Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada

Search
Go

Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 21 - 40 of total 241 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Aug 28, 2007 - 11:55am PT
Sadly, I did not get to climb with him. Did get as far as the Buttermilk with Clyde and Smoke. (Dewitt Jones has 16 mm footage of Norman from that day, sitting in an aluminum beach chair.) They were good friends, and Smoke looked after the Old Boy pretty closely in his eighties, so I got to talk to him -- no, I mean listen -- a number of times at Smoke's house. And went with Smoke to the County Sanitarium in Big Pine to visit Norman. That was right down Baker Creek from where Norman had been living. Got to go to that house once too. Right inside, even, which Smoke told me afterward was a very rare privelege.

It seems Norman was a bit embarassed by the usual state of his housekeeping and was in the habit of darting out the door when he heard company coming. Indeed, we mostly shuffled around the front yard as we talked. Norman's outdoor bed was fifty feet away under a tree by the creek, a steel frame bed with a heavy paraffin-stiffened canvas tarp draped over the covers for weather. Inside the cabin didn't seem that bad to me. Cardboard boxes stacked four feet deep, leaving a narrow aisle leading toward the kitchen. Cluttered, for sure, but not trashy, and Norman seemed to know right where to find the box of manuscripts he was looking for.

There are great photos of Clyde there at the Baker Creek Ranch in his only other book, Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada: Rambles Through the Range of Light, compiled later but more rare since it has never been reprinted. Soon as I fire up my scanner and recall how it works, I can post some of them.

Meanwhile, here are a few recollections of Clyde that I put into an article Wanderers of the Range of Light (later collected into A Night on the Ground...):


In 1914, the year that John Muir died, Norman Clyde spent his first summer in the Sierra. Over the next fifty years, living mostly in the high country, Clyde made more first ascents of peaks and ridges and walls than anyone had managed before. When he died at 87 in 1972, Clyde was just two years past his climb. Jules Eichorn wrote his obituary in the usually staid American Alpine Journal, and it spoke of an enormous single-mindedness:

"He had lived as every alpinist wants to live, but as none of them dare to, and so he had a unique life . . . He was the only man I know who gave himself up completely to a passionate love of the mountains."

When Clyde lived for months in the high Sierra, his pack became his home. Those who sometimes laughed at Clyde's hundred-pound pack failed to consider that it contained all the fly rods, spare cameras, night-stand reading and canned goods that the next fortnight might require. The mode has come to be known as Clyde-style.

Norman Clyde was still going strong in 1971 at a party in Bishop for the appearance of his last book. "The next speaker will be strictly limited to twenty minutes" intoned the emcee. Clyde got up and ambled toward the microphone. He was notorious for rambling stories that lost their point by drifting on to other topics. He talked a little about sheep, then touched on his reputation as a camp mooch—"there were some college girls up there, though, and they thought I looked hungry"—before getting around to the main topic: "Speaking of mountaineering, I did have a little mania..."

The emcee got up and began edging toward Clyde. Norman looked around, then quickly summed it up: "Well, I guess that ends my fool stories, as I call 'em." It seemed rude. Clyde never spoke in public again; within a year he was dead. But anyone who heard out his "fool" stories and miscellaneous ramblings soon found that after he had five of them in the air, Clyde would finish off the last one, then return to the next, finish it, and so on, until he had knitted them all together so that each fit. By then it might be an hour later. A life spent among alpine rhythms had simply stretched his sense of time past the restless attention span now considered normal. He had the clearest eyes I have ever seen on an eighty-year-old man, sparkling with alpine light.

Fool Stories. When I got home that night—a borrowed cabin—there was my favorite poster on the wall. It showed the Tarot card of The Fool—the wanderer, innocent and amazed, swinging his bindle on a stick over his shoulder and smelling a rose. Behind him, sun poured onto a profusion of mountains. Alongside ran an illuminating inscription:

"It is all too often forgotten that the ancient symbol of the prenascence of the world is a fool, and that foolishness, being a divine state, is a condition to be neither proud nor ashamed of."

Intriguingly, the quote originated from a mathematician, G. Spencer Brown. Foolishness travels in unexpected arcs.

Clyde had been winter caretaker of lodges up and down the range, and was among the first to recognize the skiing potential here. So when I had the opportunity I asked him about favorite runs. He started right in talking about Rock Creek Canyon. It seems that the lodge owners always moved him out at the beginning of May to make room for early fishermen. When Clyde vacated, he would go straight up to Rock Creek for the spring skiing. At the head of that broad and gentle valley, up where the highest whitebark pines hunch their backs against the freewheeling wind blasting down off the crest, he would burrow in under one of the trees for shelter and settle into an interesting routine.

When the sun came early into the leeward side of his home, Norman would lace on his Triconi-nailed boots, lash skis to his packframe and crunch up the frozen crust to Bear Creek Spire. Stopping at the 13,000 foot notch and usually not bothering with the summit, he would wait patiently until the crust had softened into perfect spring corn snow an inch deep—at about 10:30—before changing into ski boots and snapping on the ultra-short five foot skis he kept for "Christiania swings down the steep gullies." After a perfect run back to camp—they're so predictable in the spring—he would settle in for an afternoon of basking and reading. Norman always carried a generous selection of classics, in half a dozen original languages.

One day while perched up on the divide waiting for the corn, Clyde got to looking west out over the voluptuous contours of the Lake Italy basin. So he skied down there instead. Then up over Gabbot Pass to the Second Recess, since that looked good too. And down that to Mono Creek, which he followed back over Mono Pass into Rock Creek again. Only by then it was three days later! On the spur of the moment Clyde had launched into a cross-country lark over the still frozen Sierra without so much as a copy of The Odyssey in Greek for equipment.

"Rock Creek Canyon," he said, as if deciding it right then, "is the finest skiing on the east side of the Sierra." I moved in the next winter. Into another borrowed cabin. Winter in the high Sierra is sheer pleasure, not only for the snow and the skiing but because the mountains are so empty then. Their trashing at the hands of callow tourists is mercifully obscured, leaving the closest thing to true wilderness still to be found in this country. But doing time in a tent during storms can get tedious. Perhaps a cane chair in front of the wood stove would help, and a view of Bear Creek Spire out the front window as it clears...
dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Aug 28, 2007 - 12:23pm PT
I have never spent a day in the Sierra without thinking of Norman Clyde and his 100+ lb. pack. We could have used that fry pan this week.
Is his Baker Creek cabin still there?
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Aug 28, 2007 - 01:58pm PT
Baker Creek cabin was bulldozed right after Clyde left. It was on DWP land. They were kind enough to let him stay out his life there, but then it seemed like they wanted to prevent it becoming a crash pad. Never went back to look, but I heard that maybe they razed it so fast not all his papers were accounted for. One friend has a Bank of America check signed by Norman that he found at the bulldozed site. Framed it.

You could probably find the spot without much trouble. A mile or more up good dirt roads, coming in from the south side of the creek. No more than 500' vertical above the valley floor. Might be corral or something there. Certainly a nice meadow.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 28, 2007 - 10:10pm PT
Thanks for posting that Doug. Your writing is superb as always. Clyde has long struck me as an alpine anchorite living a life apart. His imprint on those mountains is truly unmatched.
Raydog

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Aug 28, 2007 - 10:19pm PT
thanks Doug.
Raydog

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Aug 29, 2007 - 12:16am PT
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Aug 29, 2007 - 12:22am PT
Thank heavens for a good old climbing thread!
jstan

climber
Aug 29, 2007 - 12:24am PT
One of the links above noted that Clyde spent his childhood
in Ontario's Glengarry District. We visited that area around
1961 to compete in the Canadian National Piping
Championships. The area is positively festering with Scots
mainly involved with the orchards. Immediately upon
arriving we, of course, sought out the pubs as they are the
center of social life. We found them packed with people, all
of whom knew each other, and all of whom were capable of
interesting but outrageous behavior. Like climbers. A great
time was had by all.

Mention was also made of the Dulley incident in Piute Pass
caused by unexpected storm. Clyde and Dulley proceeded
across the pass despite the rapidly worsening storm. Oddly
we met a storm (smaller surely) in the same pass a few
years ago. It was immediately clear to this observer once
over the pass even a small amount of snow and blowing
snow obscures the trail and under limited visibility, short of
using a compass there is no clue as to where to go in the
dense brush, either advancing or in retreat. In a heavy wind
it can get quite stern up there.
Raydog

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Aug 29, 2007 - 12:32am PT
" Thank heavens for a good old climbing thread!"
TGT

Social climber
So Cal
Aug 29, 2007 - 12:48am PT
Mention was also made of the Dulley incident in Piute Pass
caused by unexpected storm. Clyde and Dulley proceeded
across the pass despite the rapidly worsening storm. Oddly
we met a storm (smaller surely) in the same pass a few
years ago. It was immediately clear to this observer once
over the pass even a small amount of snow and blowing
snow obscures the trail and under limited visibility, short of
using a compass there is no clue as to where to go in the
dense brush, either advancing or in retreat. In a heavy wind
it can get quite stern up there


A bunch of us skied over Piute pass one spring. It was the rocket scientists idea as I remember. It should have been an uneventfull Spring tour.

Crossing the pass it was gray darkness all the way to the west. We spent a miserable night sheltered behind a boulder in a howling gale. skied out the next day starting in a near white out and falling snow only to have it clear out just as we got to the lake. Almost skied off the same cliff he describes.

That summer I'd picked up the afore mentioned book and was reading as Black Bart was driving us up 395 in his post quarter million mile Cherokee.

We had camped at the same rock and recognized every detail he described in his descent right down to the last detail under similar if only a bit milder conditions.

Read that chapter out loud.

No one died this time.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2007 - 02:32am PT
An interesting passage and photo from Francis Farquhar's History of the Sierra Nevada 1965.



And lastly this photo by Marjory Bridge. Anyone know about her or her climbing past the mid-thirties?

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Aug 30, 2007 - 09:00am PT
One of the earliest editions in my climbing library (besides Vulgarian Digest) was a magazine featuring Clyde on its cover.
I don't suppose Yvon used Clyde's boy scout hatchet as an early prototype?

Francis Farquhar sure knew a lot of the greats. I was at the Farquhar home only once in December, '84 following the AAC meeting. There at a table eating brunch were a couple of old timers whose names began with B.
What were those names,...oh yeah, now I remember.
Beckey and Bonatti.
Hah! Bet there was a bit of experience at THAT table.

Here's to all of us, a community with an illustrious history well worth preserving, and the taco as a place to celebrate it.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2007 - 10:09am PT
Were you able to get Fred to tell any stories? I was never able to. He must have been almost giddy sharing a table with the greatest B of them all!
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Aug 30, 2007 - 11:53am PT
Right on the money Steve. It was a remarkable dynamic. Fred was reflecting on Walter the same idolatry that I had for both.
There was ofcourse a language barrier but Tony Sortelle made easy work of most translating. Still I said maybe two sentences content to play fly-on-the-wall.
It wasn't until Telluride in '96 that I really got to converse with Walter assisted by both his wife Rosanna and Charlie's halting italian, as a mere five years of latin had left me without an ear for any but the most basic phrases.
Few American climbers even recognize the name instead often thinking its a gear manufacturer. Fewer still are aware that with the Grand Capucin Walter helped invent big-wall climbing almost as much as Warren Harding.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 30, 2007 - 08:25pm PT
Great opportunity Ron. I haven't located a Bonatti interview going through the stacks but I will post it up when I do. Got Cassin and Meastri though.....I grew up reading about these people never imagining that I would ever meet them. Climbing is magical that way, living history still scratching away at a crag near you.
WBraun

climber
Aug 30, 2007 - 10:43pm PT
Hi Steve G.

Why does Norman always have that look?

That "look" where his lips on the end are turned down.

Sourpuss?
Mimi

climber
Aug 30, 2007 - 10:51pm PT
Hello WB, how could a guy spending that much time in the mountains be a sourpuss? Having met the man, I bet DR and Smoke Blanchard can shed some light on Mr. Clyde's pensive look. I think he was just humble and didn't like being in the camera's eye. Just a guess. What a guy.
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Aug 30, 2007 - 11:24pm PT
What a cool thread!

An illustrious community indeed,
Scratching away at a crag near you
And tapping mindful at solitary keyboards.
Who knew that dreams of convergence
Would erupt as fluorecence of electrons
Dancing.

Interesting, Steve, that you brought out Francis Farquhar. I'm sure you're aware by now that his "complete innovation" of the "first properly roped climb" on Unicorn had been preempted by a few years on Laurel Mountain.

Also, I heard that there was some antipathy between him and Clyde. Trying to recall what it was and where I heard it. (Imagine climbers dissing each other back then. So glad we've risen above such behavior here on the Taco.)

Ron, thanks for your mention of Bonatti working to invent big wall climbing on the Grand Capucin. Just this morning I was writing about the same thing happening on the Regular NW Face on Half Dome. You sent me scrambling for Bonatti's book to compare them. On the Heights wasn't translated into English until 1964. I wonder how much Royal and Harding were aware of his climbs?

Now swimming the Muir Gorge -- there's a true challenge!
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Aug 30, 2007 - 11:40pm PT
"The Look"

When he told stories in Smoke's living room he was actually quite animated and engaged -- checking that you were with him. Or worth talking to.

I think "the look" had several origins. He spent a lot of time solitary. could be he'd forget to compose a public face.

Then too, seems like he'd cultivated a personna of being a gruff geezer, and he was sticking to it.

And finally, gravity happens. I'm barely 60, but when I look in the mirror I see a face that seems more serious than I usually feel. Reminds me of my dad...

And finally, he really wasn't always like that. There's a shot of Norman upthread where he's smiling! His face is kind of shadowed -- I've seen the shot reproduced better. It's actually quite a big grin -- my favorite photo of him by far.
WBraun

climber
Aug 30, 2007 - 11:46pm PT
Yeah I know, just checking folks.

DR you have the look too. Every time I see you, you're smiling.

Great thread .....
Messages 21 - 40 of total 241 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