Owl Roof, Yosemite


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Donny Quijote

Boulder climber
Boulder F'n CO
Dec 3, 2004 - 12:27pm PT
Rick Riggot?...Piggot?

I thought it was Pickett. What the hell?
Scary Larry

Trad climber
Las Vegas
Dec 3, 2004 - 07:08pm PT
In the November 1973 issue of Mountain Magazine, Tom Higgins wrote a letter:

"I recently completed a first ascent in Yosemite which led me to discover something about newly emerging ethical standards. The climb involved surmounting a 10ft. roof on a formation called The Owl..."

He goes on to describe finding a chockstone and sling and carabiner at the lip. He says, "I thought it likely that I was doing a a second or third ascent, though later I found my ascent was the first. The chockstone had been placed on rappel by two climbers who were unable to get past it..."

Higgins continues on with some criticism of Yosemite routes that were climbed with a variety of ethical transgressions. He is strict even with himself. He concludes, "One can only hope climbs done in the best style will be admired and imitated in the future. Certainly my ascent of the Owl was no shining example. I should have removed the chockstone and then tried the ascent; or at least rated the climb in accordance with its artificial hold: 5.11 A1."

Apparently the Yosemite community was more appreciative of Higgins's effort. Two months later, in the January 1974 issue of Mountain, Jim Bridwell wrote an article about recent Yosemite free climbs. He called The Owl Roof one of the "two most formidable leads in American climbing." (The other was Butterballs by Henry Barber). Bridwell called the route free at 5.11 and said, "the Owl Roof, a 13ft. hand-and-fist crack in a horizontal ceiling was soloed, with jumars for belay, by Tom Higgins. This last achievement stands as a monument to the enlarging spectrum of free-climbing possibilities."

Bridwell's article includes a good photo of Mark Chapman climbing out to the lip (as well, BTW, as a couple of photos of the recently-departed Rick White on Outer Limits).

It seems unlikely that Jardine placed the chockstone at the lip, since his attempts were apparently in 1977, 4 years AFTER Higgins was there. (Of course, the could have been a second chockstone.)

Rich history indeed...

Scary Larry

Trad climber
Las Vegas
Dec 3, 2004 - 07:16pm PT
p.s. marty(r) Higgins mentions that in 1972, prior to his successful ascent, He had attempted the route with Peter Haan, but failed at the lip.

NOT Fresno
Dec 3, 2004 - 08:36pm PT
Damn good thread.

A second chockstone? Is there a grassy knoll involved at some point?

Trad climber
Irvine, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 3, 2004 - 09:53pm PT

his hands aren't even in the crack, there is no way you could look back in a poisition like that for a picture

...........ya right ;)

Social climber
The West
Dec 3, 2004 - 11:04pm PT
I really don't understand or appreciate an effective chronology for what really happened over the history of this climb. Higgins published (somehwere, 'cause I read it)a piece that contained various ramblings about yosemite as recounted while he was driving up the Mineral King road to go skiing. Included in that was one that started, "Who, Who, first climbed the owl?" It talks of "pulling unethically on the unethical chalk stone", etc, but also about yarding on the rope after, 'a failed attempt?' With words to the effect of "It seemed ethical at the time.
Then I few years later (I think) I was in the valley and was introduced to a very young looking Dale Bard as the first guy to REALLY free climb the Owl.-early Meyers Green-top-ring-guide era.
Then came the Lakey/Jardine show. I really don't know what to make of any of this in a factual sense, but, I'd put my money on Bard.
I attempted it a couple of times with the late, Lynn "Wheels" Wheeler from SLC. I remember scabbing up the inside of my forearms because I was reaching so deep for the jams. I was a seasonal fixture in the valley then, but Wheels had a job in Mammoth and could only climb on his days off. "Get this sh#t ... taken care of! ...Next week, long free climbs!" he grunted as he adjusted his bent wire glasses frames then crawled into his bug for his commute after the last of our attempts. I showed him, the next week we compromised and did Blind Faith!
That second photo is especially imaginative!

Dec 7, 2004 - 09:46pm PT
Here is a climb where the ratings (ie, numbers) definately don't mean $hit! It's a pure technique climb.

Yep, Bardini was the first. I know, cause Kauk and him where both trying for a few days. Kauk did it also. Elephant's Eliminate by Rick Pickitt? Did he verify that. I've never heard anyone doing it, except Jardines declare. We never knew about Ray with all his hangdogging methods. I went there (Elephant's Eliminate) with Cosgrove and the late Gulick one day. Wolfagang took one look at it and said I'm going back to camp 4. Me and Cos battled it out for awhile only to fail miserably getting over the lip. Elephant's Eliminate a very impressive roof climb. Pickett is a master all round climber with an impressive tick list that he's acomplished over the years.


Social climber
The West
Dec 8, 2004 - 12:39am PT
Cilley told me that Rick had done the owl and Elephant's Eliminate. A few months later I talked to Rick aobut this and I now we talked about the Owl, but as I write this, I can't say I'm positive that we even talked about EE, let alone whether he did it or not. I'll try to remember to ask him aobut it when I see him sometime.
When cilley and Dru Marquardt and I atempted EE it was not that long after you (Werner) & Cos ( I had forgotten the Gullich twist) had been there. Scott gave us all kinds of enthusiastic beta, stuff that would seem pretty logical and useful but, didn't end up helping us. I have my own ideas, but it was one attempt a looong time ago.

beneath the valley of ultravegans
Dec 8, 2004 - 09:14pm PT

I want to say Rick Cashner has done the Elephant's Eliminate, but I'm not sure. I just remember being in the kitchen at the old Fish Factory one afternoon as Russ did the "so what's the best OW in the ditch?" routine, followed by Rick's mention of EE, and a lot of "I'm not worthy"-style bowing by Russ. Pretty funny.

The best story that has not yet been told (I think) is about Mike Paul, and others, attempting "Jaws." Someone needs to jump into the fray and re-tell that epic. And I'd in vote to hear Russ tell the "Paisano Overhang" story too.

NOT Fresno
Dec 8, 2004 - 09:55pm PT
Hearing Mike Paul and Jaws in one sentence keyed my tall tale memory. Russ writes:

"Place: Yosemite
Route: Jaws
Climber: the illustrious Mike Paul.
The Gobie: In one of the finest efforts I've ever seen, Mike is battling this upside down OW for what seemed like 45 minutes.... he is double fist stacking out near the end of the "roof" . The tops of this humbs are down to the bone, and you can hear the actual bone grinding on the inside of the crack. Then he gets the dryheaves and is still pimping in the thing, blood everywhere...... hanging upside down from foot stacks.... there was a bit of a rope management problem too as Werner (my hero) Braun did not have his ears on and was spectating too much and belaying too little. Anyway, Mike does the thing (BURLY) and then leaves the Valley with ZERO skin on the top of his thumbs all the way to the wrist. I think they did an "ass skin" graft to save him."

The whole thread is here:

And it's a doozie. Goes all the way to a urethral evulsion.

Dec 8, 2004 - 10:04pm PT
Cashner, I know hasn't done the Elephant's Eliminate. The Mike Paul Jaws story I think is on the fish site, I remember that well cause I saw the whole thing. He did it after Bardini and me did it. Bachar was so grossed out that he didn't even wan't to try it after watching Mike. It was the bloodiest gobie mess I've ever seen.


Social climber
Joshua Tree, CA
Jul 4, 2005 - 06:12pm PT
Yeah Werner! That was a rough one! I'm still scarred! I remember you did it with style however! Hope you are well! MP

Trad climber
Sep 27, 2005 - 10:42pm PT
Tom Higgins explains first ascent of Owl Roof, Yosemite:

Posts from around December, 2004 (e.g. Sewellymon, Scary Larry) speculate about my first ascent of the Owl roof. Jim Bridwell described the climb in the January, 1974 issue of Mountain, saying, "a 13ft. hand-and-fist crack in a horizontal ceiling was soloed, with jumars for belay, by Tom Higgins."

Jim may not know he is responsible in two ways for my ascent. First, after he dragged me (and Tom Gerughty) up the off-width burner, Crack of Despair, my embarrassment caused me to make and incessantly use an adjustable, wooden/rubber practice crack nailed to the outside of my home in LA. The crack machine helped me develop technique for Yosemite slots, including the wide part of the Owl. Second, Jim reportedly placed a chock stone in the off-width part of the Owl as part of an aborted attempt. The stone made my ascent feasible though very hard. I didn't know the stone was there or how it arrived as I came upon it in my second attempt in 1973. I also didn't know if the route already had been done. As I said in Summit Magazine, December 1973, the stone "magically appearing since last year ... when Peter Haan and I tried but failed on the route."

My climb went like so: using jumars for self belay, climbed first pitch to base of roof, set up belay and back rope, jammed out to the lip, unexpectedly found chock stone, clipped it, fell, lost glasses (just as in my attempt with Hahn), pulled into wall, lowered to get glasses and dislodged lens on ledge, tensioned back to rest point below the roof, taped glasses together and onto head. Set up again, climbed to the lip, got crux, flopped exhaustedly on top, undid cursed rope jumble but didn't remove stone not knowing if man or nature put it there. Chris Vandiver greeted me on the road and asked, aptly, "What the hell?"

After finding the history of the stone and my ascent was the first, I didn't report it as such because I used an artificially placed chock and tension around retrieving my glasses. Rules of the game at the time specified no altering the rock and free climbing to the high point after a fall. To this date, I still am uncertain who removed the stone and, thereafter, who did the first true ascent.

I did several routes with the solo self belay system, but abandoned it after experience on the Owl and Thy Will Be Done, Tuolumne. I did the latter by the rules, but eventually concluded the self belay technique was too complicated and dangerous. I am not up on latest self belay, but don't advise using jumars for this purpose (at least 1973 jumars).

Tom Higgins
can't say

Social climber
Pasadena CA
Sep 27, 2005 - 10:57pm PT
This is why ST rules!!

thanks Tom

Sep 27, 2005 - 11:12pm PT
"I still am uncertain who removed the stone and, thereafter, who did the first true ascent."

Dale and Ron

Social climber
The West
Sep 28, 2005 - 02:39am PT
Nice, Tom, Thanks!

What they said, we're always ready for more stories.
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Sep 28, 2005 - 09:45am PT
I always thought it was Higgins too. but if Werner says Ronnie and Dale, well then...

An Oil Field
Sep 28, 2005 - 10:38am PT
I never heard Dale talk about the Owl, but he is an extremely modest guy. And he was WAY good. I lived at Doug R's house in Bishop for almost a year when I wasn't in the valley, and he and Bobbie B lived in Dale's bread van snuggled up to Doug's house for water and electricity. He would put in a tape and get on the crack machine and do laps back and forth. He would come down to change the tape over and get back on it until the tape was over. He was a climbing fool. He also built the first artificial wall I ever saw, with four overhanging cracks that were different sizes of evil off-fingers. He drafted me to help put it together, but I tried to avoid all work. This was just before sport climbing took off.

I don't think I ever heard him spray about anything, or talk crap on anyone.

Russ....didn't Walt do the first solo of Excalibur?
kevin Fosburg

Sport climber
park city,ut
Sep 28, 2005 - 08:56pm PT
Hey Russ and Bill,
That's right about Walt ticking The Vertical World... but not Yosemite Climber and almost certainly not Owl Roof (wouldn't we have heard the blow-by-blow?)

Sep 28, 2005 - 09:29pm PT
I talked to Kauk today at the deli and he told me Dale and him removed the chockstone from the roof. They both had to work it over a couple of days and Dale managed to lead it first, not an onsight flash like some want to believe.

I believe it was Rick Pigget as the first onsight flash of the owl roof? I could be wrong?

Walt soloing Excaliber ... no it was North American Wall and Tissack on the 1/2 dome.
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