Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978


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Boulder climber
Albuquerque, NM
Jan 20, 2009 - 09:12am PT
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!
John Morton

Jan 20, 2009 - 01:32pm PT
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."


Trad climber
Jan 20, 2009 - 06:23pm PT
For what it's worth, my post from Oct 20, '06:

Very good pic of Frank on page 182 of Camp 4.

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.

And I wonder where is Tom Gerughty?

Tom Higgins

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jan 20, 2009 - 06:46pm PT
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.

Any stories??

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jan 20, 2009 - 08:04pm PT
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.

best to all, p.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 20, 2009 - 08:21pm PT
If you are reading along, Tom, or if someone who knows your whereabouts is, I hope you join in.

The virtual temperature is fine.

All the best, Roger

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Jan 20, 2009 - 09:21pm PT
Nice post, Peter. I need to get on the Dike Route sometime..a Tuolumne classic for sure....along with others I have yet to conquer.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 20, 2009 - 09:24pm PT
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.

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jan 20, 2009 - 10:21pm PT
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.

Social climber
petaluma ca
Jan 21, 2009 - 07:55am PT
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.

Jan 21, 2009 - 08:03am PT
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.
scuffy b

On the dock in the dark
Jan 21, 2009 - 08:17am PT
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.

John Cardy

Trad climber
Oxford, UK
Jan 21, 2009 - 08:42am PT
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.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jan 21, 2009 - 10:20am PT
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...
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 21, 2009 - 01:48pm PT
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.

What a fanstatic reach.

John Morton

Jan 21, 2009 - 08:01pm PT
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.



Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jan 21, 2009 - 09:18pm PT

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.

Jean-Claude Bourigault

Jan 22, 2009 - 06:49am PT
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.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 22, 2009 - 12:43pm PT
Thanks Jean-Claude for this wonderful post!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 22, 2009 - 02:11pm PT
Wow, Jean-Claude. Thanks for telling us about climbing with Frank in the 70s and posting the photos. Very cool.

Welcome to ST.

Best regards, Roger
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