First Ascent of the Heart Route 1970- Kroger and Davis


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Social climber
Telluride, CO
Feb 25, 2009 - 11:52am PT
Bump for Scott Davis and Chuck Kroger.

I miss Chuck everyday but Supertopo helps me feel connected to the world of climbing that Chuck so loved.

Kathy in Telluride
scuffy b

just below the San Andreas
Feb 25, 2009 - 02:00pm PT
In my formative years, I thought the VD account of this climb
was sort of normal for climbing accounts.

Somehow over the years, though, I got a couple terms confused.
Maybe it was a term of Harding's...

Instead of Barbarians, I always think "Hairy Giants."

Many years later, I talked about this with Kim Schmitz.

Oh, No, they would never have acted in any knid of
threatening way...nothing but love for the "interlopers"

Trad climber
North Carolina
Feb 25, 2009 - 10:55pm PT
Kathy....I have not been back to Telluride in over a year. After I moved back to North Carolina I came back for Mountainfilm every spring but not this past one. My heart goes out to you for the loss of Chuck. I have only begun to appreciate and be thankful for Chuck's willingness to be on our Board of Directors for Faraway Adventure Programs. My high energy level was calmed by Chuck's calm presence at our meetings and I understand more and more the value of listening and being patient with giving time and thought to decisions being made. I had no idea at the time of his illness and I would give the moon and the stars to have him back for one conversation with him about HIS cutting edge adventures in Yosemite and not about how to run a non-profit organization. Take care Kathy and I hope to see you at Mountainfilm this spring!!!

Trad climber
North Carolina
Feb 28, 2009 - 09:34pm PT
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Feb 28, 2009 - 10:10pm PT
Scuffy/Moyles, Doll, no, there were plenty of heavy attitudes just then from Jim and Kim. They did all they could to stop them.

Peterson and I were not part of that side of it since the first interest that Scott and Chuck had was in the Dawn wall thing that JB and Schmitz were farting around with. Realize this was before Harding's climb. When they (Soctt and Chuck) moved to the Heart Route (which Don P and I were already two days from starting) there was no interaction between us....they already were on it, surprise to us. Had ropes streaming down from the Slack. Thanks God. Imagine being up there for 8-10 days with Don.

Social climber
So Cal
Feb 28, 2009 - 10:39pm PT
This story could just as well belong in the Tahquitz thread, but the primary character is Andy.

I only tied in with him for one long day.

But what a day it was.

The adventure started before we even left. As we went thru the exercise of stuffing a rack, rope and other gear into my saddlebags, Andy realized he’d left his wallet and keys in his room. A quick ascent of the drainpipe to the third floor was followed by a long reach and step across to an open lobby window. He quickly appeared at the front door with wallet and keys in hand. I told him I’d been impressed. He demurred that he’d done it often. I wondered what I had myself in to.

We hit the 10 freeway and I was in my own element. The BMW hummed along thru the patchy pre dawn ground fog as if powered by a giant electric motor. By the time we passed the airport, I could tell I was hauling dead weight. Andy was slumped down, sound a sleep. The best part of traveling by motorcycle is that it is about as close to flying in an open cockpit aircraft that you can get without leaving the ground. We flew thru Colton and San Bernardino, and were soon climbing over the pass at Redlands. Then, that pass marked a true demarcation between urban and rural. Not much but open fields as the freeway undulated over several drainages stretching down from the San Bernardino Mountains to the north. Dropping down a reverse slope, pushing for 90 mph. in the dim dawning light I caught a flash of movement to my left and instinctively ducked. The intensity of the slam to the top of my helmet startled me. It took a second or so to realize that a dove had chosen my head for the location of its self-evisceration. There was a smoke ball of feathers rapidly receding, dissipating in the rear view mirror. Then the flash of panic, I was armored with a helmet, Andy only in a balaclava to ward off the chill. A quick glance back and I couldn’t help but grin. He was still sound asleep, unharmed, but his balaclava had been turned into a bizarre primitivist headdress decorated with feathers and bloody flesh.

As we dropped down the last down hill run to the long flat plain that extends from Beaumont to Whitewater, the bike gave a slight shake. The shake amplified into a violent wobble. The final outcome of a speed wobble is often a wrecked bike and a case of road rash at a minimum. The proper response is counter intuitive. Slowly close the throttle. Relax the grip on the handlebars. Keep the body relaxed. And, above all, stay off the brakes. Andy was now wide a wake and wild eyed. As our speed bled down, the oscillations dampened until, we got down to about 35 mph. At that point, the bike reached a new resonance and again began to lurch violently from side to side. We finally coasted to a stop on the shoulder and hoped off, feeling like dismounted bronco riders. The rear tire as flaccid as a drunken man.

Andy reached up to pull of his balaclava and felt something sticky and wet. As the hat slid off his face, his expression was one of confusion and shock. He reached for his head, feeling for a wound that wasn’t there. As I explained the earlier incident with the dove and how he’d slept through it, he relaxed. I got to work on getting the wheel off the bike. Andy began plucking pieces of bird from his hat.

I had the wheel on the ground and began to attack the task of removing the tire. The five-inch long tire irons that came with the toolkit were completely inadequate for the task. As I struggled to remove, the tire there was a reflection of flashing red lights in the high gloss black of the bikes rear fender. A CHP pulled up behind us. The nature of the situation was obvious and Andy had plucked his hat clean returning to his normal civilized appearance. The officer quickly insisted on giving the wheel and me a round trip to the nearest gas station. He opened the trunk, in went the wheel and I slid into the front seat. With the small talk on the ride he told me that he’d recently transferred to Beaumont, then, considered a plumb rural assignment. Close enough to the city for the conveniences, but far enough away to avoid most of the urban law enforcement problems. After a couple of miles, we pulled off the freeway and into the gas station. The officer tapped on the office window and woke the dozing attendant. He was visibly annoyed at being awoken that early, but the presence of the law inspired him to get on with the job. Ten minutes and five dollars later we were off down the freeway to the bike and Andy. On the way, back the cop got a radio call on an accident so it was a quick exit and a wave at the bike and he was off with lights flashing. The tire went back in place, the tools were packed back up, and the whole incident had cost us less than a half hour, still time for breakfast.

The Banning Denny’s was a regular stop. Both my regular climbing partner and I had only motorcycles and a chance to warm up before heading up the hill was always taken. Denny’s was really the only convenient place and was consistent. It didn’t mater what you ordered, no matter the time of day, it always had that tell tale hint of bacon grease. At least the coffee was hot and acceptable to our unrefined pallets. The earlier shot of adrenaline had my appetite up so a big breakfast was in order. Andy just ordered oatmeal and Postum, (weird?) and laid out his plan. He’d received a Rhodes scholarship and would be headed for Oxford in early summer, but had arranged to go for the second ascent of The Heart Route on El Cap during the spring break in a few weeks. Then, the second ascent of a big wall was only slightly less prestigious than a FA. There were only ten routes then that went to the top of El Cap. The gods of Yosemite had put all except The Heart up. Andy planed to get the free leads and wanted to get as much mileage in as possible beforehand. As midterms were still to come, this was going to be his last tune up day, and he wanted to make the most of it. He laid out his list. It was at least three times more climbing than I’d ever done in one day. I answered that I would do my best to keep up and hurried to finish eating. It was going to be a very long day.

We took off into the fog and were soon on our way up route 243. We climbed into the thickest parts of the marine layer and the fog became a light drizzle collecting on the bikes windshield, dripping off the trees by the side of the road. At Poppet Flats, we finally broke out into brilliant morning sunshine, the low clouds spreading to the horizon like a giant bowl of lumpy oatmeal, the wet smell of the fog replaced by the sharp scent of pine. We were late enough that there was no threat of icy spots on the road, so now out of the clouds, it was time to drop it down a peg and roll the left wrist forward.

In less than half an hour, we were pulling into Humber Park. It took a few minutes to reorganize the rack and the rope and store the jackets. I walked across the street and filled my bota bag from the tap fed from the spring. It was left running until late spring to prevent freezing and ran down from a holding tank that was higher up at the end of the road. We took off down the trail. Reaching the white post that marked the Riverside/San Bernardino county line made a left and started the hump up the hill. We soon reached a landmark I always detested on the way up and looked forward to on the way down. A log crossed the path and was recognizable in that both an oak and pine sapling grew directly through a split in its center. It meant you were almost down to the trail. It always seemed to take a long time to get to this point on the way up as it was about here the body warmed up to the effort and altitude. The second wind kicked in. It wasn’t long and we reached a more welcome landmark. We slid over a large slick log and Lunch rock was only yards away. We changed into Klettershuh and Andy quickly racked up. It was only a mater of flipping the gear and slings over the head and shoulders. I grabbed the rope and cinched the bota up tight under an armpit with an overhand knot in the string that passed for a shoulder strap. We headed around the Maiden Buttress to our first objective.

Andy pointed out or route, The Illegitimate. It certainly looked like it lived up to its name. From a large mountain mahogany, a crack that stood out as a green stripe of plant life shot diagonally up for 150 feet into a corner. The corner was caped by a large roof about 80 feet farther up. I couldn’t visualize at all how this obstacle was to be overcome. At this point, I was proceeding on pure faith. We scrambled up to the large tree and tied into the rope. Andy tied into his swami, threw a figure eight on a bight in the rope around the tree, and asked me if I’d like the first lead. Hubris overcame common sense as I enthusiastically answered, wrapped the end of the rope around my waist three times, tied in with a bowline on a coil, and grabbed the gear sling. Andy threw the rope around his hips and called. “On belay”. After about twenty feet, the crack narrowed and contained a large chock stone. A threaded a sling around the rock marked the beginning of the serious climbing. I swung out on to the face to begin the long hand traverse. The crack was filled with ferns, flowers, and moss but there were clean spots conveniently positioned to allow progress in graceful apelike swings. The Flora actually forced graceful efficient technique. The eye level view was of a miniature Tolkienesque landscape tilted to the vertical plane. When exposure brought back reality there was always a convenient foothold and place for a piton. To soon reaching the belay, this was the kind of pitch you wish went on forever, I had a problem. There was a large flake just to my left, the obvious anchor. I didn’t have enough rope to reach it, let alone tie off a big enough loop to sling it. What now? There was still the four-inch bong on the gear sling and I still had a double length sling over my shoulder. Looping the sling through the lightening eyes on the small end of the bong turned it into a four-inch nut. A couple of flips and it jammed behind the flake with a satisfying clack. Just enough slack remained to clip a carabineer through the loops of rope around my waist, not enough for a proper tie in knot. I called out, “off belay.”

Andy grinned when he saw the anchor and thought it ingenious. That made me feel a little better about its efficacy. He collected the rack and started up the crux pitch, a dihedral that led to a rather large overhang. Sixty or so feet and one piton later he was at the overhang driving a pair of Lost Arrows to the hilt. He then down climbed about fifteen or twenty feet and promptly disappeared out of sight around the corner of the dihedral. One more piton, and then the rope began to quickly run out.

Now it was my turn. The first piton protected the crux of the pitch and had been placed from a good stance. It was quickly retrieved. Soon I was at the headwall and the two
Lost Arrows. The stance was bad; both hands could not be free. Both pins were overdriven and the prospect of a fall with the rope now descending twenty or so feet and disappearing around the corner into the unknown, unthinkable. After what seemed like an eternity of crimping with one hand and pounding with the other, the rock released its hold on the last pin. Careful down climbing led to a quick move around the corner and another pin. Now another traverse and smooth friction, still not my forte, and certainly not then with stiff Vibram soled Kletershuh. The whining commenced and after a little encouragement from Andy I was across to easy ground, thankful that, the rope was finally going up and not sideways. The belay was a large comfortable ledge with a tree.

“Have you ever climbed moving in coils”? Andy asked shortly after my arrival. The answer was obvious without speaking just from the puzzled look. My answer was I’d read about it, but never done it. After a short refresher on the procedures, we both coiled about one third of the rope over our shoulders and I put Andy on belay on the abbreviated cord. It soon went taught and he told me to start climbing. He moved fast and occasionally had to pause to allow me to retrieve a sling around a tree or chockstone. There was only a piton or two placed in the next four hundred or so feet. In no time, at all, we were at the final exit moves of The White Maiden and I put him back on belay as he made short work of the last sixty-foot pitch. A quick hit of water from the Bota and we raced down the Friction Route to the next climb.

Didn’t take long and we were standing at the base of The Inominate. A ramp led to a steep dark and dead vertical, if not overhanging dihedral. Andy offered the first pitch, and once again, I accepted. Shortly, I had a good belay set up on a pedestal below the steep dihedral, this time two firmly driven pins. The bong sung as Andy drove it home, a quick couple of moves and he was moving fast over easier ground. One more easy short pitch and we were again headed down the Friction Route.

The south side of Tahquitz is marked by an unusual distinctive feature. Two parallel cracks about eight feet apart curve gracefully through an overhang and down a bucketed face, the appropriately named Ski Tracks. I’d led the left one the summer before. It was the obligatory next step after Angels Fright for the novice leader. The first pitch is dead vertical with the only real difficulty being an initial move to get established on the face that is so featured that it has been described as , “vertical third class”. The crux, at the end of the next pitch is a handhold-less committing step with huge exposure that still belies its lowly rating.

We were headed for the much more difficult Right Ski Track. The first pitch is pretty much the same as the left. The right crack continually thins and steepens until it disappears into the smooth face several yards from a flake that forms a bottomless chimney under the same platform that creates the step across of its easier sibling to the left. Once again, I drew first pitch duty and was off. It went quickly, familiar territory. Andy took off on the next pitch, occasionally swatting in a pin. At the end of the crack, he placed one final pin and with a call of, “watch me here” started the thin traverse across the face to the base of the chimney. Once he was in the chimney, it was clear that it wouldn’t accept any pro without an unreasonable amount of effort. The sounds of shoes rack and body parts dragging on rock mingled with the grunts of great physical effort. Finally, the sounds of a relieved leader gasping for air and the ring of the belay anchor going in. The crack itself was difficult, particularly cleaning the pitons with one hand and avoiding dropping them. The traverse and the chimney went much easier. With the security of the rope, the worst of the chimney could be bypassed with lieback moves. At the belay, we squeezed the little water that remained from the bota. A couple of more easy pitches and we were off down the Friction Route again.

As we rounded the corner under the Traitor Horn and past The Open Book Andy announced that he thought we had time for one more. Just past the start for Fingertrip was an ugly looking crack that slanted off to the left, The Slab. Not a slab climbs at all, but a short excursion up the left side of a slab. He polished it off in short order having done it before several times, the only climb of the day that wasn’t an onsight. A quick rappel and we were at lunch rock just in time to gather our gear and thoughts by the last of the suns’ rays.

We made a stop at The Charthouse for a beer. Well, at least Andy had a beer. I would not be able to buy one legally for another six months or so. The ride home was pleasantly warm for that time of year. Only an appreciated wakening chill when the road would dip through a canyon that funneled the cold air descending from Mt. San Gorgonio across our path.

I never climbed with Andy again. He went off to the valley, got The Heart, and left for Oxford. He became the town doctor and ice guru of Valdez Alaska and ended his own life with a shotgun in a strange effort to engineer his own disappearance. It’s solid city now all the way to Banning and the CHP aren't nearly as friendly. Riding a motorcycle in Southern California is now an equivalent risk to free soloing. Tahquitz has changed also, although not nearly as much as the encroaching city below. I do not remember seeing another party that entire day. It was a weekend, so there must have been others. The experience of having the place to your self is now reserved for those that can make it on a weekday.

There have been physical changes that remind me of the relentless advance of time now every time I’m there. The first pitch of The Illegitimate has been “gardened” to aseptic standards. The flake I slung is now dangerously unstable. The log that was the first landmark slowly disappeared over the years. The pine sapling died and the oak has now reached tree status. The trail now goes under the log we polished going over. You don’t even have to bend over very far to clear it even with a pack on. I doubt it will be there all that much longer.

Gym climber
Otto, NC
Feb 28, 2009 - 11:43pm PT
Wonderful, evocative and elegaic. Thanks TGT.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Mar 1, 2009 - 01:18am PT
TGT, really good story. I love it. Start a new thread with it. It is likely to be buried in this thread.

Longing, lost youth, the mystery that our best friends still are in spite of it all, the anxiety of our modernizing world---consider expanding it too, it certainly will support broader description.

thanks ph

Social climber
wuz real!
Mar 1, 2009 - 01:27am PT
What Peter Haan Said!

-and thanks for that!

Mar 1, 2009 - 01:39am PT
Some 20 years ago we climbed the Leaning tower.It was during a spring with some big earthquakes.So it was gripping to finish the route and rap down the chimney next to it because everything was complety loose. We finally made it to the road around midnight.After hours of hitching a ride we got a ride to Camp 4.It turned out to be Andy B..It was great to meet a well known climber that was really down to earth. He gave us food and beer and was really interested in our climb. And then 15 years later I was stuck in the Geneva,Switzerland airport with a cancelled flight trying to get a beer and feeling homesick.I was standing in a line pissed off and tired.I then looked at the person in line in front of me and scrawled on his Rucksac was Andy Embick Valdez Alaska.We talked for awhile and had a beer together.Sadly soon after he left this world but I will never forget him.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Mar 1, 2009 - 03:24am PT
Beautiful and vivid-more please!

Social climber
So Cal
Mar 1, 2009 - 09:32am PT
Thanks for the encouragement.

I must have dabbled with that one off and on for a couple of years.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Mar 1, 2009 - 10:15am PT
TGT, (and others)

That you dabbled with it for a couple of years does not in any way mean that you should not write more nor develop this particular tale. The more you write, the faster it comes and the better it will be. Just like climbing. My left side of the Hourglass piece was in draft for about 6 years.... my Salathe wall solo article took 5 months with me working on it really hard to make the AAJ deadline. My senior thesis took 6 months.

Usually the best writing is from those who actually went through the experiences but felt they had to sort out their complex passions and quandries that developed during and after the pivotal adventure. Some just go through episodes and basically don’t feel there has to be an accounting for them; they just live them and move on.

The story’s hook of course partly is that sadly, Andy suicided later. But the other hook is your emotional investment here taken in retrospect, towards your youth, the longing for simpler self and simpler world, and the cool wanderlust of climbing and seat-of-the-pants traveling, and the fundamental unknown-ness of your close friend which would always be there even without his later demise.

I can easily imagine you could unfold this particular tale to considerable depth, heading towards 10 pages or more given time. Do not be afraid to get quite personal, maybe even squirm a bit. You will find that is where the real meat is.

best to you, ph
climber bob

Social climber
Mar 1, 2009 - 12:03pm PT
sometime during the eighties i attended the a.a.c. annual get together in n.y.c where andy was to speak on some adventure..he began his presentation by stripping to his skivvies..unique to say the least..

Social climber
So Cal
Mar 1, 2009 - 11:39pm PT
I found a copy of Andy's topo from the 2nd ascent. Detailed and about 5 pages long.

Once I figure out where to host it, I'll post it.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Mar 1, 2009 - 11:46pm PT
TGT: Send me a note if you need help with how to post photos.

Social climber
So Cal
Mar 1, 2009 - 11:58pm PT
I just haven't decided which of the hosting sites to use now that we closed up our old little vanity site.

Mar 19, 2009 - 06:30pm PT

Social climber
So Cal
Mar 21, 2009 - 02:40pm PT
Here's the promised topo.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 21, 2009 - 07:18pm PT
Great Embick story and historic topos, TGT!
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