A Rodger Breedlove Story


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 20 of total 42 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jan 29, 2008 - 09:18pm PT
Back in around 1974, my partner John Shervais and I were planning to do the Salathe Wall. This was before cams, and we were really hoping to do a clean ascent. We had gotten a hand-drawn topo of the route somewhere, but were a bit anxious as to its veracity. We were members of that shadow group of serious climbers who had long term committments to careers and schools and who could never really get as much time off to climb as the valley "gods". We knew a lot of them in a vague sort of way, but not really well enough to just walk up and interrogate them about the route.
Anyway, Rodger Breedlove came wandering by while we were sorting gear and stopped to chat. We screwed up our courage and finally asked him to look at the topo and make any corrections he thought appropriate. After taking a few minutes to carefully consider it, he asked for a pen, allowing as how there was a crucial detail we had not included. We handed one to him and he wrote for a minute and then folded the topo, wished us luck, and walked off.
We eagerly unfolded it and to our horror, there on top, in bold letters he had written: "Aaargh, Mateys- them be the lucky ones that die!"

Well, as you might imagine, this raised the hair on the back of our necks! None-the-less, we set out the next day for El Cap, and after the usual argling and bargling proceeded upwards. Things were going pretty well until we got to the Hollow Flake. The temperature was really spiking. It hit 115 degrees that day in the Valley, I believe. I led the Hollow flake, feeling a bit like a BallPark Frank- grease oozing from every pore. The anchor was a single bolt on the right hand edge of the ledge. I tied off and John started to follow on Jumars. About half way across, in the bottom of a V in the rope (lowering out from the right), he suddenly gave a horrible gurgle and pitched upside down, passed out from heat exhaustion. I was sort of pinned to the ledge, with no rope to work with. I called and shouted, and after a long while, John came to. I managed to get him to return to the original belay, and finally I rapped off that single bolt back across the Hollow Flake pitch. We then went to Heart Ledge, drank 3 gallons apiece (all of our water) and then rapped off. Rodger had been right!!

The next year, we tried it again in October. This time things were going well until we hit the Robbins bolt ladder, or rather what USED to be the Robbins Bolt ladder. As I understand it Mike Graham had freed it and then chopped the bolts, and we were looking at hard slab climbing with no pro above an "A4" crack. Ugh!! I managed to free climb way out to the right and eventually had to put in a bolt waaaay over there. After heinous groveling and rope tricks that an Indian Swami would have envied, I got over the pitch. Someday I would like to hear the official version of how those bolts got chopped...
Things proceeded apace, as we dragged our sorry butts up the face. I remember using the whole rack (a zillion pins which we were not using, and a zillion hexes which we were) as a chock in the 5.9 flare above El Cap Spire. I just heaved the whole rack in there and clipped it off. Walls are so cool...
John was leading the pitch above Sous Le Toit and as we were still clinging to the hope of a clean ascent, he was using hexes to aid a parallel sided crack. As he top looped a piece, it popped and he fell about 12 feet, ripping the hell out of his ankle when it hit a small ledge. The ankle was clearly out of play for the duration. We managed to get to Sous le Toit ledge and took stock of our alternatives, Rodger's admonition hanging like a sword over our heads. We looked down. UGHHHHH!!!!! No way! John could not put any weight on the foot at all. We looked up. UgHHHH! The headwall loomed above. We thought of calling for a rescue. UGHHH!!!! The worst alternative. At that point, we had exhausted our choices, and suddenly we felt a sense of peace and a curious exhaltation come over us. We were in for an epic and that was it. We were going to climb off or join Rodger's "Lucky ones". So I started leading upwards, while John jumared along like Festus, coming as fast as he could with a single leg. The roof passed, as did several of the headwall pitches, but we ran out of light and energy a pitch below Long ledge, in the middle of the headwall. By this time we were really getting into it. We were HARDMEN! Belaying in slings (no hammocks or portaledges in those days) on an overhanging wall SEEMED reasonable. HAHAHAHAHA! That night it snowed! We were sitting in our belay seats, squashed against the face, with a howling wind and snow flying all around us all night. At first light I started leading upwards, and got to Long Ledge. John followed, but couldn't get on the ledge with his bum foot. I hauled and he yelled, and eventually we sort of barrel-rolled him onto the ledge. The next pitch was a real winner. There were rurps and old bashies and all manner of strange things in the crack above. I remember standing on something fixed and awful, watching the ancient half inch sling, as if with a microscope. Tiny, tiny hairs of sun ruined nylon were breaking, one after another, and the next move was a 5.9 face move with the temperature below freezing, snow on the holds and me with RDs on my feet (remember those? the original roller skates on friction). Somehow I did the pitch, and eventually we pulled onto the top. There was snow everywhere, and no other lunatics in sight. I got John into a sleeping bag, gave him all the water, and headed down the Falls trail to get some help getting him off.
Well, as it happened, I hadn't eaten much for several days and the headlamp ran out of juice, so descending the Falls trail in the dark was a bit of a Carlos Castenada deal. I finally made it down around midnight and reported to the rangers. We decided that the best thing would be to bring in a horse for him to ride out on, and I was to meet the ranger with the horses at 5:30 the next day. I was starving, but there was nothing anywhere to eat. I scoured the Volkswagen van we had driven up in, and finally found a jar of Wheat Germ. I had no idea what that was, but grabbed a handful and tossed it into my mouth. It instantly congealed like quick setting cement. I eventually gagged it out and passed out in the back of the van.

The next morning a nice ranger drove me up to Tamarack flat with two horses. The plan was for us to ride in together, and then he and John would ride out and I would walk out carrying the haul bag. Even more than 30 years later I am amazed and appalled at how climbers can be soooo optimistic!!!! Fortunately, when we finally found John, he had taken off his climbing shoe and the Ace bandages, and his foot was a purple volleyball. The ranger decided that the horse was out, and called in an ex Vietnam helicopter pilot (and chopper). They soon landed and strapped John into a gurney on the side of the chopper. I asked the pilot if he could take the haul bag too, and he asked how much it weighed. "40 pounds" I replied, and he said that I could put it on the opposite side from John. I went down to the top of the route and crammed everything into the bag- rack, clothes, ropes, etc. Then I tried to lift it- the load I had been planning to carry 8 miles out to Tamarack flat. HAHAHAHAHA! I couldn't even lift it! I started dragging the blasted thing up the hill to the chopper. The ranger saw the pathetic scene and offered to help, and eventually we got the pig up to the chopper. The pilot had been observing the spectacle with a certain grim amusement, and after a few snide remarks about the "40 pounds" we got it strapped on and he took off. One minute he was on top of El Cap, and the next he was in the meadow, and they were loading John into an ambulance. John later reported that it was the most astonishing thing he had ever done. That chopper literally dropped over the rim like a stone, with the tail rotor sticking straight up in the air.
The ranger and I rode out, and several hours later I made it to the hospital to see John, still without having eaten anything. The weasel was eating and drinking and telling the nurses jokes and regaling everyone with tall tales of our derring-do. I loaded him into the van and eventually we made it back to Santa Barbara. Our ascent of the Salathe still ranks high in my memory for grand adventure. We were young and crazy, and tough, and it sure was fun!!!

To this day I remember with great fondness that moment when we read Rodger's prophetic words that "The lucky ones be them that dies!". That phrase has sustained us for all the years since, and has lifted our spirits in many a scary moment on many a sketchy climb ever since.
Thanks, Rodger!!!

Trad climber
Jan 29, 2008 - 09:30pm PT
Oh! That is too classic! Thanks for sharing!
Double D

Jan 29, 2008 - 09:44pm PT
Classic tale Ferretlegger!

Trad climber
Jan 29, 2008 - 09:57pm PT
great story! I especially like the RD reference. I had completely forgotten about those.
E.L. "One"

Big Wall climber
Lancaster, California
Jan 29, 2008 - 10:23pm PT

Absolutely riveting story. This is what I most enjoy on ST. Welcome aboard and keep contributing. That was great !!

E.L. "One"

Big Wall climber
Lancaster, California
Jan 29, 2008 - 10:40pm PT
Many years ago while climbing in England, I was at Millstone Quarry at Stanage Edge trying to knock off some classic HVS and E1 routes when up walked Jerry Moffet (sp?), who walked to the base of "Master's Edge" sans rope, and proceeded to effortlessly glide up this infamous and featureless arete. When he came back down I asked him, "How did you do that?", His reply, "If I knew I couldn't tell ya mate!" I've always laughed at that one.


Social climber
Jan 29, 2008 - 10:42pm PT
hey there.. say, this is what makes supertopo so wonderful... say, thanks for the share... so glad you were both well, after the long haul...
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jan 29, 2008 - 10:42pm PT

Great story!

You can read the story on the FA/FFA of the Free Blast and the missing bolts straight from Mike and Kevin (posted here Sep 12, 2006):

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jan 29, 2008 - 11:15pm PT
Thanks for a great story! I wonder if Roger will remember?

Those sorts of things do seem a human tradition - a bit like actors encouraging each other to "break a leg" when starting a performance. Partly to relax tension, partly as a caution.

I tried the Salathe in September 1976, and also retreated from Hollow Flake in blistering weather. We were able to get back across to Heart Ledge, luckily.

Edit: I thought Roger was just a BHM - Big Hairy Monster. Not sure if that meant he was a Valley God.

The Eye of the Snail
Jan 29, 2008 - 11:24pm PT
If Buzz finds out he's a valley god he's gonna be pissed!!!1
john hansen

Jan 29, 2008 - 11:29pm PT
Best story I've read here in long time.

Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
Jan 29, 2008 - 11:53pm PT
What an epic! Thanks for the story.

Waiting for Roger to chime in here.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 30, 2008 - 12:00am PT
a wonderful story... what a rogue, that Breedlove...

Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Jan 30, 2008 - 12:03am PT
Two very cool stories tonight. This was a great read. Thank you for posting.

Jan 30, 2008 - 12:18am PT

Social climber
No Ut
Jan 30, 2008 - 12:36am PT
A real adventure!

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 30, 2008 - 10:35am PT
I had just about given up on SuperTopo for lack of good climbing tales—or at least climbing tales, I could relate to.

But Fetterledger’s tale has every thing essential to living the climber’s experience—the whole climbing dream, in its wondrous simplicity. So, if any other campers have a hankering to tell a grand tale here is the best outline ever:

The fifteen step plan to climbing transcendence:

1. “None-the-less, we set out the next day for El Cap, and after the usual argling and bargling proceeded upwards.” (Whatever argling and bargling actually mean seems clear enough.)

2. “We then…drank 3 gallons apiece (all of our water) and…rapped off.”

3. “…and eventually had to put in a bolt waaaay over there.” (‘waaaay over there’ is an incantation to ward off style and ethics spirits that might otherwise ruin a good day.)

4. “I just heaved the whole rack in there and clipped it off. Walls are so cool...”

5. “…he was using hexes to aid a parallel sided crack…it popped”

6. “…we had exhausted our choices, and suddenly we felt a sense of peace and a curious exaltation come over us. We were in for an epic and that was it.”

7. “We were HARDMEN! Belaying in slings…on an overhanging wall SEEMED reasonable. HAHAHAHAHA! That night it snowed.”

8. “…standing on something fixed and awful… Tiny, tiny hairs of sun-ruined nylon were breaking, one after another.”

9. “RDs” (No other parts of speech are necessary to convey the full terror.)

10.“…descending the Falls trail in the dark was a bit of a Carlos Castenada deal.”

11. “…Wheat Germ. …instantly congealed like quick setting cement.”

12. “…climbers can be soooo optimistic!!!!”

13. “…his foot was a purple volleyball.”

14. “That chopper literally dropped over the rim like a stone, with the tail rotor sticking straight up in the air.”

15. “The weasel was eating and drinking and telling the nurses jokes and regaling everyone with tall tales of our derring-do.”

Now, regarding my memory. Ander's seems to know me pretty well: I don’t remember my role in Fetterledger’s Salathe epic. But of course I remember the catch phrase, and the fifteen step plan. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

I cannot come up with who started saying "Aaargh, Mateys- them be the lucky ones that die!" I knew him at the time, but cannot conjure up a face or name. Does anyone else remember? It seemed to fit lots of basic climbing situations. Maybe it’s the sixteenth step.

Great story, Fetterledger. Welcome to Supertopo.

"]Another great story by Fetterdledger[/url]

Trad climber
san Jose, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 30, 2008 - 12:45pm PT
Hi ROGER! Sorry about misspelling your name- a brain fart after a long day at work. I'm glad you enjoyed the story. That adventure really was one of the seminal episodes in my early climbing days. Things seemed so simple then- Uh, see rock, grab gear, go suffer, have fun. There was a great naivete in those days, at least for us. We were too dumb to see all the potential problems, so we , as Nike would say, "Just did it!"

Your pithy comment on the topo really did have a long lasting impact. I cannot count the number of times my climbing partners and I have paused in the midst of some horrible spot, looked at each other and uttered the dreadful prophecy. It always brings a laugh and lightens the mood. I always recall the moment you wrote it, and with that memory comes a whole collage of memories of Yosemite in the late 60's and 70's; the great climbers and characters, the smell of the bay trees and the color of the lichens as one desperately clawed up some obscure dihedral, the fear of the long runout past inadequate early "clean" gear, the tincture, chalk, and gobies, sitting under a tree in the late afternoon exhausted, with blown arms, drinking a beer with friends. Anyway, thanks again for giving us a hook to hang so many fine memories on. I have been reading Super Topo forum for a long time, and it has been wonderful to hear from so many people who, whether they know it or not, were such an important part of my life.

I hope I can post a few more stories. John Shervais, my partner on the Salathe, went on to do a first ascent of the Kamikaze Couloir on the Monk. That story is one that would be well worth hearing!

All the best,
Michael Jefferson
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 30, 2008 - 02:39pm PT
Hi Michael,

I have a saying that I still use today in non-climbing settings. It was coined by Phil Bircheff. One summer in the early 70s, Phil brought his stone sculpture to Tuolumne Meadows. Sheridan Anderson would spend some time in the meadows drinking, fishing, and hanging out. His genius was capturing moments and quips in his cartoons.

He captured both Phil’s dark mood and his quip in a cartoon he whipped out sitting at the picnic table.


I kept it.

All the best, Roger

Jan 30, 2008 - 03:29pm PT
Damn thats good stuff!
Messages 1 - 20 of total 42 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
Check 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta