Regional climbing rivalries: examples?


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Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 24, 2007 - 03:14pm PT
Everyone knows that climbing has always had an aspect of competition, even in the days before formal climbing contests. A recent exchange on this forum got me thinking of the spirited rivalries between climbers in different regions of the US. You don’t think of climbing as a team sport, but there used to be a spirited, team game among the major, old school climbing regions: the West Coast , the Pacific Northwest, the East Coast and the Rockies

Coloradan Jim Ericson’s snatching of the ultra- classic and patently obvious Insomnia Crack at Suicide was a blow to Tahquitz pride, and rankled my generation of Southern Californians even though we hadn’t yet started climbing when he did it. In retrospect, it was poetic payback for the poaching of the first ascent of the Diamond by Southern Californians Kamps and Rearick.

Henry Barber’s FA of the Fish Crack and solo of the Steck Salathe in the early 1970’s were victories for the East Coast on the Yosemite team’s home turf. Fish Crack still makes some people’s blood boil on this forum 30 years later. It may be a small consolation to realize that Hot Henry had a habit of grabbing prized climbs from locals all over the world, during his incredible run of first ascents during the 1970s.

It would be fun to hear examples of the glorious victories and ignominious defeats in regional rivalries, including those routes that are named to add salt to the wound. For example, I think it may have been Richard Harrison and/or Bachar who discovered a new, small crag around 1978 in Estes Park, that they called “California Classics.” Billy Westbay and the locals did not permit this affront. They immediately changed the name to “Colorado Classics” after the invaders went home.
Tahoe climber

Trad climber
a dark-green forester out west
Jun 24, 2007 - 03:18pm PT
I'll bet Ament has plenty to say on this topic.
Wild Bill

Jun 24, 2007 - 03:19pm PT
Todd Skinner's adventure at Index on 'City Park' comes to mind. It's not so much an illustration of a 'grand regional rivalry' as much as it was a case of an outsider bagging a coveted FA.

Oh yeah edit: Skinner also rankled some folks climbing 'The Stigma' and renaming it. Anyone here involved in that brouhaha?
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 24, 2007 - 03:26pm PT
Wild Bill,
Not familiar with City Park. Do tell.
Wild Bill

Jun 24, 2007 - 03:30pm PT
Rick A, I'm sure you've heard the tale. A hard, very thin crack that had repelled locals (and everyone) for years. After Todd rehearsed it on toprope, and was ready to lead from the ground up, the locals smeared the inside of the crack with axle grease.

Todd, in true Skinner fashion, got a propane torch and spent hours burning out the grease. THEN he lead it from the ground up, placing gear. He WAS like a gunfighter, roaming around bagging killer lines.

GOOGLE ROCKS Edit: Here's an account from

The first pitch of City Park ranks among the thinnest, steepest, most elegant thin cracks in Washington granite. The crack—a seam really—splits a slightly overhanging granite shield. It is one of the hardest free pitches in Washington, definitely the hardest crack climb in the state. Small wonder, since it’s vertical or overhanging in its entirety, on a mostly smooth wall, and the best jam you’ll find in its 120-foot length will accept barely more than your first knuckle. Luckily, the crack eats wired stoppers eagerly, making it a very popular clean aid pitch.

Of course, like all great Index free climbs, City Park began as an aid route. There is some question about when it was climbed. Most sources list City Park as having been climbed in 1966, by Roger Johnson and Richard Mathies, who climbed four pitches to the top of the Lower Wall.

The first ascent party claims it named the route City Park to follow the Japanese Gardens motif. Regardless of when the first ascent was made, it is assured that the popularity of the first pitch as an aid climb was greatly increased by the pin scars, which allowed wired nuts to slot in all the way up the crack. The resulting damage from pin scars during the early 1970s, before clean climbing was wholly embraced, definitely made it possible for the crack to be free climbed. In 1986, Wyoming cowboy and notorious trickster Todd Skinner, after weeks of attempts, made a redpoint ascent of the pitch (all protection placed on lead during a continuous ascent from the ground with no falls) and established City Park’s first pitch as Washington’s hardest free climb. The story of Skinner’s ascent is nearly as classic as the route itself. Some doubt Skinner’s free ascent, and even discredit Hugh Herr’s free ascent because he didn’t have real feet. Truth be told by someone who was there, Skinner did free the pitch.


Jun 24, 2007 - 03:43pm PT
Frankly I don't believe I ever saw much of this. My misfortune I guess. It really does seem misplaced though as one can cut corners in climbing at least a thousand different ways, without even going so far as to wire a route on a top rope. I think gymnastics is the way to go if you like competition. Not quite so fuzzy.

Come to think of it there was one corner I cut that I did not even know about till I had been climbing for years. I learned I had gotten criticism because I did not wear a pack while leading. (The area was used by many people to get into condition for their yearly trip to the Tetons.) Would have made no difference had I known. You climb the way you like to climb and as long as you don't affect the rock or the experiences of others - that's the end of it.

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Jun 24, 2007 - 04:21pm PT
there are (were) regional rivalries within regions - it goes on and on and - cool topic
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 24, 2007 - 04:26pm PT
I think most of the regional competition, when I was active, was mainly friendly, with some notable and highly rancorous exceptions. Ken Wilson, editor of Mountain Magazine in the 70’s, used to stoke regional competition, especially in Britain, with sensational headlines featuring “raiders” from one part of Britain grabbing “plums” from other regions.

One example of this in the Gunks was Ron Kauk's trip back east to repeat a crack testpiece that I think Wunsch put up. Somebody help me here with the name. I think it's been discussed on Supertopo before.
Wild Bill-Thanks, had never heard of it.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 24, 2007 - 04:31pm PT
Supercrack, aka (I think) Wunsch Upon a Climb?

Climbers from B.C. used to hang out with climbers from Washington. They visited Squamish, we visited Leavenworth, everyone got along. We sometimes camped and climbed together in Yosemite, too. I still keep in touch with some of them.

Jun 24, 2007 - 05:11pm PT
Steve did a lot of really nice problems wherever he was. You may be thinking of supercrack. I was belaying him when he did it. Did a very nice job of it if I say so myself. As did Ron I am sure.

Yeah Ken had the road he was travelling. He also came from a different region so everything is different of course. I climbed some with Roger Birch, also a Brit. Just a devastatingly dry humor that he applied to himself as well as to others. Wonderful to watch.

If you take Crew seriously in "The Black Cliff" there was a lot of rivalry in Wales. Crew may have been into that but somehow I doubt Joe was. I might add I think this is a great read. Rock and Ice's battle royal with the motorcycle giant is pure comedy. Imagine, Whillans having all he can do just to hang onto a guy's leg?

Another story that is funny. A worthy barges into the pub at Cloggy saying, "I hear Brown and Whillans are here. Anyone seen what they are doing?" Whereupon a voice from the back growls, "Ahm Brown. Ee's Whillans." I imagine what was really going on is even funnier. Whillans was a very spontaneous kinda guy and Joe knew Don was going to punch the guy out if Joe didn't do something. By that time Joe must have been very tired of being in the cold rain. He knew if Don got into a fight all the climbers would, for sure, be tossed out of the pub and would find themselves standing in the cold rain again. So if Joe wanted to enjoy a beer in a warm dry place, he knew he was going to have to do something. Ah, the trials of being a climber. You have been there enough so you can see it coming.

Truckee, CA
Jun 24, 2007 - 05:24pm PT
After Wunch the next 4 leads of Supercrack over a three year period were all westerners. Kauk, Hudon/Jones, Steve Hong, and myself a few days later after many tries. When I did it Steve Wunch came out and gave it a few goes on top rope. At the time he had a seat on the NYSE. He wasn't fit enough to pull it entirely, but his technique through the crux was incredible. He stemmed with his long legs out to edges I did not even see in my periphery. Basically did a different climb with a lot more emphasis on the widely spaced face features.

After me was 18 year old Wolfgang Gullich, first trip to the states and he was new to yo-yo tactics, so he watched me intently. His partners had fifi hooks tied to their harnesses which we thought hilarious. He blew us away on the boulders, and I belayed him on Open Cockpit which he floated. I gave him the list of must do routes in the Valley, which he dispatched later in his trip. I was really bummed and embarrased by the treatment received by some visiting Euros by some Valley locals over the next decade, though I think Wolfgang was accepted cause he knew the well respected Rheinhard Karl. Ethical rivalries were always more intense than regional rivalries

In the 70's there were so few traveling climbers that any who did got a lot of attention especially if they sought out well known area testpieces. Back east sandbagging was kind of a time honored normal treatment for visitors. I had one great day hosted by ST's own Bob D'Antonio, then known as Bullet Bob- the Philadelphia Flyer. He was very friendly, but I had been warned and backed off the scary moves he sent me up on, then watched him fall off and tweak his foot. He did turn us onto the great local swimming however.

Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 24, 2007 - 07:12pm PT
Thanks for the scorecard on Supercrack. Illustrates my point, exactly.
JStan-The Brits have all the great stories. You should get Jim Perrin’s book on Whillans, The Villain if you haven’t yet; its full of them.
Joe Brown may not have been into regional rivalries, but he was, and probably still is, competitive. I was fortunate to get to climb with him briefly 30 years ago this summer. Al Harris arranged a sea-level cliff traverse on Anglesey for the visiting Yanks, when I was in Wales with my mates in 1977. There were a bunch of us, including Al, T.I.M. Lewis, Joe, and Rob Muir. The traverse was along the base of a sea cliff for what seemed like a quarter mile or so, varying from inches to tens of feet above the water. There were different lines you could take horizontally, so the leader of the traverse varied, as people climbed around each other and took different lines. I noticed after a while that Brown was determined to be in the lead and would move quickly to reestablish himself in front if someone had the temerity to overtake the master. I can’t say I got to know Brown that day, but I thought this was a telling glimpse of a fierce competitor, behind a quiet demeanor.

Social climber
the Time Before the Rocks Cooled.
Jun 24, 2007 - 07:58pm PT
Wow. Thirty years ago this month!

Yeah, there were certainly some horizontal high jinks on that Holyhead girdle which ended over by Wen Zawn. I recall, Rick, asking how long that traverse was and someone suggested it was about 5,000'.

Not quite sure it was a regional rivalry as such, but there were some fun competitions that were played on that briny limestone. Gib Lewis and Ricky were quite into chess then, and for much of that Summer they enjoyed playing "mental chess" wherein you each mentally imagined the chess board and called out moves in turn. Games could go on for days... That afternoon, while Gib was poised on some heinous crux over the frigid North Sea, Rick would causally call the next move. "Pawn to king's bishop seven" or summat. Rattled Gib on that one, it did.

And wasn't it Al Harris (RIP) who couldn't swim? As I recall TIM Lewis wore a wetsuit that day just in the event that Al fell into the drink. Someone needed to fish Al out, after all. (Imagine going sea girdling and not being able to swim!)

And wasn't it Joe Brown who got to lobbing big stones into the water near other members of the party, just to see if someone would take a dive! Maybe it was Al Harris, since that sounds more in keeping with his spirit.

But in spite of all the high-jinks, I don't believe anyone in our huge party actually fell in, though that was the Game. TIM Lewis did paddle along under Al in a section or two by way of a spot, but that was intentional.

I do remember how SMOOTHLY Joe approached his climbing. An old-school floater who was technically methodical...
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jun 24, 2007 - 08:04pm PT
Rick, I hope your example of the Diamond wasn't prompted by my mention of it on the "What I learned today" thread because I don't see it as a case of poaching.
Rather, its a case of being in the right place to take advantage of a whimsical and capricious park service policy.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 24, 2007 - 10:16pm PT
Rob- tempus fugit.

It was definitely Al Harris who was responsible for trundling the rocks. You will remember that we came to a narrow cove that was impossible to traverse, and Al surmounted this obstacle by lassoing, with a short rope he brought for this purpose, a pinnacle across the mouth of the cove. Then we all did hand-over-hand Tyroleans across the frigid, but fortunately calm sea. As soon as one got midway accross the traverse, Al started dropping huge rocks, uncomfortably close to the suspended victim, that sent up a geyser of water, soaking the target, who could only curse.

Peter’s recollection of being sandbagged by Bob D. at the Gunks reminded me of another incident on the traverse. Brown, somewhere in the middle, pointed out to you and I a slightly overhung, low section of the traverse and said no one had ever done it. Well, the chance to bag a first ascent ( even if it was horizontal) that the famous Joe Brown could not do was irresistible. You and I worked at it for a while, making some progress, but we both backed off, neither wanting to commit, risk the fall and finish the last half mile of the traverse miserably cold and damp. In retrospect, it was probably just a ploy to try to get us into the water.

Ron- No, missed that thread. However, I think it was Pat who mentioned recently that Kamps and Rearick may have had some help from the officials on that one. I had not heard that before Pat mentioned it here.


Jun 24, 2007 - 10:21pm PT
Thread's a gem.

Social climber
The West
Jun 24, 2007 - 11:16pm PT
Way, way, BITD, there was a Vedauvoid/Greenie thing. Not much came of it, that I ever heard of, though Jardine counted some limited Coup.

Jun 25, 2007 - 12:01am PT
Wild Bill, I pulled Todd's pins from the Stigma/Renegade. Funny that he and I never talked about it and we were practically camping next door to each other at the time and later on. I don't think he was aware of who did it and the locals likely wouldn't fess up that they'd sent out a girl on point.

The brouhaha was this: Todd was being criticized for pre-fixing the route with several pitons prior to his free attempts. The route went clean safely with nuts and should have been preprotected in that style.

I was looking for aid practice and I innocently was recruited to do an intervention on behalf of the mildly spineless locals. After listening to all the fuss, I received the darkhorse nomination. I recall getting excited about the project never being one to avoid a good controversy. My belayer and I headed down there prior to his redpoint. I led the first pitch and pulled the pins on the way down. A couple would not come out.

Alan Watts did the second ascent that week preprotecting with nuts, and using few, if any, of the pitons that Todd had seen fit to add to the route. 5.13 was nothing new to Yosemite at the time and his renaming part of the Stigma as the Renegade, further highlighted his notoriety. His ascent was viewed as lowering the bar because the impact was considered heavy handed.

nick d

Trad climber
Jun 25, 2007 - 12:15am PT
In the early eighties there were three guys, Mike Head, Dave Head, I can't remember the third ones first name but of course his last name was Head. Anyway, they ran the show at Hueco Tanks State park outside of El Paso. One of the rangers was a climber and liked them and they were permitted to do whatever they wanted. Hueco has always had a lot of rules regarding fixed anchors, etc... Enter Todd Skinner bagging some hard lines, The Eagle and Gunfighter were two I recall. This did not sit well with the Heads and part of their reaction involved the rangers following Todd around and issuing him as many citations as they could. I think Todd ran into considerable legal difficulties as a result of their animosity.

Wild Bill

Jun 25, 2007 - 01:15am PT
Hey Mimi, that's quite a story. Thanks for laying that out there.

What are you referring to when you say "the impact was considered heavy handed." Were his pins new, or were they driven in prior placements? Just curious.
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