First Ascent of the Heart Route 1970- Kroger and Davis


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Trad climber
Tel Aviv
Jun 7, 2015 - 12:09pm PT
Steve, Thanks so much for all of your contributions here. I will try to fill in some of the blanks. One cool thing about my memories of routes isn't so much the climbing as much as the whole experience with friends, the location and how they've shaped my life.

We needed to get out of the summer's craziness so loving obscure routes we chose "The Heart". this was way back in the day and we were such dirtbags that we'd weigh the 10 lb. bags of potatoes at the Village Store so as to find one that might be eleven or twelve lbs. We'd decided that we would each buy our own food which was a great idea because we had a huge amount and a lot of different goodies. I was never a habitual smoker but all three of us were into Camels at the time. I think that we brought about two cartons. There was ten blocks of cheese, ten pkgs. of bagels, sixty cans of food, gangs of candy, overall an enviable supply.

We had two of the original Gramicci portaledges and Bill had a Forrest hammock. Along with the clothing, storm gear, and eleventeen gallons of water we were a pretty heavy unit. Being literal dirtbags, we didn't bring a camera as that was cost prohibitive. Regrettable, that's life.

Mike and myself fixed to the top of the Slack. We started with Sacherer Cracker and I was stoked to be back in the depths of El Cap. I led the "Jump Pendulum" and we fixed back to the deck. From our highpoint it looked really blank and featureless. We were all pretty experienced but it looked tricky.

So, after marching all of our stuff we spent the whole day hauling and as you can imagine...

When we took off it was really surprising to be climbing this "Old Route" that had some very technical and difficult pitches. It took us all day to get to Heart ledge and we wound up there in the dark. I'd say that in 1982 you'd likely give that section a solid A3 rating with lots of hooking, copperheads and delicate pins. I actually pulled an angle piton out that I was hauling off of. Like I said, lots of pin belays. The lower part of the climb is where the majority of the bolts are.
(Which seemed like only a few.)

I have some commitments now so I will get back and tell more about the route from Heart Ledge but, one of my best memories ever in my youth was that in the middle of the moonless night on the spacious Heart Ledge, Mike woke us up. everything was fine. We were safe and comfortable and tied in with meters of slack. So he says "Let's have a smoke". So we sat on the edge with our legs hanging over and quietly had a cig. We flicked them into the abyss and went back to our bags and slept until dawn. It's those times that to at least myself have given me the richest memories of life.

More soon...

Mountain climber
Anywhere I like
Jun 7, 2015 - 04:43pm PT
^^^^^ Really good memories you posted there. Good stuff.

Trad climber
Tel Aviv
Jun 10, 2015 - 11:20am PT
I have a bit of time to reminisce so here is some more of my memories of our ascent of the Heart Route. The morning on Heart ledge was like an island in paradise. It's big and spacious and you could go about unroped but I tied a loop around my waist and got to hang out and sort gear and food as Mike and Bill started fixing into the literal jungle above us.

As those guys started up the mostly lower angle climbing, the dirt, hummocks and branches started piling up. It was like wheel barrows full and falling everywhere. It was my day off and I felt privileged to just be there. I had a lot on my mind from escaping girlfriends, looking for direction in life and all of the real and imaginary aspects of being twenty one and loving climbing perhaps too much.

I had set up my ledge off to the side of the debris and sorted through the provisions. Knowing that from this point there would be hanging bivies I kind of scheduled the meals, water and smokes. The weather was summery and mild so I wrapped things in all of the storm gear for padding. That afternoon I laid on my ledge and watched this cumulus cloud form, change and anvil out to the southwest, above Lower and Middle Cathedral Rocks. Kind of in my own world, relaxed and in one the prettiest places I reckoned that no matter how bad things might seem life is still fascinating. Later on, some guys came up the Salathe. They were fixing so when they came through it was fun to chat about adventures like we were off planet or way out in the back of beyond.

Next morning it was up and at 'em. There was dirt everywhere. We jugged and hauled like we were being dragged behind a tractor in potato field. I led the first pitch of the day and at times had to scrape down a foot to get to the placements. The "map" that we had had a pitch named "Frogs and Lizards". It wouldn't have surprised me if a boa had slithered past or a chimp threw turds at us because if you were at the belay you were getting composted. Whenever I saw a feature that I could hook I would. We gardened and cut fuel break all day and set up a really cool hanging bivy underneath the "Iron Curtain" Looking down the slab that is the left side of the Heart recess we saw every hold, ledge, and feature covered in dirt. The water streaks were muddy creek skid marks. We had made a major mess of things from there to the base from all of the debris fall. I did feel bad about destroying habitat but the "self" in me was stoked to be in another strange place, the right atrium of "The Heart" with my Bros laughing and smoking Camels.

I have to go again but I will get back with another chapter. The climbing from there is steep and exposed. There was tricky nailing and hard wide cracks- El Capitan.

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 17, 2016 - 11:58am PT
Ya gotta have Heart...

Trad climber
Tel Aviv
Dec 31, 2016 - 11:11pm PT
A beautiful new sliver moon traversed the evening sky tonight and with it being New Year's Eve I feel inspired to finish up this fun, romantic and historic chapter. I remember the morning in the right atrium quite well. We had plowed through a jungle and now the complexion of things was about to change and we knew it. The "Iron Curtain" pitch looked so "El Capitan". A pendulum to a crack through a big roof. We couldn't see around it and while we were on lower angle rock the features made the exposure dramatic.

Mike swung off and after a bit got into a steep one inch crack. He was using a lot of angles and friends but because it was so steep a lot of pins. It was a show to watch a good nailer methodically climb that. I lowered Bill out to jug with a Sticht plate and we were both (He more than myself)blown away by how far out he went. Now we were on the upper part of The Captain and out in the sea of rock. Bill's lead that day had hard nailing, and with the hanging pin belays took at least three hours. My lead was similar with body weight pins and ended underneath a big roof. I smacked in a handful of bomber lost arrows and with an antique thing we used to call a bolt had a belay.

The climbing was taking a long time and a lot of effort and we accepted that we were only going to finish three pitches a day. This belay was in a double overhung corner capped with a roof and was to be our bivy. When Mike got up to it he worked around and got in some more pins for a total of about ten. We felt safe and had our ledges to each side with Bill's hammock off the side of mine. This pitch, belay, bivy, anchor, location and the joking and laughing friendship is another great memory that comes up in my thinking from time to time.

The next day had some more challenging climbing and Bill got the worst of it. This may have been where some rock had fallen away and there was expanding and loose on his lead. He was up there forever and I wasn't envious. After literally hours he had a good pin belay. I'm not sure at this late date how we traded leads or what but I do remember getting the "Rainy Day Woman Crack" which was A1 but I had to dig out each placement in a one to two inch crack. Mike and Bill pulled out a bivy sack and covered themselves as I covered it with more dirt. I think that this is the pitch that I stacked a #11 hexentric with a inch and a half angle to aid past a free move because I had so much gear on.
I also got some 5.9 pitch that was way run out because those guys thought I was better at wide stuff. Oh well.

When we got to "Tower to the People" it was cool but we felt kind of nonplussed. It's a novel little place way up there but not really accommodating. I drilled a bolt to beef up a marginal pin belay (The only one that our team added to the route.) We had some time to fix and Mike started but said forget it. In the morning we got started early with the enthusiasm of finishing the route and Mike nailed a steep and thin pitch up to the A5 traverse.
His hanging belay was out there and exposed on some crusty quarter inch bolts and I wanted to go and get in as much stuff as possible as soon as possible. I found pretty solid placements with big tied off pins and friends used horizontally. The aid is about A2, the exposure out of this world and the rock is just gorgeous. While it's steep it is very featured and the lead ends at a number of good vertical cracks where I got in a ton of anchors like good pins and a bunch of bomber stoppers.

This is where a bunch of fun (For me) memories were made. I'm at the belay and it's time for the guys to free jug and clean. Uh- uh... It's steep and exposed as it gets and I'm a hundred feet laterally from them. Those guy are like "Sarge, we're not gonna do it". I can smell the summit and I don't want to waste a minute but I had to sympathize with them because looking down it looked awful to be looking up or for that matter sideways. When Mike lowered Bill out to jug he had to be twenty feet from the wall and the pucker factor had pegged the meter. So Bill gets to the belay and we set up the haul and now Mike has to clean this thing. I offer to belay him and have him clip clean it but he goes for it on his jumars. It all went okay and nothing popped. The belay was beautiful and airy. On a prow way up on the Captain.

Fat City dihedrals is pretty easy climbing. The angle drops and it's very featured. Bill was off and going and when Mike got to the belay he had a big relieved smile on his face that had summit written all over it. He said "I'm climbing as unsafe as possible". The humor was back and while we had a few more pitches we were all stoked that we weren't going to be sleeping on the wall that night. Bill cruised, Mike flashed and my lead, the last all went quickly. I remember the last moves being free and getting good anchors. We got all of our stuff on top and we were happy to bivy there. We had good food left and had a dinner of bagels, cheese, canned shrimp and even chocolate. There were no smokes left but we were happy to have climbed another El Cap route. An outstanding one at that.

The Heart Route is challenging. It's very featured and full of excellent, interesting if not difficult climbing.
I can see why the first ascent team chose it and I can see why so much of the original route has been free climbed.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 8, 2017 - 04:04pm PT
I ran into Scott Davis at the AAC dinner in Seattle and need to sit down and interview him soon.

Mountain climber
Boulder, CO
Jun 28, 2017 - 03:03pm PT
For what it's worth to this discussion, I'll add a few observations concerning the second ascent in 1971 (Jim Dunn, Andy Embick and myself). On the pitches between the Slack and Heart Ledge, about 3 of the original bolts placed on the first ascent by Kroger and Davis had fallen out. We were able to bypass two of these by using skyhooks in the shallow bolt holes, but we never found the third missing bolt, and we bypassed it by lassoing a flake with a hook and using it to access Heart Ledge. I'm understanding that the free climbing cruxes of the modern route are in this section today. Higher up, on our second ascent, one of the two towers on the first ascent route (White Tower? Black Tower?) had simply fallen off during a rockfall and wasn't there. We had to lead a new route up cracks that were left behind after the rockfall. The whole area was dusty and creaky then. Finally on the "A5 Traverse", we had to do what we called "1970s A4" to cross it as there were no bolts placed in this section by Davis & Kroger. Again I'm understanding that today there are bolts placed by subsequent parties, and that some even break the pitch in two sections somehow with a belay in between? Finally we used Fat City cracks for exit, following the first ascent part because we didn't have any large protection pieces that could work in the giant flake cracks that led straight up from the belay at the end of the A5 traverse. All in all it was a great route for the times, done in the best of Yosemite styles by the first ascent team, and has been neglected historically until the Huber brothers free ascent of Golden Gate, and now of Brad and team's free ascent of the lower portions of the route below Heart Ledge.

Trad climber
Tel Aviv
Jun 30, 2017 - 08:21pm PT
Hey Kligfield, thanks for your added history. As I've mentioned in my account of the third ascent the section from the Slack to heart was pretty hard BITD. Lots of hard hooking and very few bolts. I do remember Mike Corbett doing some shenanigans to finish the pitch to Heart Ledge in the gathering dusk.

That rockfall area up high was really hard for Billy too. He was up there for hours and yelled "Watch me!" constantly. The A5 Traverse had no bolts along the traverse and the belay at the end was thankfully one of the best wall belays that I'd ever set up. Good deep cracks and features. As I've mentioned earlier in my account I had a number of pins and big bomber stoppers too.

The line finishes naturally up "Fat City" from there. Bill Russell led the first pitch of that corner system and some guys over on the Salathe' were taking pictures of us. In true "Swilliam" style Bill leans out and yells over to them "HEY! Is this Triple Direct?" He was up about forty feet above me and their shot was likely one of those best ones lost to some slide tray in a closet.

I do agree with you that the Heart Route is a proud line that was done in incredible style given the equipment that was available back in that time. Skill, imagination, balls.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jun 30, 2017 - 08:32pm PT
Skill, imagination, balls.

That sums those guys up to a T, in all areas of their lives.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 23, 2017 - 10:49am PT
Thanks for chiming in again Roy!
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Dec 7, 2017 - 04:06pm PT

I noticed Roy Kligfield's name on another thread.

He has a total of 33 posts, so not that active here at all.

I don't really recall the '71 ascent of the Heart by him and Dunne and the late Andy Embick, however, just that Millis said he was impressed so I was, too.

It is simply good to hear that Roy is well and with us still.

Too bad that Betsy Wauchope's illustrations have gone missing from this thread...would have liked to have seen them.
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