First Ascent of the Heart Route 1970- Kroger and Davis


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Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Feb 2, 2008 - 04:32pm PT
i've got that issue of climbing...classic stuff. the thing that was most impressive about those two guys is that they just rolled in, did the route in classic style, and rolled out. totally old-school class act. the article is so well-written and understated that i put it right up there with pratt's write-up of watkins.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 2, 2008 - 05:08pm PT
I can't resist any longer, after reading it again. Here is the "illustrated version", from Vulgarian Digest. (some minor censoring done to keep it somewhat family-friendly). I'm not sure who the actual illustrator was - anybody know? [Edit: see the post below by Chuck's wife, Kathy - the illustrator was Betsy Wauchope - thanks, Kathy!]


Feb 2, 2008 - 05:21pm PT
That cartoon is hilarious Clint, Hahahaha
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 2, 2008 - 07:04pm PT

It's cool you got to do the second ascent with Jimmy and Andy. I climbed some with Andy in the late 70s / early 80s. First El Cap route where Royal Robbins didn't get the first or second ascent, right?

It looks very tough to free that starting section to Heart. Steep, very smooth and blank sections. But, hey, other free versions of routes have been started off the Free Blast or even way up on the Salathe'. The pendulum might not go, but the exit finger cracks could be spectacular....
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 2, 2008 - 07:18pm PT
That's a marvellous cartoon - thank you! And a good story, too. How many days did the second ascent take? Were there any pitches apart from the A5 Traverse that were particularly memorable, such as the No Reverse Traverse or Rainy Day Woman crack?

It appears that the lower part of the southwest side of El Cap tends to be fairly polished. Maybe because it's often less than vertical, and so gets hit by more falling ice and rock, and more grit-laden rainwater, maybe because it was exposed to more glaciation. The slabs on the Salathe up to Mammoth Terraces, and the rappel route from Heart Ledge (aka first few pitches of Heart Route) are like that, and it sounds like WoS is also.

Social climber
Telluride, CO
Feb 2, 2008 - 07:19pm PT
I am Chuck Kroger's wife. The artist of the cartoon is Betsy Wauchope, Chuck's Stanford girlfriend. The other cartoons that I have of Betsy's are even less "family" friendly. Betsy is married to Dave Bainbridge and lives soemwhere near Riverside, CA the last I knew.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 2, 2008 - 07:29pm PT
Welcome Kathy and thanks for the good humored background on that classic cartoon! No VD in my home or I would have posted that up earlier. Thanks for the memories Clint.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 2, 2008 - 07:35pm PT
Thank you for identifying the creator of the cartoon for us.

There is a memorial thread for Chuck Kroger at
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 2, 2008 - 07:57pm PT
Welcome Roy- I think the modern free climbing sort is put off by the everpresent growth and slime in the left side of the Heart recess. Screws up the photos when you end up looking like a muskrat for all your trouble!

You guys were a formidable team. Any photos to share of the adventure? I ran into Andy Embick fairly often over the years but never tied in with him. A shame that he didn't choose to stay around as I appreciated his wit and outlook on life.
Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Feb 2, 2008 - 08:46pm PT
Hi Roy,
Long time since we've been in contact, from about 1978, if I recall. We should get together, now that we're both in Boulder. We have ST beer fests every couple of months and I'll let you know when the next one occurs.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 6, 2008 - 01:09am PT
A while back, Roy sent me several photos to post from the second ascent in 1971 with Jimmy Dunn and the late Andy Embick.

Jimmy Dunn leading on hooks above the top of the Slack.

Jimmy extending himself on sucessive hook placements.

Jimmy leading two pitches below Heart Ledge.

One pitch below Heart Ledge, Roy Kligfield leading.

Jimmy Dunn leading the "No Reverse Traverse" exiting the Heart.

A smiling Jimmy Dunn arriving at the single bong belay atop Tower to the People.

Roy Klingfield leading the pitch approaching the White Tower.

Cool historical shots Roy! Thanks for making them available to the ST.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jul 6, 2008 - 04:05am PT
Great shots - thanks to Roy and Steve for sharing them!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 19, 2008 - 04:49pm PT
Hooked on a bump!
Captain...or Skully

Big Wall climber
Jul 19, 2008 - 05:26pm PT
Those are killer........
Standing Strong

Trad climber
hopping on a moonshadow
Jul 19, 2008 - 05:58pm PT
this thread IS cool. thank you for posting.

East Coast US
Jul 19, 2008 - 06:29pm PT
Those guys are men. My old climbing partner always thought that any half-dozen of those guys + Chuck Pratt could kick the snot out of an entire October weeknd crowd of Gunkies.


Mountain climber
Boulder, CO
Aug 1, 2008 - 10:57pm PT
Does anyone know who did the THIRD ascent of the Heart Route? During our second ascent in 1971, we discovered that there had been a huge rockfall between the first ascent (a year earlier by Scott Davis and Chuck Kroger) and our climb. The route was substantially changed and the "White Tower" feature on the original climb had simply disappeared! The entire 300 foot section of the Heart Route was dusty, full of loose rock, and brittle sections. I'd be interested in hearing from whomever climbed in subsequently whether they also encountered these loose section during their ascent.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Dec 1, 2008 - 12:23am PT
Heart Route - El Capitan

CHARLES KROGER [url=""]AAJ 1971 p275[/url]

SCOTT DAVIS and I drove into Yosemite early in April, planning to climb a new route on El Cap. Finding that two climbers were already trying the Morning Light Route on the North America Wall, we decided to try an unclimbed line through the Heart on the Salathe Wall. Chouinard, Herbert, and Robbins had already shown that fine alpine climbing style is possible on El Cap’s big walls. So, with nothing left to prove, we simply planned to have a good time.

We did not intend to amuse a thrill-seeking audience of tourists watching from the doorsteps of their mobile homes as they consumed Curry Company hot dogs and beer. Feeling that this “El Capitan Circus” idea is obscene, we avoided it by asking the rangers not to release our names or details of our climb. No worry, since they lost our sign-out cards anyhow. Only a few friends knew our plans. No ground support party of hanger-ons was recruited. We hoped to be completely alone and self-reliant for the duration of the climb.

We had already packed gear- for the Morning Light Route, so we simply dragged everything to the base of the Heart Route instead. Two hauling sacks and a rucksack carried nine gallons of water and seven dollars worth of food. A couple of pleasant afternoons were spent fixing ropes and hauling gear to the top of the Slack - a popular 300-foot climb at the base of El Cap. Finally, after a fruitless search for more drills (we had only eight), we were on the wall for good. Using many bolts, I led up and right across a steep slab. I used our bat-hook once, then decided that bolts are much safer and only a little harder to place. The pitch ended at two bolts, 100 feet out. By the time Scott arrived, it was late afternoon. He led across some difficult hook and piton placements, then came back at dark. Two bolts supported two home-made single suspension hammocks that night.

The second morning Scott finished bolting across to a vertical crack, nailed up, and belayed from bolts leading to the next crack. I nailed a few pins to the end of the crack, then bolted up across an endless blank section. With each bolt the drills got duller, the holes got shallower, and Scott got more impatient. Finally he screamed in agony, dragged me down, and went up to finish the bolt ladder himself. After a few more bolts, he placed a pin up under a flake. It held until he was in his top steps and had almost placed a cliffhanger. The rope stopped Scott, but the sky-hook kept falling. He placed a bolt to pass the bad flake. Then, using our other hook and a bent-over piton, he made a fantastic series of hook moves. One last bolt led to a hanging belay in a “C” shaped crack. One of the bolts fell out as I jumared - a problem for the second ascent party to worry about. I led a friction pitch to Heart Ledge. In the dark the haul-bags stuck, but finally we got everything up and settled into a pleasant bivouac on this spacious terrace. Watching the Sunday night traffic on the highway below reminded us of our drive to the Valley four days earlier. Scott summed it up: “I’d rather be here than on the Bayshore Freeway at 5:00.” Sleep came easily on the soft sand.

The next day we climbed unroped at the back of the Heart for a pitch, then began nailing up the dihedral formed by the left side of the Heart. The first pitch was only A3. But the belay was about A3, too. It was nice to be with someone as competent as Scott. He carefully divided the load between six pitons. Only one of them popped out as I jumared. Above, the climbing was easy and boltless for five pitches. The only other excitement that day came on a dirty pitch. Whole ecosystems of grass, bugs, and bushes plummeted a thousand feet to the base of El Cap as Scott cleared the crack. Finally a tied-off root led to cleaner climbing. We bivouacked in hammocks near the top of the Heart.

In the morning I led a pitch to the top of the Heart recess - roofs all around, Scott climbed and pendulumed left and then nailed out over the roofs at the left corner of the Heart. After this complicated pitch - the No Reverse Traverse - we were across a pendulum and 1500 overhanging feet above the ground. In the days before El Cap rescues were in fashion, we now would have been committed to finishing the route. I set up a hammock bivouac a pitch higher.

The next day I nailed and jammed up past a small ledge. Above, the climbing was hard. First thing I knew, a knifeblade pulled out and I was hanging below the ledge again, upside-down this time. I was in considerable pain - more mental than physical since I had only fallen thirty feet and only almost hit the ledge. I rationalized while belaying on the ledge, letting Scott lead the hard part. He encouraged me by taking a long time getting over the spot where I had fallen. More scarey nailing and free climbing took him to the top of Black Tower by late afternoon. A quick look in the failing light convinced him that Black Tower was up against a wall - a blank wall, that is. At least there was a large ledge fifty feet below him. We celebrated the ledge and the exceptionally tine weather by gorging on Hi-C, carroway cheese, and a cucumber.

The sixth day I led up a thin crack-system around the right side of Black Tower. Scott nailed a rotten, wet, overhanging, wide crack. Half-way up, a tiny tied-off root broke. He dropped our only four-inch bong as he fell. Two bolts got him back past the missing bush and on up to a hanging belay. I climbed an endless four-inch jam-crack without the protection of the four-inch bong. The sun set as I struggled. There was a stance but no anchor 150 feet up. Two bolts secured our fourth hammock bivouac, a bad one since my feet were in Scott’s mouth all night.

In the morning we both pretended to be asleep until long after the sun was up. Finally, when we could not fool ourselves any longer, we sat up and discussed the route. Scott’s pitch, to the top of a white tower, was obvious. We called it “Tower to the People”. But the pitch beyond seemed to have no cracks. The crack we had spotted from the ground, running right to a huge triangular roof, turned out to be a useless seam. Finally Scott decided that I could nail a series of flakes and roofs up and left to the start of a thin crack leading back right. I was not convinced, but tried anyhow. The first few pins were the worst. As I moved onto the second smashed aluminum block in a row, Scott quietly moved the belay to one side. Half a day later, after struggling with awkward, expanding, lefthanded nailing all the way, I placed two belay bolts 150 feet up. Scott placed our twenty-seventh bolt to reach a difficult-looking traverse crack; then we returned to Tower to the People for the night.

Taking advantage of the ledge, we emptied the haul-bags and checked our supplies. We had blown it. With only 500 feet to go, we had four gallons of water left over, plus a pound or two of food. We ate a pleasant meal and drank our fill, but played safe by not dumping the excess.

Up early, we planned to go for the summit. Scott led across the horrible traverse. Only A2, but we called it the “A5 Traverse” to make our route sound like the other El Cap routes. A pendulum from a smashie at the end of the traverse took him to a belay spot in the final gray dihedral. It was Fat City. Three pitches of easy mixed climbing followed. We were on the rim by late afternoon.

Then the real problems began. Since we had not advertised the climb, no one hiked up to meet us and help us carry everything down. We finished the food, packed the gear into the two huge haul bags, and trucked off into the sunset. We consoled ourselves by mumbling that the descent should really be a part of the climb anyhow. Soon we were lost in the dark. After a few hours of stumbling through streams, brush, and soft snow, we decided to bivouac again. We sat around a roaring fire drying our shoes. “Man, that was just like being dead for a week,” Scott remarked. Slowly our plans for the next few weeks materialized: Peanut butter and jelly in the Valley, a huge dinner at Scott’s Grandmother’s, camping trips, fun free climbs, and other delights best left to the imagination.

Summary of Statistics:

AREA: Yosemite Valley, California.
NEW ROUTE: Heart Route, Southwest Face of El Capitan, April 4 to 11, 1970. Charles Kroger, Scott Davis. NCCS VI, Fc), A4.


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"
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