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Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jul 1, 2009 - 09:42pm PT
I was walkin' out to send that Bad Dog a few days ago to show that Slacker Bachar a thing or two....

But it looked wet from the trail.

and bugs were bitin' us.



a tied-off Tomahawk™
Jul 1, 2009 - 11:20pm PT
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jul 2, 2009 - 03:42pm PT
Alright, I WILL speak to you again.

Tommy-H whatEVER got into you? I think you must have only got half of the memo. What were you thinking? While the rest of us were marching right along on our respective hedonic treadmills padding away in pride and comfort, you were out there slithering in the scrub brush, jumar in teeth, on a crazed dusty death march to casket choices eschewing all manner of companionship and dare I say, reason. (look that word up, maybe, it could help). Can we say "logic tight compartments" or what? Jumars do not turn into WonderWoman bracelets in loads above 500 pounds no matter how much you want them to! Why in a free society would one do this?

I had no idea. I thought that the Owl roof solos and falls were just an endearing cry for help and affection coming from the general direction of your psychic bedroom. I could have been a better parent and so could have Kamps. Rue the day. Never would one have suspected that after the Owl you would go starkly clinical and put yourself within God's reach, even though we don't believe in him but he nonetheless appears to have been slowly eating us one by one and we are not even on the menu!

"Higgins-Guy" (Donininini-speak), you see now what we had to put up with back then? Hmmm??? Normal people actually died shortly after merely talking to you. Whole villages perished when they received the latest issue of Ascent with another Higgins Prolegomena. The care and feeding of you was actually a harrowing and perilous national priority as it was in fact found that you had defied gravity, and could manage standing on nothing all the time and stuff---- a matter of military importance since those bitches stand on nothing as well. You obviously were studied heavily though from afar. Heisenberg and stuff, prevented us from influencing your habitat and your native moves lest we spoil our findings and come up with conclusions like, "it was all incut buckets up there, go see!". Otherwise we surely would have helped you and put a stop to it.

So the research films from back then (1968-1972) are not only alarming in regard to what has been known to be normal animal behavior but fundamentally indecipherable in their meaning. Strange incantations, much gnashing of large perfect incisors, beady-eyed mutterings and threats into apparently thin air. Endless chanting of "I'll show them how", reminiscent of "The Little Train That Could" but grunted. Also, "I am the One". Contortions that only work on paper not on rock. Sequences that involved invisible though heavily scented elements, all ending in an even more frightening stance, further and further from the last point of protection----some shamanic gut-wrapped bone-shape hammered magically into seemingly blank granite with still more of these on your hardware sling, some in the forms of known opponents. The sky darkened and crow-filled. A terrifying stillness in the air as if to wait for lightning.

As with all things, the furies die as well. They get tired kinda of being all the time furies, you see. It's hard work and the general experience is sure negative. We are all so fond of you now that you have assimilated and your recent needlepoint and macrame has everyone talking.

A hard right down Big Tujunga Canyon
Jul 2, 2009 - 04:16pm PT
"I wanna take you higher"! "HIGHER!"
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jul 2, 2009 - 05:09pm PT
Hi Tom,

When you first described your Jumar self belay set up on the Owl Roof (here on ST), I thought you were just pretending to have a self belay since there was no way that a Jumar could be expected to hold a fall and you were always a smart and thoughtful guy. I could live with the ‘pretending’ part rather than any other possible alternative explanations.

But then I read your B-Y account and-- may the gods strike me if I cause any offense--I morphed from interest, to concern, to anguish, to a smile (as you killed yourself twice), and then outright laughter as you found the cathartic energies of admitting to crimes against sense.

It wants me say, "welcome to ST", where we all seem to find the place in our memories where we can only shake our heads and repeat the mantra: "What was I thinking!"

I am so glad you lived to tell us the story.


Trad climber
Jul 2, 2009 - 09:12pm PT
Thanks and Thoughts

Thanks Roger and Peter for your most perceptive lines, including my “crimes against sense” and my “crazed dusty death march to casket choices eschewing all manner of companionship and dare I say, reason.” Both are apt descriptions, though I would take issue with the companionship part, at least as I began to grow an iota or two. And thanks too for the underlying sympathy and good cheer, the most important part of the whole shebang as we prattle and banter in cyberspace under graying heads.

I don’t wish to go on much more here given the thread is on the BY and that should remain the focus. However, there’s much food for thought in your post, Peter, not just about me and my motives, but the motives for any solo climbing. For instance, recall there is this thing called solo climbing without any belay system whatsoever! If rope solo with jumar is crazy, then what can one make of a true solo? Peek back at Stefan Schiller pictured on this very thread, sans rope if I read it right, standing there calmly in the middle of the BY, death only a broken knob away.

And yet, you will rightly counter, climbing with a flawed system takes a special kind of self delusion very distinct from the mentality of the no rope solo climber. In one case, the fool has fooled himself about possible consequences; in the other, presumably there is no self delusion as he/she knows sure death is the risk taken. But note the bit of craziness in this position too - we admire clear vision flirting with death but shake our heads at a jujitsu mental machination resulting in much the same risk.

In any case, I indeed had deluded myself, presuming the hefty looking jumar would hold some sort of fall and, what the heck, I wouldn’t fall anyhow and the thing was some sort of backup even if not perfect and … you can see the kind of self talk leading to my path. But here again, things are not simple. I think there are shades of my madness in the whole mental game of a first ascent. We all proceed with a bit of self delusion on bare Tuolumne granite, or is it love and hope, when making a hard - we think reversible - move some distance out from the little bolt below looking more paltry by the moment, committing a bit more toward what looks like the next bolt stance or is it too small or slick a depression to stand in and get the drill set and start to tap and ...

I sense we are moving to a new thread topic on solo mentality or maybe another on the first ascent mentality and motive. But staying with solo mentality, perhaps we could hear, Peter, about your self talk in soloing El Cap when the self belay system you used (was it a prussic?) got toward its safety limits, or what Bachar tells himself doing no rope solo at near his climbing limits, to argue against the broken hold beyond all his powers to control, and where is Croft or Gill on the same issue and the other true soloists. Perhaps we will find there too some specks of delusion by which we all proceeded and, I would argue, still proceed on and off the walls because some realities must be denied, at least sometimes.

Greg Barnes

Jul 2, 2009 - 09:22pm PT
Schiller was roped, he's clipping a bolt in the picture.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jul 3, 2009 - 12:07am PT
To be serious here, Tom, your retelling of this is wonderful and shows how crazy, enthused and spiritualized some of us get while others are busy with other things. Thanks tons for the personal tale; it is huge. It is clear that others were watching too. By that point in history there was an amazing amount of surveillance going on both in the Valley and in the Meadows. And the B-y is not far from the highway.

Gentleman as always, scholar as well. Wholly unsupervised might I add. Funniest known man on rock, greatest friend possible to many. How long had this been going on, this soloing thing of yours? We all relish in the retelling of one Tom Higgins up on the B-y fighting his own good fight, fully curious and undaunted, Jumar in hand, a good thing. It is a moment in history. We are all honored to partake in the tale. Not unlike if Royal were at this point to divulge for most of his 60’s Muir solo he was untied because it seemed “ungainly” to be so tethered, foot slings were enough. Kind of frisky actually, you being up there with nothing better than a large roach clip between you and eternity, enormous runouts unavoidable.

Many of us have of course soloed. As in no rope, no equipment, just shoes and a self perhaps as well. This realm is beyond the purview here and really has no pretenses of being anything other than a private experience in extremis. As you suggest, we would need yet another thread on unroping things.

But as for self-belaying on the Salathe, for the record and as I describe in the AAC article of 1972, I had a hefty 8mm prussik that was tripled and worn in earlier a bit specially for the ascent and below it was a jumar. The system was thus double and if Mr Jumar might try to sever the rope it was below the triple large prussik so perhaps that knot might have done its job still. I was confident in the setup.

I tested this affair beforehand and actually had done a bunch of shorter routes this way solo. And while on the Salathe ascent I actually fell on the rig while trying to do a first free ascent of the Half Dollar. It worked just fine and I went onwards, albeit in slings at that spot. It was well known that Jumars weren’t capable of much more than 500 lbs. Now of course I would use a Solo-Aid or a Silent Partner, both of which I own.

I think the dithering between having a jumar device or any other scheme that isn’t competent and just climbing unroped altogether is not only interesting but also kooky because reality just states that the device isn’t capable so why have the Ritual No-Theater of yarding out the slack and managing the medieval process when the whole thing is mere rice paper and Caca? I think you answer all of this; it has been a good thread.

Inner City

Trad climber
East Bay
Jul 3, 2009 - 01:24am PT
this thread is great and the drifting part is truly wonderful to read. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Tom and Peter etc..a cyber campfire can be so much fun!

Trad climber
Jul 3, 2009 - 01:38am PT
ST campfire tales. Rowdy Yates.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jul 3, 2009 - 01:43am PT
Peter, did you attempt, or climb, any long routes after the Salathe? Just curious.

I did a bit of aid soloing, usually with jumars as a belay, backed up by a knot. Probably OK for relatively low fall-factor falls. I wonder what system Robbins used on the Muir, and Porter and Dunn when they did solo new routes on El Cap in the early 1970s?

Trad climber
Reston, VA
Jul 3, 2009 - 06:27am PT
This is the best ST thread I have read. Thanks all.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jul 3, 2009 - 10:04am PT

I know what you mean, Tom, about the mental tricks of having a 'belay' in name only. I could often climb calmly high above my last protection on hard ground with full confidence, especially on first ascents. But I could not climb comfortably unroped even on moderate 5th class.

On my aborted West Face of El Cap solo, I travelled to the Bay Area and purchased sailing rope to use as a prussic. It was kernmantel construction but very supple and about 1/2 inch thick. This was on the advice of Charlie Porter, who said that it could be kept loose enough to move easily with one hand, but would catch with out risk of overheating if weighted. My back up was to short the rope with a figure eight knot and double biners on my swami. At every two-hands rest on free I would recalculate the short rope length. I sometimes had a second short rope loop to account for the uncertainty of the next two-hands rest, hoping that I could drop the first loop. I seem to remember a special knot that was supposed to reduce the failure due to the double pull against sharp bends, but I don’t recall if it was real or only a question mark.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jul 3, 2009 - 10:22am PT
Mighty Anders,

I went to do the second ascent (by solo) of Tis-sa-ack three weeks later, as driven as a sheep stampede. Got up to the Zebra, realized I had only one hammer (BITD August 1971) and had to descend. Plus I hated the process so much by this point---actually sick of it--- all that nonsense with the self-belay devices, the endless endless toil, the absurd loneliness. And it was about 95-100 degrees in the Valley so it was similarly hideous up there. That was the last aid solo climbing I ever did. I had finally gotten the memo! I was finally cured!! lol.

About a week later I did the fourth ascent of the West Face of El Cap with CJ Jackson, a great young climber from Connecticut, one bivy. And although there of course were issues between us, of which I write in one of my stories, I was nonetheless thrilled to have a friend with me finally.

I did plenty of unroped free climbing however for another 10 years. Some of it hard, some of it onsight. I still loved moving over stone with no impediments. And today although I still fantasize about some soloing I am mostly thinking about being on rock with friends.

Trad climber
Jul 3, 2009 - 04:21pm PT

Greg, thanks for opening my eyes. which apparently are so poor I can't see the rope in the Schiller pic. But of course, now, I see his clipping posture, or else he's making a mighty strange move. Perhaps no one has free soloed the BY yet, but it's probably coming and plenty of equally hard stuff has been free soloed and so my points there still stand, or wobble here and there, as Peter reminds us. A bit kooky he rightly observes ...

Peter, so glad to hear you too had the dreaded jumar, but of course only as back up to the big sane prussic, and that you rationally "tested" the system, which I never did. Good too you moved on to devices actually designed for the rope solo logistical nightmare -- exactly the way I came to feel about it in time (did this stuff across 2-3 years), with all the necessary manipulations and need to climb things twice. To your other point, why use a system where the "reality" is it won't work, when the system is so onerous anyhow, well, as you can see from my self talk, I was in full denial, was madly in love with Tuolumne rock, partner or not, and of course still contend some of my denial is part of the whole leading game, all of which is not to justify my kind of denial going onto the BY. As I said in the telling, it was beyond stupidity.

Maybe, though, I should add that I did have the modicum of sense Mighty Hiker and Roger Breedlove describe by using a back up knot they discuss. I got pretty good doing the "recalculation" of rope length Roger discusses, though I had a couple of more funny than terrifying incidents miscalculating along the way, one on an old route I thought I knew well since I had done the FA, i.e. the Vision, though nothing ridiculous happened except some scary down climbing to regroup and rearrange the macramé Peter calls it perfectly. Of course, the problem with employing back up knots on the BY, as you can imagine, is I could get two hands free on the first pitch here and there, but had much trouble with it on the second and ... well, you saw the tale.

Sidebar: suggested new thread topics someday:

 the mentality, self talk, "vision-thing" of free soloing (but not sure any free soloists would weigh in)

 memorable retreats and failures, and lessons learned, and I don’t mean logistical lessons but soul lessons (maybe too confessional for some)

 and a big one: motivation for doing the newest and hardest and maybe most dangerous when young and dumb. As Peter suggests, maybe its quest for love and respect in the climbing community, competitive instinct for place and standing in the same community, a march against the giants gone before, a journey toward self formation generally (Scherer and I argued this one at length), or some combined tangle not unlike the self belay system.
Double D

Jul 3, 2009 - 09:30pm PT
I've got sewing-machine legs and I need to chalk up after reading that.

A hard right down Big Tujunga Canyon
Jul 5, 2009 - 11:15pm PT
A bump for my friend and one of the few real heroes I've ever had.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Jul 5, 2009 - 11:16pm PT
He did have a sack on him, that's for sure.

Big Wall climber
Jul 6, 2009 - 01:38am PT
John and I had talked a fair amount about the BY. He was psyched to get on the thing soon. I was super, super psyched about shooting images of him on it, but more than anything of seeing him do this and experiencing it with him, especially after what he'd been through physically with the accident. Such sad, sad news. John was such an inspiration.

Trad climber
Jul 8, 2009 - 07:34pm PT
I think my suggested new thread topics about motive in climbing, solo mentality and working the most dangerous edges should rest for quite some time. I have no words for the death of John, only immense sadness and, now, concern for his son especially and hope there will be a fund or other mechanism so we who stood in awe can take some small positive action in line with our admiration for John, though any such action will hardly stand against the dismay and grief.

Tom Higgins
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