Big Al Bartlett Appreciation


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 46 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
scuffy b

The town that Nature forgot to hate
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 11, 2007 - 06:42pm PT
Big Al was climbing with me on some of my first leads. He was a good moderating influence (I mean that he helped me see climbing in a larger context, and not pretend that it was the most important thing possible). He put up with a lot of whining and
cringing, and he also caught a couple falls along the way—I guess he thought I wasThe Boy who cried Wolf some of the time.
My first lead with Big was at Suicide in 1972. We were 21, but he was a grizzled veteran compared to me. He wore Kronhoffers painted like the Star-Spangled Banner with huge holes in the toes, which contributed to his aura of experience.
Well, I had led some 5.7 the week before, so “we” decided I should lead Goliath or Sampson or some such, a flared 5.7 chimney. He introduced me to regional rating gossip,
telling me that some Yosemite Climbers had come down a while back and said it was 5.8 for sure. Those softies!!
So up I go, in squeeze mode. Seemed strenuous, kinda hard on the knees, that stuff. I placed my nuts, got to the belay, and got my buzz seriously muted when he started climbing. He was about a lane to the right of my path, in back/foot territory, and he
was practically running up the thing. He’d get even with a nut and make a couple traversing moves to clean it, then back out to the wide and run. He was nice enough not to rub it in, and the lesson stuck very well.
“We” then decided I should lead Skigliac, which was exciting to me, because it was newish, and established by Dave “Coolhead” Black, Big Al’s roommate at UCSB. Plus, it was 5.9 which had a magical property in my mind at the time. He said a couple very heartwarming things during my lead. One was “nice move.” I try to remember to use that line on my partners. It has a good impact. The one I loved particularly was when he said, “You’re past the crux.” The next day he got to catch my first leader fall, over at Tahquitz, on the Rack.
He had more faith in me than I had in myself. He was always fun to be around back then.

right here, right now
Feb 11, 2007 - 08:59pm PT
Hell Yah,
I'll raise a toast to Big Al.

First off, we gotta got that pic-chure up here on the thread, you know the one, with Big Al hangin' it out on the Window Pane pitch of Ten Karat. Man, that one is iconic fer dang sure. (I think it might be rippable from that morass of glad-handing known as the Stonemaster's threads). I mean, that shot is soo-perb.

Anyhow, yah, Big Al was one of our guiding lights back in the day. We were fledgling guides operating under the auspice of Cal State LA Outing Center 'n we'd git Big Al to do slide shows which chronicled his ascents of Eastern Sierran rock. He'd git our eyes wide open and his inspiration got us out and up some of that stuff.

I've been lucky enuff to do my fair share of routes with the man.

My favorite was the time I turned 20: it was 8am in T Meadows on that birthday 'morn, it looked like rain every where but where we were headed and Big Al, all smart and with no hesitation, cracked open a Budweiser, handed it to me all fresh and foamy, winked and gave me a birthday salute, then we went on down to climb some spiffy 5.11 crack thinga-ma-jobber, Third World, with Bob Harrington.

Thanks Big Al!
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Feb 11, 2007 - 09:05pm PT
Raise a toast to the "Skipper"!!


Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Feb 11, 2007 - 10:17pm PT
Bob... Ya mean this one?

And here's a shot of Big Al on the Salathé:


right here, right now
Feb 11, 2007 - 10:31pm PT
Nice Robs,
How bout the one looking down on Al on lead as he looks up into the void? (The shot of 10KT used for the Ca Mtnrng brochure).

The City of Lost Angels
Feb 11, 2007 - 10:36pm PT
Big Salute to Big Al!

Al was my first guide and climbing instructor six years ago in JTree. When I initially met him, these were my embarrassingly neophytish thoughts:

Tall and skinny with an awe-inspiring beer belly--there's no way this guy is gonna get off the ground, much less teach ME how to get off the ground;

weathered and craggy as Joshua Tree itself--this guy's as old as God;

shod in ratty sun-bleached pink 5.10s that were delamming--his shoes are OLDER than God;


Of course, he stepped onto the Wave boulder and glided to the top...ropeless and dainty as Baryshnikov. It took me two hours and several tasty swear words later to do the same...roped, pushed from below and pulled from above.

He proceeded to fill the day with feats of climbing skill that belied his appearance, to teach with gentle humor and infinite patience, and as the desert sun burned into twilight, he shared with us (we of the Cheese-Gratered Fingertip School) his most famous achievement: From the comfort of his front yard lawnchair, consuming a full case of Budweiser within 3 hours.

I crawled into my tent that night in shear and utter amazement of the miracle of luck that had placed me in Al's compassionate hands...and not Dave Mayville's. Thank ya Jeeezus!!!

Edit: I just remembered it wasn't was Old Milwaukee! That in itself makes him a legend in my mind...godawful stuff that it is.
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Feb 11, 2007 - 10:38pm PT
I've known Big Al for 30 years. We climbed many routes together, including some desert spires ( Kingfisher, Zenyatta Entrada, Independence Monument, King's Hand), and a bunch of First Ascents too. We played music together with the climber band Cactus Pricks for years. Big Al is big, is size, climbing experience, and reputation. Bartlett is a good guy, an excellent climber, a great musician, and one intelligent fellow. Thousands of climbers have roped up with Biggie, and millions have shared a beer with Al. When I went climbing with Al, he always led the hard slab pitches, and he always seems braver than myself. Al has climbed all over the place;...almost in every major climbing area in America....Europe, Australia, and Asia too. He's a modern Fred Becky; fact, he's pals with Fred....(Two peas in a pod..) At a cocktail party, when someone asks "What do you do?" (as in your profession; doctor, teacher, etc...).....Al answers " I'm a climber.". His climbing to him is his "religion"......He's sort of "Al-like".....(Those who know him know what I mean), and he can be a grouch;...Hey; He's Big Al. One of America's most prolific climbers. His knowlege of climbing is encyclopedic, and his excellent Josh guides are an amazing work in themself. He's pretty much been a non-stop climbng machine for close to 40 years;.......(What else is there to do in Joshua Tree but climb, drink beer , play music, and watch T V.?)

Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Feb 11, 2007 - 10:51pm PT
Oh yeah, this one:

It's my favorite, 'though a bit of tilt-foolery... Quite mythic.

Here's another, taken before the clip:


Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Feb 11, 2007 - 11:23pm PT

Mike Graber and I had just spent most of August, 1975, driving back down the AlCan Highway, climbing in Utah, the Tetons, and eventually walking into the Pingora
area of the Winds. The mosquitos were horrific that afternoon when we arrived, so we quickly pitched the tent and dove in for cover.

Later in the evening, after things quieted-down, we emerged to brew up. Got the Svea all fired-up and discovered that some darned fool had pitched their tent behind the boulder where ours was! There wasn't another tent in the whole damned cirque!

Eventually, we discovered that Bartlett had soloed in, and that we three SoCal lads were the only guys, seemingly, in the whole of the Wind River Range.

Allen taught me the stars of the Northern Hemisphere Summer sky that year...

Truckee, CA
Feb 11, 2007 - 11:24pm PT
Al is DA MAN, I really enjoyed working with him at YMS long ago. Last time I saw him was a classic Bartlett moment, I was driving by the Middle parking area and he crashed out of the woods with Mr. Way, I stopped to learn they had just done some total obscurity like Penny Nickel arete or something, and joined them in quaffing some cold cheap beer.

Here's to a guy who will love climbing anything as long as it tilts upward.


ps. Hey Rob, its been many years!

right here, right now
Feb 12, 2007 - 12:30am PT
Thanks Robs, that shot on the brochure always does it for me.
Awesome thread, awesome dude, all hail Big Al Bartlett.
scuffy b

The town that Nature forgot to hate
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 12, 2007 - 02:29pm PT
I think there may be another iconic shot of Big Al dressed all in
white, taken from his left...

Typical dialog when I was on the sharp end:
Watch me, Al!!
I got ya
I'm fallin, I'm gonna fall!!!
I got ya
I got ya
I'm gonna really fall this time, Al!!!
I got ya

Word at that time was that his falling call was "HELP ME"

Trad climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Feb 12, 2007 - 02:37pm PT
Bartlett's truly a climber's climber...whatever that means.

Cheers Big Al!

Good drummer too...

Boulder climber
Sick Midget Land
Feb 12, 2007 - 02:51pm PT
Did anyone get a good photo of Al from the get together last spring? He was sporting some fine regalia there.

Thank god for his JT guides too! (sorry Randy)

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2007 - 02:56pm PT
Where is Big Al these days? I'm trying to remember how I even became friends with him other than that I kept sending my shoes to him to be resoled. He was a real buddy to me, letting me stash a heap of my crap in his garage for months with no end in sight, allowing me to crash at his house more or less unannounced.

As was stated above his ability to send with a raging beer gut was not understatable. I remember heading into Indian Cove one chilly day and getting on some technical funky awkward 5.10. It was Al's lead and while there was a lot of grunting he made it look doable. I got up there on top rope and even though 20 years younger and 50 pounds lighter it was all I could do to keep from pitching!

Or how can I forget the endless sumemrs of him only looking to do obscure FA's, regardless of how chossy they are. He was the first person I knew who was truly in it for the aesthetic of the adventure instead of the aesthetic of the climbing.

Thanks for your kindness, encouragement and great stories Al! I hope you are doing well!

P.s.- I never finished rebolting all those routed of yours I said I would do and I still have some of your bolts in my garage.
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Latitute 33
Feb 12, 2007 - 03:10pm PT
Happy to say that I've know Big Al for 30+ years. Always fun to talk to and be with. Over the years I had the pleasure of climbing a few really great routes with him.

My most distinct memory is when we did Piece de Resistance back in 1980 or so. Al was fast and efficient (even the approach was at a very quick clip). He was the kind of partner you liked: great guy, good laughs and someone upon which you could totally rely.

Cheers to Al Bartlett!

PS: Al's Josh guides are great and a real tribute to his vast knowledge of the Park and his diligence in making sure the info is as accurate as possible. He is always willing to share information.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Feb 12, 2007 - 03:59pm PT
I think my favorite Big Al story (I'm certain it's false but who cares) is that he started construction on a house out at Josh but drank away most of the loan money before they got the roof on the thing.


Trad climber
LA, Ca
Feb 12, 2007 - 04:03pm PT
Yes, why spoil a good story with the truth, eh..?

Hey didn't I just hear that Big Al has a birthday coming right up? Cheers, AL.

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2007 - 04:18pm PT
Al and I were partners on that house... he did drink a $hit load of beer, but we finished. Every day about 4:30pm I would show up on the job site, and there's Al... sitting in the kitchen drinking an Old Mil's Best. Word on the street is he's building a small sub division up by the West enterance.

Trad climber
Feb 12, 2007 - 04:44pm PT
"Joshua Tree remains one of the last strongholds of 'traditional style' climbing in America.

I always loved that line in his guide books in the local ethics section.
Messages 1 - 20 of total 46 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta