Back in the Day


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dont make me come over there
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 3, 2018 - 11:55pm PT
We were not athletes or sportsmen, we were outcasts and misfits, idiots with a death wish. We were an unwanted element dwelling on the fringe of society. Bedraggled and defiant, we scared the tourists and were rousted by the rangers and we didnt give a f*#k.

We were loud and hilarious. We broke the rules and didnt pay camp fees. We lived a simple, meager life to be able to climb all the time, sometimes collecting cans, selling some gear or starving to stay at the crags just one more week. We were young and felt invincible, and all we wanted to do is climb.

We would climb all day, then take off for a night time bouldering session at the drop if a hat. We found climbing partners wherever we could. It wasnt unusual to do a wall with someone that you had met the day before. There were so few climbers then that it was like we all belonged to one big club.

The top climbers of the day hung around the campfire at night and lived like everyone else. If you saw royal robbins, john gill or jim bridwell at the crags, you would say hi and maybe shoot the sh#t for a minute or two like you would with any other climber. We knew who the legends were, but they were all climbers like us, part of the brotherhood. The only news of who had done what came around the campfire, in the parking lot or at the crags.

We didnt hang on the rope because we wanted to climb it free. Aid climbs were starting to go free, and that was the goal. Hanging on gear was failure. If we fell, we said so. We didnt say "i climbed it" rather "i did it with a couple falls". Redpoint would have been synonomous with failure.
Runouts were expected, so you didnt get on a hard route until you were ready for it.

Our gear was simple and well used. Our rack consisted of hand tied runners made of 1" tubular webbing, hexes and stoppers on hand tied slings and wired stoppers, worn on a shoulder sling. We wore swami belts and belayed sitting in butt bags. Carabiners were ovals or D's. Bolts were hand drilled 1/4" buttonheads, and we thought they were bomber.

There was no goretex, cams, gri gris or stickey rubber. Chalk bags were stuff sacks or home made for the longest time. We wore our EBs until they had holes in the toes then switched feet and kept climbing. We had a carpet square for a crash pad, used hip belays and rappelled using a carabiner brake. We wore baggy pants, wool sweaters, 60-40 parkas and pile jackets.

Climbing was not for the faint of heart back then, and thats how we liked it. You had to know how to suffer and how to stay alive in the mountains. It was a communion with nature, the rock and our fellow climbers. I lived it for many years and i miss it badly.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 4, 2018 - 12:17am PT

If you went to the Gunks, Eldo or the Valley the air was filled with the sound of "falling...!!!" as opposed to "take...!!!"

We TR belayed with no harness or device for tens of thousands of goes and no one was ever dropped (grigri's became popular for hanging, not belaying and turned the demographic into a random dropping machine).

Climbing was quite Darwinian; most folks were in and out of the sport in days, weeks or months.

If today's climbing demographic were transported overnight to 1976, one way or the other 85% of them wouldn't be climbers a month later.

There was no money to be made being a climber other than the occasional bone thrown only to the best, most outrageous and colorful among us.


Dec 4, 2018 - 03:07am PT
Nicely written, gonamok. (well in keeping with your sig line, "dont make me come over there", ha!)

Not my time, not my day but one can certainly appreciate how special this thing we all enjoy and/or love was at its infancy, whether in Yos, or Českť ävżcarsko, or wherever else it was taking root.

(edit: just saw your BVB tribute - beautiful as well)
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
Dec 4, 2018 - 04:03am PT

A true remembrance of the way the world was when we were young.

I would have tried to work in that along the way, during a journey of tens of thousands of steps; pull-ups and abseils, we found a brave new world.

That hidden in the woods & hollers, at the foot of walls, like the very toes; large and larger rocks were a proving ground.
The places where you would find Olympic class athletes, trying to surpass one another while repeatedly hitting the ground.
We gave a new meaning to the phrase "being called on the carpet" as we would wipe our feet like a bull preparing, stomping before a charge.

(I wrote the following 1st, then deleted it,
but I knew when I wrote, If/when I go to read what you have to say about BvB if it is half as poignant, I'll be in tears & not a one wasted....)

from out where the anecdotes roam
Dec 4, 2018 - 04:05am PT
i'll sign on to every paragraph ron, but the first might be a little strong.
please, let me dump this bag out ... i could get lucky with a speedy stitcher.

the facts are on your side as to misfits with disdain, but i occupied a ring that was
a big step back from the distraught, being a bit uncomfortable with raunchy display.

rather, i subscribed to the pragmatic approach to stolen privilege, very aware of the gift of golden opportunity.
it was a right time, right place sort of thing. "it's so ripe and real here in the pocket, i pledge rambunctious allegiance!"

and the "i" in this scenario was an instrument, a matching marvel, with all the functionality of a key that fits a lock.
it's purpose is movement. and when solution unlocks motion, a giddy but kind of serene satisfaction bubbles up.

let me characterize my crowd, where i found resonance: it was falling in among blue collar problem solvers,
accidental athletes, grateful aesthetes, and swarthy transcendentalists worthy of sex with stone nymphs

Trad climber
Dec 4, 2018 - 07:28am PT
Well said Ron, so very true. I enjoyed climbing much more when it wasnít so mainstream. I canít even believe some of the places we would crash for the night in the Valley in the 70ís and get away with it. Many great memories from BITD. So different at the crags today.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 4, 2018 - 08:14am PT
We wore our EBs until they had holes in the toes then switched fee

HaHaHa! If you did that then you bought em two sizes too big! 😉

Nice enjoyable rant though.

Social climber
Location: It's a MisterE
Dec 4, 2018 - 08:48am PT
Hey look! A modified version my very first chalk bag! Brilliant!


Social climber
portland, oregon
Dec 4, 2018 - 09:47am PT
Back in the day Dirt bagging was called camping and poor folks did it.

Back in the day you could thrown down at Smith Rock w/o having to pay and you would maybe see one or two other parties on a weekend. Ha.

Back in the day in YO a ranger actually let me go after returning my wallet that had some weed in it---he dumped the weed out. Around 1985

Glad I got to do stuff before the hoards necessitated all the regulations and fees.

Talk bout LUCKY.

Trad climber
Monrovia, California
Dec 4, 2018 - 10:39am PT
My own experience was different in some ways. When I started climbing, I was also going to music school, so it was quite a balancing act. I recall that when I made the mistake of telling my trumpet teacher, then principle in the N.Y. Phil, that I was going climbing he flipped out. I must have showed up sunburnt or something. Climbing won out in the end but thatís another story.

In the Gunks in the mid 70ís my partner and I dirt bagged to a certain degree, but not with the level of commitment to the lifestyle expressed above. Weíd bivy on top of the Near Trapps, hike up to the carriage road from the first hairpin to avoid paying the ranger, stuff like that. But we never snagged leftovers from tables in a cafť, etc. Thatís hard-core bagging. And we tended not to make noise.

Of course all the stuff about not hanging, preferably not falling, doing harder routes when youíre ready, the gear, all of that applies.
One thing I knew for sure, and that was to steer clear of those buggerrers called the Vulgarians.😊

And yes, I was lucky to climb there then. The last time I was at the Gunks it was so jammed up on a weekday I couldnít believe my eyes. But then it is only 90 miles from NYC.
Jim Clipper

Dec 4, 2018 - 12:01pm PT
Call me sport-o. Probably should have been there yesterday. The community hasn't always seemed entirely communal. The dirt in your teeth sometimes tastes like dirt. Maybe these days, you have to go a little further to find the mountains instead of the masses. Then again it probably was always that way to some extent. For what it's worth, I think some of the things I saw in "climbing" are still there, or maybe never were. But those gri-gris... how else do you smoke em when belaying on that nail up?

Trad climber
South Pasadena, CA
Dec 4, 2018 - 11:17pm PT
I wonder how much the climbing world of 2050 will make me look back on these as the simple better times.
I expect it will be so.
But I will always seek out those places and those people that make it the best of times.

dont make me come over there
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 5, 2018 - 12:28am PT
Nope, i wore my EB's excruciatingly tight as we all did. Wearing them on the wrong feet ratcheted the pain up a couple levels but it beat having no shoes.

On being misfits and outcasts, that was the outside perception of climbers rather than a description of what we actually were. I see now that i did a poor job of making that distinction

For those of you who may take this as an old guy talking about how much better things were back then, you are mistaken. It is an old guy talking about how different things were back then. Im not going to trade my long 10mm rope for a 150 ft spool of goldline nor do i yearn for good old Liberty Oval carabiners which were half as strong and twice as heavy as todays crabs. I view cabled cams as a gift directly from Jezus, and probably wouldnt have a deteriorating knee if we had crash pads back then.

Just reminiscing about how things were then vs now. I wouldnt presume to judge anything, really. Objective old guy is an oxymoron.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Dec 5, 2018 - 02:40am PT
Itís still there, it hasnít gone away, just some of the trappings are different. We bemoan the passing of the good old days and the selective memories common to climbers aid us there.
Certainly things and techniques evolve, sport climbing and gyms proliferate and cams are placed instead of hexes, but the essentials of climbing remain intact.

The Honnolds, Sharmas and Caldwells of today are as easily approachable as were Bridwell, Robbins and Gill. The mental component is still there despite the evolution of protective gear and the motives that drive climbers are still largely the same. Climbing is more segmented and gyms have introduced a broader range of climbers from more diverse backgrounds whose climbing tastes may differ from the old school model but grab a young climber who has gravitated towards trad or alpine and you find an old school climber in a contemporary package.

I climb with many climbers young enough to be my grandchildren and I find little differences from them and the climber I was when I was their age. I just pick young climbers who like to climb multipitch trad and, believe me, there are a lot of them out there.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Dec 5, 2018 - 04:51am PT
"I climb with many climbers young enough to be my grandchildren"

You don't look a day over 150, Jim.

edit: I just saw this on WE's Facebook page. Fook if ya didn't fool me long-time, Jim.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 5, 2018 - 06:31am PT
I just pick young climbers who like to climb multipitch trad...

Yeah, I usually mentor three or four sport-to-trad crossovers a year and typically run into and climb with another half-dozen or so each year who've already made the transition and are starting to get after it. Keeps things fresh.
Alan Rubin

Dec 5, 2018 - 08:32am PT
I agree with Jim on this. Despite the many 'superficial' differences between then and now, the fundamentals are still the same. I, too, spend a lot of time with climbers much younger than me (there aren't that many of my generation around here gung ho to climb these days)and also observe many others at the gym and the crags, and see that the spirit, the love of climbing, the camaraderie are the same as it was BITD. Sure the numbers--and associated impacts--are much larger, but then again there are many more places to climb. I'll even go a step further and opine, at least in the terms of those fundamentals, that, were it to be possible, the climbers of today would fit right in with the very early rock climbers in places like the UK or the Alpine countries from the late 1800s/early 1900s, as well as with at least some of the alpinists of the Golden Age in the mid-1800s. Reading accounts (and looking at photos)from those days,the personalities--and their antics on and off the hills, strike a very familiar chord.
Fat Dad

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Dec 5, 2018 - 09:29am PT
There were so few climbers then that it was like we all belonged to one big club.

The top climbers of the day hung around the campfire at night and lived like everyone else. If you saw royal robbins, john gill or jim bridwell at the crags, you would say hi and maybe shoot the sh#t for a minute or two like you would with any other climber. We knew who the legends were, but they were all climbers like us, part of the brotherhood.
This is the part I miss. You met another climber and were instantly members of the same tribe and it was really a cool thing (most of the time). I remember hanging out in Hidden Valley and talking to some guy about climbing in a place called Vedavoo (sp?). Nice dude, real friendly and humble. Then I look in a climbing rag months later and learn it was Todd Skinner. Just one example.

Having said that, while the general mass of newer climbers seem to have different expectations about the sport and wouldn't last long in how it was done earlier, I agree that there is a whole new slice of that generation who are doing really inspiring things, freeing hard crazy stuff on obscure wall or around the globe and really further the purity and boldness that folks like Robbins and Pratt espoused.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 5, 2018 - 09:36am PT
ĎBack In The Dayí sounds like a good name for a Weird Al Yankovich song.
Bet he could come it the proper dirtbag, huh?

Trad climber
Dec 5, 2018 - 03:30pm PT
Hey Ron I can remember discussing stuff along this line when climbing together in j Tree years ago. You said something like "I remember thinking in the 70's wouldn't it be great if climbing got popular. Jeez what was I thinking?"
The best part was feeling like we were all part of a secret pirates club.

Still climbing Ron? I am though not very well. I have started spending winters living in J Tree. I will give you a call if I can find your number.

Allan Pickel
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