Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada

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mooch

Trad climber
Old Climbers' Home (Adopted)
Mar 15, 2010 - 11:41am PT
Not to steer a bit OT. Thought I'd throw this in for folks to check out.

A few of us took on a very initmate project about 7 years ago to memorialize Walter Starr Jr. I'll apologize if a few of the hypelinks no longer work.

A summary of Pete Starr's tragic death on Michael Minaret, including those who were part of the search team:

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2003/novdec/features/starr.html

A trip report I submitted to both the AAJ and the Stanford Alumnus, including summitpost.org.

http://www.summitpost.org/trip-report/169164/Missing-In-The-Minarets-Part-II.html

Stanford's article on our efforts:

http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2003/novdec/features/plaque.html

The plaque we placed on Michael Minaret, near Starr's final resting place.

[Click to View Linked Image]



Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Mar 16, 2010 - 02:56pm PT
Just a bump for Norman to get all his stories together:

Norman Clyde’s Favorite Norman Clyde Story

It was August in the late 50s. My brother-n-law, Bob, and I were hiking up the north fork of Big Pine Creek on my second backpacking trip- ever. We came upon a strange procession descending the trail. A group of eight military men, Marines as I recall, in fatigue uniforms were bearing a litter with a black plastic bag – a bag we realized probably contained a human body.

One of the litter bearers with three stripes on his sleeve asked as we approached, “You guys going as far as Third Lake?” We replied in the affirmative and he asked if we would be willing to share some of our food with a guide that was camped there. Sure we would! He then explained that, yes, indeed, they were carrying a body - a person who had been missing for a week and had just been found the day before by the guide camped at Third Lake. The deceased had been discovered in a couloir near the base of Temple Crag. The sergeant threw in a little aside that sort of caught our attention – the guide found the body by listening for the buzzing of flies.

As Bob and I approached our proposed campsite at Third Lake an old man wearing a funny hat - an old campaign hat – came bounding out to the trail. “Would you fellas be willing to share some food with me?,” he asked. Realizing this must be the sergeant’s “guide”, we said we’d be happy to. He explained that he was expecting an air drop that afternoon, but if it didn’t happen he would be hard pressed for food. We reassured him and he disappeared back to his campsite.

We set up our camp just above him, just off the trail, next to Third Lake. We had camped in this same spot the prior year on our first Sierra backpack trip. We liked the site because it was next to a rock outcrop that jutted out into the lake allowing one to sit on its top, thirty feet above the lake’s surface, and stare directly across at Temple Crag’s north face.

Late that afternoon, we heard the drone of an airplane ascending the canyon. A single-engine Cessna appeared in front of Temple Crag. We figured this must be the old guide’s airdrop coming up. We stood on top of the rock outcrop and watched as the plane circled in front of Temple Crag and then, quite abruptly, turned and headed straight toward us. The pilot had descended to about 100 feet off the lake’s surface and as he reached our perch, he cut the engine, opened his door and yelled at us, restarted the engine and banked around - headed back to the other end of the lake. I didn’t quite get it all, but Bob figured he had yelled, “Did they get the body out?”

Okay, they did, but how the hell do we tell the pilot? He headed back straight at us again. This time he cut the engine, opened the door and flipped a piece of paper out.

Now, get this. It was an 8 ½ by 11 sheet folded in fourths and it fluttered down directly into Bob’s hands. Again, the plane restarted and retreated to the end of the lake. The note read, “If they got the body out, hold hands, if they didn’t, wave.” As the plane approached us on its third pass we were holding hands and the pilot waggled his wings indicating he understood. Now what?

Here he came again. This time quite a bit higher off the lake and he kicked out a small red parachute with a pack dangling from its shrouds. Down it came directly into the top of the highest pine tree in sight, right next to the trail. As we stood staring up at it, our brains still a little rattled from all the aerobatics, when up the trail at an accelerated pace came the old guide. “Hey, that’s my food! One of you young fellas want to scramble up there and get it?”

Bob was already checking out the lower branches and immediately started up. He cut the shrouds and the pack dropped to the trail. “That pilot was Bob Symons, a superb bush pilot, thanks boys” the old guide yelled over his shoulder as he hustled back down to his camp. I stood staring up at the chute, still draped over the top of the tree, and decided that it would be a great souvenir. So up I went. After a long struggle, I managed to untangle the shrouds and returned to the ground with my red nylon/silk trophy and enough pine sap to last Mickey Mantle two seasons.

We didn’t see the old guide again that day and he was gone the following morning before we had our campfire lit. Remember those days, when you could have a campfire at Third Lake?

In 1963, after having been introduced to mountaineering and having read everything I could on the subject,
I realized “the old guide” was the legendary Norman Clyde.

Thirty years later, having moved to Bishop, California, I attended the first annual Norman Clyde birthday gathering at Bishop’s Mill Pond Park . These were potluck affairs to honor the memory of Norman Clyde. At this first meeting, of the only three we held, the custom developed for those with fond memories to stand up before the crowd and relate their favorite Norman Clyde stories.

It was at this first gathering that I told my airdrop story—my favorite and my only Norman Clyde story - and after the telling, a young man walked up to me and asked if I knew the name of that bush pilot – I hadn’t mentioned his name in this first telling. I told him, yes, it was Bob Symons. He blurted out, “I thought so. He was my grandfather!”

I told my favorite story again the following year at the second Norman Clyde birthday gathering, and again, as I finished, I was approached - this time by a fellow high school teacher. He said, “You know I used to invite Norman over for dinner about once a year in his later years when he was barely existing at Baker Creek. He really appreciated those dinners and he loved to tell stories. In fact, the one you just told was his favorite! He would chuckle throughout especially when telling about the tree climbing. He was 73 years old when that took place. He couldn’t have climbed that tree to save his soul. Thank God for the boys.

At the third gathering, and regretfully, the last, I stood up when my turn came up and announced, “I’m not going to tell MY favorite Norman Clyde story this year. I’m going to tell NORMAN CLYDE’S favorite Norman Clyde story.” And then proceed to tell the airdrop story again.

Years later, another colleague at the high school asked if I would help his wife with a computer installation. I taught computer science at Bishop Union High School and was often asked to help people with computer problems. I agreed and when I entered their apartment I was astonished by the plethora of airplane photos that papered the walls. I asked if she was a pilot. “No, but my father was”, she answered, “He was a well known bush pilot around here.”

“His name wasn't Bob Symons was it?” I asked in disbelief. “As a matter of fact, yes it was”, she answered. That initiated an immediate retelling of the 1958 airdrop. She was not at all surprised by the engine cutting and yelling at us. She said when she was about nine years old she used to fly with him and he would often use that tactic to communicate with the ground. She said it used to scare her the hell out of her.

Bob Symons was killed in a glider accident only a few years after he dropped that pack for Norman.
BooDawg

Social climber
Paradise Island
Mar 16, 2010 - 05:45pm PT
Excellent, well-told story, Don. I can see the whole chain of events unfolding...

I want to add a few more pix to this thread.


Tom Gerughty joined Sheridan, Norman, and me one night for our evening meal, bringing his camera. It seemed that Norman recognized that he was an unique historical figure who was also very humble and who went about his life in his own way, even in the face of people taking his picture and asking him questions about various adventures that made up parts of his life.


Dick Danger

Trad climber
Lakewood, Colorado
Apr 8, 2010 - 06:19pm PT
Badass!!!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 8, 2010 - 07:47pm PT
Curt Chadwick, one of Chuck Kroger's Stanford Alpine Club chums, told me a story while I was interviewing him about running into Norman on a Sierra Club outing. Norman was telling stories around the campfire and would bluntly prompt folks if they weren't paying proper attention! I can't recall if it was a sharp remark or handy pebble that was the means of delivery! LOL
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 8, 2010 - 11:06am PT
Range of Light Bump!
stonefly

Social climber
Alameda, California
Aug 8, 2010 - 12:52pm PT
Scan of a tiny contact print. Reads "Clyde roping on Mt Hutchinson, 1933"
Mt. Hutchinson?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 28, 2010 - 04:31pm PT
A very light portrait of Norman taken when he was clearly still lit up by the climbing. No photographer listed in the August 1960 Summit.

[Click to View Linked Image]

[Click to View Linked Image]
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Aug 30, 2010 - 10:55am PT
Gotta underline the excitement of Daniel Arnolds's chapters on Clyde. They are the crescendo of a really fine book. In spite of a biography of Clyde published in recent years, Arnold's chapters are the most psychologically probing study yet of the Old Gaffer.

Hey, Boodog -- Nice shots of Clyde and Sheridan together! Sheridan was nobody's fool, and he just couldn't get enough of Clyde. He said, "If you want to do some real 5.10, write about Clyde!"

I did, a little, but both those guys had a range to them that was pretty hard to contain in words.
FRUMY

Trad climber
SHERMAN OAKS,CA
Nov 8, 2010 - 03:36pm PT
THE MAN
Gene

Social climber
Nov 8, 2010 - 03:54pm PT
Stonefly,

"Clyde roping on Mt Hutchinson, 1933"
Mt. Hutchinson?


Two thoughts.

Mount Humphreys?

Clyde made several FAs of routes on North Palisade. The first ascent of the peak was by Hutchinson.(???)

I don't have dates available now, but will see if I can make a match.

g
BBA

climber
OF
Nov 8, 2010 - 07:37pm PT
Clyde climbed the Snow Cone in the Valley - see page 41

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_nature_notes/14/14-5.pdf

Here's the 1932 article referred to - see page 4-5 - the photo is much bigger

http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_nature_notes/11/11-5.pdf

FRUMY

Trad climber
SHERMAN OAKS,CA
Nov 9, 2010 - 10:51am PT
BBA very nice
more norman clyde stories please.
FRUMY

Trad climber
SHERMAN OAKS,CA
Nov 19, 2010 - 09:26pm PT
bump for the MAN --
pix4u

climber
Sonoma, CA
Jan 9, 2011 - 11:14am PT
I met Norman Clyde in 1963. Smoke Blanchard took me over to where he was staying as a caretaker of some cabin. As we talked the conversation drifted to the Sierra trips he planned for the future. As he was talking about this his gaze was towards the Sierra, and I managed to capture on film the sparkle in his eyes. Photo attached.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 9, 2011 - 12:40pm PT
Ed- Do you have any shots of the elusive Smoke?

Thanks for sharing your work with us here!
pix4u

climber
Sonoma, CA
Jan 9, 2011 - 01:23pm PT
Steve,

I'll have to look through my archives. I might or might not have any photos of Smoke. I'll put it on my list of things to do, which is getting longer all the time. At the time I took the picture of Norman Clyde, he was the living legend. Smoke was not yet the legend he has become now. Is there a separate thread on Smoke?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 9, 2011 - 03:34pm PT
No dedicated Smoke thread that I have come across in my time here on the ST although his name is starting to pop up frequently!

He certainly desrves a thread for all his exploits including being so good a friend to Norman.
BuddhaStalin

climber
Truckee, CA
Jan 9, 2011 - 04:28pm PT
Clyde is the f-ing man. Anyone who would pull a shotgun on one of his turdy students for vandalizing his sh#t is my buddy.
BBA

climber
OF
Jan 9, 2011 - 10:16pm PT
I get interesting e-mail now and then. Here are a couple of Clyde items from one correspondent...

I briefly knew the Sierra legend, Norman Clyde and I also briefly knew Warren Harding (not the president, rather the pioneer big wall climber of the 1950s to 1970s). I met Clyde in 1971 when I was living in Bishop in the Owens Valley. Smoke Blanchard -- one of my climbing pals when I lived there -- introduced me to Clyde. Smoke and I spent an afternoon with old Norman chatting about Sierra mountaineering history. It was during that amazing visit that Norm told me that it was he who found Walter Starr's body on Michaels Minaret back in the early-1930s after the official search parties had given up. Can you imagine the goose pimples I got when I realized Clyde was divulging to me what he had never made public before? He did not go public with that well-guarded 40-year-old secret until two years later, not long before he died.

It was after Clyde's "confession" that I became obsessed for many years to go climb Michaels Minaret to see if I could find Starr's bones. I did a few recon scrambles around the minaret over the years during my ascents of Banner and Ritter, scoping out the various climbing routes, but all of them are quite dicey and I would not commit to a solo ascent. Try and try as I did to enlist some of my climbing pals to join me in the Starr's bones quest, there were no takers. I finally had to give up that dream. Starr's burial ledge high up on Michaels Minaret remains a well-guarded secret.

and

I told you in a previous e-mail that in 1971, about two years before Norman Clyde's death in Bishop where I was living at the time, that Smoke Blanchard and I went to see old Norman one afternoon. Clyde was in rapid decline, quite ill, but his mind and memories were sharp. He was the age at the time of our visit with him that my dad is today, 85.

You know Smoke was killed in 1989 in a freak car accident just south of the Owens Valley.

Smoke introduced me to the Buttermilk bouldering area just north of Bishop, off 395. Smoke and I and a few other Bishop climbers would get together in the Buttermilk and go from boulder problem to boulder problem. 15 years later I climbed for a week in 1986 with an entourage of world-class climbers -- including Doug Robinson -- in the Buttermilk, not knowing then that Smoke also introduced Doug Robinson to the Buttermilk many years earlier as he had me in 1971. I just learned this fact from a Google search.

This gets even better. In 1986 I also climbed Thunderbolt Peak (14,000+ feet) in the Palisades group of the mid-High Sierra with Doug Robinson. We did a variation on one of the established routes, and Doug said it constituted a new route. He never submitted this fact for publication, but we did it and that's all that counts in my book. Turns out that the very first ascent of Thunderbolt Peak was by Norman Clyde and Jules Eichorn in 1931, the year of the first entries into the Starr-King register.

This all gives me goose pimples, Bill. Norman Clyde was Smoke's good friend. Smoke took me to meet old Norman. Smoke introduced me and Doug Robinson to the Buttermilk. Doug and I climbed Thunderbolt Peak together, the same craggy spire that Clyde and Eichorn did the first ascent on in 1931, and then 46 years later in 1977 I paid written homage to both men in the Starr-King register!
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