Pat Ament, amazing interview!


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Gym climber
Jul 10, 2007 - 01:49pm PT
Looking closer, I imagine the knot to be the bowline with a follow through, like the on TM showed Bachar. It just looks like a bunch of loose cord in the pic.

Nice 1" swami though!

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Jul 10, 2007 - 04:19pm PT
Hi Pat,

Wanted to add my voice to the appreciation of you, even though I haven't yet seen the interview. Can't wait.

BTW, I recall it was Winslow, AZ where Pratt and Chouinard were hauled off the freight and into the greybar hotel. Seem to remember that they were fed little but oatmeal for the whole stay. And haven't been able to stomach it since. I had forgotten about the chasing horses part -- nice touch.

OK, a little mindful drift here to appreciate your superb book, Wizards of Rock: A History of Free Climbing in America (2002). It is so good and so comprehensive, and parts of it are brilliant. I think immediately of the section describing Pratt's FA of Twilight Zone, which was the cutting edge climb of its day, maybe of the entire decade of the 60s because the boldness of its unprotected style will never, NEVER be repeated in this age when you can basically push a cam next to you up any offwidth. (Unless of course Werner has soloed it and isn't telling us.) You captured that moment so brilliantly that I got floaty reading your account. So, thanks!

Many, many other passages in there are brilliant, and a couple more of them have that foaty, transendent quality. (Been ransacking the house and can't find my copy -- probably loaned it out, raving about how good it is -- so I can't place exact passages.) I am not qualified to give a "balanced view" of the book as history. Ironically, you are one of the few who come to mind who might, and you have been accused publicly of sliding onto the Colorado side of the whole CO vs CA we-did-it-first debate. Which is just silly chauvinism masquerading as history anyway, so let's not go there.

So my raves about what you wrote there are not in the nature of historical scholarship, OK? It's value, it's brilliance, is more in the vivid direction of poetry. You have painted events that turned out to be the cutting edge of free climbing. And free climbing is the best game we play on stone (I'll lump bouldering and soloing in there for now, just to avoid starting up THAT argument).

Get it. Read it. All of you. If you see only one Ament book, this is the one. Poking around our climbing community, I'm surprised at how few folks seem aware of the gargantuan thing you did there, Pat. And that's a shame.

Thanks, Man. And I send you good vibes for the ongoing struggles with your health.


Trad climber
Jul 10, 2007 - 07:05pm PT
Pat is the freight train of the climbing mind - barreling into unseen turns, wailing sweet and mournful tones, shining light on rails few other climbers have found or touched. Pat is always after the inner story so often lost in the buzz and blast of the sport, and the one voice reminding us it is not sport at all ...

Tom Higgins

PS: small correction - the photo caption atop Nerve Wrack Point indicates "Eldorado" as the location, but a peek behind Pat reveals all - the pines and sweeping domes of Tuolumne. Good day we had on that first ascent Pat!

Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 11, 2007 - 02:44am PT
Now that I have read those last two posts I could die now and be happy and believe I did something that meant something to individuals who truly were something. Those words, from Tom and Doug, are among the best I've ever heard... two who are the measure...

right here, right now
Jul 11, 2007 - 11:21am PT

Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Jul 11, 2007 - 03:28pm PT
Pusher (it's a compliment..)

Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 11, 2007 - 03:31pm PT
A little history and thought, about Wizards of Rock.

First of all in no way can or could it have been my best writing. My main focus was bring in the actual spirits as much as possible and let them speak and tell the story, rather than letting it be too "second hand." I wrote where I had to, in and around the interviews, quotes, and other info. Some of it is cut and hewn, as the original text was about twice its size, but Wilderness Press couldn't imagine the expense of doing such a large book. So they hired who was then the current editor of Climbing, Jeff Achey, to whack away. I anguished at what fell to the floor, though he didn't do too bad of a job, in view of what the task was and once I realized and accepted it that things were going to go.

The one and only thing I made the publishers promise on their lives was that the photos would be done properly, and that the photos be put out on high quality paper. They promised -- on their lives. But when publishing time came they freaked at the cost again and, without discussing it with lowly author, rolled it out on recycled paper. I was aghast when I saw the book. I couldn't believe the photos. I had spent over a year gathering all those great collector shots, scanning, fixing, removing scratches, improving... And they enlarged less important photos and reduced important ones, rarely getting that part right.

But also the layout was awful, ugly, and cumbersome. I had been sick at the time and had no energy to help much with the layout, nor did they want more than my pages of written guidelines. With their reputation I trusted them. They threw my guidelines away, feeling creative, and did a fine job of rather messing the whole book up from one end to the other -- layout-wise.

I also had spent countless hours making paintings of many of the major players. I had envisioned those starting each chapter, or something like that, in an artistic way. Each of those paintings was reduced to postage-stamp size and marginalized beyond even seeing that they were paintings.

Though disappointed, to my surprise I got strong raves from lots of good people. The essence of what I had created seemed to survive in some measure. Tom Frost wrote me, "You are without question the leading authority on the subject." That shocked me but was some small solace. Roper wrote, "Even I am impressed" (you know how he likes to fancy himself an astute critic). Gill said basically that he felt I was the one person who could have written such a book. Funny little Gill aside: I let him read the book prior to its publishing and asked him to make any corrections he might. He sent the book back with a strong go ahead, and when it came out he sent me a list of small corrections!

I have been listening to feedback and gathering info, corrections, improvements, etc., for a revised version I hope to publish at some point, the gods willing. If you have info or corrections, please let me know.

Some of the best writing I've ever done, far superior to "Wizards," is in my book "Everything That Matters, (Remembering Rock Climbing)." Of this latter book, I think it demands more of a reader, though. "Wizards" is just easy to peruse, glance at, read wherever. The writing in Wizards is simple for the most part. "Everything That Matters" is much more literary and artistic, some really crafted writing... Brilliant poet Mark Irwin (praised by W.S. Merwin and who now teaches at Southern Cal), wrote (and which I used as a cover blurb), "Total abandon of the heart."

I am very pleased, though, that so many have given Wizards a thumbs up, despite its problems. With regard to Doug's comments, I am reminded of a line from Steinbeck's "The Moon Is Down," where Doctor Winter is likened to a "man so simple that only a profound man would know him as profound." That might well fit the Wizards. It has taken a profound man to see beyond its simple nature...


Boulder climber
Albuquerque, NM
Jul 11, 2007 - 06:41pm PT
Great interview!

I can only assume that Pat's friend whose dire experience with psychedelics in 1967 was Mort Hempel. It's illuminating to know (a) how much self-recrimination Pat feels for what happened to Hempel, and (b) how detrimental it was to Pat's ongoing progression in climbing.

Pat's greatest gift as a writer, it seems to me, is his utter candidness about his own feelings. I can't think of even one other person who would be as open to strangers about his/her life as Pat is.

Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 12, 2007 - 01:11am PT
No, it was NOT Mort of whom I speak in the interview. It was a young lad who was my climbing partner at the time...

Mort's troubles began, though, in Berkeley not far from the same time, during that wild period centered around 1967. I did visit him on several occasions, even rode the freights once to see him and a girl friend of mine. I greeted Mort one day, my face almost black from train smoke. It spooked him a bit at first. We have had many great times together, and we have recorded music together.

Mort and I have been friends for many years. I helped him settled in Boulder, first living at my apartment for quite a while until we figured out a great housing deal for him. He's still there, sits at his window looking out, smoking cigarettes, sometimes listens to music, very meditative, a fine man, a genius, a tremendous sense of humor, loved by the Valley greats of the golden age... He calls me now and then... He is dear to me.


Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 13, 2007 - 02:28am PT
Oh, Gazela, that openness of which you speak is probably a disease of some sort. Or maybe it's that I have come to realize through the years that what goes on more deeply is more often more real than our superficial existences. Each one of us is a complex and deep creature, though some of us don't know it. And some of us would find only terror to look in there and see. Others of us hang at the edge, unable to see much of anything, while a few of us see hardly anything else but those depths that are what we are and from which our experiences continue to be affected...

Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 19, 2007 - 04:25pm PT
A few have asked where to read the full interview. As said upthread, it will be found (but not for much longer) online, at

I also gave them some fun photos to post...
scuffy b

The deck above the 5
Jul 19, 2007 - 08:57pm PT
The cover photo of Wizards of Rock is worth pondering.
There's Robbins, a teenager, at the top of one of the Spires,
having just done an early repeat (2nd?).
So, yeah, he's sitting there looking over at El Cap, NA Wall in
the picture.
Ten years before any Grade VI was done in Yosemite.
Is he thinking he's going to climb El Cap someday?

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Jul 19, 2007 - 09:06pm PT
The great man himself, Royal Robbins


Trad climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jul 19, 2007 - 11:08pm PT
Thanks, Ray. That would be a perfect place to end this thread, the face of a great spirit. What a blessing it has been for me to know him.
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