Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
Messages 141 - 160 of total 596 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 17, 2009 - 10:47am PT
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.

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 17, 2009 - 12:00pm PT
See what you get for simply being real, Jan?

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.
jstan

climber
Jan 17, 2009 - 03:33pm PT
I suspect a lot of the change followed Title 9 passed in 1972.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 18, 2009 - 01:55am PT
Rick A

climber
Boulder, Colorado
Jan 18, 2009 - 10:25am PT
Jan,

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.

Rick
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jan 18, 2009 - 07:15pm PT
Jan,
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...?
BBA

Social climber
petaluma ca
Jan 19, 2009 - 12:19am PT
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.
WBraun

climber
Jan 19, 2009 - 12:55am PT
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.

Hahahaha almost as bad as my stuff .....

Sheridan's cartoons seem to transcend time and eras.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 19, 2009 - 01:24am PT
Peter-

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.

DR-

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.

Pat-

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.

BBA-

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.

steveA

Trad climber
bedford,massachusetts
Jan 19, 2009 - 08:48am PT
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.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 19, 2009 - 09:05am PT
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.
Jan

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 19, 2009 - 10:13am PT
Peter-

"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"!
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 19, 2009 - 11:24am PT
Hi Jan,

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.

jstan

climber
Jan 19, 2009 - 03:26pm PT
If I may, I would pose a question. Perhaps Frank kept no reserves for safety in any of the spheres in which he lived?
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 19, 2009 - 03:56pm PT
Roger --

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?
Dick Erb

climber
June Lake, CA
Jan 19, 2009 - 07:36pm PT
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".
Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 19, 2009 - 08:17pm PT
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.

Good tale.

Doug, I am still pondering (mental groping) your post.
BBA

Social climber
petaluma ca
Jan 19, 2009 - 09:59pm PT
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.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jan 19, 2009 - 10:23pm PT
Here's a little bit of Sacherer trivia. On many trips to the Valley from Berkeley, we liked to stop at the Fosters Freeze (now gone) in Merced. He always ordered a cherry shake.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jan 20, 2009 - 10:48am PT
Bonnie Kamps---- enter and sign in please!!!!! We would love to hear from you and I'm sure that you have memories aplenty!
Messages 141 - 160 of total 596 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Post a Reply
 
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks


Try a free sample topo!

 
SuperTopo on the Web

Review Categories
Recent Trip Report and Articles
Recent Route Beta
Recent Gear Reviews