Bruce Carson's hammerless solo of Sentinel West Face,1974


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Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Sep 9, 2007 - 12:20am PT
Thanks, Doug! We always got the new gear a little later up here, but when it did arrive, it was not only new and trendy, but worked really well.

If I remember, there were several varieties of hexcentrics in fairly quick succession, from 1972 - 1977 or so. Thick walled, symmetrical. Thick walled, asymmetrical. Thick walled, drilled holes. Then thin walls.

The addition of wires to medium and eventually larger nuts certainly made them more versatile - a soloist like Carson would probably really notice the extra reach. The earliest Chouinard hexes were all roped, even the #1. The specs said it took 5 mm rope, but it was an awful tight squeeze to actually get it threaded.

There was a sort of green revolution in climbing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Mostly focussed on greening up the act of climbing itself. Epitomized by Carson's climb, your Half Dome climb, and others. I wonder if it's time for another more extensive green revolution, of both climbers and of climbing?
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Sep 9, 2007 - 01:34am PT
Being a free climmber I always liked cord in my chocks. Even today I snip the cable, drill out those Frost nuts (Tom approved the engineering) and thread dynamic rope. Cuts down on the way wire levers them out of the crack, and if you fall hard on them a little stretch in that rope reduces the peak impact load at the top piece, where the highest load in the system focuses (= 1.7 times the force on you or your belayer). I cut the ends off a lot of Ice Floss stringing chocks. Straight sided chocks on cord -- I look like such a geek it's a wonder they let me near the crags.

Greening, an idea whose time has come again! But look out...

A few years back there was a nicely written impassioned plea to big wall aid dudes to climb cleaner. Wish I could recall who wrote it. Being the last climbers with a license to freely carry pins, he thought the wall climbers were getting sloppy or just lazy about pulling out the hammer. He urged them to tighten up on the clean aid, and it sounded like it was having some effect.

Things like poop tubes help, now that the walls are gettiing crowded. Leave No Trace, organized cleanups, it all helps.

But the dark underbelly of green climbing is just driving. Off to the crags. Up to the mountains. I just drove home from the gym to write this. My shoulders feel great, but my footprint on the planet sucks. I got a Prius -- good -- but it's about to turn 100,000 miles -- not so good. I really don't fly around much anymore. I like to be happy in my local mountains. Climbers don't talk much about this stuff, but when Pratt died and Chouinard stood up, one of his tributes was that Pratt had lived a lot lighter on the earth than he does.

Climbers might not be thinking about their environmental shadow, but last week I met a young mountain biker who was. She told me about websites where you can build a profile of your environmental footprint. Hers was pretty good, she said, biking to work part of the time, being aware, so the readout was that it would take 1 1/2 Earths to support everyone at her level -- not too bad for an American -- until she added in her flying habit, visiting friends in New York. Then it jumped to four Earths.

So yeah, let's have a new green revolution for climbers. Only don't be surprised when it cuts into your climbing.

You remember the old bumper sticker "Sport Climbing is Neither"?
Well I don't share the sentiment, but lately I've been thinking of a parallel: "There's no such thing as 'Eco' tourism."

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Sep 9, 2007 - 10:28am PT
Hey Doug, regarding to your mountain skiing, I can attest to side stepping down slopes that you skied down. So before you try to 'tell' younger folk how 'we' skied down 45-degree slopes in skinny wooden skies, maybe you can tell me!

Upon reflection, maybe I would rather not know at this late date.

I once skied with Ned Gillette through the trees at full speed, and he would step turn on to the top of downed logs covered with snow, ski the length of them, and step or sail off the end.

I managed to straddle every one.


PS: Say hi and give my best regards to TM, Don, and Dennis when you see them.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 9, 2007 - 10:49am PT
its a sad fact that many big wall climbers get so caught up in the culture that they choose to remain blind to the long term collective effects of their activity.
One mallet head once said to me, "Well, how else ya gonna climb it?" and he very simply didn't get it when I said, "Who says that you HAVE to?"

I suspect that eventually cumulative erosion will preclude further such behavior.
Whether by regulation or by physical problems it will become a moribund activity.


And just as likely centuries from now climbers will view the mallet heads in the same disregard we now see those who heedlessly plundered natural resources like buffalo, whales, seals, or destroyed watersheds with greed for mineral wealth, or any number of myopic pursuits that now we view with shame.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Sep 9, 2007 - 04:42pm PT
We were also influenced by the clean climbing ethic that you promoted so well. . However, we were not quite as zealous. Tobin, Gib and I did a “clean” ascent of the South Face of Watkins, according to Steve’s definition. We used all nuts and hand placed pitons, but certainly had no qualms in clipping fixed pins and bolts.. We had a hammer, though, and may have even used it once or twice, but only in the style of Ed Drummond. I remember his quote when questioned about some first ascent in Britain. He admitted using a hammer on nuts, but “only a slight tap to set them.”

I remember Richard H. on a climb at Joshua Tree, absolutely wailing on a nut with a hammer, looking down at me at the belay and saying in a faux British accent, “Just a slight tap to set them!.”
Jerry Dodrill

Bodega, CA
Sep 9, 2007 - 05:09pm PT
Thanks for the scoop. I can only imagine the coniption fit Galen must have thrown upon finding out you left the pins behind. Are you sure he didn't clip that pin in an effort to settle the score in his mind? He could get vindictive like that. What was his reaction when you called him on it?

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Sep 9, 2007 - 05:11pm PT
That's a great story Rick.
Was the nut left fixed? Deliberately?

Sep 9, 2007 - 05:17pm PT

It is actually quite amazing how much automobile usage can be reduced. A factor of ten reduction would seem very difficult. Under certain conditions it probably is, but not always.

Bicycles can add a lot to current day life. I have slowly been getting up off the handlebars and find 20mph on the level is looking within reach. Even for an old hulk. My goal is 26mph so I can violate the speed limit anytime I want in town. I do keep having a dream. Me on my $100 bicycle at 25mph going past a long string of stopped $80,000 Hummers. The piece of resistance however is for them to look away from their cell phones to see me go by talking on my cell phone.

I think it can be done.
nick d

Trad climber
Sep 9, 2007 - 05:46pm PT
It can be done John. Tailwind is the key!

Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Sep 9, 2007 - 09:56pm PT
Roger, One word on hard skinny skiing: Balance

OK, quick story. When my son Tory was two, some big kids gave him a ratty skateboard deck w/o wheels. They had nailed inner tube loops on top and showed him how to surf steep hillsides sliding on oak leaves. Fun! I had him on XC skis then, but he dragged his board out to imitate snowboarders. Now a skateboard deck is not flat. It has side-to-side rocker, so it's squirrely on snow. I didn't say anything, tho, just let him work it. Tory never noticed the handicap,and sure enough he developed great balance. A real snowboard two years later was cake, and now he runs away from me on snowboard or tele skis, and he's a sponsored surfer.

Ron, I love your term "Mallet Heads" for wall climbers addicted to their hammers. LOL

Rick, Now I use all the fixed gear too. But it was worth tiptoeing around it on Half Dome, being squeaky Clean, to make the point. After that, back to the real world. I love the game of climbing clean, but in the end it's not the thrill of setting pro that drives us up the walls. As to "just a little tap," it's a slippery slope. I once loaned my rack to a well known climber and it came back with love taps all over the soft aluminum. I was pissed!

Jerry, Galen surprised us. Three pitches up -- too high to bother retreating -- Dennis made a show of rummaging in the haul bag. "Hey Galen, I looked everywhere in the haul bag and can't find the pins." Galen didn't blow it, he was cool and ironic. Just said, "You're not a very convincing liar." so it's quite possible that two days later clipping the pin was passive-agressive. I don't recall the exchange when we confronted him, a sure sign for me that the exchange had been emotionally charged -- I don't do confrontations well.

John, Just walked to and from an afternoon meeting. Cool. I think your strategy is good for the Hummers. but you need to get their attention. Simply being clean on the shoulder of the road is is not quite in-your-face enough to rock their smug, insular worlds. Ever look in their eyes? Sometimes it's hard not to give them the finger! But if you flew a little flag saying "Be my Petrol Bitch" you'd become road kill. It's a challenge...

Sep 10, 2007 - 12:41am PT
Every climbing area presents different challenges so anything said as true by one person should really be accepted by others as just a data point and left at that. For what it is worth from my experience I thought hammers had a very pleasing heft and bestowed a sense of power. Almost a weapon. By implication, going without means one is counting on something else, guile perhaps. I came to that conclusion when I first went without. I had this entirely odd thought that were I to take the big fall without a hammer I would be denied the chance to leave behind one or two final marks. That quite revealing thought clued me in to the fact I had been counting on the hammer for a great deal more than I had realized. It was a crutch. It had to go.

As for the owners of Hummers and other such crutches, our adjustment when the automobile is finally gone won’t be easy. But it will be just an adjustment.

Sep 10, 2007 - 11:16am PT
I remember Bruce as a very pleasant man. In addition to the WF of Sentinel, he made first clean ascents of the Rostrum, SF of the Column, the Chouinard-Herbert and the Nose, all by 1973 - quite early in the clean climbing era. An underappreciated pioneer of clean climbing.

Was Bruce the originator of the C ratings for clean aid?


dee ee

Mountain climber
citizen of planet Earth
Sep 10, 2007 - 01:44pm PT
I was a fledgling big wall climber when this article came out and was heavily influenced by this and other reports of Bruce Carson's state-of-the-art hammerless ascents (as well as the 1/2 Dome Nat. Geo. article and the book in the rescue site with the list of "clean" ascents). My interpretation was similar to Ron's in that fixed gear and bolts were OK to use as well as hand placed pitons and copperheads. The dividing line was the presence or absence of a hammer. As Ricky noted it's the hammer that turns a nut, copperhead or piton into a pin. The "tapping" tool must be left behind as well, after all it's just a super lightweight hammer.
When Randy Vogel and I did the West Face we were pretty happy to find the "A5" flake pitch heavily fixed. He clipped his way across and I followed the same way. A bunch of that junk shifted and it was plenty exciting for us!
Mr. Carson's efforts motivated me to do early repeats of all those hammerless walls and it was quite a few years later that I ever placed a piton in Yosemite. The lure of the "mega exposed" places in the valley that require pitons finally did it though.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 11, 2007 - 01:26am PT
The last sentence is wonderful. "But by merely changing the rules I had gleaned an adventure from a trade route." I wonder if any of the Yosemite classics have been done "spotless", even the Nose? An entire new category of clean climbing and renewed interest and challenge in unfashionable older routes. With the NW face just one pin shy and Sentinel too, one can only wonder if other parties tried to climb that way, to the letter, subsequently.

Social climber
No Ut
Sep 11, 2007 - 01:53am PT
Bruce was on a trip to the Pamirs in Russia with a bunch of us in the summer of 1974. This was soon after the publication of the Mountain article. Bruce and I hit it off and managed to go astray of our Russian "translators" on the day or so we had in old, drab Moscow. We talked about many plans. Like me, Bruce was ready to take his skills to the high mountains. The very next summer he stepped through a cornice on Trisul(?) in India, and is gone forever. Never did get to fulfill any mutual dreams with him.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 12, 2007 - 02:11am PT

The dedication for this epic 1977 book reads "and, because it was one of his last great adventures, I hope it will commemorate the memory of Bruce Carson, who, in his last few years, brought so much to American mountaineering."

Jello on the slopes leading to Krylenko Pass.

Glad you survived that grisly get together, Jeff.
Jim Brennan

Trad climber
Vancouver Canada
Sep 17, 2007 - 07:35pm PT
The importance of Mr Carson's accomplishments can't be overstated. As a typical greasy haired teen in the 70's, I couldn't get enough of the NG article on Half Dome. My friends and I would read and re-read this mag and its pictures with the fear and opportunity of revelation. It was an introduction to art as action that resonated in a young mind.
All things new become unexplainable when refined. Clean climbing simply was expedient as Galen explained in other articles.["I smiled" Ascent mag]
My local stomping ground of Squamish is now a hibrid [if that's actually a word] of clean climbing and bolted stations, quite weird, But the masses [Squamish is a 45 minutes drive from a very rich city] seem to want it that way.
A friend of mine once found a cow bone and managed to clip a 'biner in each end, and say," Jim,I found that missing draw of yours", way funny....
Skiing, climbing, all of it in it's original form is ludicrous, insane, what were they thinking?. Probably of something else....

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Sep 17, 2007 - 10:21pm PT
wow - I finally know what Bruce Carson looked like and some more about his climbing - thanks Steve and Jello for the posts.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Oct 1, 2007 - 12:11am PT
I found this entry in the June 1973 Summit just before the West Face solo and eventual hammerless ascent of the Nose with Yvon Chouinard. Lovely Harry Daley photo too!

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 1, 2007 - 02:33am PT
From the AAJ 1974, a full account of Bruce's clean climbing activities including the first hammerless ascent of the Nose with Yvon Chouinard.

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