Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978


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Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 24, 2009 - 10:32pm PT
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.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jan 24, 2009 - 11:35pm PT
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.

san francisco, ca
Jan 26, 2009 - 07:09pm PT
hi all,
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 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.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 26, 2009 - 07:31pm PT
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.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 26, 2009 - 07:36pm PT

Very nice - thanks for sharing your story and photos.
I take it that Josef on the gravestone is Joseph H. Weis (1942-1978), Frank's climbing partner on the Grandes Jorasses.
Double D

Jan 26, 2009 - 07:39pm PT
Thanks for sharing Scott. Your uncle influenced many generations of climbers.

This thread just keeps getting better and better. It's amazing how broad-reaching this virtual campfire is!


right here, right now
Jan 26, 2009 - 08:08pm PT
nephew said:

"so i want to thank all of you for sharing your stories and insights and thus shedding some light on who my uncle was. "

We will be thanking you for the same I'm sure.
That was so heartfelt: thank you for sharing and rounding out this whole experience of appreciating Frank's memory.

Welcome to the forum!
We hope you stay and play some...

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 26, 2009 - 09:02pm PT
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.

Jan 26, 2009 - 09:23pm PT
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.

What a read!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 26, 2009 - 10:03pm PT
the Obituaries in Physics Today Feb. 1979 for Weis and Sacherer


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jan 26, 2009 - 11:53pm PT
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.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 27, 2009 - 01:49am PT
There is a mountaineering museum in Chamonix, which sounds intriguing. Le Musée Alpin, at

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.)

The Chamonix Valley website (English) is at

Lionel Terray's gravestone:
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jan 27, 2009 - 04:59am PT
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
jags again...

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jan 27, 2009 - 05:19am PT
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.


Big Wall climber
Jan 28, 2009 - 11:59am PT
bump for an amazing thread

Jan 28, 2009 - 01:45pm PT
I will want to know when Frank is scheduled to come home.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 28, 2009 - 01:54pm PT
Wow... who knew... karma indeed. I can help get the physics community aware when it happens...

Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jan 28, 2009 - 02:32pm PT
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.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 28, 2009 - 02:50pm PT
Good axamples, Eric. That is the sort of stuff that Bridwell used to teach us a few years later.

Trad climber
Jan 28, 2009 - 09:35pm PT
Cham is a good place to have a marker.

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.
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