Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978


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Trad climber
Aug 9, 2012 - 02:49am PT
I loved reading this!! Priceless stories and hearing about the personality of a man that must have been a big influence on the whole climbing community. I have learned a similar ethics from the guys who I learned to climb with (much to young to have even known FS) so his spirit is alive and well in the climbing community.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Aug 9, 2012 - 11:42am PT
Ed's video of Eric Beck:

mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Oct 6, 2012 - 07:23pm PT
Thanks for letting me know @ this thread, Rick A.

"They didn't know their gear wasn't very good."--Toqueville, back on page un.

That's presumptuous. A genius could not tell his crap hemp rope from his first climbs was not limiting? His mind could not envision better wings on his feet? I am presuming his first encounters with ropes involved hempen lines. I am presuming he had more secrets than Werner has.

Use your imagination. I know you have one, podnuh.

Not that Chrackers would care.

See how easy it is to think like a hero?

Nuf said about that.

What Roger says about his agreeing with Ed about his not finding much in the literature? Aside from the fact that his Milieu appears to have been free climbing, many of his efforts lack the Cachet of the Big Wall.

Had he been slightly more of a sociable person, it is tempting to think that he may have been at least offered a spot in several wall teams and able to do more in that vein, hence becoming more of a Marquee player. I may be wrong, but I don't recall him being on any El Cap attempts.

Weekenders have it tough, if grand accomplishments is their game. It seems to require either Total Immersion in the climbing life or Partial Submersion in two worlds simultaneously.

It's also tempting to imagine Frank's reaction to professionalism. But I can resist that one. There are wiser speculators than I. Just recall another "Weekender"s" limerick about the YMS. Besides, it appears his priority was his vocation, physics, not his avocation, climbing.

for my money, Ed's the better climber/person. I say that after only having jammed with Ed over Facelift; but you can certainly imagine with whom you'd rather share a rope, even if you haven't met him.

Again, nice thread, Ed.


Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Oct 6, 2012 - 07:44pm PT
Bump for the S-T all-time-greatest thread!

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Oct 8, 2012 - 10:02pm PT

On my first trip to the Big Ditch in 1965, I had several occasions to chat a bit with Frank; it was seldom about climbing, and centered mostly on scientific subjects. My impression was a person struggling to have two separate lives in the same body. On one of my "off days" from doing routes, I once asked him if he wanted to do some bouldering in camp 4; his response was, "I don't boulder down here...I do mine up on routes."
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
Oct 8, 2012 - 10:59pm PT
Something that strikes me strange, at least some of the time, is that
Frank, who really did have a profound influence on quite a few climbers,
had a climbing career which was remarkably short, at least in terms of
how long he was deeply involved.
He was very nearly one of the three-year wonders that so concerned the
older, more experienced climbers as well as rescue types.
Really, when he had his best seasons (what, a dozen or 15 FA and FFA in one
year), he still was inexperienced by some standards.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 8, 2012 - 11:22pm PT
Scuffy, your points are really important for any understanding of this strictly raised Catholic. His climbing was almost as if it all were just a mere lark or a young man's fancy; his important life back at the lab and with physics was what he should have been doing in actuality, he thought.

Throwing himself fully at climbing would have been to "throw it all away" for him. For others of course, quite the reverse. Unless you took that romantic departure into our art, you were lost to conformity, to nausea, to complicity.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Oct 8, 2012 - 11:44pm PT
A few corrections are in order. Frank did spend three or four complete summers in the Valley and those were the years of his first ascents. He did not have a choice after that. He was told by his thesis adviser that he would be dropped from Berkeley's Ph.D. program if he took one more summer off to go climbing. He was not only smart enough to see where his long term interests were, but also felt an obligation to do something more useful for society than rock climbing.

How much this also coincided with an acknowledgement that he very likely would be killed if he continued on the same path, is unknown. Tom Cochrane has some interesting things to say about that. Frank would have never been interested in big walls except for climbing them quickly and free. He did mention several times he would have liked to have tried freeing the Stove Legs.

Beyond that, I think he felt he had made his contribution and wanted new and different challenges. He was a complex person with many interests. Learning about Europe and its culture took up many years in Geneva and then I think, having mastered that, he was looking for a new challenge and ended up back in climbing although in a much more dangerous place. His last climb however, had more to do with loyalty to a friend than personal ambition (I have posted some remarks toward the end of the Wioletta Roslan thread which might be of some interest in this regard).

As for conversations, I think Mouse would have found Frank and Ed very similar when they were talking science. I think because of his education Frank had much more interest in classical European culture and history. He also had a creative and quirky intellectual streak more in tune with Tom Cochrane.

And a final thought in line with Peter's comments above. Frank came out of a working class environment where doing something practical with one's life was emphasized. His father wanted him to be an engineer rather than a physicist.

Also, I have to note that Frank was not a lab person, he was strictly a theoretical physicist, a very important distinction to himself.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Oct 8, 2012 - 11:59pm PT
I did quite a lot of climbing with Frank, and we talked extensively about our very different philosophies of climbing.

Frank was generally terrified of climbing. It was literally a dare devil activity for him. That blanket of fear clouded his judgement and led him to take unreasonable risks. He was very nearly killed multiple times, and threatened to take me with him a few times.

Frank's primary purpose in climbing was to confront his fears and prove that he was not a coward.

Frank told me repeatedly that once he had accomplished that, he would quit climbing forever.

There are two reasons Frank didn't join any big wall attempts (I tried repeatedly to get him to go on El Cap with me):

1. Frank was in a major rivalry with Robbins, who was brokering most of the big wall challenges. My friendship with Frank short circuited my relationship with Royal to some degree; hence leaving me to make solo attempts or with inexperienced visiting partners.

2. He was entirely wiped out after any bivouac (Pratt joked to me that Frank turned into a pumpkin at midnight). This is part of the reason for his focus on fast one-day ascents of routes that commonly took longer in those days.

When Frank got back into climbing years later with his CERN colleagues, I think he may have done it for fun and companionship and to see what he had been missing in the intense rivalry of his earlier years. Frank was clearly one of the best climbers of the era. It is a crying shame that he could not enjoy it according to Layton's rule, that the best climber is the one having the most fun!

Edit: One of the topics discussed by Frank and me was considering none of us at the time seemed to be training to the level of Olympic athletes i.e. lots of lazy days and cheap wine. The exception was John Gill, who was out-climbing everyone during that period. Frank and I were trying to follow a more serious training regime with little or no booze, relatively careful diet, and climbing hard every day. He was in a relatively strong position with funding as a PhD student. However my parents were doing their level best to starve me out of the valley to return to my violinist career. So I was living on macaroni and cheese and occasional handouts from Royal. I would have been better off with Gill's daily oatmeal...

Sport climber
mammoth lakes ca
Oct 9, 2012 - 12:11am PT
Cohrane..Sacherers unusual motives for climbing sounded counter-productive but his accomplishments proved different..

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Oct 9, 2012 - 12:34am PT
One of the things that Frank and I discussed was the importance of science to society and mankind, in general. In that regard, he was very idealistic. We also did some discussion of Quantum Mechanics, since he knew I was a physical chemist. In those days, I still knew my QM! Don't ask me now, however!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Oct 9, 2012 - 12:38am PT
Sacherers unusual motives for climbing sounded counter-productive but his accomplishments proved different..

There is no question that Sacherer was a brilliant genius driving himself to the maximum. He usually did his hardest free climbs in a screaming blind rage that allowed him to overcome the era's standards for difficulty and protection. Remember that we were using pitons, had no cams, and avoided bolts like the plague. I was still a teen-ager and Frank was a few years older.

Oct 9, 2012 - 11:07am PT
Frank's first recorded climb was June 1960, so he exceeded the three year rule Mouse referred to. Frank was a member of and with a Sierra Club group in 1960, so he had belay and rope management instruction. Those things for a guy as smart as Frank were learned in short order. He was perfectly competent during our acquaintance (1961-62). When I and Frank had discussions they were usually about Newtonian physics and some of the oddball stuff the Theology classes said in regard to it. Perhaps as an undergraduate he hadn't gotten to the God throwing dice problem of Quantum Mechanics. The old Sierra Club Handbook of 1956 had an article "Belaying the Leader", and it used normal physical descriptions of s=1/2gt^2, F=MA, as well as the principle of the snubbing post (you were the snubbing post) and how with a given coefficient of friction the force which could be held was increased as the angle (theta) around the post. We had confidence in the system because nylon rope worked at the forces we might encounter if we screwed up. Pitons were the only question in the chain of security.

When we climbed I never felt he was trying to prove himself or go overboard on risk. I think he was an extremely competitive person who like to one-up others who may have not regarded him as serious.

I love the comments by those of you who climbed with or spoke with Frank in this thread. Taken as a whole, Frank comes through.

Sport climber
Oct 14, 2012 - 01:56pm PT

To Jan.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Oct 14, 2012 - 09:31pm PT
Thanks Marlowe!

I'm still pondering why Frank got into ice climbing given how much he hated the cold. My only personal photo of the Grandes Jorasses was taken at the conjunction of the trail up to the Leschaux hut and the Mer de Glace after we had spent the night in the hut and done a climb whose name I can't even remember. Frank had just finished saying, "I can't imagine why anyone would climb up there" when he took this photo.

Credit: frank Sacherer

Big Mike

Trad climber
Nov 5, 2012 - 09:28pm PT

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Mar 17, 2013 - 02:16am PT
I've just been looking back at this with a new perspective on the Jesuits, having learned about their central power role in the banking community, and with the shocking appointment of a Jesuit Pope, and realizing belatedly that Frank was schooled by Jesuits...

...oh my, so much to learn in life...

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Mar 17, 2013 - 05:47am PT
Frank definitely had a love-hate relationship with the Jesuits. At the same time, as with most trained by Jesuits, he was always proud of that and revered them above other orders. I heard often about the Jesuits, but seldom about the Catholic Church as a whole.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Mar 17, 2013 - 11:12am PT
I never met Frank but i always looked up to him. His style was ahead of it's time.....emphasizing fast, free climbing during the ponderous Big Wall emphasis of Yosemite's "Golden Age."
Peter Haan

Trad climber
Santa Cruz, CA
Mar 17, 2013 - 02:39pm PT
Higgins was in Jesuit training as well. It's a terrific education, I am sure; after all my degree was in philosophy so I value their emphasis. These people have impressive minds usually, in my experience, even if they might have nothing to do with the Church later on. But they do get caught on the horns of other dilemmas, certainly.

I did not like Frank; he pretty much didn't give us a choice in this. I was a teenager and he had no time for kids. Plus I was like a younger larger more powerful version of him and soon to be a direct competitor, somewhat after the fact of course. Towards me and others of my age, he was cold, stiff, and supercilious, feigning a superseding knowledge most of the time that left no air in the room. Kind of the opposite of people like Galen, even Royal, Steck, Fitschen, Herbert, and most of the older crew who generally liked kids coming into the art and would reach out to us, many of the older guys got involved in guiding and schooling even.
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