Frank Sacherer -- 1940 - 1978


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 23, 2007 - 03:31pm PT
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?
Jim Logan

Aug 23, 2007 - 04:29pm PT
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.

right here, right now
Aug 23, 2007 - 05:08pm PT
Welcome Jim Logan!
You are still climbing well I'd bet.

Boulder climber
Redmond, OR
Aug 23, 2007 - 06:32pm PT
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

Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Aug 24, 2007 - 01:51am PT
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!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 24, 2007 - 02:16am PT
Sacherer on the FFA of Ahab 5.10a

Tony Qamar from Chris Jones Climbing in North America

Social climber
petaluma ca
Nov 3, 2008 - 11:56pm PT
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.

I'll fill this out with more detail in a bit.


right here, right now
Nov 4, 2008 - 12:15am PT
"then I laughed so hard I fell over backwards into a manzanita bush"...

Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
Nov 4, 2008 - 01:34am PT
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!

Oakland: what's not to love?
Nov 4, 2008 - 01:34am PT

Yes please do write more!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Nov 4, 2008 - 01:43am PT
Bit more on Sacherer

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

Trad climber
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.


Last >>
Nov 4, 2008 - 02:41am PT
If nothing else " Bachar Cracker " was sounded off of Sacherer Cracker . A similar genius .
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 4, 2008 - 02:53am PT
Wonderful stories!

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.

And the 2001 article from the New York Times, on physicist-climbers, including Sacherer.

Social climber
A cova Dos Nenos
Nov 4, 2008 - 08:57am PT
Wow!!!!???? Bitchin Bill Amborn

Social climber
petaluma ca
Nov 4, 2008 - 10:28am PT
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.

Double D

Nov 4, 2008 - 12:03pm PT
Classic post with great stories. I always admired (still do!) Sacherer's route and how many hard routes he did for the time.

Thanks for all of the stories. I wish I could have know him personally.

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 4, 2008 - 12:57pm PT
Great thread. I'm taking the liberty of sending this thread to my former law partner, Wally Upton, who climbed a lot with Sacherer, and is a pretty good story teller in his own right.

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Nov 4, 2008 - 01:36pm PT
Thanks BBA and Joe for posting about climbing with Sacherer. Those of us how came a bit latter never met him, unlike other 60s climbers, but trace Valley free climbing back to him and Chuck.

Thanks, Roger
scuffy b

On the dock in the dark
Nov 4, 2008 - 03:11pm PT
Bitchin Bill,
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.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Nov 4, 2008 - 06:39pm PT
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.
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