and experimental rigor in physics.
Perhaps I've got it wrong, but I wonder if Sacherer might be found in some of those characterizations.
It's difficult to try to explain Frank to climbers, since I knew him primarily in his intellectual and academic mode. He did severe climbing before I met him and after I departed, but hardly climbed at all during the time we were together. Nor did he want me to climb which was a source of great personal frustration. It's true that in the spring of 1965, he was told by his thesis advisor that if he took off one more summer to go to Yosemite, he would be dropped from the graduate program. Still, that doesn’t explain why he didn’t even want to do easy rock climbs on the weekends and turned every attempt of mine at climbing with him into a nightmare. Somehow it was all or nothing as far as climbing in the Valley went, although he did not at all mind starting from the beginning with snow and ice climbing when we got to the Alps. There we did do a lot of climbing together on safe classic routes like Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn and with a minimum of personal friction.
The other problem in explaining Frank is that physicists live in a different world than the rest of us. While Frank did use physics to figure out crack climbing techniques, (bordering on engineering is probably how he would have referred to it), most of his work was extremely abstract. Like many physicists and mathematicians he was a right brain thinker. The right brain is the center of symbols, strong emotions, and athleticism among other things, the very things at which he excelled. He was able to translate symbols into words however, only with great difficulty. He called people names and obscenities I believe, from lack of a more standard social vocabulary.
This sounds unbelievable given his intelligence unless you know the world he worked in. Often he would pace back and forth and mutter things like "it's coming, it's coming" and couldn't explain what, except that it had something to do with physics. Weeks later he would begin to put it down in mathematics, but still couldn't explain it in English. I remember one equation that went on for 30 finely written pages, but it was months before he could begin to formulate it in words. Then when we were in Europe, he would agonize for half a day over a simple one paragraph letter to his parents.
He was also very shy about telling you what he knew unless he felt very comfortable around you. He was great at explaining physics principles and philosophy without the use of mathematics to me, but resisted the idea of talking about it with anyone else. Physics was by no means his only intellectual interest. His 16 years of Jesuit schooling meant he had a wonderful classical education. When we went to Europe, we spent 10 months living in a Volkswagen bus and touring Europe. We visited every major museum, cathedral, and archaeological site in Greece and western Europe. We bought the Guides Bleus series of guidebooks and read through them word by word as we walked through these sites inch by inch, sculpture by sculpture, painting by painting. It was quite impressive to see him read on sight the original inscriptions in Greek and Latin at places like Thermopylae and Rome and then translate them almost simultaneously.
The question for all of us who knew him I suppose, is who was the real Frank? Or better yet, why wasn’t he better balanced so that he could enjoy both worlds at the same time without going from one extreme to the other? It is certainly a characteristic of the right brain thought process to focus intensely on a single subject at a time. I also have a few psychological theories concerning his religious and working class background as part of his conflicted view of the world. Still, after living with him for almost seven years, he remains even to me, a kind of enigma.
This has been a meaningful thread to me. Jan, your beautiful prose describes a good many of the many physicists I've known (3 of my best college buds were from Los Alamos); all great people in their 'own way'.
When I began climbing in the Valley I soon met Frank and we started climbing together. This was a great learning experience for me, but the way he climbed scared me half to death. I think it scared him too, but that was a fascination of his. These experiences peaked for me on the Powell-Reed route on Middle Cathedral Rock. Kamps and Higgins had recently bagged the first free ascent and we were going up for the second. Two of Frank's characteristics that factored into the ensuing events were his impatience and the fact that he never liked to stop at the end of the pitch if he had much rope left. It was up here that I took the longest fall of my life, and most amazingly while following. Somewhere a number of pitches up I made a mistake following a pitch and grabbed a pin to avoid falling. This didn't upset Sacherer too much because the pitch had been led free, but it frustrated me and higher up at a series of traverse moves I decided to just swing across on the rope. I called my plan up to Frank. "OK" "Got me" "Gotcha". I started the short pendulum but was immediately falling through space. My first thought was this was some kind of joke or punishment but I soon realized this was no joke. My mind seemed to enter a very clear space where all of the possible reasons this was happening and their consequences were instantly apparent. One reason I could check right away was whether the pendulum pin had popped. I looked up and saw it still there. Too bad, that was one of the better possibilities. Then I was looking out across the Valley, then at the river , then down at the talus, then I snapped to a stop just a few feet short of a three foot ledge. Good thing our rope wasn't any longer. I climbed back up the rope and figured I'd gone about eighty feet. When I got to the top of the pitch there was Frank staring at the rope burn shredded skin on his hands. When leading the pitch he had passed up the belay ledge and went another forty or so feet and stopped on a sandy sloping shelf where he quickly pounded in an anchor piton. He didn't like it so he tied a slack anchor to keep the weight off of it, and started belaying me up. When I put my weight on the rope he started to slide off the ledge and grabbed at the anchor with his braking hand. The rope took off and he grabbed at with both hands, not in belay position, just his two hands desperately squeezing the speeding rope until all my weight and momentum slammed into the single anchor piton, which held. When I got back up to him he said, "You'll have to lead the rest of the pitches but don't fall because I can't hold you." I believed him. About forty feet up I get to a move that looks to be about 5.8 and slam in a piton. I looked down at Frank bent over with the rope lying across his open hands. A quick mental calculation tells me a fall here would be well over a hundred feet. Let's get out of here. I grab the pin as Frank looks up and yells up, "Let go of that pin Erb". He looks away, I grab the biner and I'm on my way. Higher up at the next pro he yells, "If you grab that pin I'll tie you off right here".
Jan, A while after this incident while Frank and I were room mates in Berkeley, I heard him say that if he ever found the perfect woman he could quit climbing.
Thanks, Jan, for your insight and refreshing accuracy. Most climbers here, I seem to get the impression, think only the Californians knew or cared about Frank. Maybe it was because I spent so much time in the Valley through the 1960s and did enough climbs with Bridwell and Pratt, but Frank was a big part of my life as well. When he looked me up in Boulder that year, and you were there, I met a quiet man who treated me as a friend and fellow climber. He treated me with respect, yet we hadn't yet climbed together. Our mutual friend Pratt was a link that brought us together. I think Frank understood me on some cosmic level, or intuitive level, as did I understand him. It took only a few minutes for our spirits to meet and know everything we needed to know. That's the way it is, sometimes, with climbers. That's the same thing that happened with Whillans. Don and I knew we were friends the second we met, and we remained so. Had you not been there, Jan, and so much of Frank's focus right then, he might have swept me up and away toward... who-knows-what crack. I think by then both he and I had done enough of them that it had started not to matter... but that's a speculation. My point is, he was well aware of my involvement with Yosemite and could probably just about tell, to a handhold, the degree of intimacy with which I knew those granite cracks. Something we learn as climbers is that these routes tie us together on some spirit to spirit level. It was as though every climb he and I both had done, even with different partners, brought us into some kind of
unspoken communication. We could feel that in the air. I look back with deep reverence for those masters who were also my friends, Royal, the leading light, and Pratt, the crack master and quiet guru, and Kamps and Higgins, those face climbing geniuses, and Dave Rearick, the unheralded humble master who always awed all of us when the mood struck, and Jim Bridwell and Barry Bates, my bouldering partners, and Frank, possibly the least naturally gifted of them but who made himself an artist of the highest order because he transcended his own ability by sheer mind and will and love, and of course those other only slightly lessers, such as Beck, who went up rock with such ease, even Herbert because he could laugh you off the rock if you got too good, and Layton who when he ran into some hard section simply sped up so it wouldn't get in the way (or wouldn't frighten him by slowing to see how difficult it actually was), and Tom Frost and Yvon, both as good as they needed to be at any point when a wall rose before them... and Roper, the aid climber, and Denny... who always seemed to find a way into the picture... There is no negating any of them, because they all are and were a part of the same spirit though they varied so greatly as individuals. That time, yes, they tell me is gone, but it lives on in those of us who were there... and tied also to that "rope"...
Pat, my old friend and climbing buddy from the days before I met Frank, thank you for your observations. Frank loved Colorado the two summers we visited there and enjoyed meeting my old friends. Given that all three of us were always intuitive types, yes there was a special rapport.
One subject often discussed in connection with Frank is religion. I think his 16 years of Catholic education had a big impact, but not in the ways that are generally thought. I never sensed that he worried over dogma or going to church which he never did. He had been through that a decade or more before I knew him. Certainly he never would have been found cursing against God as Roper has postulated in his portrayal of Frank for Camp 4, as Frank never entertained such a narrow and anthropomorphic concept of God. He was well aware of the mystical leanings of many great physicists and the philosophical questions posed by quantum mechanics and astronomy. He also knew a lot about Eastern philosophy and we often discussed the concepts which later appeared in The Tao of Physics.
Frank also had a rock solid sense of personal ethics from his religious background and a social conscience. Consequently we were both active in anti-Vietnam war activities in Berkeley. Of course every thinking person was involved somehow, though the Catholic Church as a generally conservative force, supported the war in the early days. Frank of course put personal conscience above the church. Luckily, Franks’s research assistantship at the Lawrence Radiation Lab exempted him from the draft.
One aspect of the 1960’s that Frank did not approve of was the drug taking. While I’m more the experimental type, Frank was dead set against any of it. I think this had to do with personal control issues however, rather than religion. Knowing Frank’s fondness for sweets, some of our friends did take it on themselves to dope some brownies once at a private slide show. I was not told of the scheme and not surprised when Frank ate several. I only caught on as we drove home and he began waxing ecstatically about the beautiful colors of the traffic lights. Much to the disappointment of our well-intentioned friends, getting Frank stoned did nothing to loosen him up. We were both agreed moreover, that this violated his free will, a basic principle of most religions, and the result was, we were very careful after that what we ate at parties.
The harmful effects of Frank’s Jesuit education were much more subtle. From my point of view, the worst thing he was taught, was the idea that compromise was the deadliest sin of all. As Ed has already noted, physicists like certainty and there is a certainty to climbing as well. Unfortunately when applied to human relationships, the results are not nearly so beneficial nor the right way of doing things so obvious. Most of the important interpersonal issues in life benefit from love, not logic. And for sure, there is more than one ideal way to get things done in the kitchen! Of course that never stopped Frank from trying to supervise even the smallest details.
The traditional Catholic view of women as either madonnas or whores probably caused our relationship the most damage however, as I never identified with either. This combined with Frank’s view of women’s proper roles based on his working class background, and the fact that he had no sisters, was something we were never able to overcome. In fact, the more I spoiled him with domesticity, the more he resisted my efforts to be a person in my own right. Looking back, I probably should have been more traditional in the sense of resorting to tears and throwing things, rather than trying to use logic on him. Arguing logically with a genius trained by Jesuits is 99% of the time a losing proposition, I can assure you.
Finally, he seemed to have imbibed a masochistic view of the world based on what the Jesuits taught him. He had the definite sense that one should not enjoy oneself too much as an equal amount of pain awaited, since everything must balance out. Of course, this may just have been his interpretation of what he was taught by the church, plus a good dose of what he knew from solving physics equations. His masochism did however, give him tremendous drive and discipline. He was the first climber to systematically work out at circuit training. I ran the circuit too, when training for specific outings, but only Eric Beck eventually joined him for regular workouts – discipline for its own sake. The discipline I learned from Frank did have a major effect on my own life however, when applied to academia. I owe much of my own subsequent success to his influence, even though he did his best to thwart my efforts along these lines, while we still lived together.
As for my friend Dick Erb's comments about Frank saying he would quit climbing if he ever found the perfect woman, all I can say is that if he ever thought it was me, he had a hell of a way of showing it!
Thanks for sharing your insights on Frank. He was before my time, but I recognize a lot of his attitudes and behaviors in myself and some of my climbing friends. Fortunately I had several moderating influences in my life and a non-intense profession, so I've had some better luck in getting along with people. Just lucky, in some ways.
Your reflections are amazing, lucid, and helpful, and in your few entries I feel I know more about Frank than all the memories and reports and mixed up stories, and comments that have warped through the passing of years and too many careless ears... which is often the way it is. Your presence, and that of Beck's and Erb's and maybe a couple others definitely saved this thread.
I believe that another source of Frank’s internal conflicts came from the distance he had traveled from his original social background. His mother graduated from high school and his father barely made it out of the 8th grade. His father was a member of the teamster’s union and spent his life delivering baked goods to groceries stores around the Bay Area as did his younger brother. Sociologists tell us that even changing up or down one social class is stressful and can result in cognitive dissonance. How much more so if you are the first in your family to go to university and you end up getting a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, your thesis signed by a Nobel prize winner?
Frank was not an easy child for working class parents to deal with either. They suffered through many youthful pranks, like his rewiring the front door bell to drive them crazy with ringing and no one there. It took an electrician to figure that one out. Their most serious concerns came however, in the 1950’s, with his home- made rocket building activity. Fearing he would actually get one to launch from their backyard in San Francisco, they worried about liability. Frank's father then helped him launch his rockets in the forest up on Mt. Davidson in San Francisco, figuring that if he set the woods on fire, they could both run and the city would be responsible! Frank was said to be like his paternal grandfather who was a skilled machinist and inventor of many mechanical gadgets some still used in the wheelhouse of the San Francisco Cable cars.
Frank's parents also didn't want him to climb because of the danger of course, and several times told of their anguish when the hospital in Yosemite phoned them after the 80' leader fall. They were very happy when he got married and stopped all that. I'm not sure if they had heard the prediction that he would not live to be 30, but were devastated when he was killed as they didn't even know that he had taken up climbing again. I was shocked for the same reason as I thought having gotten him through age 30 alive, and because of his avowals to never get involved in serious ice climbing, that he was safe.
Frank’s father also did not want him to be a physicist and preferred him to become an engineer instead. In his father’s eyes, engineers were normal, while he didn’t want his son to grow up “weird like Einstein”. Of course this became a joke between us, and from time to time I teased him that he was becoming just as nutty as that great scientist.
Frank's parents were very loving and supportive of both of us. The problem was that they just couldn't understand us and our life most of the time. Sometimes they were bemused, other times totally mystified. Because of this, I think Frank paid a high price psychologically, for his intellectual and social mobility.
"Much to the disappointment of our well-intentioned friends, getting Frank stoned did nothing to loosen him up." Great line Jan. Thanks for being so forthcoming about Frank and your relationship. I think this thread has more information about Frank than any other source I have seen.
Hi Dick. Welcome to SuperTopo. I hope that we can get you to post more stories about the 60s. What a hair raising story about falling on the Powell Reed--the only part of the story that I remember is Sacherer telling you if you touched the pin he would tie you off. What is it about the NE face of Middle that causes horrendous following falls--George Meyers has a similar story and I think I have heard of one other?
Thanks for posting. Happy New Year. Please say hello to Judy.
To post your photo, you need to first upload it onto some website, and then use the [ img ] and [/ img ] to bracket its URL, as Roger has described.
For a website to hold your photo, the most popular one people here use is http://photobucket.com/
You can get a free account there, upload it from your computer to their site, and then display it here.
Thanks for the contribution and insight into the life and times of Sacherer. One day in Oakland, while passing a Mothers Cookie delivery truck, Frank launched into a lengthy discourse on said occupation. It was both hilarious and sad and even today, If I forget the actual facts I vividly recall the intensity.
The following are some more photos from a trip on Dana Glacier that Denny, Sacherer and I made in the summer of 1960. For Frank and I it was our first time, and we had a blast.
Thanks so much for the comments and the photos. That shot with the kitten is simply amazing.
Too often, climbers remain entirely one-dimensional. We hear about this or that climb, this or that move, and see one hero shot after another of someone on the rock, but seldom get much sense of the social context.
Most climbers think of climbing as the only worthwhile public aspect of their lives, in some cases because climbing takes them out of whatever hardship or stress they face elsewhere.
Your remarks about the stress of moving out of the Catholic working-class of San Francisco and into the still very waspy culture of 1960s Berkeley and beyond are especially compelling.
Frank was pressing to excel in two very different but equally intense activities, and he was in the cultural capitol for each of them: Yosemite and Berkeley in the '60s. Toss in the fact that he was living at the very end of the era in which it remained possible for amateur climbers to dramatically impact the sport--
There are many such ladders over the crevasses on the major routes across the ice in Chamonix, and it is not uncommon to see even elderly people crossing them on their way to some of the alpine huts. The ladder walker was a guy from new Zealand named Ray (Sherwood?) who also worked at Cern.
My own life after I left Geneva in early 1972, consisted of finishing my B.A. and M.A. at San Francisco State. I then taught the summer of 1973 for Colorado Outward Bound and traveled alone afterwards through S.E. Asia and India. After that I spent a year with the Sherpas of the Rolwaling Valley, just west of Mt. Everest - 8 days' walk from the nearest road, doctor, post office, and electricity. I wrote my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the Sorbonne and then rushed back to Nepal for a 6 month project where I walked 500 miles across the Himalayas west to east, surveying all the major Sherpa villages from just north of Kathmandu almost to the Sikkimese border. After that I got a job with the Swiss government on a foreign aid project with a Hindu population, and it was at the end of that contract that Frank was killed. By that time I was exhausted at every level, and came to the subtropical island of Okinawa where I've been ever since. I teach Anthropology and Asian Studies to a mixture of Americans and Japanese through the University of Maryland.
My climbing since I went to Nepal has been big snow mountains (20,200 ft) and crossing mountain passes with my Sherpa friends who sleep out in the open and cook on wood fires up to 18,000 feet. I haven't rock climbed in 35 years though that may change this May when I go to visit Layton Kor in Arizona. He's had a hard time this winter health-wise, but if he's up to it, we're going to do some easy climbs together again for old time's sake. After that I might come to the Valley for a week or so.
I was very struck by your comment "Your remarks about the stress of moving out of the Catholic working-class of San Francisco and into the still very waspy culture of 1960s Berkeley and beyond are especially compelling. Frank was pressing to excel in two very different but equally intense activities, and he was in the cultural capitol for each of them: Yosemite and Berkeley in the '60s".
I suddenly had the revelation (hindsight is perfect) that the source of our trouble was that he perceived me always as one more source of stress because I never fit into his ideal wife mode of someone with no ambitions of her own, who would devote 100% of her time to him (his temper and personality quirks were never the real problem from my point of view). Before your comment I never could understand why he saw me as a threat when he was so much smarter than me and so accomplished. I can see now that in admiring his success, I failed to understand his own level of stress. A sobering insight though I'm afraid it would not have changed anything.
Meanwhile Ed has told me about a book that I've ordered entitled "Beamtimes and Lifetimes". It is written by an anthropologist also married to a physicist, and is a kind of ethnography of the culture of particle physicists.
It is a small world, I think. When I decided that I wanted to return college--I quit to climb full time in 1969--I ended up getting my degree in music from SFSU in the late 70s.
There was a general shift in what young folks thought about the respective roles of men as husbands and women as wives that started in the 60s. I know that several 60s climbers that I was close to had very conflicted views about the role that they expected their wives to play in their marriages: they viewed themselves as cool and modern, but they were mostly grounded in a "Leave it to Beaver" view of domestic bliss (maybe with a little pot and weekend climbing thrown in) but could see that something was changing. Those of us who were in our 20s in the 1970s had a view that was based on some vague idea of a partnership, but still usually acted the same way our parents did (maybe with a little pot and weekend climbing thrown in).
As best I can tell—my kids are in their 20s with professional careers--it is still a struggle for younger folks to find a workable balance.
Although I don't make it back to the Valley much--so far I am up to a rate of once a century--I think that you would find ST campers who would be happy to meet you in the Valley for some climbing.
You are quite right about the difficulties the '60's generation faced over changing gender roles. I think both men and women suffered greatly. Now with my own students in their 20's, I sense the problem is more of finding enough time and energy to "do it all", but that the major issues have been solved. Then again, maybe this is just a woman's perspective since it was my generation that was so driven to prove what women could do.
Well do I remember, Frank and Chuck Pratt shaking their heads in Camp 4 when a woman climbed the first 5.9 crack and both of them solemnly predicting that 5.9 might happen once in a while, but no woman would ever climb a 5.10 crack. Then Frank went into a funk for several days when we got word in Europe that Bev Johnson had climbed the Crack of Doom!
Meanwhile, I found supertopo during a web search on Layton, trying to find out what he had been doing since I last saw him. I wanted to read a bit about him before I started writing my piece for the bio Cam Burns is doing. While I was at it, I decided to type in Frank's name and see what I could bring up.
I have to say that all of you old fart '60's climbers are pretty damn good writers
Jan: thanks so much for sharing your stories-I admire your ability to express the emotion
Thanks again you guys. It was 30 below last night and that qualifies as PFC- too cold to ski if your a piton grabbing chickenshit like me and so I am really enjoy this read
So Jan, have you ever heard Bev's great oneliner to Ken Wilson, the editor of Mountain Magazine, on 5.10 climber(s)?
In an otherwise serious discussion on Valley climbing advancements, Ken brought up the subject of women climbing hard. I am guessing it was in 1972 or so, when Ken had travelled to the Valley for a first hand looksee.
Bev, in a serious tone, told Ken, "It is not about how many 5.10 climbs you have done; it is about how many 5.10 climbers you have made.
Then she smiled, sweetly, and turned her head just a bit.
> both of them solemnly predicting that 5.9 might happen once in a while, but no woman would ever climb a 5.10 crack. Then Frank went into a funk for several days when we got word in Europe that Bev Johnson had climbed the Crack of Doom!
Haha, too funny! Us guys have such fragile egos sometimes! :-)
Later, Bridwell considered Bev Johnson his "5.11 detector" - if she could climb it, it was 5.10, if not, it was 5.11. Of course, better climbing shoes (EBs) helped in the advancements of climbing grades. But the Kronhofers that Frank used were good enough for doing hard 5.10s and sometimes a bit more.
Sheridan drew a cartoon of Frank and I once. He was climbing up an overhanging cliff with his rope hanging straight down to the ground. I am belaying him though this is useless since he hasn't clipped in to anything. I am looking up and saying, "Frank, Frank, don't you think you should put some protection in"?
If people want to understand our early modern era in American rockclimbing more cogently, giving this thread a good read helps. I don’t think the central issue here comes up quite like this very often.
It becomes clear here that many of its principal figures had established or perhaps merely continued a proto-elite male society, an idealism, whose underpinnings included wacky fragile theories of womanhood, necessary for the exaltation of male virtue, however primitive. As it turns out we could not have been more incorrect---pretty much completely so---in the view that hardest climbing (and many other activities of course) somehow intrinsically would not be possible for the female and thus by extension, the men that could do it were practically supernatural in their masculinity even though most had rather thin sex lives and actually weren’t so masculine despite appearances. That is what it was like back 45-60 years ago. Hard to believe we were so lame then, isn’t it.
Perhaps the best aspect of very modern climbing is that we have discarded all notions that somehow our subculture is really all about a nearly sacred manhood instead of humanhood and humanhood for all, including not just men and women, but also children, oldsters and handicapped individuals.
The ferocious talent sometimes found in any of these sectors shows how laughably self-aggrandizing the original theories of climbing really were. I remember RR telling me that he believed when he had sex with “a girl” he was doing her a favor! And worse, our chauvinism that was nearly universal in those days in climbing also contained in it the self-limiting notions that had to be shucked for climbing to actually advance, frankly. And I think the whole setup was pretty painful for everyone even though this was not clear at the time.
Quite often to climb like a woman or to be a small person or child with an extremely high strength/weight ratio and tiny fingers, can be key to a section of rock or an illusive problem. This instead of being large rigid and simplistically ferocious.
Thank you very much. Your thoroughly modern perspective on the medieval hangovers that were blurring all our perceptions back then amounts to piercing insight.
We set out here in awe of Frank the climber. Even at the time I was curious about the brooding part of him behind that. Drugs didn't crack his self control (wonderful story -- ooh, the lights!), but oddly climbing itself seemed to get closer, for him, to breaking that open. Really admire that relaxation in the vertical to the point of nearly falling off. Got to, cuz I'm so different -- careful up there, and maybe a little too loose at times on the ground.
It showed in the company I kept, maybe, hanging out a lot with Pratt and knowing Frank, and you, more at a distance. I was younger anyway, second string, runty and sarcastic.
We have changed a great deal in the 40+ years since. To me those changes you've been outlining and that Peter highlights are the best stuff of our generation, just the most exciting. I mean, advances like chips and binary and this 'net that brings us together here all these years later and with you halfway around the world -- pretty impressive. And the deepening understanding Frank contributed to, of the quantum nature underlying our world, including fundamental uncertainties -- even more awe inspiring.
But... For my money the truly big deal of late is the insight into our basic human natures, both individually and collectively, and the changes we've been able to forge in this quaint thing we call a civilization -- this is the most gripping and the most inspiring of all. "May you live in interesting times..."
TM Herbert, the man of a thousand faces and who knows how many personalities, the man who is always joking, said one of the most serious things ever: "I'll never be a chauvinist again." He was speaking from his own shattered marriage, and he had just been running himself down for every domestic failing from not stepping up to the dishes to always taking off to go climbing. He was so not kidding. Sad face on, actually speaking from the wreckage.
I hesitated to even tell that story. TM, if you're listening, I hope you can see I'm honoring your humanity.
Thanks for sharing with us some of your personal history here. You have had a remarkable life- from the Sorbonne to Katmandu is quite an arc.
This thread is one of the best ever posted here, for its insights into the enigmatic Sacherer and the zeitgeist of the 50’s and 60’s, but mainly for the heartfelt account of your relationship with him.
Hats off also to Sheridan, whose cartoons continue to amaze in their ability to capture the characters and feel of that time, in just a few strokes.
You can tell me if you think my memory has failed, because I climbed enough times with you in Boulder during the '60s. But I honestly do not recall ever thinking a woman was inferior or could not perform competently on rock and equal to men if given a fair chance or the same amount of training. My first experiences with women climbers were Jane Bendixon and Judy Rearick, with whom I climbed on numerous occasions. They didn't train as hard as I did, so I didn't expect them to have the same kind of strength. Being a gymnast it didn't expect other non-gymnasts to have those specialized skills. I climbed with you, and though I did all the leading that was only because you wanted to push harder and weren't quite at the experience level of those leads. I then climbed quite a bit with Liz Robbins, and she had been under the wing of Royal and more or less was used to following. But she climbed every move Royal or I did. I watched her follow a 5.10 slab pitch, with virtual perfection, in September 1964, and when we free climbed that same month both Castleton Tower and Shiprock, she had no more trouble then we did, although she might not have been able to lead those pitches. I climbed with Bev Johnson several times and Joy Herring, who later became Joy Kor, and other women, including in the early and mid 1970s when I climbed with Diana Hunter, the best female climber with whom I ever had the privilege of climbing. The generation just before mine, though, the Pratt-Kor-Robbins-Rearick... generation did seem to be a bit chauvinistic. That always perplexed me, because I guess I didn't see women the way they did. I had no doubt women could be as good as the men, if they ever decided to put the same amount of effort in. Maybe that was my one chauvinism, to think they had other kinds of concerns and couldn't give to climbing what we boys could...?
Seems like things are getting off track with talking about chavinism and so on. Maybe we can change direction by me asking if anyone knows the story of Frank's friend Chuck Ostin with whom Frank climbed some. Chuck was an "interesting" personality but was a mystery person to me at the time (1961 +/-). I never asked Frank much of anything. We mostly discussed intellectual crap while climbing. He enjoyed telling stories about how bizarre some of the philospophy/theology classes were when they conflicted with physical reality. Stuff like when an arrow is shot from a bow maybe the whole universe goes backwards and the arrow stays still which is why it drops to the ground.
That was a great summary of the way things were and how they’ve changed. However, it wasn’t just the world of rock climbing that held on to the idea of elite male virtue. It existed in the world of big mountain climbers as well. In the Himalayas, there were no women climbers until the 1970’s. Sherpa Anthropologist Sherri Ortner has written about this in her book, Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering.
I’m afraid that Frank’s perceptions go further back even than the medieval age- all the way to ancient Greece. I will have more to say about that a bit later on.
In the meantime, I was very interested in your comments about T.M. as Frank always held up Jan Herbert as a role model of what I should be. At the time we knew her, she was putting T.M. through college and all she wanted was to quit working, stay at home and have a baby. That she changed later on is one more indication that it was a generational change.
There was in my experience, a huge difference in the attitudes of the Colorado climbers that I started out with and a significant portion of the Valley climbers, with the exception of Liz and Royal whom I never knew. I would attribute this in part to Colorado still having a strong frontier tradition where women were equal, and where even suburbanites spend weekends outdoors. The Valley climbers of the ‘60’s came from cities and suburbs in a much more populous state. A high percentage of them were also in math and the sciences which have traditionally been rather hostile to women, also seeing themselves as an elite male bastion.
I know from discussing it with Frank that he didn't know any more about Chuck Ostin than any of the rest of us did. What Roper has in his Camp 4 book is pretty much the extent of what any of us knew. Sheridan did do a fun cartoon once, featuring Ostin, myself, and some other climbers just after we had come back in the dark from a climb with him and several of us had nearly stepped on a large rattle snake in the dark. In it, we're saying "Chuck, Chuck, The sun's going down , don't you think it's about time to start the climb"?
Meanwhile, I agree that this discussion has gone about as far as it is useful to go in this particular direction. It was never my intention to start a feminist dialog and there are separate forums on supertopo for the history of women climbers. For sure, Frank would not have objected to any of the critiques in the forum which have been directed his way as he always stood for absolute brutal honesty, and never even approved of little white lies to smooth social interactions. He would have been horrified however, at his name being associated with any sort of feminist issue, climbing or otherwise. Six months after I left he got together with a young woman from South America who did not climb, and was still with her at the time he died. He clearly preferred traditional women and roles to the end.
What a great thread!
My all-time favorite route in the valley is the N.E. Buttress of Higher C.R.-one of Frank's FFA. Every time I visit the valley,(from Boston), it's on my list. I did not know that he died on the Grand Jorasses. In the mid-70's, while climbing the Walker Spur, with John Bouchard and Voytek Kurtyka we got hit by a bad storm, one pitch from the summit. Kurtyka and Bouchard got hit by lightning. Bouchard had burn holes thru his mittens and out his socks! It nearly killed him!
I have always wanted to learn more about Frank Sacherer. This thread has been most informative.
I actually knew Frank. My post above generalized our anthropology for the period but was actually really pointed at Frank specifically and was not meant as a tangent to the thread; I did know what he believed back then and wanted to make sure everybody here knew about his attitudes. His and those of most other better climbers and mountaineers as well as you say, Jan. Frank’s unique comportment was the most interesting part about him as we can see in all the arresting epics that still are storied in our community. His first ascents were great too, but not nearly as idiosyncratic as his personality. And this thread reveals the most that has ever been written!
I also knew Chuck Ostin. What was that, a diesel mercedes? Anyway I don’t think he was forthcoming about his means of support . But the guy was a gas, kind of like Herb Swedlund. I think Chuck was friends with Beverly Johnson btw.
"Frank's unique comportment". I like your way of putting things!
When Frank climbed with me, he was never dangerous, never called me names and never swore at me. Instead I was subjected to a barrage of helpful comments like, “Robbins wouldn’t have to beat on a pin like that to get it out, Roper wouldn’t tangle the ropes like that, Beck wouldn’t take 20 minutes on that pitch”. He would also remind me at least five times for each piton I was removing, to be sure and not drop it.
I do have a few sayings I developed about Frank over the years. One of them is, "I was often exasperated, frequently miserable, but never ever bored". Another is, "I never for a minute regretted marrying him, and I also never for a minute regretted leaving him". And finally, after our last dinner together in San Francisco in 1973, when he was back visiting in the U.S., I came away saying to myself, "He's still the most fascinating man I ever met, and thank God I don't live with him anymore"!
I don't mean to make fun of your summary quotes (they are good and sound apt), but they also sound very much like the sorts of things that owners of sail boats say in our neck of the woods (living as we do on a huge lake with long beautiful summers and cold, dark winters.) The most common saying is, "The happiest day of your life is putting your first boat in the water; followed only by the day that you sell it."
As I have been reading along in the last bits of this thread, I have been asking myself if there is a connection to climbing, and Frank's in particular, and social attitudes and personality traits. I think that climbing attracts many sorts of people for different reasons, but the reasons seem to narrow for those who commit themselves to hard climbing, of one sort or another, and most particularly for those pushing the envelope on first ascents, even if many different styles are used. The germ of this narrowing seems to me to be grounded in the mental aspects of pushing the envelope on new climbs.
What Frank seemed to exemplify was the conscious application of a 'rule' to control his mind's resistance (in this regard, we are all more or less the same at some level of difficulty or fear) to hard, run-out free climbing (I think the same can be said in general about aid climbing, too.) The bits of information provided by those who knew him indicate that his whole personality was informed by establishing a set of 'rules' and then adhering to them as a matter of existential survival--social conventions be damned. I don't think there is much profound in this, but there are plenty of other means of viewing the connection between hard climbing and how to live one's life.
I think that most climbers, at least the ones I knew from the 60s and 70s, had a much less settled idea of what constituted a firm grounding in life. That said, I believe 70s climbers mostly followed Frank's lead in establishing climbing 'rules' and then forcing our minds (as best we could) to conform to those rules. But we felt free to follow a different, more flexible, set of rules in real life.
I think that the reason that Frank's personality is so important to understanding his position in Valley free climbing is that maybe without his particular view of himself and the world, his climbing, in total, would not have existed. The way he pushed himself seemed to an extension--maybe a justification--for his sense of self. His contemporaries, many of whom were equally talented climbers, did not push in the direction and to the extent that he did.
Frank climbed in the time of the "Golden Age," the time when climbing could be defined as first ascents of well defined walls, in which the next goal was more or less defined. What followed the 'Golden Age' was a redefining of climbing in terms of difficulty and style, and, in some respects, aesthetics: climbing for speed (Chuck hated that as a goal), or all free, or just difficulty for difficulty’s sake. (I will stop now; but I think the way to confirm this, mentally, is to think of Frank’s contemporaries and how singular Frank was by comparison. Of course there are shades of gray.)
Eventually, everyone catches up, but Frank's contribution really stands out. It seems to me that his personality allowed him (maybe drove him) to pursue what became the next phase of climbing in Yosemite, but it only really came to fruition with the next generation, when more or less everyone pursued Frank’s definition of climbing.
I think you're groping in a good direction here. And I use groping with not a tinge of disrespect, but just to mark that we're all stumbling through uncertainty in the direction of understanding something that is not at all obvious.
And I want to play off your searching in the realm of personality to suggest that maybe there's something more deeply physiological at play.
A lot of climbers are stimulus addicts. I know I am. We use climbing to wake up. It's a way to join the parade. It provides some necessary jolt to keep you involved and engaged. Which was not an issue in more raw, primitive times, but for us gets harder the more civilization insulates us from the sharp prods that used to come from the natural world. Like hunger and danger.
I think of it not as a personality type, but as an underlying "physio"-type. We're the people who don't jump much at a sudden noise. Good to have around in an emergency, but hard to wake up the rest of the time.
Now Frank might not be one of us at all. I see a second basic physical type in climbing, the person who is hyper. For them, climbing in its rough contact with an unrelenting physical reality is a kind of practice that does much the opposite, that slows them down and grounds them and gives them traction. Galen Rowell is a good example of the hyper type.
Maybe with his high-strung nature and his focus on discipline, Frank was one of those?
Frank and I and others would wander around the Cal campus at night looking for things to climb. Trying to work out techniques for odd sized smooth off widths, Like maybe seven inches wide and four inches deep. We also liked summiting various buildings. We always found an unlocked door on top for an easy descent. One frightening event I recall one night with Frank and John Morton was on a small building no more than twenty feet tall. It had a tile like masonry wall with features for the feet and crimpers for the fingers at the mortar joints. All three of us started off the concrete slab side by side. Near the top, as I was getting pumped, I found the mortar had filled the crack to the lip and I started looking around to get a grip. I must have sounded desperate because Frank reached out over the edge and said, "Grab my hand". I lunged and latched on but was alarmed to see that Frank was starting to tip off the edge head first. Just then John grabbed Frank by the waist and pulled us back as I grabbed the top.
At this time getting a PhD in physics at Cal required a reading knowledge of two foreign languages. Frank chose French for one. He hadn't studied it before but spent a week cramming it in, then passed the exam.
I'll never forget that afternoon I walked into our apartment. He'd just defended his thesis and was getting his PhD. He just sat and stared at the wall. Finally he turned and said, "I hate physics, but what else can I do. I've never even had a job".
I am not sure I should be laughing Dick, but there is something hilarious about a guy getting a PhD at UC in physics who missed the physical reactions of stopping a moving mass. But hey, he was good enough to pass the French exam with a week of cramming.
Doug, I am still pondering (mental groping) your post.
I just love this thread. I was in the army when Frank went into graduate studies, and the stuff about him during that period is great. Same for what Jan has said. Not bad for a girl (just kidding). I've tried to get my memory in gear about Frank and me and our times, but at the moment the only thing coming through is the Chinese restaurant in Merced where we always stopped to get a bowl of noodles with a hard boiled egg cut in half as a topping. It was deemed the best, high protein meal for the price that one could get anywhere by Frank and we always stopped there. I wish my recall was better, so I have to rely on you all. I view this as a memorial to Frank who, in my opinion, was a great guy until.. But I already said that, and since it's a memorial we look at the positive.
This is a wonderfully poignant and informative thread! Sacherer has been a source of intrigue for me ever since I first read Roper's _Camp 4_ twelve or thirteen years ago.
Sacherer's having worked at CERN made me think of Dan Brown's novel _Angels and Demons_, which I think Ron Howard is still trying to make into a movie, evidently without much success. Of course, Brown presents CERN as this marvelously advanced research facility operating under the auspices of the wondrously enlightened Swiss government, which in turn has given rise to the development of nothing less than _anti-matter_--so far advanced as a potential source of both energy and doomsday weaponry as to make those poor saps at Los Alamos and LL (not to mention their unenlightened sponsors in the U.S. Government) look like ninnies with their so-yesterday plutonium pits. All of which seemed plausible until I reached the extremely manipulative and fantastical ending of the book--I don't think I've ever felt more ill-used by an author--at which point I called BS on everything else in the book, including Brown's impossibly glowing depiction of CERN. (The Hadron supercollider's first test last summer seemed to confirm much of CERN's status in Brown's eyes, at least until it experienced the power failure that apparently has since rendered it inoperative.) You scientists out there can debate this topic, but I know one thing: I'll never take Dan Brown's word for anything!
Sacherer comes off as fierce, tortured and difficult in the stories. Those are memorable traits, but I think those of us who spent time with him off the rocks will remember that he was fascinating company. Frank was not without a sense of humor. I always thought there was an ironic component to many of his remarks, which I found hilarious. All that stuff about "don't you dare touch that pin ..." etc. was a reflection of how we all felt about free climbing - we knew the rules, and chided each other about the tiniest infraction. This is not to say I wasn't sometimes chewed out in deadly earnest, but most of what went on between us was part of a certain blend of humor and improvised philosophy that was current at that time. A couple of times we went to the Village coffee shop for dinner after a successful climbing day. He would point out that this untoward splurge (cheeseburger, cherry coke) was morally justified because it was earned on the rock that day. That sort of thing was always said with a bit of a smile. I saw it the same way, not as a Catholic penance/reward thing, just funny and sort of true.
Frank enjoyed having room mates. He loved to spar with them in conversation, and was an eager participant in the late-night mischief on campus. This was mostly crack climbing, I'm not sure if he had any appreciation for tossing bombs in stairwells and the rest of it. But even bad behavior offered a chance to talk about moral decay, one of his favorite subjects. He needed and respected social ties - not a social butterfly, but not reclusive.
Thinking about moral decay ... one time he returned from campus after witnessing a beating. A group of several men knocked a guy down in the crowded lobby of the UC bookstore and punched and kicked him for some time. No bystander made a move to help the victim (including Frank, I guess). It bugged him, and moral decay was the topic for a few days after that.
Someone posted a question about the Cal Stadium cracks awhile ago ... that was indeed one of our toprope projects, probably 80 ft. of 2.5" crack, stucco over concrete, with a major cornice at the top. I believe Frank succeeded on the longest crack, which faced a womens' dorm building. But what I remember was that later on someone else was partway up as the police arrived on the scene. The cop saw our group, and after stopping realized there was someone on the wall. He bellowed "come down from there!" just as the guy peeled and started to lower. The cop seemed almost ready to accept our assertion that this was a legitimate training session, but said he suspected that we were only going up for the view of the womens' dorm windows. He said, as I remember, "I know you were peeping in those windows - I've done it myself sometimes, inadvertently."
As a once "tightly wound Catholic boy" too, I could relate to Frank. He was very driven and principled yet kind and warm to me as a newcomer to the Valley scene. Bob Kamps introduced me to him. We did a few short climbs together but I never saw his legendary temper.
Frank kept a notebook of first ascents and yet to be done FFA targets which he showed me once. I noticed he had his sights on the NE Buttress of Middle as a FFA, as did Bob and I. Given Franks drive and tick list, we knew we had better get cracking and did the Buttress before he did. He later did it too and said he didn't like some layback pitch which he found a way around. Still not sure where he went.
As for his threat to pull someone off from standing on a bolt, that was not me but Tom Gerughty on Crack of Despair. Tom was still learning off-widths and started to stand on an old bolt on the wall (still there?) for rest. Frank yanked the rope and yelled he would pull him off if he touched the bolt. Tom relented, continued to tremble upward, pooped but able to finish. As Tom and I both found, mentors of the day were pretty strict on style matters.
Hey, Eric, I believe that you and Frank made the FFA of the DNB, my first, long, hard free climb (I think Will Tyree and I made the 4th free ascent, possibly in '72???). I was really inexperienced and Will had to lead the hard pitches - that route scared the carp out of me at the time.
I agree (Long Ago) Tom Higgins. Where the hell is Geruggidy (viz. Gerughty). We all were really close friends back in 70-72. Tommy H., I think I last heard he is a lot better now. Maybe he is out there (here). Great photographer btw. everybody. Full-blown Hasselblad system, worked at the Ansel Adams Gallery laboratory back then fulltime, was up on all the stuff, got to schnoooze with all the visiting artists like Uelsmann. V. cool. He was the first ascensionist of the Dike Route btw. in Tuolumne, Pywiack. Epic on an early Nose ascent with prussiks. Great friend.
Have not heard from Gerughty in years but believe Cohen may be helpful? I know you are out there lurkin', so join in.
Enclosed is a photo of Chuck Ostin following a lead on the El Cap Tree route I believe, probably around 1961-62.
Note the attire. In this era we were really into long sleeve white shirts and knickers. Frost may have been the role model but it rapidly became the style. If you spent more than $.50 on the shirt you were an outcast. Frost, Naylor,Pratt, Chouinard, Ostin and many others could be seen dressed in the style du jour. We had ample resources in the Bay Area for second hand cloth and in S. Cal they had a wonderful place called Granny Grundy's(sic). White was practical and cool on the hot valley walls. Roper was known to climb in white but still preferred to draw from his collection of black turtlenecks and tee shirts that predominated his vast wardrobe.
Ostin was a funny and mysterious soul. He always had this vast reserve of pretty ladies from Mills College that would join us on trips to the Valley. One friday afternoon, while headed down the freeway in Berserkeley, Mills College bound, a very funny but scary thing happened. A truck in front us lost hundreds of new hats onto the busy and crowded freeway. Ostin slows to 40 mph, opens the car door and is trying to pick up the hats while maneuvering in an insanely erratic mode. We yelled at him, grabbed the wheel and after some wild moments got "the" famous Mercedes back in line. Roper was convinced he was with the CIA. Most of us thought he was from Mars.
Doug, you are so polite. I guess that's one thing I like about you, and your comments are never off. John Morton, thanks for that great post. It's good when people chime in who really know. And thanks Eric and Tom Higgins. Someone said something to the effect that we all patterned our climbing after Frank. That just isn't close, though. His style was his own. I looked to Chuck and Royal, and I felt a great happiness with Higgins... etc. While I greatly respected Frank, I didn't admire the recklessness or the dangers he sometimes put partners in or the manner in which he pushed at times... Or being at the edge of falling, in a serious way, for the sake of his ideas of stylistic perfection. Of course later such things defined him, though, in part, and any and everything eventually became an endearing quality, because it was him and because we admired him so much. Don't forget he was a bit of a madman, plain and simple. Genius? Sure. A great pioneer? Sure. Did he have the mastery or control of Pratt? No. The technique of Higgins, Kamps, and others? No. It didn't matter. There were enough inspired occasions, truly. One great event of Yosemite climbing was when Frank and Pratt did the Lost Arrow Chimney free. I wonder who repeats that climb nowadays. Anyone? Every climber has better times and times that weren't so good. I think the Lost Arrow Chimney must have been the peak, or one of the great peaks, of Frank's climbing life.
Hearing of Ostin and his driving reminded me about how Frank liked to put his little car into a skid on the ice that formed on cold nights of late November-December on the way up to the valley on the "all year" highway near where there are some junky cliffs and, I think, a sign that said "Icy". Frank pondered,"I wonder why they say you are supposed to turn into a skid to recover? What's the physics of that?" And so he'd do it, put the car in a skid and then recover. The first time it really got me as I thought we were going into the river and mentioned to him that perhaps he could do the calculations instead of the experiment. The next time up he did it again, but Lito was in the front seat gripping the dash as though death were on him while I was able to relax in the back seat. Frank would get animated about that skidding and really get talking about vectors.
Europeans always flip on the cracks in Yos.I always tell them they should go do the Arrow Chimney if they want to see what the standard was almost 50 years ago.that had to be the hardest free route in the world at that time.
Someone said something to the effect that we all patterned our climbing after Frank. That just isn't close, though.
I believe it was I who that remark. I’ll be more specific, because that just isn’t close, as you say.
When I was learning to climb cracks, it was commonly said among Berkeley climbers that Frank
had figured out that the way to climb jamcracks was to use the minimum energy on your jams.
That is, barely enough to keep from falling out, rather than jamming harder for more security.
In that crowd, nobody was talking about doing horrendous runouts or anything, just to emulate
But yes, in this one narrow respect, Frank was held up as the prime example of technique.
I thought readers of this thread might be interested in Frank's climbing activities in Europe after he left the USA.
I met him in 1971 through an informal group of climbers based at CERN, Geneva, and we began climbing regularly together on the local limestone cliffs. Frank was a modest person and at that time I had no idea of his reputation in California - in fact I only found out about this when I went there myself in '74. He seemed to be able to elevate himself up difficult rock without apparent effort, often ignoring the fixed protection in place.
But I never felt unsafe with him. The limestone was very different from what he was used to in the Valley, and not entirely suited to his style, but there were a couple of off-widths on the local cliffs which he seemed to be able to float up.
He was pretty obsessed by his work in those days and maybe not so fired up about climbing. When I met him he'd tried Alpine climbing a couple of times but said he didn't like the cold and discomfort. We did take a couple of trips to the Dolomites, where I followed him up a few Grade VIs (notably the Philip-Flamm on the Civetta) usually in half guidebook time! (Most people have a hard time even equaling guidebook time in the Dollies). Basically Frank could lead a pitch in less time than it took me to follow.
Quite a lot seems to have been written in this thread about Frank's impatience. I think he'd mellowed a bit by the time he got to Europe, but it's true that he didn't suffer fools gladly.
I climbed with Frank again in 1976-77 when I revisited CERN. We had a lot of fun trying to free climb some of the harder local routes (at the time the local ethics allowed any amount of aid - only when I went back much later did I realise that we had initiated a new fashion.) An American physicist friend of mine from Seattle, Joe Weis, was also visiting at that time, and I put him in touch with Frank. Joe was much more into ice climbing than rock, and somehow he got Frank enthused about this. Together with John Rander, another American physicist at CERN, they climbed an increasingly ambitious series of alpine ice faces in 77-78. In August 78 I received the sad news that Frank and Joe had been killed on the Grandes Jorasses. They had climbed the Shroud, got delayed, and were caught by a storm while descending the difficult Hirondelles Ridge.
When I spent time with Frank in Boulder, he was just
about the "mellowest" person I could imagine. At least
that's how he was at that moment in time.
Something that has been touched on here only briefly is
Frank's role, intended or unintended, as a mentor. Bridwell
spoke to me often about how he learned from Frank, much
in the way I learned form Royal, Chuck, and Dave Rearick. All
these men had a powerful impact on anyone they climbed with.
Some were more formal in their teaching. I mean, Chuck
didn't want that much to teach climbing although did so
at times when he needed to or if he was with some beginner he particularly liked. His real teaching was simply
as he climbed and revealed his natural gift. Royal, on the
other hand, was a phenomenal teacher and touched many hundreds of lives, both in the way he climbed, as pure example, and
in the way he took on students and mentored them. I have
gathered that Frank might have been a little too impatient
to do much formal instruction? Jan, you have told me of times when he would scream at you for not going fast enough, or something along those lines... Yet by way of pure example, he touched the lives of some very notable spirits, such as Bridwell...
In the very early 1970s, Jim and I used to talk about Valley climbing roots and branches-so to speak-and Pat's comment about Frank's influence on Jim seems right. Those soul searching conversations were fueled by Jim's growing realization that he had surpased his mentors, and the future was openended. Of course, Jim never let that go to his head, and the conversations seemed to be more about defining what became Jim's leadership role in Valley climbing.
As an aside, Kor was the other climber that hugely influenced Jim. He still talks (at least a few years ago) about climbing with Kor. I have no idea what climb they were doing, but Jim was leading and Kor belaying. Kor called up, derisively "What are doing up there? Are you trying to free climb?". Then laughed.
Back to Sacherer's influence. As Pat points out he had a direct influence on Jim but his influence on climbers who never met him, much less climb with him, is, I think, unprecedented, at least in the Valley. The number of climbers on this thread, (I am sitting in a boring meeting; so I reread all the posts), many of whom were leading lights in their respective generations, who have stated the degree to which Sacherer's climbs and commitment to all-free, fast climbing influenced their own climbing is remarkable. Jeff Lowe's post up thread, just to pick one, probably says it most plainly.
I am enjoying your pictures, Joe. Could the date on the Ostin photo be off? I don't remember seeing Perlon and Jumars in 1961-2, but perhaps they were available to the well-heeled.
The car was a blue VW when I knew Frank but maybe there were others before that. We all thought we were race drivers. I truly scared Frank one time cornering too fast in his car. I was probably showing off, trying to beat the best time from Midpines Summit to El Portal. As I think about this I'm recalling that there was obsessive record-keeping in those days. Accomplishments of every sort were noted like first ascents. I associate this stuff with a little culture that seemed to center on the Great Pad, a former doughnut factory just off Telegraph Ave. that was home to Sacherer, Erb, Beck, Dozier, Thompson I think. There was a map on the wall on which everyone documented their freighthopping and hitchhiking exploits. Those guys could tell you much more, I was just a regular visitor.
Eric B. popularized the habit of rating things the way you would climbing routes. He was also the arbiter of language, and would spread strange terms and mannerisms around until everyone was using them. He used to say "When is it?" to mean "What time is it?". Everybody was called by their middle name. To this day I often think of Pratt as Marshall, Roper as Howard, and Eric as Arvid.
To return to the ostensible topic ... Frank was a mentor, for sure. He enjoyed explanation and analysis, but also the mentoring tradition was instilled in all climbers of that era. Everyone learned to climb from volunteers at the Sierra Club RCS sessions. Frank and all the other good climbers would take their turns leading trips and supervising the big belay-and-fall practice days. It was a great thing, there were no weird variations in technique, gear, rope handling, climbing signals - everybody in California was the same. It was easy to come to terms with a new climbing partner.
The climbers who were UC students would lunch at the Hiking Club office, Frank included (also another physics PhD candidate Charlie Raymond, and the future WA state seismologist Tony Qamar). We once moved vending machines together to see who could fit in the smallest squeeze chimney. Another contest was to remove the drawers from a wood office desk, and try to enter one drawer opening and emerge from another. Frank was amused of course, but would not do much silly stuff. He was the oldest - an age difference of 5 yrs. is huge at that time of life.
Good to hear from you. I probably had the very first pair of Jumars in America and one of the first Perlon ropes. I ordered these direct from Sporthaus Shuster (sic?) in Germany along with many other items unavailable at the time. Terray Down Jackets and Pied de L'elephant Bivy Sack and the classic Sporthaus heavy duty Egyptian Cotton Down Jacket. I worked at the Ski Hut all through high school and suprised Steck the day I brought the Jumars to work. He had never heard of them. We went up to Indain Rock for a trial session. I had been practicing and l gave him an eye opening demo. I think I also introduced Kor to Jumars about the same time.
My ropes were red so I do question the date with the Ostin photo. Could be 1963 but not likely since I was not climbing much that year. I digitized about #3000 slides, photos, old letters and other graphic paraphernalia this pass summer when we were back in Santa Cruz. I am writing this from our sailboat in anchorage in New Zealand and have zero reference material available. Everything is in storage in a multitude of places around the world.
Summer of 62 was my most prolific climbing season and I spent a lot of time with Sacherer driving, climbing and hanging out. I think it was the summer he bought a new, white Simca car. It was rather gutless but Sacherer found ways to entertain none the less. I remember one frightening episode. We were headed out of the Valley and traffic was backed up several miles into the Valley from Arch Rock. Sacherer, without slowing down proceeded to pass all the cars as we approached Arch Rock, while working out the statistical possibility of a head on collision. # ten on the pucker scale that one was. Wait, I have to put some chalk on my right hand, it is slipping off the mouse.
In 1963, I was going with a cool lady, Debbie Strange and Sacherer was spending time with Ropers wife Sharon while Steve was on holiday in Vietnam. The four of us had some fun weekend trips to the Valley but usually in Debbie's VW convertible. I saw a warm and compassionate side to Frank that never evolved in the time we climbed. I tried to make contact with him in Europe in 1971 but time was limited and sadly we never got together.
I met Frank at CERN (Geneva, Switzerland) where I was myself working at the computer center. I completely agree with the John Cardy comments above. Frank was not just a common climber but there was something more in his way to tackle climbs either in the Salève's cliff (wellknown french climbing place near the swiss border and Geneva)or in high mountains routes. If he was attracted by any climb, he did not care about the quoted difficulty and did not even wanted to know about it. Just go. And, when climbing, no time for photographs; just go, go... On the way to a hut in the Massif du Mont-Blanc in order to climb the Ryan Ridge of the Aiguille du Plan the following day, we made a detour and rushed to the Aiguille de l'M by the Ménégaud route which was, in those days, quite a hard rock climbing. But again, no time for photographs.
I take the opportunity of this forum to greet John Cardy and John Rander whom I lost touch with and send them my best whishes.
I am now 73 but still do some (easy)cliff climbing.
Summer 1970: Aiguille des Pèlerins (3318 m.), Carmichaël Route.
France; Massif du Mont-Blanc; Chamonix.
Summer 1971: West Face of the Salève montain.
In France, very near the swiss border and Geneva.
In 1971, it was the hardest climb of this mountain which is one of the 2 oldest climbing places in France.
October 1971: Aiguille du Midi (3776 m.); Rébuffat's Route
France; Massif du Mont-Blanc; Chamonix.
Summer 1971: Aiguille du Plan (3673 m.); Ryan Ridge
France; Massif du Mont-Blanc; Chamonix.
There is no Frank anymore, and hasn’t been for some time, meaning we are here discussing the memory of Frank. Yes, there’s the Frank in a few books and pictures and a grave in Chamonix holding remains which once held Frank. But really, once I realize (again) Sacherer is gone and Kamps and Pratt to name a few who most influenced me, I realize they all are only in my mind now. Then it dawns on me they were just so when they were alive. These climbers, all climbers, are only our view of them, the intake and processing of the talks, the movement on rock, the laughs, the glory, the bickering, the ranking of feats, the unraveling of how they were and why -- all only fleeting sparks between minds working just as now, here, on this thread, back and forth.
It takes some time to grasp there really are no climbers or even climbs other than our making, naming and assessing of each, our passing along witnessing all to our joy, wonder and sorrow. All is only low voltage firing of neurons between our ears, tiny electronic summaries of the earthly formations we climb upon, of the people with whom we climb, of even our selves moving along as before a mirror, time all the while clicking. A man named Frank we knew and now remember ended at a little square of ground in Chamonix which, Jan said, she and Frank’s family have not yet been able to visit. And yet here we all are making the only visit we ever can make – in our minds.
And so my small benediction: let us be most humbled, thankful and awestruck at the prize of consciousness, the sunny days on what we call rock and mountains with others we call friends, the noble globe itself only a dot in the vast swirl of matter and time, in the great physics of it all Frank pondered, the same which pounds and baffles each of us under a clear night sky. And there, looking up, perhaps I am not alone making a quiet vow to hold more tightly to good friendship and love before sleeping Frank’s sleep.
In our ever changing consciousness, some people and some memories, are more vivid than others. I believe Frank provokes such intense remembrances 30 years after departing this earth, because he lived life so much more intensely in his short 38 years than the rest of us. The characterization that seems closest to the Frank I knew, was the comment by jstan, “Perhaps Frank kept no reserves for safety in any of the spheres in which he lived”.
As I look back on our time together, the happiest in the conventional sense that he ever appeared to be, was when we were living in our Volkswagen bus and touring Europe, free of both physics and climbing. From this, I think we can conclude that striving always for excellence is a very difficult path in life and to excel in two different fields eventually takes its toll, not only on the person who is excelling but also on their family and friends.
A non climbing example of living on the edge occurred when Frank was told by his thesis advisor that if he took a year off to travel in Europe, his physics career would be ruined, and Frank told him that he would risk it, he was fed up with stress and studying for awhile. I think this is what he meant when he told Dick just after defending his thesis, that he hated physics. As usually happened, Frank’s risk taking paid off in this regard as well. Far from being finished in physics, he was hired at CERN in Geneva the day after he walked in off the street and applied for a job.
As for Pat and John’s comments as to whether or not he was a climbing mentor, he certainly never taught me anything about climbing and resisted the whole effort in Yosemite. But that was only in the Valley. When I climbed on the Saleve with him in Geneva, he was a perfect partner with never an unkind word. Somehow he had very fixed ideas backed with a lot of emotion, about Yosemite compared to other areas. It’s almost as though the past had become a burden for him there. If he could not continue to excel, then he was ready to do something completely different and move on. It also strikes me that most of the stories of Frank’s temper and impatience come from his big climbing year of 1964. I think he already knew that it would be his last chance to make a name for himself as grad school was pressing in.
Many people relax a bit as they get older, but this does not seem to have happened to Frank as he was publishing important work to the end, and climbing harder and harder routes on ice, a new medium. At least one person who knew Frank in Geneva has written that he thought excessive risk taking was related to the final fatal accident.
Meanwhile, I will post some of his physics achievements in the next contribution. To be mentioned in the acceptance speech of a Nobel prize winner is no small thing, and something I only recently discovered about him.
According to the Nobel Foundation statutes, the Nobel Laureates are also required to give a lecture on a subject connected with the work for which the prize has been awarded. In his lecture to the Nobel academy on Dec. 8 of that year, van der Meer also acknowledged Frank’s theoretical contributions on pg. 307. See:
For those of us who are not physicists, the titles are practically unintelligible, but impressive for the very fact that they convey such a different world view than most of us know. Note he published under three slightly different versions of his name, Sacherer, Frank James, F.J., and F. (his actual given name was Franklin James) so there are yet more of them listed if you click on those variations at the bottom of the page. His latest publication was 1979, which means it was published posthumously and that he was working at a high level right up to the end.
Finally, if you would like to try to understand some of this from a non-mathematical laymen’s point of view, see the Quantum Diaries and the blogs of the individual physicists featured there. In particular, I was interested in physicist John Ellis, because he married Maria Mercedes Martinez, the woman from Columbia that Frank lived with after I left Geneva. They were still together at the time of his death and Maria was very helpful to Frank’s father when he arrived in Geneva to make final arrangements. John Ellis met Maria at Frank’s funeral and they were married shortly after. You can see a small photo of Maria at the bottom of John’s blog.
The benediction was a nice, gentle touch. After I left the valley in 1962 I knew almost nothing of what happened in the years following. As I told Guido, when I became a man I put away the things of a boy.
In 1995 one of my daughters said, "Hey Dad, did you know a guy named Roper? You're in his book." So she gave it to me for Christmas and while reading it I was stunned by Frank's death. And Baldwin's, too.
Now I'm old, or getting there pretty fast, and I like to think a task of the elder is to record the history of important events and to honor those who did special things. That is why I resurrected the thread in November, to honor Frank. I think this thread has to be one of the best reads of a "people's history" you will find anywhere, and I thank everyone who has contributed to it. Both text and photos (love those Alps shots). And thanks Ed Hartouni for starting it.
Thanks to everyone, particularly Jan, and her and Frank's friends, for their heartfelt posts.
A good friend who enjoys watching SuperTopo has sent me the following story, thoughts, and picture. I can say that he's Canadian, in his 60s, and climbed at both Squamish and Yosemite in the 1960s. And that he's still climbing and mountaineering.
"One afternoon in 1964, Bridwell and I were climbing the Right Side of The Slack, on the El Cap apron. He was leading, and I was doing my best to follow. When we were up a couple of pitches, Frank and a partner, whose name I have forgotten, showed up to check out the Left Side, which was unclimbed at the time. We finished our climb, and rapped off. I reached the ground first, and snapped this rather poor quality composite photo."
"While it does not show Frank leading, it does show him belaying, after leading a pitch which had never been done before - almost as good. If you knew Frank, you can tell it is him. He is at the end of the first pitch, on the ledge above the bay tree. His partner is partly visible below him, while Jim can be seen two thirds of the way down on the right, getting ready for the last rappel. It's a lot steeper than it looks! It was getting late, so the others also rapped off, and gave us a ride back to Camp 4. The FA of the Left Side was done the next spring by Pratt and Robbins, who rated it as 5.10."
"I knew Frank reasonably well, but was not a close friend. Reading this thread has been interesting, although it has also been a bittersweet experience. I had heard, incorrectly, that Frank died from hypothermia on his descent from The Shroud, which seemed like a terrible fate for someone from sunny California. While death in the mountains is always tragic, at least Frank's was fast, either from a lightning strike or from falling. It is difficult to imagine the suffering which his partner experienced, roped to a dead friend, and waiting to die himself."
"As far as the 'shut up' story goes, I also heard that Frank was making a traverse. According to Bridwell the full quotation was, 'Shut up you chicken-shit bastard'. That's how I have always told the story, and it has a better ring to it! We still say that occasionally, but only as a joke, and a tribute."
"I never climbed with Frank, as I was not nearly good enough, and he was never that desperate for a partner! That is probably why I didn't see any of his darker side which others have alluded to. But those are things I do not know, as I always found him to be positive, cheerful and friendly. I suppose that there were two Franks, one of whom was too frank for some. When I think of him, I smile."
(The friend is working on a higher quality scan/composite.)
The conditions for proton-antiproton physics were attained thanks to a remarkable sequence of developments in accelerator physics.
In 1974, tests led by A. N. Skrinsky in a small storage ring, NAP-1VI, at Novosibirsk demonstrated that cooling was being achieved. These results were confirmed later at CERN and at Fermilab. However the alternative idea of stochastic cooling ('The discovery of 'heavy light') from Simon van der Meer proved so successful that in the final schemes for proton-antiproton colliding beams at both CERN and Fermilab, electron cooling was dropped.
The first successful tests on stochastic cooling took place on 21 October 1974 on proton beams in the Intersecting Storage Rings. This followed the development of electronics sufficiently fast (GHz range) to allow the beam to be monitored in an intersection region on the machine (using two directional loop pick-ups connected to a differencing transformer) and to transmit the appropriately amplified signal to kicker magnets in the next intersection region. Thus the signal bypassed an arc of one eighth of the machine, racing the beam around the ring so that the same slice of beam could be acted upon. Over seven hours, a cooling rate of 2 per cent per hour was achieved.
This modest success gave encouragement to those who were working on the better understanding of the theory and on improving the hardware - people like Hugh Hereward, Dieter Möhl, Bob Palmer, Frank Sacherer, Peter Brarnham, George Carron, Leo Faltin, Kurt Habner, Wolfgang Schnell and Lars Thorndahl. The initial tests were concerned only with reducing the vertical spread of the beam. In 1976 the horizontal spread received the same treatment in the ISR and the results were again in excellent agreement with theory. With low intensity beams (around 5 mA), cooling rates went as high as 10 per cent per hour.
"The Frank Sacherer prize for an individual in the early part of his or her career, having made a recent, significant, original contribution to the accelerator field, is awarded to Viatcheslav Danilov, ORNL/SNS
“for numerous contributions to accelerator physics, in particular for the proposal, calculation, design, construction, and demonstration of efficient laser H- stripping.”
Frank's European climbing history seems to go something like this: arriving at CERN and becoming established he starts climbing some of the "classical" routes in the Alps, and cragging at the local limestone cliffs of the Saleve, very close to CERN. He did these activities with various other CERN workers, including Jack Steinberger, an American physicist doing a work at CERN. Jack was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1988 for his contributions to an experiment he did with collaborators in 1961. Jack remembers climbing with Frank, but not much else, though he says "I was much much below his class" regarding climbing. John Cardy, a British theoretical physicist, who has posted some of his recollections above, also remembers meeting Frank in 1971, and climbing with him through 1973. Jean-Claude Bourigault was another partner, and we have some wonderful pictures of Frank on their outings. John Rander was an American physics graduate student who began climbing with Frank sometime in 1974.
It seems that Frank had a group of people at CERN, though his work seemed to keep him from training hard for climbs. John Rander returned to the States to complete his thesis and returned in 1976 to work with Steinberger. He says that he found Frank out of shape and not having been climbing much. Rander's return re-energized Frank as they started climbing in the Saleve.
Frank catches the climbing bug again in 1977 and begins to climb some of the more serious routes of the day. It was mentioned that Frank was very fast in the Alps, taking the "speed is safety" paradigm "to it's logical limit." This may have been an over reaction on Frank's part to being in a distinctly non-Californian environment. He rarely wanted to stop for pictures, lunch, or anything.
John Rander, who has written a book on climbing safety in French, and began his climbing career at Tahquitz and Suicide with Bud Couch and bouldering with Bob Kamps. He observed that Franks approach to climbing really centered on what we would call the adventuresome aspects of a climb, that is, facing a climb without the outcome being predetermined by technology or excessive knowledge of the climb prior to its climbing, accepting the risk. John thought that Frank's "gifts included a memory which allowed him to replay all the moves onsight, a quick insight to resolve the technical issues, and a mind which could switch off the 'alternatives' once a solution was clear to him."
John is an echo of the Yosemite days, "climbing with Frank was never without stress. He enjoyed taking risks, often pushing his limits..." which seems so similar to the early days. However, his work at CERN consumed much of his time and attention which added the observation "...without really being in shape."
Joe Weis was another American physicist and an accomplished ice climber from Washington. He and John Rander had planned to climb K7, they were doing a lot of mixed climbing together. Joe was better in this alpine medium than Frank was, though younger and fitter than Frank. The three of them had done an FA of an ice couloir on the Chardonnet earlier in the summer of 78. John was invited on the Shroud climb but declined.
Added details of that climb were John's impression that they were moving slowly, that they reached the summit the next day after a bivouac and descended a ridge instead of the "normal" descent where the weather closed in on them. Frank apparently fell with all the gear and was killed. Joe could not continue the descent effectively and died of hypothermia.
After writing this it seems so pointless, given the early brilliance that Frank showed in Yosemite. Yet we overlook the risks he took there, and the price he paid through the falls he took finding the limits. Somehow, he was willing to not just find the limits, but try to move beyond them. Often he succeeded, but sometimes he did not, and paid the price of his minimalist style. That attitude of pushing the limits probably worked against him in the Alps, a much more complex environment to explore climbing limits. Frank didn't make it back from that last climb, but the story is an old one to climbers, and not much is gained from its retelling in this case.
John Long wrote in another thread titled "Humility" recently that "the higher you might have one day gotten, you'll be humbled to a corresponding level once your skills start to erode or the injuries start to mount. Gracefully becoming a hack and a 'plunker' as they say, seems as crucial as any other skill." To someone who is young it might seem like a surrender, and they may declare, as we all did when we were young, that they will never surrender. But as you get older, you begin to see the truth in those words. Perhaps the most difficult technique to accomplish as a climber is the grace of aging, a coming to terms with what you have become.
Frank was 39 when he died, his golden years were in his early 20's. I cannot pretend to know much about him, but the urge to climb at ever more difficult levels is something that any climber holds inside them. It is an engine that propels them. At some point in life you do find real limits. We all cope with those limits differently.
Many thanks to Jannice Sacherer Turner for her excellent recall of the people she and Frank climbed with at CERN. Jack Steinberger, who apologized for his bad memory but pointed me to John Rander. Ray Sherwood also remembered a set of companions from those days as did Flemming Pedersen. John Cardy and Jean-Claude Bourigault added to the history, and have posted some of their recollections above. Frank is often characterized as being shy, but he seems to have climbed with a large number of people, both in Yosemite and in Europe.
I think a final way of understanding Frank comes from his classical education where the students were encouraged to emulate a hero from ancient history. Frank’s choice was Achilles the hero of The Illiad.
Achilles was famous for his temper, which often brought danger upon his friends. Primarily though, he was known as an exponent of the Greek concept of arete which is often translated as a reputation for excellence. In the Iliad, it also meant honor, strength, courage, and wit. To have arete meant that your reputation would live on after you.
As Frank was fond of quoting from the Iliad, “It is better to have lived a short and glorious life than a long and undistinguished one”.
In this regard, I think he more than managed to succeed at his self-chosen ideal. In both rock climbing and physics, there is a narrow period of time in one’s youth in which to excel and establish one’s reputation. Knowing that his reputation was secure in both fields, I don’t think living a long life was all that important to Frank. Nor do I think being happy in the conventional sense held much meaning for him either. I think he lived his life for just what this forum has accomplished 30 years after his death, a remembrance of his past excellence.
In the Illiad, the demise of a Greek warrior was celebrated with athletic games. In a sense, I think that has been done here also, with all of our climbing stories about Frank. His own funeral was not attended by any of his blood relatives, but 30 years after his death, his much larger climbing family has gathered to remember him.
Last night, proceeding by deduction, I wrote something similar to Jan's post above,
including the classical references. So I won't repeat. While considering Frank
however, I did come to a realization that may be worth describing.
We all are much more affected by childhood experiences than we realize. Children
are absolutely ferocious learning machines. A million years ago if you did not learn
quickly enough you became dinner for wild beasts. Two things happen. First you
accept your circumstance as the norm, because you know of nothing different.
Second, you make judgments. If there is something in that experience you do not
like you determine to change it. When a person has exceptional talent, as did Frank,
you may even succeed.
A person currently much in the news, like Frank, is an excellent example. Both of
Obama's parents left him and he knew even his grandmother who was keeping him
alive, would have preferred he be different from what he was. If that had been all,
he would have taken away just resentment and anger and would be using that as a
tool. But there was more.
He saw that she was rising above herself and was committed to him. So he took
away that. That it is possible for people to rise above themselves.
I woke up at about three thirty in the morning with some thoughts about how I knew Frank. Of course there was the time we spent together in Boulder, with Jan, but that wasn't how I came to know him. And of course I was keen on what went on during the golden age and kept up on what people climbed, who did what, and when. We all knew Frank by reputation. But that was not how I knew him really. My best understanding of Frank came through several people who had climbed with him.
I remember speaking with Kamps about their ascent of the Right Side of the Hourglass, and that impressive climb seemed to paint a picture for me of how deep Frank was. It was clear Kamps admired Sacherer, and that meant a lot to me in and of itself.
I felt something of Frank's spirit in both Kamps and Royal. I'm not completely sure, but it seemed Royal got a little more serious when Frank's name came up, or as we stood before one of his climbs.
I was given the comic rendition of Frank through TM Herbert, who more than once hypnotically went into one of his routines, where he became someone else, in this case Frank, and started to instruct me, as though I was the belayer, "Now watch me, I'm not going to be able to stop to get any protection in, so feed out the rope..." And you know how funny that was and how much TM could make your stomach hurt with laughter. But he knew Frank in a special way, and I got that sense.
When I climbed Sentinel one day with Pratt, Chuck spoke openly and warmly to me about Frank. I think I asked one of those questions an immature kid asks, such as, "What were your best climbs?" Chuck was not offended and listed, in order, the Lost Arrow Chimney, with Frank, the Sentinel route we were on, and the Salathe Wall of El Capitan. I was always rather amazed he would list these three climbs, especially Sentinel. He spoke in part about the beauty of these climbs. He had undoubtedly done pitches more difficult than were to be found on any of these three climbs. Anyway, Chuck carried some of the spirit of Frank, and I felt it. Also, though, I think I could feel in my partner that day on Sentinel some of the love Frank had for him, Frank's love for Chuck. As I climbed within Pratt's aura, if you want to call it that, I became acquainted with both sides of that coin, Pratt's respect for Sacherer and Sacherer's respect for Pratt. Of course I also felt, had a sense for, a whole lot of individuals alive in Chuck's soul. All of us, I think, are made up in great part of those friends who have touched us and who have shared precious experiences.
Kor told me of a couple of climbs he did with Frank, and in my mind the legend grew. I really could see Frank through Layton's animated eyes. Layton portrayed Frank as a great climber but also a bit of a madman. That struck me a little as the pot calling the kettle black, or however the phrase goes. It was through Layton I sensed Frank's determined, short-fused side.
Chris Fredericks spoke to me about Frank, and when I climbed Sentinel with Fredericks I saw a little of Frank in action. I think Chris patterned his climbing after Frank, almost more than any other example he had, although Chris climbed at about a fouth the speed -- however competently.
Bridwell and I were usually anxious to climb together as soon as I returned to the Valley (almost every season back then), and right around 1971 or so he grabbed me just as I arrived in Yosemite, and we did the Left Side of the Slack. It usually took me a few days to get my mind and body in shape for the Yosemite cracks, and Bridwell had been there already for weeks and was in the best shape of his life. He spoke of Frank several times during the course of that climb, although this was a climb Chuck had led free. There is a ten-foot section that is really tough, a strange off-width, but of course perfect for Chuck. I watched Bridwell lead this in great style, unhesitating. It was as though I might also have been watching Frank or Chuck, because Jim carried their spirits up every climb he did, I believe, but especially Frank's. I really began to know Frank, through Jim. All of the big names in the Valley played some kind of mentor role in Jim's life, but perhaps he was too competitive with the likes of Royal, for example, to view him as a mentor. There was something more father-son-like with Sacherer and Bridwell.
I climbed a route one day with Dick Erb in Clear Creek Canyon, and I felt again connected to Frank through a kind of intermediary or spiritual brother of Frank. I studied Dick's facial comportment, the calm intensity, how he reacted when he came to about ten bugaboos of differening size I had nested all together by their tips into one single shallow hole about a half inch wide and half inch deep. It was an A5 placement, and Dick's eyes widened a little when he caught side of that mess, but somehow, he calmly put his weight on it, the way I imagined Frank would have. To make my point, I connected with Frank through Dick. Of course Dick told me first-hand the story he has again related about falling, and Frank letting him slide down all that way.
When I climbed a route on Twin Owls, above Estes Park, with Eric Beck many years ago I felt as though his presence kept switching in and out with Frank's, or at least something like that was happening in my imagination, that they were interchangeable. I sensed those two were deeply related, and as I got to know Eric a little I seemed to get to know Frank somehow also. Eric, by the way, was one of the best of his day and is one of the truly undersung masters of that golden era.
It's all mysterious, how we are indeed connected. There is much more to it than meets the eye.
Incidentally -- I think if I were to have known Frank much more up close and personal and done a lot of climbs with him I likewise would have better come to know Kamps, Kor, Pratt, Herbert, Bridwell, Fredericks, Beck, Erb, and the rest.
Finally I have come to better know Frank now through Jan and all those who have some inkling of or actual experience with Frank and have shared it here. And in answer to my good friend Higgins, I think we are much more alive than death tells us we are. All of my departed friends live in me and remain every bit as real as when they were "clothed in flesh."
"In the Illiad, the demise of a Greek warrior was celebrated with athletic games. In a sense, I think that has been done here also, with all of our climbing stories about Frank. His own funeral was not attended by any of his blood relatives, but 30 years after his death, his much larger climbing family has gathered to remember him."
Since you asked, your memory about the fall I took on Middle was pretty good considering how long ago it was, but it was as I said a piton that Frank told me not to grab. Also it was not a controlled slide. He let go with his braking hand while doing a hip belay. When the rope took off he grabbed it with both hands in front of his body but could not control it. To me it felt like a free fall.
Frank once said that he liked to think he improved every climb he did. His FFAs were the obvious examples, but others included just finding a superior line through a particular section or doing the route faster. This is a more elusive idea for us today, doing the 900th ascent of a route.
Frank also noted that when he was in shape, he felt "light". I also have felt this, although not in quite a while. I have read that for John Gill, this was an important aspect of his bouldering; indeed, that if he didn't taste the feeling of lightness on an ascent, the ascent was somewhat blemished.
One more: "The day you do the Arrow Chimney free in a day is the day you do more work than any other day of your life".
Interesting observation/remembrance, Eric, about 'improving' a climb--time warpish from today's perspective.
I am guessing that you and Frank may have been the amongst the first climbers who had that feeling of 'lightness.' You almost certainly were amongst the first to train so rigorously. I wonder if that is a more or less constant state for the full-time climbers today?
The sobriquet, "The fist,” was that 1965 when you two climbed the DMB free? Still pegged as a breakaway achievement.
Gill has been mentioned. He had transcended all or
most ideas of climbing and was aware of and in full use
of almost any of the more "mystical" aspects of climbing,
alluded to here, as far back as the late
1950's, and words that would be tantamount to the idea of "lightness" indeed were part of his lexicon. That
certainly wasn't an idea that began in Yosemite, and I
tend to think almost anyone on any given "frontier,"
whether it be a frontier in terms of a whole social
class or an era of history or a personal frontier, in which
one goes beyond one's own natural limitations, usually involves
some sort of physical transcendence. This usually begins
with one getting into good shape, some training, pushing,
and the associated "light" feeling that inevitably
comes with that. With difficult bouldering, one naturally
pushes hard, and the environment can become right. I found
very early on that even half a pound of body weight,
and probably less, made all the difference between
success or failure. There were other factors, though,
that contributed to a transcendent feeling. I could
go up to a certain problem and not be close to doing
it. Then with some meditation and mental processing
I would return the next day, or sometimes later the same
day, and would be able to do the route. What had changed? "Weight" I believe has a mental component, although this is all very poorly worded now on my part,
because I am in a hurry. But when the mind is in the
right place of awareness, the nature of experience changes.
We have access to powers that would otherwise be utterly
beyond us. I think today's climbers might well be less
in touch with such touch and more in touch with the
natural evolution toward high levels of training and
pushing, and so forth, but I wouldn't argue that point with
too much conviction. I could list, however,
various notable climbers around the country and world who,
I believe, had an understanding of these mental things, these
factors of lightness and transcendence, if you want
to use such words. I have personally witnessed many
climbers who had a remarkable mastery of the art, and I have
seen in them or felt something almost mysterious or that
went beyond what we commonly perceive as physical law, at least on some small level -- enough to allow for some kind of at least
moment's transcendence. You all know the story of the lady
who hears a clunk in the garage, goes out, and the jack has
collapsed, and the car has fallen on her husband. She lifts the car with one hand and drags him out with the other. Later she
can't lift the car with both hands. Some would attribute this
to adrenaline. Others might suggest something more along the
lines of what we speak about in karate, whereas all her
"mental blocks" were suddenly suspended, for just a moment.
Those forces of conditioning and self-perception didn't exist.
For the briefest time, she became "super human." Or so it seemed. I know, in my own experience of climbing,
I have felt such things. Usually it's when I am
in very good physical shape to begin with. One day with Gill,
and he will corroborte this, he took me to a wall he had looked at but not yet done. I don't know how I climbed it, but to his
astonishment I went up it first try, and it almost felt as though no gravity existed for a couple of moves. I know Gill was aware of this type of phenomena, and I think others, such as Greg Lowe, had more than a passing acquaintance with it. Certainly it would be no surprise to me that Eric Beck and Frank Sacherer, and Pratt, and all the masters of rock of many climbing areas, would tap into this kind of experience. I'm sure, even with all his physics, Frank knew good things could happen with the right states of mind and awareness...
Just as a small aside, Eric I did the West Face of Sentinel
with my 17 year old student, Tom Ruwitch, who had climbed for three months, and we did it in 12 hours in early June of 1967. Thinking it would be a big, two day climb, we loaded a huge, heavy haul bag, ran up to the base in the evening, and did two pitches in about an hour and a quarter. We stopped for the night, in hammocks. Like you, we had no trouble with the A5 pitch. I saw a knob to lasso above, and after one piton placement could reach the flake, and it made it easy, and I had no trouble with the dreaded dog-legs, as they were straightforward. We arrived on top, even with the
agonizing haul bag in tow, about two hours or more
before dark, and with plenty of time to have done those
first two pitches. Had we not hauled, I almost imagine we
could have done the route in 8 or 9 hours, but it was hot, and we weren't moving as fast as we normally might have. Royal wouldn't let me call it a one-day ascent, though, since we had done the bivouac. I'd have to look at my files to remember what year you and Frank did it. Did you and Frank use nuts at all?
I would like to hear a detailed report of that climb, every
step, every lead, the weather, whether the fall were running,
all that... That was a significant achievement and not
noticed really in a proper way historically.
my name is scott sacherer. my dad, ron sacherer, is frank's younger brother. i know very little of my uncle as his death occurred when i was only 4 years old and as jan mentioned in a previous post, my grandparents did not handle the death very well....photos of him were left up in the house but hard to get to know of someone through a still image and very little was mentioned of my uncle while growing up. my dad, not being the most comfortable discussing emotional topics, didn't share a whole lot either. the little information i was able to gather was that he was an exceptional climber and a very intelligent man as shown through his work with CERN.
i found this forum through a friend of mine who climbs, so i want to thank all of you for sharing your stories and insights and thus shedding some light on who my uncle was.
when i graduated college, i decided to take a trip to europe and of the many things i knew i wanted to see, visiting my uncle's grave site was one of my top priorities, as i was aware that no one else from our family had done so. below is the story of my journey to his grave site as well as photos of it.....
i made it to mt. blanc in chamonix, france with the knowledge that he was buried at the bottom of the mountain in what i expected would be a small cemetery. of course when i found it, it was a lot larger than expected and realized it would take days to locate his grave site. i had with me his death certificate and found the grounds keeper of the cemetery. the man spoke no english and i no french, so asking him where was not an option. i showed him the death certificate and pointed to the mountain and then acted as if i was climbing. with that, he pointed to an area which i am guessing is where fallen climbers were buried. the number of grave sites dropped to somewhere in the hundreds, which still seemed quite daunting. i walked along them for about 15 minutes and at some point closed my eyes and said a quick prayer for help finding it. no joke, as soon as i opened my eyes it stood right before me. i was blown away and went over to the site and noticed a slug in front of the tombstone. i picked it up and tossed it aside, feeling that it was and insult to my uncle's resting place. i then bent down and ran my fingers along his name plate. when i got to his last name, the name i carry, it fell off. i couldn't believe it. i was mortified. the only person from the family to trek out to france to see it and i ruin it. so i ran back into town, bought some flowers and a bunch of super glue and went back to make sure that it wouldn't fall off again. and i am sure that this will be hard to believe, but there back in nearly the same place was a slug, whether it was the same one or another that i didn't see prior i don't know, but i sure did leave this one be. once the name was fastened back on, i placed the flowers down and spoke to my uncle for the first time.
another part of the story that made the day even more special was after visiting his grave site, i went back into town and walked by a book store. i decided to go in and take a look at their selection of climbing books. i found steve roper's camp 4 and decided to thumb through it as i knew my uncle was a well known climber in yosemite, i thought by chance there might be mention of him. well i almost passed out when i saw his name on the pages and then saw pictures of him in the book. the book was in french so i couldn't read what was written about him. i asked the man behind the register who spoke english and he told me that it said he was kind of a pain in the ass to climb with as he was known to yell at his climbing partners. this made me laugh and i made it a point to buy and english version of the book when i got back to the states.
so thanks again to all of you for keeping the memory of my uncle alive and giving me a chance to get to know who he was much more than i had.
Thank you for looking at what we've written about your uncle Frank, and for your post. It's much appreciated. Perhaps other members of your family would also be interested in reading this thread.
When did you visit the grave in Chamonix? Has anyone from the family been there since? It looks like some thought and creativity went into the design of the gravestone, and that it has since gotten a bit weathered.
Scott, thanks for adding to this history of your uncle. I'm glad that you found us, it has been a great work of discovery to piece together his life. Of course, he was busy doing it rather than recording it, and thus little is left to us that he wrote himself.
But somehow, everyone has brought a bit to the story. Hopefully we all have a better idea just who this man was.
What he did in climbing in Yosemite Valley in the 60s is still astonishing. And the fact that he played a large role in setting the direction of climbing in Yosemite Valley, and also in the US, makes his contribution even more important.
Just imagine. A biography of a physicist. One chapter with all the brilliant work
winkling out nature's plan. The next chapter one hundred feet out raging to survive yet
another challenge posed by nature.
If any American is over at Chamonix in the near future they should check up on/tidy up Frank's gravesite. In no time at all the name will be gone and after this resurrection of a sort, it seems fitting to preserve his name in stone.
The passion we have for our very own is breathtaking and makes me proud to be a climber.
The website is in French, but the museum has some quite interesting stuff. I'd hoped to find something about the graveyard in Chamonix, given all the climbers (some famous) who are buried there. I thought there might be something about it, but nothing so far. (I also tried under churches.)
It sounds as though someone needs to act soon,
or they will exume these bodies.
I wonder, Jan, if there is a way to
specifically request that this not be done,
or to provide the caretakers of the graveyard
with the pertinent historical information, as
a basis to preserve the grave?
If not, wouldn't it be an interesting thought...
and I don't know if I should throw it out... but...
and depending on their family... and all... respectfully...
a funeral of some kind, or celebration, spread his
ashes, perhaps? somewhere in Yosemite... ?
I apologize if this was better kept to myself.
I might be a bit fuzzy brained...
It is 3 A.M. here, as I am in one of my non-sleeping
Amazing things keep happening on this website! I haven't seen Scott Sacherer since he was 6 months old. Now in the past three days I have talked to his father Ron on the phone and started exchanging emails with Scott as soon as I saw his posting. I did want to communicate with both Ron and Scott before I discussed the lastest situation concerning Frank which Pat aludes to. Having spent so many years in Asia, I can't help but believe in karma and that this is an example of it, if ever there was one.
The current situation came about when Jean-Claude mentioned in an email to me that Frank's grave concession was expiring. I had noted that all of the cemetery records were noted as "concession trentenaire" and assumed that marked the section of the cemetery that he was in. Instead it denotes the fact that a person in France and the rest of Europe is normally buried for only 30 years. At that time their remains are exhumed, the bones taken out and placed these days, in a smaller container and then stored underground with thousands of others (they are buried in wooden coffins without embalming). This of course came as a great shock since I was planning to visit Chamonix and the gravesite in two to three years. Jean-Claude kindly volunteered to help me check out the situation and in the past few days we have exchanged over a dozen emails and he has made at least half a dozen phone calls for me. Another woman at CERN, Christine Petit-Jean-Genaz, has also sent numerous emails and made several phone calls. The American Embassy has also been involved and now John and Brigitte Rander. I can't thank them enough!
This situation has arisen because of the problem of overcrowding in Europe. If everyone had a permanent gravesite, all of Europe would be a cemetery by now. Europeans do not generally cremate because the early Christians followed the Jewish custom of burial instead of the pagan Greek and Roman custom of cremation. The conserving of bones goes back to the days of the Christian martyrs and the catacombs in Rome, while every European city has great chambers beneath it stacked with bones. In former times, all the skulls are placed in one room and the leg bones in another etc. One can tour these in many European cities; I first saw them in Vienna.
Frank's brother has expressed neutrality on the subject of what to do while Scott and I are agreed that we prefer to have what's left of Frank's remains cremated and returned to California where we would like to have a memorial service in Yosemite since so many of us felt cheated at not even knowing about the funeral at the time it happened. This will take a lot of arrangement, including a lot of international paperwork, but I will keep the blog informed as we go.
Meanwhile, here are some impressions of Frank's original funeral as conveyed to me by Christine Petit-Jean-Genaz.
"I knew and admired Frank very much. I attended his funeral in Chamonix just before the Les Houches Summer Study on LEP, which resulted in the decision to build that accelerator.
Frank's funeral was an almost surreal event which remains clearly in my memory. I recall walking the streets of Chamonix, on the way to the little cemetary, which I visited several times since. We were under a deluge of rain. A miserable, rainy day to match our spirits. But he is remembered by many of us, not only in the accelerator sector, but very much also in the theory division where he had many friends too.
It was indeed a double service. I remember Joe's wife was there and how brave she was........"
Now, this time, Scott and I would like to celebrate Frank's life in the California sunshine in Yosemite, the place he loved so much.
I once asked Frank what he thought might set him apart from other climbers. He thought a bit and mentioned that he might be able to find rest spots that others missed. These might be a stem, a crouch below an overhang, a knee lock. These ideas are of course well known today.
In a different context, several of us were discussing protection and Frank gave the example of a hard section above a good stance. The mindless and chickenshit response would be to reach as high as possible to put in a piton, thus making it much harder for his partner to remove. We recall that pitons must be banged both up and down to remove them and by placing them high, the second might have to hang in a hard move to remove it.
I don't know, personally, anyone who's buried there. But each time I've been in Cham, I've gone to the graveyard. All those names. And each time I've gotten choked up and had to leave before I was there too long. I don't know why.
The one in Zermatt didn't have that effect, for me at least.
Until I clicked the links, I didn't realize how much money it cost to keep all those heroes in Cham.
I suppose they just maintain the markers?
The one in Zermatt feels like part of a Disney set. But then, so does Zermatt.
That '60s generation was basically the last one in North America that felt it still had something to do --and had to do something --in the Alps. Sacherer was there for work, but it was an arena that his generation had really grown up with. I don't think that's the case anymore. Andes, Patagonia, Inner Asia and other places have taken over.
Amazing thread. Thanks to all, and especially those who have real emotional investments, for posting.
I've been trying to think how to respond to
Eric's comments about Frank. They seem
interesting, in that Frank was never, to my
knowledge, known to have much concern for the
needs of his partners. I do not make such a
statement out of disrespect. I have as much
appreciation for Frank as anyone, but one of his
characteristics was his focus, combined with
determination and somewhat ruthless insistence
on a certain strict compliance to what he felt
was style. The spirit often conveyed was of a
man who was ready to achieve his objectives
and was not about to let any sort of
inability or incompetence on the part of
partners get in the way. Eric's entry
is the first mention, of which I am aware,
of a man who actually thought about
his partners and what might make things easier
for them. Frank didn't have to worry about
individuals such as Pratt, or Kamps, who could handle
pretty much any situation, but other individuals
and less experienced companions were, as it seems,
expected to keep up and weren't afforded a lot
of forgiveness, as it were. That was Frank's
toughness. So many have reported, including
Jan, those moments where he cut no one any slack,
so to speak... and even let fly the "words" at
times, in moments of impatience, until Eric's
comment about Frank's concern for the location
of a piton placement, which would indicate clear
consideration for his partners. Or could it be
he was bothered by this placement issue when he was
following and not when he led? One might think
such a consideration for a piton placement
totally incongruous, but... perhaps it's
just another dimension we didn't know about...
and in fact there was indeed that side of Frank
that honestly cared about his companions and
the quality of their experience? I would love to
hear more about this side of Frank.
Here are a few notes and images to fill in the picture of those last days above Chamonix. As remarked earlier in this thread, Frank, Joe Weis and I had climbed a lot together in 1978. I have chosen images from three routes. The first photo (#1) is Frank, beaming on the summit of the Frendo spur of the Aiguille du Midi after our very fast ascent (Joe was traversing the Mont Blanc). The picture was taken Friday, Aug; 25, five days before the accident. The Grandes Jorasses are in the background. The second picture (#2) is Frank at our only belay on the 1100m high Frendo spur (other than that belay, no other protection was used on the route). The late season ice is quite visible on the exit slopes (a pair of climbers had fallen off here during the week). Next photo (#3) is the lower section of Le Linceul (Shroud) on the Grandes Jorasses. I took it two weeks earlier, while descending from the Rochefort ridge to Col de Jorasses traverse with Joe (the two of us had begun to consider doing the Shroud). The season was finishing, and the long term weather forecast was unsure when Joe contacted me Sunday morning, Aug. 27, to see if I could get away from CERN to do the Shroud with him on Monday. I was on shift at CERN, and had doubts about both the weather and the late ice conditions (it’s a long route), so after some hours tossing the idea around I finally declined and called Joe back. He was not giving up the Shroud so easily; he and Frank decided over coffee Monday at the CERN cafeteria to go up in the afternoon. Frank borrowed most of my ice screws and I promised to go up to take photos and check out the scene the next morning. I learned later that they had returned to Geneva for some gear before finally taking the train up to Montenvers. The following photo of the Shroud (#4) is the last taken of them by me. I used a telephoto lens from the Leschaux glacier around 10 or 11 on Tuesday morning. They were very low on the route (looking back at the first Shroud image one can easily locate the same rock outcrop). A zoom of this photo shows that Joe was leading at that moment. Late that evening they would bivouac high on the route, and finish the climb at the Hirondelles ridge as the weather folded. The accident occurred while descending an off-route couloir leading back toward the N. face. Two mysteries surround this climb for me: why the late start, and why after reaching the summit of the Shroud did they go down the complicated Hirondelles ridge? Joe and I had always planned to go over the top (250m higher) to descend by the normal route.
The last images are taken from our “possibly first?” ice ascent of the Chardonnet’s N. Face couloir, done much earlier that summer (note: the 500m high route is now known as the “Goulotte Aureille-Feutren”, it’s first ascent by J. Aureille and Y. Feutren dates back to 1942; Joe was convinced that the early ascent had climbed the 80° gully on rock, as the ice conditions vary considerably). It was Joe’s baby and the three of us did it in a rather long morning, rotating leads. The first photo (#5) was taken in the evening before the climb (the route goes up the obvious central line). The next (#6) shows Joe Weis leading the start of the fairly exposed crutch pitch (overhanging ice bulges) and the third (#7) shows Frank following a steep ice pitch in the couloir above, dusted with spindrift. In the last photo (#8) Joe or Frank took me starting up one of a series of long run-outs we swung to the summit. What I really do recall was the undeniable sensation of adrenaline flowing reminding me of Yosemite days. Frank probably felt the same…
Thanks for writing up your recollections. The Alps still exert a strong attraction, at least to me, a place where climbing originates. Doing the hard classic routes there would be the same as doing them in Yosemite Valley, with all the difficulties present as well as the ghosts of the First Ascent teams. Doing new routes takes it up a notch, as there is the sense that you are uncovering a thing unseen by those masters, or pushing the standard a bit beyond what had been accomplished.
Thanks for the wonderful photos. The one of Frank on top of the Frendo spur is about the best I've seen. As I look at the others however, I am still amazed that Frank was up on ice climbs like that. I have some photos of a trip we took up the Mer de Glace to the Refuge Couvercle which is a fun outing since one has to climb up steel cables and ladders to get to the refuge. There are also great views of the Grandes Jorasses along the way. I have one of me gazing up at that mountain just as Frank is saying, "You'd have to be crazy to climb that. Why would anyone want to be that cold and miserable"?
Clearly something changed between then fall of 1971 and the summer of 1979. I wonder if Frank got used to the cold after so many European winters or if he would have stayed with rock climbing if the Dolomites were closer, or if he started doing ice climbing because that's what his friends did? A man of many enigmas, though he certainly does look happy on top of the Frendo Spur. I feel much better knowing that he was so obviously enjoying himself right up to the end.
Great contributions from all of you, especially the photos from 1978. What a wonderful memorial to Frank Sacherer has materialized out of cyberspace here, thanks to the initiative of Ed Hartouni.
I spent two summers in Chamonix in 1976 and 1977 and I wish I would have crossed paths with him. I did meet a couple of his colleagues, though. In 1976,Dewi Butler and I shared a bivouac on the Bonatti Pillar of the Dru with a couple of French physicist/climbers from CERN. It seems that there were a lot of serious climbers in that group.
The photos are wonderful and the remembrances help complete the story of Frank Sacherer. He had such an impact on multiple generations of Yosemite climbers. His climbs- Sacherer Cracker, Ahab, L Reeds etc. were an inspiration and a gold standard for us as fledgling free climbers. The ethic he followed cast a long shadow on all of us. I was fortunate to have been with Peter Haan when he freed the L Side of the Hourglass and I know Peter was very mindful of Frank's legacy- before (probably during) and after the climb. Thanks to Ed for starting this great thread and to all who have contributed.
Can anyone tell me who Don Telshaw was and why he would have been Frank's witness at our wedding in Yosemite (I could have sworn it was Dick Erb?!) but the document says Telshaw who listed Fresno as his permanent address.I only vaguely remember him and can't at all remember his relationship to Frank which dated back to much earlier days.I don't believe I ever saw him again after that event?
Don was somewhat active in the climbing scene in the early 60's and yes he was from Fresno. He worked for Curry Company, at the Lodge I believe. He did a number of routes with Denny and Sacherer. I did a few climbs with him but have not heard from in for many years. I ran into the wonderful minstrel John Adams at the Nose reunion in Nov and perhaps he can enlighten you as John also was in Fresno in those years and is again living there.
Thanks! I'm trying to put together a chronology of Frank's life and was checking through my various documents. I can't seem to find any photos and in any case, there were only a handful of people there. It took place in the meadow in front of the church at Yosemite, officiated by the minister of that church. I think we were in fact, the first of several climber weddings in the Valley.
I've read somewhere (in one of the climbing histories perhaps or some of the commentary that circulated with the campaign to save Camp 4) that there was a photo of Frank in what I remember as either Life or Look magazine, as part of an article on the national parks. They caught him shirtless and grubby as he returned from a climb and the caption was something like "Is this the future of our National Parks?". I'd love to have the reference to that article so we could look it up and scan the photo in. It would make a great juxtaposition with the references to him by the Nobel Laureate!
This is the most interesting thread I've read in a long time. I never met Frank, but Chouinard and others would talk about him from time to time in the Tetons more than forty years ago, describing his incredible ability to wriggle up virtually any fold in the granite. To read that he was also at the leading edge of his profession as a physicist is indeed impressive. He brought stature to "amateur" (nonprofessional) climbing . . . Are there parallels today?
Of course you are the most immediate parallel, in terms
of being a renowned climber and highly respected in your
profession, although there are quite a number of
excellent climbers who were and are excellent mathematicians
or scientists. John Stannard is one example, a
genius level climber of course and physicist.
Tom Frost, of course, was a distinguished engineer, what
with all his designs and also won a national championship
in sailboat racing. You might be referring specifically,
though, to physics and to those coming up now in the
modern age. That's an interesting question...
Please don't put me up there with Frank (or jstan, or ed) - I was a college math professor, a teacher who dabbled a bit in research, not a distinguished research mathematician or scientist.
In the 1950s and early to mid 1960s it was easier to have an impact on the evolution of climbing - as a nonprofessional - and be a dedicated, even renown scientist, engineer, or mathematician making important contributions. I don't know if that's still possible. Probably not, but I'm curious to learn of any celebrated scientist, engineer or mathematician who - at present - is also at a leading edge of some type of climbing. I would guess that each of these activities is currently so demanding that excelling in both is a rarity. Maybe not.
I don't keep up with what is happening in the climbing world, other than reading an occasional issue of a climbing magazine, or scanning forums like this one. So pardon my ignorance if I raise an issue that has been resolved.
I fail to pass the test for contributing to this thread on both counts but my poor judgment wins through once again
Three comments, none earth shaking.
1. I am frankly uncomfortable when mention is made of myself in a sentence including the word “genius.” Perhaps we should admit none of us really knows what that word means. We are using it as an approximation. When use of it comes to my mind I find it much more accurate to replace it with the sentence, “We appreciate very much the contributions you have made.”
For example I very much appreciate the contributions made by Oli over the years, just as I appreciate the contributions he continues to make today. It may be he does not realize he is still contributing just as much as ever, but hey. Life is full of surprises.
2. Many of us have encountered “normal” people who ask very seriously, “What on earth do people get out of risking their lives when they go into the mountains?”
To answer such questions we, henceforth, need to carry that picture of Frank appearing above. It is a picture of a person who obviously, has never been happier.
3. Regarding the quote from Dr. Kaplan.
''Climbing mountains satisfies this competitive drive, it seems, where you might not be competing with your fellow climbers, but with the mountain itself.''
I think he gets almost to the point I have made on ST a number of times – never to the intended effect. Let me ask. Suppose you love to solve problems. If you are in physics which deals with the full scope of almost all problems as they are presented to us by nature itself, which problem would you prefer?
A problem created by Joe down the street?
Or a problem created by nature millions of years ago and unchanged by human hand?
In these crowded busy times many of us focus our attention on Joe down the street. A shame. The problems whose solutions truly are critical to our satisfaction and even our survival are presented to us, by nature itself.
thanks for contributing that jstan, and for John Gill's contribution. My guess is that Frank would also have protested being put into a category of "genius scientist climber" as his contributions to accelerator physics were important, but just so.
As I alluded to up thread, my accelerator physics colleagues thought him very very good, but the work he had done up to his death was not "extraordinary." Perhaps he would have gone on to have made extraordinary contributions, that is something we'll never know.
It is equally true that we sit here nearly 50 years after his climbing in Yosemite Valley and judge his contributions to be profound, yet it is not clear that the people of the time judged them so, then. It takes some time to come to those sorts of conclusions, after a lot of stuff has happened...
I am hoping that jogill wasn't referring to me in his post, as I have been an active researcher, but not so notable in research. And equally un-notable in climbing, which has been an activity I've done nearly all my life. That I am climbing harder now than at any other time is just an indication that I wasn't a very accomplished climber, and still am not, at least compared to the great climbers who have been active during the same time.
What I do is quite unusual, as jstan points out, I do like puzzling over the problems that understanding nature poses to us. My skills there are reasonable, but I've known so many truly extraordinary physicists that my ranking among them is considerably low. They are extraordinary.
But having been a physicist all these many years I'm at least content to still follow my interests where they may take me, and also communicate what I find, be it physics or climbing. It is all so wonderful, we should be enjoying that wonder as much as we can with the time that we have.
Thank you, John (Stannard). Words such as that,
and from one I have always respected so much,
mean more to me than anyone can imagine. You must
have been reading my mind, because today, having
a low day maybe, I was just thinking that I have
probably run my course, in terms of having much of
anything to offer the climbing world anymore...
Ed, probably the reason Frank's achievements might
not have been judged so much as "genius" in his day
is that factor of his carelessness,
or maybe the word is dangerousness, at times. I
often heard people speak about him, always with
praise and admiration, but then never, or almost
never without adding one of those stories about
some near disaster or potential one... In the eyes
of some, that possibly may have detracted from
>The accident occurred while descending an off-route couloir >leading back toward the N. face. Two mysteries surround this >climb for me: why the late start, and why after reaching the >summit of the Shroud did they go down the complicated Hirondelles >ridge? Joe and I had always planned to go over the top (250m >higher) to descend by the normal route.
I don't know about the former question, of course, but I can provide some clue for the latter. I've been collecting documents on the Jorasses climbing history for the last few years, and I'm aware of this accident. Besides, it happens that I was on the Jorasses (the Italian/south side of course) on the same days (not much of a coincidence, as I was living in Courmayeur in these years!).
As you may remember, summer 1978 was extremely snowy in the area, even for late 70's standards. I've pictures taken in the second half of August '78 showing big snow patches lingering in Val Veny as low as 1800m. The main watershed (the frontier ridge) was particularly affected, as it was in general the whole italian side. On August 20th, Giancarlo Grassi and Gianni Comino did the FA of the Ypercouloir on the south face of the Jorasses,
and found, in full southern exposure, in August and not much higher than 3300m, very fat ice. Of course there was a thick snow cover on all glaciers too.
The upper 200m of the Hirondelles aren't really a ridge, but a sort of shallow spur of broken rock, separated by a several large couloirs from the "counter slope" of the Tronchey Ridge on the left, linked to the lower part by some exposed and delicate terrain. During snowstorms, it accumulates snow very rapidly, and in such condition, seen from below may look very difficult if not impassable. On the other hand, the Hirondelles may look deceptively straightforward (it isn't, or at least, it wasn't - now there's a set of short equipped abseils on the lower rock triangle leading to the col)
On 1978, the escape routes from the Jorasses were poorly documented in any language but Italian (the definitive Buscaini/Vallot guide - in French - for the area was published the following year). Given the nasty reputation for the Jorasses normal route, and the state of the upper ridge, it may have been relatively reasonable for your friends to decide for the immediate descent.
The Hirondelles - and all the couloirs that leads from the lower Hirondelles are seriously lighting prone. As I understand from my documentation, Sacherer and his partner got stuck by lighting while abseiling down towards the Leschaux glacier from somewhere above the col. "Standard procedure" from the base of the Hirondelles is to return to the Gervasutti hut on the Freboudze glacier (on the Italian side). It's a straightforward and safe (even if long) route, but again, that descent was very poorly documented in 1978, so I guess the direct descent to the French side was too tempting (and cheaper too - no tunnel fee) for foreign climbers active in the area.
Thanks for that reply. Your comments on the availability of the various foreign-lang. guides is especially helpful. That's not the kind of detail that most chroniclers tend to notice.
And no, your reply wasn't long at all. Supertopo (and some of the other US forums) tend to be much more tolerant of lengthy posts than is the case in Europe and the UK, especially when the poster has something of value to contribute.
Thanks for the post, you’re quite right to bring up the rather unusual conditions of that summer. Interested readers should compare my photos of the Shroud with the image posted by Rick A (post 49 on this thread) or the one on the Summitpost link I gave. I must admit that a Courmayeur perspective from that year is interesting. I have always felt that once off the Shroud, the summit access would have been straightforward on that Wednesday morning before the weather turned completely, and the normal descent route, though not without objective risks, is what Joe and I had discussed. The situation later in the day might have been quite different. I also agree with you that the descent down to the Col des Hirondelles would have been very tempting when seen from above. It’s the choice they made.
As for lightning, all I can answer is that I had the sad task of their identification at Chamonix before the families were contacted, and that aspect was not obvious to me at the time. However, that doesn’t exclude lightning as an indirect cause of the accident.
> I have always felt that once off the Shroud, the summit access would have been straightforward on that Wednesday morning before the weather turned completely, and the normal descent route, though not without objective risks, is what Joe and I had discussed. The situation later in the day might have been quite different.
The conditions of the normal route were snowy (the Reposoir was quite plastered), but decent enough (the route was traced), the main problem being the extremely violent winds. It think that wind may have been an addition factor on your friends decision, as probably the summit ridge was being wind-blasted enough to make progression upward very difficult. However, once below the summit ridge (even few dozen yards towards the Jorasses upper plateau) wind normally abates. I think descent on that side would have been probably difficult, but not impossible or suicidal.
It should be note also that winds continued without pauses for days after the storm of the 30th - a typical September condition back in those days.
>I also agree with you that the descent down to the Col des Hirondelles would have been very tempting when seen from above. It’s the choice they made.
Return via the Hirondelles has been used several times over the years, and this option has seen several accident and rescues (one this summer was particularly epic), so I believe your friends didn't really do anything terribly odd, considering the conditions and the informations they probably had.
> As for lightning, all I can answer is that I had the sad task of their identification at Chamonix before the families were contacted, and that aspect was not obvious to me at the time. However, that doesn’t exclude lightning as an indirect cause of the accident.
A great deal of falls during thunderstorms (the majority) are not provoked by direct lighting hits, but by lightning hitting nearby and provoking the climber fall. However, the real cause may have been different (winds may be a good candidate too).
The photo above was kindly shared with me by Luca Signorelli and certainly supports the old saying that one picture is worth a thousand words. I realized when he sent it that I had never seen a closeup of the Grandes Jorasses before, in this case the Hirondelles Ridge which lies in the center of the photo on the border between the light and shadow. It was taken during an exceptionally dry year when the Shroud was almost free of ice and snow. The red F marks the place where Luc thinks that Frank and Joe would have exited though he notes that there is another exit a bit higher.
As we can see, the Hirondelles is indeed a complex ridge and Luca believes the exit through the summit notch would have been covered with snow and invisible from point F. He thinks the safest way down may have been toward Italy on the Freboudze glacier but notes that documentation was so scarce back then, they may have considered this alternative too long if they even knew about the hut on the Italian side.
My own thoughts are that it would normally seem counter intuitive to go up a ridge during a snowstorm with high winds and lightning, especially if there was a lot of snow. Other psychological barriers would have been that they almost certainly didn't have Italian money or their passports with them, which as Americans they would have needed to get back to the French side. To this Luca has noted that back then crossing the long Tunnel which traverses the Italian -French border via hitch-hiking, wasn't as difficult as it could have seemed.
I thought it was a good thing that fixed rappel anchors have now been placed on the Hirondelles for route finding if nothing else, but he had a further interesting observation about that saying he’s not sure it’s a good idea as the descent from the “triangle” above the col is not technical and the rappels are short but that the rappel ropes always get stuck. He adds. “Coming down from the Hirondelles is not a problem of anchors - it's a problem of being on such serious and remote terrain. Putting the anchors means people (often far less competent that Frank was) get tempted to climb the Shroud even if they don't have the strength - or the condition - to continue to the summit, which is the safest choice if the situation allows, because they feel there's a safe escape route in any case. The large number of fatalities we had in the area in the last couple of years is partially the result of this”.
I finally figured out how to post this overview of the Chamonix Valley with the Grandes Jorasses on the skyline at the far left and Mt. Blanc on the skyline in the middle. Hopefully this gives an idea of the scale of things and the remoteness as Luca suggested, of the Grandes Jorasses from any permanent settlements on either side of the border.
I think it helps to illustrate that a descent from the Grandes Jorasses still leaves a person even on the French side, two glaciers and a long way from Chamonix.
This portion of the Chamonix panoramic map shows the lower part of the Mer de Glace Glacier which is only partially seen in the lower right corner of the Grandes Jorasses map. It also shows the location of the Frendo Spur from which the great summit photo of Frank was taken five days before he died. The top of the rock climbing portion and the beginning of the snow ridge lie just between the letters n and i in the label Aiguilles de ChamonNIx. The photo itself was taken from the top of the ridge of the Aig. du Midi cable car station. I believe it was not the Grandes Jorasses which was visible in that photo as mentioned by someone earlier, but rather, the Mt. Blanc du Tacul, a subsidiary peak on the base of Mt. Blanc.
The thing I was struck by, in the middle of the night as I read, is the depth of the lurking that goes on around here! Really quality, smart people, great climbers and vital parts of our history. Scientists, climbers, friends, poets, heroes, historians...they're all here.
Some of these great folks don't bother with most of our nonsense threads, but when there is a discussion of some importance going on....
T.H.'s benediction blew my mind. I've been thinking about it ever since
> The red F marks the place where Luc thinks that Frank and Joe would have exited though he notes that there is another exit a bit lower
Actually, the other exit is slightly higher than the F of the picture (my mistake, apologies about this). The "F" marks a lateral escape that's used under bad weather conditions. The vertical distance between the two exit points is less than 100m.
I wondered about that as higher up there seems to be a natural ramp to the left which leads into the triangular area and over the top. I've gone ahead and changed it on my commentary since it's right underneath what people will be looking at when they view the photo.
I would like to try to keep things clear. Joe and Frank did not exit the Shroud as mentioned in some previous posts. The photo below was taken by me that Tuesday morning when they started the climb (arrows at the bottom). The sky looks great, but cirrus clouds would soon appear. They spent most of the day going up the ice gully and bivouacked on the steep snow slope at its top (B). We carried parkas and a bivouac sack or mini-tarp for that purpose; it would have been a cold night on a chopped out ledge. All of us went light, so there would have been no extras. That night the cirrus clouds were giving way to cirrostratus, so I guess only the brightest stars would have been visible, like Deneb overhead, and maybe Capella in the East before first light. The weather situation that Wednesday morning was not yet impossible. The Italian side was in fairly thick cloud cover, but on the Chamonix side there were still patches of bright sunshine. Once cleared out of the bivouac they had to cross the ice gully in the photo; the rest of route goes up the steep snow slope which should have been fairly fast. The last information I have is that they were heading up the usual Shroud route line to the exit gullies (upper arrow) at the end of the morning. The weather closed in shortly afterwards, and this was not an isolated thunderstorm, but rather a big weather front that would last days. It’s a pity that Luca’s photo of the Hirondelles ridge wasn’t taken under that season’s snow conditions. I suspect that any fixed rappel points would have been very hard to find. The usual exit route over the top still looks like a very logical choice from his photo. As for the spare change, please let’s not get absurd, climbing out of Geneva we usually carried French, Swiss and Italian currency.
The Hirondelles Ridge from the South East (Italian) side.
This photo which Luca also shared with me shows the descent into the Freboudze basin on the Italian side. A is the exit of the Linceuil/Shroud into the Hirondelles ridge, B is the Col des Hirondelles from which one can descend to either France or Italy, and C is the approximate location of the Gervasutti hut. Luca notes that the height difference from the Shroud exit at Point A to his location when taking the photo was approximately 2000m/6,000feet.
These continuing photos of the Shroud (how apt a name, with its jagged shape, long white yet darkly clothed look) appear so ominous, along with the descriptions of the storm, lightening strikes onto the mountain, as we all vicariously follow along the various lines and points made so possible now by scanning and computer software, hunched before our screens, the hundreds of us all connected by the wonder of cyberspace. Here we are imagining what Franks was feeling, perhaps good and strong and eager as we all have as climbers, even through a bivouac cut from ice (me so accustomed to rock, petrified by the thought of carving out and sleeping on an ice bench), now taking his steps, carefully up, up, then continuing on and around the icy ridge into complex, vast terrain with no easy choices, wind howling, lightening booming, visibility diminishing.
I greave again for Frank and his companion and have dread for their ordeal. Whatever the ups and downs of your relation with Frank, these thoughts must come to you too, perhaps haunt you at times as they do us now, if I may speak for us onlookers, going post by post, picture by picture through the brains and hearts of each of us wanting to say something, to understand, to encompass, to explain, when of course, what we are saying at root is beyond words but close to this: damn you death, you terrible thing we imagine ever more vividly with each post, damn you for how you took them and so many friends and us too in time, and therefore against it we will share our memories of Frank with honesty and sincerity, we will regret with you, we will make tribute as we have helter-skelter via electronic thread, and vow again to be kind and warm and kindred with all our loved ones because, because … there just is nothing else to go against such an enormity. And from this came my benediction some while back, really to all of us who, in time, go with Frank.
Looking back to the Chamonix panoramas, themselves speaking a story, made beautiful and organized by names we give formations, with such distinctly human touches (a ski lift, a trail, villages below, the entire aspect so inviting, when in fact we now know something else), and focusing especially on the lower part of the Mer de Glace Glacier, I am taken back to the 60's when I went up to Montenvers and followed the little white line hiking path westward along the Aiguilles de Chamonix to do a first fee ascent of two small and indistinguishable towers, the M and Albert, naive California boy I now know, completely unprepared in some sort of wool shirt and cotton shell and knickers and Kronhoffers, and thinking afterwards, wow, that was a pretty good accomplishment, even as rain caught us on the descent, barely hinting what a weather change in those parts can do, but making us feel lucky and bold. And now I get to compare my day to the giant and long away Shroud which Frank took on in the big, big upper panorama, and feel small again and am reminded all our achievements are just for us and are rightly washed down to some small pool, maybe an article here, a book there, a website or post there for others who care to visit, but really only having meaning in our own memories and hearts. I don't diminish that Chamonix day of mine, I just put it in a pleasing but modest place now next to the so much more colossal terrain above and beyond the little M and Albert I can not even place on the map.
Farewell to Frank, again, and hopes to you Jan for your own good mountain days, and bravo to all posters here for making cyberspace one of honesty, insight, caring, tribute, and dare I say, love.
You are right, I am haunted by these photos and their memories, but also by the contradictory impulses they provoke. If I were a person with “normal” hobbies, it would be easy to pronounce the whole climbing endeavor as mad, and to dismiss it. Instead, Lionel Terray’s book wonderfully descriptive book title, Conquistadors of the Useless, provokes a sense of ironic admiration. Contemplating the Chamonix scene and the Grandes Jorasses in particular, provokes a sense of great sadness for Frank, and a certain amount of anger. What in the world was a Valley climber doing up there? He didn’t like cold weather and ice ledges any more than you. And didn’t they consult a long range weather forecast before they left, didn’t they notice the cirrus clouds, didn’t they remember there would still be climbing opportunities the following year? Why take risks for something that was not a first ascent, especially for someone whose reputation was already made? He looked so happy a few days before on top of the moderate Frendo Spur. Why oh why couldn't he have been content to stay there?
At the same time I must confess that I can’t help but look at those photos out of an aesthetic enjoyment for their sheer beauty. I even found myself thinking it would be agreeable to climb the Grandes Jorasses from the gentler snow covered slopes of the Italian side. I also have the remembrance of many happy times in the Alps, of Frank on his best behavior with no great ambitions, of the challenge for me of translating French for him as best I could, of our many friends in Geneva. For all those sorts of reasons it is impossible to see those mountains as all good or bad. Even in Yosemite, I have had friends like Jim Madsen killed in perfect weather only a few days after spending an evening at our house. While I remember him and them when I go to the Valley, it doesn’t stop my enjoyment of the place nor do I see the Alps as a sinister place.
Likewise, in this post modern age relationships are not seen as all good or bad either. It is quite possible to have a falling out with a climbing partner over principles or to divorce someone, and still be deeply concerned about their welfare. It’s also no longer felt necessary for families or friends to choose sides. Especially in our small community, we all belong because of our eccentricities, not in spite of them, and we have a long tradition of speaking frankly with each other. This is good since so few people on the outside can understand our way of life at all.
I believe one of the reasons this forum has been so valuable for me personally is that I wasn’t able to grieve with my climbing friends at the time Frank was killed. The closest I came was circumambulating the Buddhist monuments in Kathmandu where I ran into Sherpa women who had lost their husbands and were doing the same thing. Even then, their family members climbed to earn a living for their families in a place with few other opportunities, quite different from a western climber’s motivations. Meanwhile, when I mentioned to the people I worked with in Nepal, that my former husband had been killed in a climbing accident, I soon discovered that everyone was quick to say they were sorry, and equally quick to have somewhere else to go, if it looked like we might talk about it for more than a minute or two. Our society does not deal well with death, especially death at a young age, let alone by doing something not necessary for material advancement. Who else other than fellow climbers could possibly understand?
I know that Frank would be surprised, probably even a little embarrassed at this forum and its outpouring of memories. I’m sure if he could comment today, he would want us to brush over the bad ending and remember him in his glory days, especially his all time best year, 1964. Meanwhile the rest of us are left to grow ever older, ever stiffer and more pained in the mornings. We remember our climbs but forget what we just walked into the room for. Most of us have arrived here without a great year like 1964, and if middle aged and beyond, are well beyond our abilities when we were younger. Even so, climbing and climbers are important to us for the shared memories, the shared values, the sense of camaraderie across languages and cultures, and now the vast distances of cyberspace. No one knows what’s on the other side of this life, but I like to think of Frank as just a ways beyond our communications abilities right now, yet still within our space.
As Jan points out, climbing is so personal and so deeply imbedded into our sense of self, we can be very connected to climbers we do not personally know. I did not know Frank, or even meet him; I was not even climbing in the Valley when he was there. Nevertheless, Frank’s impact on climbing reached me.
For me, personally, when the fogs of climbing myths in the Valley lifted, I was still faced with beautiful, hard, run-out, scary lines that Frank had chosen to climb in his singular style. Staring at them, along with other aspiring 70s Valley climbers, we had to decide if we would try to follow, not just the climb itself, but the methods and aspirations that Frank gave reality to.
I think that this observation is true for all climbers at some level. And, for most of us, this grounding of our climbing is usually tied to an actual person, but usually someone we climbed with. But Frank’s climbs and his all-free ethic had such a singular focus and meaning that the climbs themselves formed a definitive point of aspiration, an aspiration that could be applied to new routes, at new skill levels, in new areas.
So, Jan, your words “…Frank…still within our space” are prophetic for a whole generation of climbers, some more self-aware than others, but all grounded in his expression of himself in his routes.
We are all lucky that you found us and shared your life and Frank's with us.
I met Frank and Jan in 1970 in the company of the other members of the CERN group of climbers that John Cardy and Jean-Claude Bourigault refer to in their posts.
We knew nothing about Frank’s climbing skills and well established reputation in the Yosemite Valley, which by then had already had massive impact on the climbing community there. For whatever reasons, he neither talked about himself nor of his Yosemite experiences. Perhaps his modesty and obvious shyness were part of the barrier. It was difficult to get close to Frank. He remained a mystery. However within this small international group there was a natural camaraderie not encumbered by pre-conceived notions of his climbing skills or his personality.
I climbed with Frank a few times on the Salève sometimes with Jean-Claude. I recall the following incident, in response to Pat Ament’s last posting: “ and in fact there was indeed that side of Frank that honestly cared about his companions and the quality of their experience? I would love to hear about this side of Frank”.
It was his turn to lead on the crux pitch of Les Paturages, a classic on the Salève that I’d already done a few times. I innocently tried to give him some advice on how to overcome the hard moves (6A French grading), including the suggestion that he could use the low protection peg as a foot-hold. He said nothing and proceeded to climb it his way. He floated calmly across the moves. I remember clearly thinking at the time “He climbs in another dimension”. Watching him on this route, I realized that he was one of the truly great rock climbers. In hindsight and after reading this thread I know how utterly worthless, irritating and unwanted my advice was. I can only surmise that he may have been boiling inside. However, the “short fuse” didn’t go off, there were no hard words, no look of contempt, no acid joke, just fast precise action. This was true consideration for his partner taking into account my lesser skills in surroundings far from his home climbing scene in Yosemite. We finished the route happily.
During the summer of 1970 I shared the Carmichaël route on the Aiguille des Pèlerins with Frank and Jean-Claude. I’m adding two more photos to the ones that Jean-Claude posted: one showing Frank leading the cracks in the middle part of the route and the other on the summit block, which interestingly shows in the background (in line with Frank’s right shoulder) the upper part of the Frendo Spur on the N. face of the Aiguille du Midi, a route which Frank later did with John Rander. In 71 we were 3 ropes of two on the Ryan route on the Aiguille du Plan with Jean-Claude and Frank climbing together. Slow going with six forced us to make a cold and wet bivi on the descent in the dark a few hundred meters from the Refuge du Plan. Later on (cannot remember the year) we went to the Dolomites. Frank climbed with John Cardy and I climbed with Jean-Claude. I left CERN in 1974 and didn’t meet Frank again.
Finally, I would like to thank Jean-Claude for introducing me to this fantastic thread, Ed Hartouni for starting the whole thing, Jan for her beautifully written, lucid and erudite contributions, John Rander for his precise explanation of what likely happened on the descent from the Shroud and his excellent photos especially the one of Frank at the exit of the Frendo with the Grandes Jorasses in profile behind, and all you other climbers and friends of Frank, young and old, for making this such an interesting and informative adventure. It is great.
Summer 1970. Frank leading the cracks in the middle section of the Carmichael on the Aiguille des Pèlerins.
Summer 1970. Summit block Aiguille des Pèlerins. Aiguille du Midi behind. Frendo Spur exit in line with Frank's right shoulder.
thank you, Frank, for sharing your story about climbing with Sacherer. This thread has exceeded my original expectations and filled out the climbing biography of a very important figure, however brief his presence was, in the US climbing scene.
What a wonderful surprise to hear from you again! Well do I remember the climbs on the Saleve with Frank, Jean-Claude and yourself with an occasional glimpse of a Chamois on the cliffs above us. Also that wonderful week skiing in Zermatt and the climb up the Breithorn on skis and skins. I remember the first time Frank met you and came back all enthused that evening telling me about a guy in computing "who reads pages of binary like it was English, and sorted out my programming errors in no time - and he climbs too"!
I was interested in your story of Les Paturages which in the American system is rated 5.10b. It's interesting that Frank was doing that standard again after not climbing anything above 5.8 between spring 1965 and spring 1971. Regarding his tolerance of your advice to step on a piton, and the fact that he never lost his cool with me while climbing on the Saleve, (as happened every time we ever climbed together in Yosemite), it's as though he had begun a new life in Geneva and left the past behind.
Only in 1976 did he begin pushing his personal limits again when he started doing first free ascents on the Saleve with John Cardy and took up ice climbing with Joe Weiss and John Rander. At that time according to John, he again began expressing strong feelings about proper climbing ethics. So far though, I haven't heard any stories of his temper even from that time.
And finally, thanks for correcting me about which mountains are in the background of the Frendo Spur photograph. John Rander has also just confirmed my mistake. Evidently the camera was facing west toward the Grandes Jorasses and not north toward the Tacul as I surmised. It looks so near and different from that side compared to the usual straight-on views. So much for my erudation!
I think it is a sign of wisdom and assurance when we finally can hold contradictory emotions and thoughts within ourselves about our climbing days and companions (well, all our days and companions, friends and lovers), and then sigh, laugh and go on with zest to our next chapters, always unknown to us. You say you feel both sadness and anger at Frank, going up perhaps without having checked long range weather reports, or perhaps having but discounting them, and not thinking about tomorrow’s opportunities risked by their final venture. Bravo. Exactly what the human heart and brain do in the face of such an enormity, as I’ve called it. The key insight is yours: none of these poles, as you say, are “right.” They simply are. And then there is the final wisdom you also came to: even with all its horror and sadness, how beautiful is the mountain which took Frank, apt symbol of dichotomous life itself, and how superbly sane in the face of such a realization is your desire to climb the very peak, to immerse yourself in it in spite of everything. Bravo again.
Yes, who can forget Jim Madsen going to his death on relatively dry and very solid rock of El Capitan, as you remind us, that young face still so easily retrieved by pulling Roper’s Camp 4 from the shelf. Very quickly the same split feelings arise: how noble to go off to the aid of his climbing friends, but how the hell did he rappel off the end of his rope, passing a knot which, what, wasn’t adequate? With no jumar or prussick backup? And on we go again, second guessing death, essentially trying to steal away its power. I will not say here how many dead and/or injured friends in and outside of climbing I have held before me and gone off on a similar track, wondering if this one had only done this instead of that. Gradually, of course, it dawned on me I too had done stupid thing while driving, climbing, cycling, or cleaning a roof or trimming a tree, but had been fortunate enough to skirt death and injury (not all injury, certainly) and we all go along to some degree by luck, now and then the danger and death tiptoed around with a small gasp, then forgotten, as they should be, but knowing there will be next times. The same realization pertains: best to be good to ourselves in spite of life’s contradictions, go ahead and climb the peak, do our best to be safe, be glad when best is enough, and take our hat off to death, give it its due but don’t dwell.
Perhaps you will go up the Grandes Jorasses someday from the Italian side as you say, perhaps even visit Frank’s grave, that humble but pronounced stone pictured on the thread, and see friends in Geneva if they are still there. The important thing is you hold out the climbing thought to yourself, and the full range of thought and emotion around Frank’s life and death, and love the mountains still. Thereby, perhaps your post has given readers as much as they have given you in their recollections.
I don't know if anyone else will be interested but I am posting a brief chronology of Frank's life below to try to organize in my mind at least, the order in which the various events described in this thread took place.
Franklin James Sacherer
1940 - Born San Francisco March 22, 1940 to Frank and Verna Sacherer.
1958 – Graduated from St. Ignatius High School, a private Jesuit institution.
1959 – 1962 – Attended University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit Institution.
1960 – 1964 – Yosemite rock climbing. Between 1961 and early summer 1965, he did 22 first ascents and 14 first free ascents. His best year was 1964 with 5 first ascents and 9 first free ascents but also one day climbs of the Steck-Salathe route on Sentinel, and the Lost Arrow Chimney. A comprehensive list is found at: http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.html?topic_id=268647&tn=0
1965 – Quit climbing and concentrated on graduate school. Came to the Valley only on weekends. Married Janice Marie Baker in Yosemite Nov. 6.
1968 – Finished his Ph.D. in physics & his job at the Lawrence Radiation Lab in Dec.
1969 – Left for Europe in early January. Lived in Volkswagen Bus with Jan from
January – October. Toured Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium, England, and Switzerland.
Applied for a job at CERN (Centre European de Recherche Nuclear) in Geneva, Switzerland, in late October and was hired a day later.
1970 - Frank & Jan ski in the winter and climb the Matterhorn and Mt. Blanc in the summer and fall months. They also rock climb on the Saleve mountain in France just over the border from Geneva.
1971 – Jan left Geneva in early January and returned to San Francisco. Jan & Frank’s divorce finalized on Sept. 30. Frank begins relationship with Maria Mercedes Martinez from Columbia, South America, which lasts until his death.
1971 - Summer. Frank Climbs a series of pinnacles called the Aiguilles, on the north face of Mt. Blanc with Jean-Claude Bourigault.
Aiguille du Plan; Ryan Ridge
Aiguille de l'M; Ménégaud route
Aiguille du Midi; Rébuffat Route,
Frank climbs with Jean-Claude and also Frank Ekman on
Aiguille des Pèlerins; Carmichael route
1971 – Spring and fall. Frank Climbs on the Saleve with John Cardy, including the West face of the Saleve, the most difficult route at the time.
1971-72 – Frank climbs on the Saleve with Frank Ekman, John Cardy, Jean-Claude Bourigault, including Les Paturages rated at 5.10b
Frank Climbs several Grade VIs in the Dolomites with John Cardy including the
Civetta: Philip-Flamm Route. Frank Ekman and Jean-Claude Bourigault formed a separate team for the same climbs.
1973 - Franks visits Berkeley in March for a Physics conference and has dinner with Jan. He tells her that he is still doing moderate rock climbing and promises to stay away from dangerous ice climbs.
1974 – Frank Ekman departs CERN . Frank begins climbing with John Rander.
1977 – Frank attends a conference in New York and takes Flemming Pedersen from CERN to the Catskill Mountains, probably the Schwangunks, where he teaches Flemming the basics of climbing and takes him climbing for the first time.
1976-77: Did first free ascents with John Cardy on the limestone cliffs known as the Saleve.
1977-78: Did Alpine routes with John Rander and Joe Weiss and increasingly difficult ice routes.
First ascent of the middle of Aureille-Feutren ice couloir on the Chardonnet with John Rander and Joe Weiss.
Aug. 18-19. Traveled to the island of Corsica with Flemming Pedersen in Flemming’s light plane.
August 25. Did the moderate Frendo spur, Aiguille du Midi, with John Rander.
August 29. Begins climb of Le Linceul (The Shroud), on the Grandes Jorasses, with Joe Weis, bivouacking at the top of the steep ice field.
August 30. Frank and Joe Weiss fail to return and Joe’s wife Klara, alerts John Rander who calls the Chamonix rescue service. There are high winds, lightning, thunder and snow.
August 31. A rescue helicopter does a fly-by identification. They ascertain that both Frank and Joe have died descending the Hirondelles Ridge after climbing the Shroud.
Sept 4. The weather finally permits a retrieval of the bodies. More than a dozen climbers die during the storm which lasts ten days.
Sept 8. Frank and Joe Weiss have a joint funeral in the Chamonix Chapel near the central SNCF train station. They are buried side by side in a single grave in the Climber’s Section of the new part of the cemetery.
1970 – 1979 Frank worked at CERN and published at least 23 papers on particle physics, some under Sacherer, Frank James and some under Sacherer, F.J. They are listed at:
There is far more interest in the enigmatic Frank than you can imagine and this thread has been monumental in providing so many rare and insightful perspectives. Thanks to everyone contributing.
To risk a gross metaphysical simplification, great climbers possess and develop a power of spiritual will that evolves and grows alongside a powerful intellect. Both forces may compel a personality like Frank's to great creativity and accomplishment.
I picture Frank in the stayed world of academia having to do battle in armor on horseback and throwing all that off with a grin while immersed in the far more immediate and gratifying world of climbing.
Seen through the lens of orderly reason, Frank's oddly calculated boldness and sometimes untempered emotion do not seem to jibe with his brilliant intellect. This fiery aspect of Frank's climbing legacy is the most difficult to personalize in seeking to understand or emulate his style.
Seen through the lens of spirit, Frank's contribution shines unambiguosly. He so clearly let his talents and energy flow into his climbs and was a fine, if occasionally nerve-wracking, partner. Mark Powell had high praise for his climbing. The more I learn about his life the easier it becomes to not hold him at a distance unknowingly.
Just a few reflections to add to the wondrous assortment!
Do we know how Frank came to begin climbing? I never asked him, and wonder if Jan or anyone else was told what drew him to the "sport" and what his first endeavors were.
I was also looking at old letters written to Guido in the early 1960's when I was in the army, and I referred to Frank as "Fearless Frank", a not too oblique reference to Fearless Fosdick, one of my favorite Dick Tracy characters. Fearless Fosdick went always all out, guns ablazing. He kept going even when shot full of holes.
You have a really good eye for detail! If I ever need a copy editor, I think it should be you. I just consulted my Petit Larousse dictionary and discovered that linceul is the word for shroud, but the verb to enshroud someone is ensevelier. Somehow I mixed the two which is not uncommon for me, since I learned most of my French by ear rather than in school. I left all our alpine guidebooks in Geneva with Frank, so no way to look things up before the internet. Meanwhile, do feel free to provide future corrections as well!
I can't remember exactly how Frank started climbing but I think it was through a slide show he saw and then joined a Sierra Club hiking group. He had a hiking partner for awhile named Chela Kunasz and they did quite a lot of peak scrambling in the Sierras together. It might even be that Chela introduced him to the Sierra Club. I know she got him interested in Eastern religion and philosophy. I did meet her eventually in the office of the UC hiking club. By that time she was going out with Paul ? and later married him and they moved to Boulder where Frank and I visited them one summer.
As for rock climbing, John Morton has written in this thread that Frank learned the Sierra Club techniques of rock climbing and participated in teaching other beginners. I remember that he took me up to Indian Rock in Berkeley and pointed out some of his first climbs there. He also mentioned that after his first trip to the Valley he never looked back. He always hated the Bay Area fog and loved sunshine. From the number of photos of him shirtless in Colorado and Yosemite, you could even say he was a sun worshipper.
We both suffered a lot during the long gray winters in Europe. We had skied together a few times at Badger Pass in Yosemite but really got into it in Geneva since the cloud cover in Europe hovers about 50' off the ground up to 2,500' for months on end. However, once you go above that elevation on a ski lift you are back in the sunshine above a beautiful sea of puffy white clouds. I did laugh at someone's recollection of Frank loving to scare people by skidding over a patch of ice on the way to Yosemite. This practice stood him in good stead on the way to Badger Pass one night when we hit black ice and the car skidded badly out of control. I woke up just in time to see us flying backward and to hear Frank very calmly saying, "we've had it now". Fortunately he got the car under control just as we came within inches of crashing into a huge tree.
He would have loved your image of Fearless Fosdick by the way, charging ahead though riddled with bullet holes!
Funny how long-buried tidbits pop into consciousness ... Jan mentions Chela Kunasz and Paul ? Actually I think it was Chela Varentsoff and Paul Kunasz, who later married. I hadn't thought of them for many years, but their names appeared a couple of years ago in the memorial comments for Tony Qamar, another of Frank's pals in the UC campus circle of climbers.
That was a marvelous practice that started at the Sierra Club RCS sessions. It provided an apprenticeship that I'm sure gave Frank confidence in the skills of his casual climbing partners. It was always noncompetitive and supportive. Roper's father Ed started taking Steve on outings when he was around 14 I think, in an effort to keep him from becoming a hoodlum!
Speaking of competitive, I remember Frank telling me about competition amongst PhD candidates. There was some guy in the USSR whom he greatly feared - if the Russian published first, Frank's dissertation topic would no longer be original and he would have to start again on something else.
Jan's latest post has finally motivated me to relate this little anecdote about Frank. During the winter of 1965-66 a couple of us were living fulltime in Camp4.It rained a lot, and then it snowed for days on end. Not surprisingly we spent most of our time in the coffee shop and the lounge, as Camp 4 was pretty much a pit. Frank and a few others would come up from Berkeley, Davis etc every couple of week-ends, just to hang-out. On New Year's Eve someone rented a cabin for the night. It was probably Glenn Denny, as he was the friend that we all had in common, and he was working for the YP'nCC at the time. It was a pretty mellow evening. There was about 8 or so, including Frank, all sleeping on the floor, and asleep by 12.30. It was nice to get out of Camp 4 for the night!!
The next morning 5 of us hiked close to the base of the lower falls. One of the photos shows several people wearing the old Terray down jackets [major status symbols], trying to avoid the spray. Second from the right is Penny Carr, another person destined to meet an early death. If her name sounds familiar, she was part of the first ascent of Moby Dick, a Valley test-piece in the mid 60s.
Later that day Frank and I drove to one of the empty parking lots in his VW, to do doughnuts. He would step on the gas, and when he thought we were going fast enough, or were approaching one of the snowbanks, he would shout "Now". I would crank on the e-brake while he spun the steering wheel as fast as he could. We went round and round, and laughed and laughed. Then we did it again and again.........
That is the Frank that I remember.
[Having trouble posting the photos so have asked Mighty Hiker to help me out. Thanks MH.]
Thanks for the New Year's Day photos and stories. They made me realize along with the comments by John Morton about Frank's Russian competitor, that I never saw him in his carefree playful days. Life got really serious for him in the spring of 1965 when he was told that he could no longer spend summers in the Valley and had to concentrate on physics.
Both Gary and Reva Colliver were hard core about camping out in the winter in Yosemite. There were several weekends when they and Frank and I were the only ones camping out in a snowy Camp 4. I believe they had a tent whereas Frank and I slept under a big overhanging rock.
Speaking of beautiful winter photos, there are some great ones of the Mt. Blanc - Mer de Glace area showing many of the climbs mentioned on this thread on another Supertopo site by Thomas Keefer.
Thanks to a tip from Anders Ourom, I’ve been in contact with Chela Varentsoff Kunasz, one of Frank’s very early climbing partners. Unfortunately for us she is super busy right now with her charitable organization for Tibetan refugees in India, http://www.kunasz.com/TSI/TSI.html
so she has given me permission to post what she has written in an email. Meanwhile, we can hope that she will have more to say in the future.
I did not do peak climbing with Frank. He did that with the Sierra Club. There he met two high school girls... one was Sharon Bachman and the other's name is escaping me right now. They both got interested in rock climbing too. So he started rock climbing at Cragmont Rock in Berkeley with them. I don't know how old he was, but he was attending San Francisco State College at the time and they were still in high school, either juniors, or, more likely, seniors in high school, at George Washington High School. That was my high school.
I had gotten interested in mountain climbing through books (stories of the early attempts by the British on Mt. Everest, etc.) I had also started rock climbing myself through the son of a friend of my mother's from New Mexico. My mom had him over for dinner at our house in San Francisco and several times after that, and he invited me to Berkeley for some picnics and to some Berkeley Hiking Club outings, including a trip all the way to Tahquitz for Thanksgiving 4 days, which is when I started climbing... I was 16 and there were not many female climbers then (it was 1959). Anyway, I somehow met Sharon Bachman and her friend and they invited me to come with them to meet their male climbing companion (Frank) at Cragmont Rock in Berkeley. So we did that and after that we got together several times to practice our rock climbing skills (with those old terrible climbing shoes)... klettershue, etc. I bought my own Austrian pitons and painted them with "my" color, aquamarine, for identification and bought a goldline rope. We tied directly into the rope back then. Lots of fun stories about old Sierra Club climbing mentors, like Steve Roper's father and a man named Carl Weissner, etc.
I asked Frank once, back then at Cragmont Rock, why he was climbing with us younger females and not guys who were better climbers than we were. He said he didn't think he was a particularly talented climber and he kind of only wanted to present himself to the wider (male) climbing community after he felt some degree of confidence in what he thought of as "presentable" or maybe even "superior" climbing ability... So he wanted to practice with us, kind of "in secret"... I think it likely that he did do some peaks and other Sierra Club hiking with Sharon and the other girl and other friends in the Sierra Club.
Chelas posting brought back some fond memories of that era. There was a lot of crossover between the Sierra Club RCS, where most of us young lads (Foott, Roper,Harper and myself) learned to climb and the UC Berkeley Hiking Club. Many "older" people belonged to both and every trip had a combination of leaders and followers.
I was on that trip to Tahquitz in 1959, at the young age of 13, and rode down with a funny guy named TM Herbert and a crazy driver Ray D'Arcy. Herbert had to take over driving from D'Arcy who lacked the skill to drive in snow.
Carl Weisnner was one of the leaders of the old RCS and a wonderful man. Many of us learned to climb under his tutelege. Many a wonderful Sunday evening RCS dinners with plenty of red wine. Yep, learned how to drink with that group!
I remember climbing on several outings with Sacherer back then, St Helena, Cragmont, and often at Indian. We later did numerous routes in Yosemite together.
This is a photo of one of the weekend sessions of the RCS at Indain Rock. Carl on the left and I think John Shonle,(FA Schutz's Ridge) in the back.
Albany Hill in the background.
The posts from the people who knew Frank (esp Jan, also Morton, Erb & Haan) at the peak of his intense climbing counter the perception that he was "humorless & charmless." Sacherer, Beck, Thompson, Erb & I lived together at the Great Pad, and Morton was a local Berkeley boy. We all liked Frank, and he was good-natured about the teasing he endured because of some of his habits. He disliked lima beans, for example, and often when our turn came up in the cooking rotation, we would serve mixed vegetables so we could watch him pick the lima beans out (and Beck would not eat tomatoes, because in the year 1804 a lot of people at tomatoes and they are all dead now).
Beck had very regular habits; he got up at exactly the same time each day. Sacherer could see Beck's bed from his, and he would get up when he saw Beck was gone. One day Eric arranged the blankets and pillows when he left so it would appear he was still sleeping. Frank stayed in bed till noon and missed two classes.
Glad to see that this thread has reappeared. A classic.
Somewhere way up thread, Jan mentioned "Cheryl Kunasz" in connection with Frank's early climbing career - at first with a somewhat different spelling of the family name. It seemed worth a google or two, and I tried some variant spellings, bearing in mind the phonetics and what little I know of Slavic languages. I quickly found a Cheryl Kunasz who was active helping with Tibetan refugees, and forwarded the information - even if it wasn't the same person, it still seemed interesting. Glad it turned out to be the 'right' person at that. Serendipity at work.
Edit: One of the people at the dinner in Seattle about a month ago knew Joe Weiss, and originally planned to meet Joe in the Alps in the summer of 1978 to go climbing. Small world.
Fun story about Frank sleeping til noon and missing two classes. Also, I was surprised to hear that you guys had cooking rotations. That's the first I've ever heard that Frank even knew how to boil water?! Clearly he had me connned!
Here's a bit of non climbing Sacherer trivia. He appeared one evening with some books from the physics library. I was thumbing through them and asked offhandedly "Couldn't you find more current books on this topic?" He replied "You will one day learn that the old books are good." The idea was that the newer books felt like it was an affront to rigor to include any text explaining what they were doing, let alone background or motivation for a derivation.
I found this to be very valuable advice.
The posts about Kronhofer climbing shoes are generally correct. They were our prevailing shoes in the 60s. However, Frank Sacherer climbed in Spiders, at least in the great Summer of '64. In those days, we owned 1 pair of climbing shoes, and we used them for the approach, the climb, the descent, and the walk to Yosemite Lodge in the evening. In a discussion around '63 or '64 about shoes, Wally Reed opined that Spiders were the best because they were most comfortable sitting around the Lodge.
I started using Kronhofers in '66. On Gerughty's advice, I bought a tight pair, stood in the water until they didn't hurt and then bouldered till they were dry. There are advantages to leather.
When I started grad school in '68, I could fit everything I owned into a VW bug. My entire footwear inventory was: Lange ski boots, Le Phoque mountaineering boots, Kronhofers, and sandals. My Hush Puppies had worn out, but they were pretty good for climbing too, viz Dick Erb on Rixon's East.
This is general curiosity question about Frank. After I went in the Army in 1962, I wrote to Guido about wondering when Frank and Glen Denny would get sucked up into the big green machine. It sounds like Frank avoided that pleasure. Was it because of national defense or some unknown maladay that he wasn't drafted?
Bits and pieces here.
In 1962 I was a grad student in physics working part time on DOD contracts. DOD was funding a big portion of physics research, including the high energy work in which Frank would have been involved.
I had a pair of spiders. Used them on one climb. Wonderful stiff sole that would work only one way. I still have maybe twenty pair of RD's all needing to be resoled. Absolutely great shoe of the day.
At the request of Klara Weis, Joe’s widow, I have scanned my copies of the slides taken by Joe and Frank on the ill fated Shroud climb. Joe’s camera was smashed in the rucksack during the helicopter recovery, but with some care I managed to salvage most of the film later in a darkroom. About 30 photos were taken on the route; only the last images were badly damaged. The photos (and their number) suggest that the climb went normally up to the exit pitch. The first image (#1; Joe’s #4) shows Frank leading the last of the technical pitches at the top of the ice gully on Tuesday afternoon. Since Joe led most of the gully (sections of 80°) it is not surprising to find an absence of photos there. The next image (#2; Joe’s #9) is a view looking down from the small apron above the gully (Frank is removing an ice screw; the slope angle here is about 50°). The next three images (#3, 4, 5; Joe’s #11, 15 & 17) were taken from the chopped-out bivouac ledge below the Shroud’s large ice patch. Photos #4 & 5 were certainly taken on Wednesday morning; the weather on the Italian side is rather thick. The view (#5) looking NE shows the Petites Jorasses and just behind the Aig. de Leschaux; it also shows the true angle of the ramp, not always obvious. The following image (#6; Joe’s #22) was taken while Joe was seconding the first pitch above the bivouac, from this point the climb sweeps upward to the left. The two alternated leads up the ramp, and Frank took the next picture of Joe belaying him (#7; Joe’s #24) on the second (?) of those pitches. The last two photos (#8 & 9; Joe’s #25 & 28) show Frank climbing toward the exit gullies; the weather has definitely started to close in.
Hope this gives a clearer view of that last climb.
Wow. High up and have to go a lot higher to reach the safest descent. It makes me glad I can simply rap off of climbs in Yosemite. Sometimes we joke that people may only find our cameras, but this is for real.
These photos are definitely laden with emotion for me! Amazingly, I didn't even know they existed until John wrote to me to ask if it was ok to post them.
Again, I am amazed that Frank who loved sunshine and heat and going shirtless, was up on a climb and bivouac like that. Second thought is that these photos show all too well why it was so tempting to try to retreat down the Hirondelles ridge to Chamonix rather than go further uphill into the storm, with a long descent into Italy and a trip back through the tunnel to Chamonix.
So near and yet so far. What a difference a few hours makes!
Now seems like an appropriate time to note that I have just signed the papers to have Frank exhumed as required by French law, and then cremated and the ashes returned to the U.S. The whole situation has been trying to say the least. It has also been complicated because both Joe and Frank were placed together in one tomb and all this had to be coordinated between Klara Weis and myself, along with the mayor's office in Chamonix and the funeral home there. John Rander, a true friend to both Frank and Joe even 30 years later, has been indispensible along with his wife Brigitte, in translating the necessary legal documents from French to English, and making numerous phone calls. Jean-Claude Bourigault has also been an enormous help to me personally with checking on details and sending me encouraging messages from time to time. Becoming acquainted with these two fine men and the opportunity to practice my French again after 30 years has been one of the positives of the whole experience. The other has been getting acquainted with Klara via email. After nearly a hundred exchanges, we know a lot about each other, I know more about the details of the accident, and of course we were able to discuss emotions with each other that no one else in the world could have comprehended.
Since John Rander went to a lot of trouble to recover Frank and Joe's photos taken on their last climb, it is appropriate to thank him for that too and to note they are posted on the previous page.
Finally, I would like to ask those people who knew Frank personally or have a special interest in him to contact me by email as plans for a remembrance and dispersal of the ashes in Yosemite some time next spring e is foreseen but nothing specific has yet been planned.
This thread is one of the most amazing things I have read on the internet (and it would only have been possible, as the collaboration it is, on the internet), and the pictures just posted on the previous page are spooky, poignant, and intense.
As the responsible person, I want to clarify the “Frank & the Brownies” story. Jan posts on 12 Jan 2009:
“One aspect of the 1960’s that Frank did not approve of was the drug taking. While I’m more the experimental type, Frank was dead set against any of it. I think this had to do with personal control issues however, rather than religion. Knowing Frank’s fondness for sweets, some of our friends did take it on themselves to dope some brownies once at a private slide show. I was not told of the scheme and not surprised when Frank ate several. I only caught on as we drove home and he began waxing ecstatically about the beautiful colors of the traffic lights.”
When we made the brownies, we cut the ones that were doped into triangles and the rest into squares (“square” = no drugs, get it?). I thought we had explained the code to everyone, but Frank & Jan may have arrived late. When I heard later that Frank had gotten stoned inadvertently, I felt pretty bad about it. Most of Frank’s younger friends in the 60s were stoners, but none of us would have secretly put drugs into anyone, least of all a good friend.
[You can probably tell I am procrastinating on work by re-reading a SuperTopo thread, but it is the best ST thread of all.]
Unbelievable! All these years I've been blaming my sister and John Morton for that. She certainly did smirk a lot during that slide show! And was eager to hear if he'd had any revelations (this was the era when people went around saying that if Lyndon Johnson smoked even one joint, the Vietnam War would come to an immediate end).Ah the naivete of that era. Thanks for a good laugh!
The last time I talked to Frank was in the stairwell in LeConte Hall (Berkeley physics building), probably '68. I was a physics undergrad and Frank a grad student. He said he didn't like quantum mechanics. His thesis on the stability of particle orbits in accelerators was purely classical electrodynamics. I thought that curious since it's been pretty hard to avoid QM since 1925. Admittedly, Berkeley did have the preeminant accelerator theory group. I wondered whether it was a case of the einsteinian "God doesn't play dice".
I'm with Pat in thinking this thread deserves being worked up into a book. Frank's climbs were hugely influential on a lot of us, and werer pivotal in ushering in modern free climbing on a large scale. Without Frank there would be no Astroman, Chouinard Herbert free, Nose in a day, Stoner's Highway, et al.
Someone would have to do a thorough essay that would set the historical stage and provide context for the thread that follows, and someone else would have to dig up what photos there are of Frank in action. But this would be (is) a most interesting read.
I've never heard the past speak up like this - like an echo from the void.
I was surprised by your report that Frank didn't like quantum mechanics. As best I can figure out, that was a casual remark similar to him telling Dick Erb after his oral exams that he hated physics. Probably it meant something like he had just received an A- instead of an A on his latest QM exam. He did take classes in both quantum mechanics and relativity from Richard Feynman and was enthusiastic about both. We both read Feynman's book based on his lectures to non physics majors and saw movies of the same and spent many many hours discussing the implications of quantum mechanics from a philosophical point of view. (My math is nonexistant so we could only discuss it from that perspective).
We both knew the quote from Einstein and chuckled at it in light of QM, agreeing that if there was a God then that God was more complex and less predictable than even Einstein knew. We both agreed that Buddhist, Hindu, or Taoist ideas suited QM much better and we duly noted (as discussed on the quote by Oppenheimer thread of Steve Grossman) that scientists subsequent to Einstein had begun looking to the East for philosophy. I think it is not an exaggeration to say that Frank and I could have written the Tao of Physics ourselves if we hadn't been preoccupied with getting through school.
Peter Haan - Yes, some of this letter was mentioned by me earlier, but we never got a full name or sense of who Wayne was. Everytime something more comes up and we get more exposure and names, it becomes possible that a new voice will be heard. Now that Wayne is known, maybe somehow he will join in and give us a story. You never know. Just looking at who has popped up on this thread now and then as it developed is mind boggling. BBA
Here's an amazing coincidence! In doing the family history of Frank's mother, I just discovered that her g-g-g uncle Jacob C. Darst died at the Alamo as did my g-g-g uncle Galba Fuqua. Now what are the chances that a man's mother and wife would both have ancestors who died there? Karma? Selective Genetics?
Frank's mother was the daughter of an Irish immigrant woman and my mother's family represents ten generations of Quakers. Only in America!
Tis Wayne Hildebrand and quite often in the winter we would use his pad to crash or get warm. Did a number of routes with him before he faded away. Believe he and Frank did a number of routes together.
We arrived in Northern Fiji about a week ago after a relatively mild 10 day passage up from New Zealand. Normally get the shi# kicked out of us on this route. From double sleeping bags off NZ to 80 degree water and the Tropics! yeh man.
The recent photos posted on this incredible thread brought tears to my eyes and the stark reality of how quick things can change in our little world.
Time for a bump on this great thread. This week I was visiting the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab and remarked to my colleagues there that I did not know the main building was named after Lyman Spitzer Jr.
As I told this story my colleague asked if knew of Frank. I said yes I know of him and mentioned this discussion. My colleague, a plasma physicist met Frank many years ago when he was out in California.
It is quite remarkable when you know/learn of people from different sides of what is your normal world.
I just finished doing the history of Frank's mother's paternal family which really took on a life of its own. Not only did a g-g-g uncle die at the Alamo, but some of his ancestors explored and hunted with Daniel Boone in the early settlement of Kentucky, and then moved to Missouri with Boone.
During the American Revolution, Kentucky was a bloody battleground as the British paid their Native American allies for American scalps. Two teenage ancestors of Frank were held captive by Mingo Indians in Indiana for over 3 years. One escaped and fled across Indiana and Ohio to Pennsylvania undetected, and then built a raft and floated back to Kentucky via the Ohio river, while the other was eventually ransomed. As captives they were also adopted by a native family who after the Revolution would come and visit them for some weeks every winter.
My own paternal family shares a great deal of this history and Frank and I share two common ancestors 7-8 generations back through both the Bondurant and Callaway families. My Baker family tended to intermarry with Native Americans during this period as did the Callaways. The Callaways then intermarried with the Boone family. Frank's ancestors were also related to Rebecca Bryan who was Boone's wife.
Obviously sports like rock climbing help modern men and women still carrying adventurous genes to cope with urban life, whereas that love of adventure was used for sheer survival in the past.
Several well-known Canadian climbers are in part or wholly of First Peoples ancestry, although they're not always known as such. An interesting tangent to the thread. Another way of looking at it is if your ancestors have been in North America more than 150 years, there's a pretty good chance some were from the First Peoples - there was lots of interbreeding. Those who protest the 'purity' of their ancestry might be surprised by DNA analysis. For example, most people from Quebec and New Brunswick, whose ancestors mostly arrived by 1756, probably have some native blood. Maybe even someone like Chouinard?
A little off topic but in response to Jan's post about American Indians and her and Frank's background, and the follow up post by Mighty Hiker - I'm seven eights Irish, one eighth Comanche Indian. I gotta watch the firewater with that ethnicity, but I sort of like being "mixed."
It's rather off topic, but New France (Quebec, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi Valley) was settled by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were a variety of economic and other motives, including farming and fur trading. Naturally many of the immigrants were one step ahead of creditors, the taxman, or the law. And male. Settlement began in 1609 (400 years, now), but by 1666, there were twice as many men as women. So the king decided to export a lot of single women to make up the gap - les filles du roi, as they were called.
Raising the question of who all those young men were marrying in the meantime. My guess is that more than a few Indian maidens were baptized one day as "Marie LeClair" or some such, and married the next to one of the settlers.
Relations between the French and Indians were in any case generally more positive than those with the English, and there was extensive intermarriage, leading to a large Metis population.
Modern DNA testing is showing some interesting things about the ancestries of individuals and peoples.
While we're off topic, I would note that in the 1600's in Virginia, when there was a similar proportion of European men to women, intermarriage was not a problem even for English speakers. Only when there were roughly equal numbers of English speaking females, did the prohibitions against inter-racial marriages go up. Particularly along the south east coast there was much mixture - one of the reasons perhaps that southerners are so concerned with bloodlines.
The female descendants of one of my own supposed 100% native ancestors (g-g-g-g-g grandmother) who married a Callaway, have tested as having 100% European mitochondrial DNA. Best guess is that these female ancestors were saved from starvation by Natives or were kidnapped by them in the early days. Their male lineage was Native and their culture also of course, but not their female DNA. Currently there is a large DNA project in Virginia among Native tribes there with the specific object of trying to relate them to the known British relatives of the lost colony of Roanoke and others.
Meanwhile, I would note that I first got into genealogy when a woman with the maiden name of Sacherer emailed me out of the blue from Germany saying that her great grandmother had two brothers who went to America and were never heard from again. She had seen my name on the internet and wondered if maybe we were related. When I wrote back I told her that Frank's father had always maintained that he had no idea where the Sacherer family originated, and she replied that was probably because they were Jewish, that Sacherer like Sacher, is a Yiddish name. I then started checking Ancestry.com for Sacherers and eventually wrote a history of all Sacherer families in the U.S. (about 75 people altogether). Her own bloodline died out or had only daughters so we could not trace them beyond the turn of the century. Many Sacherers dropped the double er and disappeared into the larger Sacher group as well. Every last one of them seems to have dropped their Jewish identity as soon as they arrived if they had not converted before that.Frank's own great grandfather came to the U.S. in 1872 and Frank's father always claimed to be Protestant.
The name Sacherer has a really interesting history as it comes from India and is the word for cane sugar there as the Indians were the first in the world to make sugar from sugar cane. Their sugar was transmitted from India to Europe by Arab and Jewish traders. In Yiddish Sarkar became Sacher and a Sacherer was a person who worked with sugar as a merchant, confectioner, wine blender etc.
The sachertorte was invented in Vienna and statistically most Sacherers still live in Austria. However, Frank's great grandfather came from the southern German province of Baden Wurtenburg.
Frank and I made a point of having a sachertorte at the fanciest pastry shop in Vienna when we were tourists there, and then decided there were at least a dozen other Vienese pastries that we liked better.
Thank you all who have shared your stories and fantastic pictures for the record. To me, it sounds like Jan has had quite an amazing life, and I have really appreciated her views and posts in this process of bringing things to light in helping to flesh out who Frank Sacherer was. Its been equally nice and a very interesting eye opener to have learned a bit about Jan as well, who appears to be no less remarkable of a person than Frank.
Regards and thanks again to all for the wonderment you have all brought to the rest of us. I apologize for not being able to add anything other than some deep gratitude.
Retro edit so as not to intrude again:
John, your pictures of the last climb vis a vis those who knew the man....I'm speechless. Thank you doesn't but start to convey it.
Tom, I read your comments above and below the great designer Ray Olsen's comments below me (Ray-J)...same. In fact...to all...same. This conversation is a stunner.
Very wonderful how the supertopo venue has made for such an honoring, outpouring and reflecting, including a kind of vicarious animation of Frank’s last climb down to the condition of the sky and ice and the look on those fated faces, and earlier including a haunting picture window from our hard plastic and glass computers all the way to a hovering point just above Frank’s grave, obscured to us until recently, and all thanks to the internet. While a book could organize and capture what has transpired thus far, it could never compete with this electronic forum for the continuous connection around respective memories, nor tease out a spontaneous stream of reflection upon reflection, a living, breathing story in and of itself, collectively written as we go.
There are many lessons here for how to remember the dead and honor the living through supertopo, not the least of which centers upon the dedication of all to participate fully and honestly, eyes wide open but tone consistently thoughtful and respectful. Note too the importance of Jan encouraging and participating in the entire uncovering through every shade of thought and emotion, from the mundane to momentous to humorous and painful. We must thank her for leading the way and call her brave to allow us to range across any and all memories and reflections, and to allow herself to awaken what sometimes had to be an anguished path. Let this thread be a model for the future.
Finally, how could such a vital story evolve in any more profound and consequential way than with the return of Frank’s ashes to the U.S., perhaps brought about in some measure by the powerful coming together within the story thread itself. Truly, there is life in the cyberspace of minds and hearts, feeding, generating life inside and outside the internet, a lesson to me and maybe others who stand back in wonder at what has transpired through our electronic interactions. Praises to cyberspace and supertopo. Praises to all coming together to make a living and loving commemoration.
Frank and Joe Weiss were exhumed after 30 years and cremated on September 10 according to the demands of French law. Their own grave exists no more. Having been restored to its original state, it awaits its next unfortunate occupant.
Negotiations have been interminable and everything that could be complicated has been, first in French and then in English. Contracts have taken weeks to travel by airmail from Seattle to Chamonix, wire transfers have been mysteriously rejected by French banks and so on. All parties involved are exhausted.
Meanwhile, my university has granted me leave for the spring quarter to take care of this, so Frank's ashes will scattered in Yosemite sometime between April 10 and the end of May. Any suggestions about timing or format for a memorial are most welcome.
Thanks, Jan - it's nice to hear that something this important has been taken care of, though it sounds like it was fairly stressful. Frank was active well before I started climbing, but I'd be pleased to help with your plans in any way I can.
I should also point out that I believe it is no longer 'legal' to spread ashes on land in California. How this works in a NP is beyond me but I suspect you don't want to open that can of worms (sorry, poor choice of words) after what you've been through. Probably best to just keep it on the QT.
My university will only release me in the spring or summer. The fall quarter is our busiest with the most enrollments. Meanwhile summer is too crowded in the Valley. It looks like I will have to retire to come to Facelift. Soon I hope.
Jan- Please keep us informed about any plans for a Yosemite memorial. I would very much like to pay my respects and have a chance to meet you. Do you have a sense of his preferences enough to know which of his FA's or FFA's that he valued most or what his favorite Yosemite routes might have been?
Just saw this thread. My calendar is blocked in, keep us informed and as Anders said. If there is anything we can do on this side, let us know. A gathering in C4 followed by satellite parties the next day seems a good approach though your trip to Half Dome may want to be limited to close friends the two of you had.
The content of this thread is, truly, amazing. I wonder what Frank would have thought...
I worked in San Francisco from 1974-1999, and every year in the fall, when the days were warm and calm, but cool at night, I used to think of our times in the Valley. I would look at people walking by and look for Frank. Strange, isn't it? I did so even many years after Frank had died, not knowing of his death until Roper's Camp 4 book came out. Frank affected many of us deeply, and for me it is impossible to say why.
Hi Jan, all the posters here are right on. This Thread is stellar. It is good to know you. I, along with others, offer all my help and support. It seems like C4 would be a good place to start. And then perhaps a culminating event in the auditorium.
Thanks for all your support and have a Super Holiday Season, Gal. Smiles along with Peace and Joy, lynnie
Jan- I talked to Mark Powell and Steve Roper about Frank's favorites and have a few suggestions.
The Cathedral Beach picnic area would be a good place for an organized gathering. I got married there this spring and it is an easy place to get a use permit for a good sized crowd of people if that interests you. It is also well situated to see most of Frank's big routes; East Buttress of El Cap, Northeast Buttress of Higher Cathedral Rock, East Buttress, Sacherer-Fredericks, North Buttress and Direct North Buttress of Middle Cathedral and the Northeast Face of Lower Cathedral Spire.
Mark Powell expressed a desire to attend any memorial that is planned so please keep us in the loop.
More than being "Frank Sacherer", our man also embodies, inadvertently, a whole era in our climbing past. Apparently now more than ever. I agree with Stevie Grossman about Cathedral Beach picnic area. It is an awesome place, perhaps the most scenic available for such an event.
The next issues which need to be solved are dates and campground.
So far most people seem to favor late May although some have voiced a preference for April as there are fewer tourists then. All opinions are welcome.
The other issue, especially if we have it in late May is where people can stay. Camp 4 is likely to be full of climbers then, and it doesn't seem to me that us relatively well off old guys should be displacing poor young dirtbags.
Reservations for campgrounds open on Dec. 15 so I would like to figure it out by then. I can't remember a thing about the Pines campground so need help with that. Any other tips about the current procedures are welcome too. Last time I stayed in the Valley we could camp anywhere for free.
Also, any estimate of potential numbers of people would be useful.
Jesse McGahey, the climbing ranger, has given me a lot of phone numbers and info so mainly we need to make up our minds.
So Jan, you have to be the leader in this. Don't be trying to get a consensus here, for god's sake. Get the armature in place and then maybe get a little help. It is not clear how many will take part.
Create the date from the NPS available appointments for Cathedral Beach and your schedule. Most of us are not going to be camping in C4 regardless and know how to stay in the Valley in all sorts of ways so that is a sidetrack.
Keep it simple, maybe sketch a scenario how the event will take place, enlist our help specifically in this regard. The Beach site can only handle about 150 people ( I am remembering from the Grossman-DeGravelle wedding, that was the permit limit?).
Thanks for the offer. The biggest limitation I can see right now is my lack of a car.
I think I can rent one, but will have to check California regs about using an overseas military license as I no longer have a stateside license of any kind. I'm ok on mountain roads, but California driving scares me silly. I've been driving on the left hand side of the road over here for 25 years and the average speed is 40 mph.
If the memorial is in May, I will have spent enough time in the U.S.to rectify this, but if in April, will probably have to rely on others.
I do Jan. If we offer food and wine, we might get pretty clogged up there, you see. You see such an event can also easily become a bit like another one of our milestone events we have been having for a few years now. I refer to the Nose Reunion, the Camp Four Celebration, the Museum Show event, the Stonemasters Event, for example. Or, you can keep it down to a small group. Obviously you have to decide and obviously you can get a lot of help, either way.
Personally I think that the event should take on additional meanings besides merely taking Frank's remains to the Valley but also taking stock of the long-gone period---the Golden Era--- that he partially created and in a general way, taking stock of all the zillions of friendships and acquaintanceships that persist amongst us and which flourish today only if renewed every now and then but these gatherings.
Thanks for voicing what I myself have been feeling. I also think a gathering of friends to enjoy each other and the beauty of the Valley, and all of our memories of the scene back in the day, is what Frank would have preferred.
Since I haven't been able to attend any of the previous gatherings or Facelift, I'm at a disadvantage however, in the planning aspect and will need a lot of help.
Frank's ashes did arrive in Japan two days ago which is nothing short of miraculous, given the ten month struggle to make that happen. It gives hope that everything else is doable as well. It also reinforced for me that the important thing is the memories, not the ashes.
From the Mt. Starr King Register: Check out the next to last name on the right. This is as good as I could get the scan to work. The writing was faint and the page somewhat degraded in appearance from the microfilm. The original scan was so light one could hardly see an entry there. In any case, the date is June 25, 1960 and it was a trip by the San Francisco Sierra Club Bay Area Chapter Mountaineering Section. Over the next four years Frank moved up a few notches.