A Charlie Porter Apparition


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Trad climber
LA LA Land
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 15, 2008 - 01:11pm PT
On a pleasantly cool morning, early in the Summer of 1973 (or was it 1974?) my climbing buddy (and high school classmate) Randy and I were perched on a belay ledge, mid-way up an obscure route, on an obscure crag, in what had to be backest of the backwaters of the climbing world at that time. We were on one of the granite crack 'n slab climbs found in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a few miles east of Salt Lake City. As we re-racked gear in preparation for the next pitch, we noticed the head of a climber appear over a bulge in the rock below us. It was a hat, actually -- a white beret, which we then observed was worn by a man with curly white hair, white eyebrows, and blonde-white beard. The rest of his clothing was white as well, including shirt, pants, and socks. He had smudges of white powder on his face, and his hands were powdery white. For a couple of provincial schmucks like Randy and I, the appearance of this climber was nothing less than other-worldly.

We were also amazed by how quickly he was moving; Randy commented that his belayer must be literally throwing the rope up the rock to keep pace. The Man wasn't carrying much gear -- a couple of nylon runners and a few 'biners. And a mysterious, powder-covered bag clipped to the back of his swami. He was coming up the same route we were on, which begins with a 5.8 straight-in hand crack and finishes with a couple of pitches of 5.8 smears, knobs and crystals.

But our sense of amazement wasn't limited to his climbing speed, or his somewhat freakish appearance. He deviated a little to the left as he passed our belay, acknowledged our presence with a slight nod, and continued upward. Then, the end of his rope appeared over the bulge below us, while he kept climbing. We were dumbfounded. What the hell happened to his belayer? A major communication fowl-up? Poorly-tied knots? WTF????

The modern reader will no doubt get a good chuckle out of our naivete. In just a few moments, Randy and I -- the quintessential country bumpkins -- were exposed to previously unimaginable concepts, like using gymnastic chalk for climbing, and free-soloing. After we finished our climb, we could hardly wait to head to our local climbing shop to report what we'd seen. "Oh, yeah" one of the guys in the shop said, "that would have been Charlie Porter. I hear he's got a construction job in town for the Summer, and that he's been seen scoping out some of the local crags." Randy and I knew who Charlie Porter was -- he was one of the climbing heroes that snot-nosed high-schoolers like Randy and I absolutely worshiped. We kicked ourselves for not having recognized him, and for having missed a chance to perhaps even chat with him for a few moments.

Here's a photo of Charlie Porter taken in Alaska, in 1976. This is pretty much how he looked when we saw him (sans white beret, white shirt, and chalk dust).
Photo credit: Russ McLean

That brief encounter with Charlie Porter had a lasting impact on me and my climbing. Of course, Randy and I immediately got hold of chalk bags and chalk (which wasn't easy back then) so we could be just like Charlie. Within a couple of years of that encounter, I discovered the joy of free-soloing moderate routes on local crags. I even did a solo climb of the Great White Icicle in Little Cottonwood; probably not the first, but certainly an early solo, using the primitive ice gear of the time. As I pulled over the last bulge of ice at the end of the climb, I clearly recalled the experience of seeing Charlie Porter appear over the bulge of granite, alone, and in complete control.

Even with the power of Google, it's been difficult to determine where Charlie Porter is these days and what he's been up to. That latest info I've been able to find is a reference to his working as a crew member on a boat during a 2001 sailing/climbing expedition to Greenland. The same reference also mentions that he (at the time) had his own sail boat which he kept in the fjord region of southern Chile.

Does anyone have any more recent info on the whereabouts of Charlie Porter?

Feb 15, 2008 - 01:18pm PT
dude's done some fine climbing

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Feb 15, 2008 - 01:26pm PT
neat story!
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 15, 2008 - 01:39pm PT
Last I heard he was sea kayaking somewhere near Tierra Del Fuego.

Mountain climber
Feb 15, 2008 - 02:44pm PT
That says something when you can't get "Google" info on someone who did so much great climbing and we are still talking and remembering.

Maybe that is how he want's it.

Werner told me Porter, mentioned Angles. When doing the Shield head wall. Be cool to hear that Apparition tale.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:05pm PT
Ah, now while we've never met and I don't know him, Charlie's exploits have always resonated with me and he was a central driver of my own far, far more limited climbing career. As such, I've always liked to keep tabs on him periodically.

Charlie 'went native' during a trip to Argentina/Chile back in the 80's and has been down there ever since. He's stepped up from kayaks several times and has captained a succession of his own increasingly larger sailboats over the years. For some time he has run a charter service to Patagonian glaciers, South Georgia Island, and around Tierra del Fuego - mainly to scientific and film crews. I suspect this operates as part of the non-profit Patagonia Research Foundation he founded. In short, he's still 'living the dream' in every respect and every bit as well as he did in climbing - and doing his part on global warming to boot. So here you go...

[url="http://www.condesa.org/march-24-burnt-island/" target="new"]The Adventures of the Vessel Condesa[/url]

Burnt Island - March 24th, 2007

... In the Micalvi there is a bar.

When the Micalvi bar is going full tilt, a Babel of languages from around the world is spoken, and the air is rare. For a sailor to be sitting there, he has to have paid his dues, because it ain’t exactly a Sunday sail to get down there in the first place. You don’t need to worry about anyone forgetting how to tie a bowline or anchoring too close to you. One night a few weeks ago was exemplary. We had Isabel Autissier (sp?) multiple single handed ’round the world race winner, author, and French national hero, a little tipsy on pisco sours, and shall we say, open to suggestion. There was this guy Cristophe, who won the Vendee Globe, and so many other sailing rock stars that I won’t bother to enumerate, but that’s just the competitive stuff. Then there were the first people to complete the Northwest Passage in a sailboat, and a whole bevy of Antarctica notables. Charlie Porter lives in Puerto Williams. He is not only a noted Antarctic pioneer, but he was one of the original Yosemite big wall climbers, along with Yvonne Choinard et al. The bullshit is so rarefied that if you are going to compete or contest, you better have at least two solo circumnavigations under your belt, or have performed a self-appendectomy at sea, sans anesthesia, with a Swiss army knife. The precious few at the Micalvi who aren’t sailors are either the staff, or climbers. The climbing in the area is pretty serious too, so all of these people are at the top of their game. Sometimes there is even cross-training, climbers who are sailing to Antarctica to do first ascents. I cannot compete, so I just act humble and cordial while listening the the guy who discovered a new species while scuba diving 400 feet under the Ross Ice Shelf is talking to the guy who backed off a new route on K2 because he was going to miss the start of the BOC on the boat he was captaining. ...

[url="http://www.galebrowning.com/south.html" target="new"]Report from Gale Browning Ocean Racing LLC[/url]
Ventisqueero Romache Fiordo PIA
March 12, 2006

We are drifting around in front of a the eastern arm of the PIA Glacier watching big chunks of ice calve off. It sounds like gunshot when the ice hits the water. Pretty powerful.

Ice calving of the face of a glacier in the Cordillera Darwin.

Later in the day, we anchor near the western arm of the PIA Glacier. The anchorage is already occupied by Charlie Porter’s steel ketch, Ocean Tramp. Charlie is a well known character in these parts taking scientists and film crews to the glaciers to study their movement and size. The PIA Glacier has been particularly active in the last couple of days. Alex, Joe, Jim S and I take a dinghy ride to the glacier and climbed along the moraine on the western side. The hill side looks like a big earth mover has just been there with dirt and rocks freshly turned over and pushed aside.

Brenda Hall, a geology professor from the University of Maine, is on board the Ocean Tramp to map and date moraines at 10 key glaciers in the Cordillera Darwin in conjunction with the Patagonia Research Foundation. Juan, the first mate from Puerto Montt, Chile is the only other crew aboard the boat. They all joined us for dinner and Charlie dominates the conversation answering questions about the glaciers. Moraines are created when the glacier pushes or carries along rocky debris as it moves. Dark bands of debris are visible on top and along the edges of glaciers. Medial moraines run down the middle of a glacier, lateral moraines along the sides, and terminal moraines are found at the terminus, or face, of a glacier. Sometimes one glacier flows into another, also creating moraines. Glaciers reflect climate change and by taking core samples in the ice, much can be learned about the climate and how it has changed over several thousand years.

[url="http://www.climatechange.umaine.edu/Research/Expeditions/2005/patagonia.html" target="new"]Abrupt Climate Change - Ice cores from Patagonia[/url]

Climate Change Institute
February 20, 2005

At Puerto Williams, the team will meet up with Charlie Porter and his boat, the Ocean Tramp. They will load gear on the boat and purchase any last minute supplies. On the 26th the film crew should meet up the rest of the team. They plan to spend a couple of days resting and finishing preparations for sailing.

[url="http://www.sgisland.org/pages/main/news18.htm" target=""]South Georgia Newsletter [/url]
January 2005

Charlie Porter returned for another season of glaciology in his yacht ‘Ocean Tramp’, and yacht ‘Paratii 2’ owned by Amyr Klink arrived on January 22nd, carrying Brazilian wildlife photographer Haraldo Palo jr. Haraldo is making a film about South Georgia wildlife which will highlight the plight of the Wandering Albatross.

[url="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950CE3D61E38F935A35756C0A9679C8B63" target="new"]A Steel Yacht Serves As a Field Laboratory[/url]

New York Times
May 6, 2001

Tucked into a far corner of the harbor serving Puerto Williams, Chile, a navy town hard by the Canal Beagle, rests a small fleet of rugged steel yachts that have clearly traveled long miles to get there. The one called Gondwana -- a 49-footer named for the southern hemisphere's onetime supercontinent -- is skippered by an antic American whose English and Spanish are both delivered in staccato bursts framed by peals of laughter.

The sole proprietor of his far-flung Patagonia Research Foundation, the 50-year-old sailor and scientist Charlie Porter is a study in perpetual motion. Fittingly, his floating field laboratory, Gondwana, is as mobile as he is, regularly covering the thousand miles of waterways from Puerto Montt to the north, to the southern tip of Cape Horn.

'I'm in the right place at the right time doing the right thing,' said Porter in a recent interview, while describing his current studies in climatology and historical archaeology.

'A lot of the other yachts you see here are basically charter boats for Cape Horn tourists,' he added. 'But I'm doing something completely different, exciting and important work. We're acquiring the baseline data for all the natural science that will be developed down here in the future. There is so much about this place we don't yet understand.'

Porter's journey to the far reaches of South America was as winding as the intricate channels through which he now plies his profession. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Porter attended Boston University before striking out for California's Yosemite Valley and several years of serious climbing, particularly the vertical walls of El Capitan.

It was in search of fresh peaks to scale that Porter came to Chile and, once there, from the mountains to the sea. Affixing the portable Klepper kayak he had brought along with the sliding seat and oars of an Alden rowing shell, Porter rambled some 2,000 miles through the southern fjords by following the long-established portage routes of the Patagonian Indians. He even rounded Cape Horn by kayak in 1979, one of the first persons to do so.

During his travels he developed an interest in natural history and enlisted in botanical and oceanographic surveys of the region. Once back in the States, he stayed long enough to build a steel version of a Tahiti ketch, aboard which he returned to South America and a decade of work in Chile's northern fjords.

As his reputation as a sound seaman and research fellow grew, Porter continued to attract scientists from universities and foundations in the United States and Europe who had acquired financing for specialized projects and required a partner to assist them with both the science and the demanding logistics. Having outgrown his ketch, Porter acquired Gondwana.

'You need a vessel that you can handle by yourself but which can spend a month in the fjords with eight people aboard,' Porter said. 'We usually carry two or three Zodiacs and use the boat as a base camp, secured in some narrow slot in the channels. We can go up to 50 miles out with the Zodiacs to do our sampling, whether we're coring lakes and peat bogs, as we did this season, or heading up to the glaciers.'

In recent years much of Porter's work has centered around climate research in the country's wild southern wilderness. By studying the core laminates in lake sediment and bog vegetation, and measuring the flow rate and overall health of the area's glaciers, Porter said that scientists were striving to understand the schematics of climate change.

In 1998, Porter was also involved in an archaeological expedition along the Magellan Strait in search of artifacts left by Magellan and other early European voyagers. During the hunt, Porter discovered a cache of pewter plates, coins and other items deposited by officers of the survey ship Beagle during Charles Darwin's famous voyage in the 1830's.

'It was quite spectacular,' he said.

Later this year, Porter will travel to Sydney, Australia, to take delivery of a 60-foot cutter that he plans to use for research in South Georgia Island and Antarctica. He will sail the boat back to Chile via the Southern Ocean and Cape Horn, a voyage he reckons will take 45 days. It is evident that Porter has no plans to slow down.

'I've already got plenty of projects lined up in the years ahead,' he said. 'You know, once you answer one question, another always pops up.'

[url="http://books.google.com/books?id=pXR4estfVQIC&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=%22charlie+porter%22+%22Gondwana%22+tierra&source=web&ots=kJZk8iF4sW&sig=mxry4xMlnTuVMWCDfUXBZ5PGEU8" target="new"]


Monte Sarmiento, West Peak. The twin peaks of Monte Sarmiento had been climbed only once before. Italian expeditions made both ascents. the first in 1956 (East Peak) and again in 1986 (West Peak). With the objective of new routes on both peaks, our team was composed of Stephen Venables (British), Tim Macartney-Snape (Australian), John Roskelley, Charlie Porter and me. Taking a roundabout route, we spent six days in Porter’s 50-foot sloop Gondwana, reaching the Sarmiento area from Puerto Williams on the Beagle Channel. After securing the boat in a sheltered cove on an arm of the Cockburn Channel on April 13, we explored different approaches to the mountain for several days in foul weather before finally deciding that the Southwest Face of the West Peak offered the best possibility. After two camps were established on the mountain, we were ready for a summit dash on April 21. But two separate accidents thwarted our plans. The first mishap occurred when a sudden wind gust blew me off a ridgecrest. I managed to arrest the fall but badly sprained an ankle in the process. A day later, while traversing a patch of ice, Porter was blown off his feet in almost the same spot. He suffered more serious injuries when he dislocated and broke a bone in his shoulder after jabbing his arm in a crevasse to stop the fall. After the entire team retreated to basecamp near the beach, Porter chose to sail directly across the Strait of Magellan to Puerto Bulnes, the nearest roadhead from Punta Arenas, where he could receive medical treatment. I accompanied Porter, as our only means of transportation was about to disappear. He piloted his boat in considerable pain with his arm in a makeshift sling. By the time I returned to the Sarmiento area in a fishing boat five days later, our three companions had been able to complete the anticipated new route to the West Peak’s summit. On April 26, the almost constant wind and snow ceased for 10 hours, allowing Roskelley, Macartney-Snape and Venables to climb the southwest face’s steep snow with underlying ice and 70” to 85” serac ice steps. The typical Patagonian summit ice mushroom was turned easily from the southeast. Extreme winds hit them on the descent with zero-visibility

[url="http://www.rockclimbing.org/tripreports/respect.htm" target="new"]Southern California Mountaineers Association[/url]

Trip Report - 1986


Yes, Virgil is following in the footsteps of men like Charlie Porter, the legendary Yosemite climber known for (among other things) pioneering gigantic rurp aid ladders up incipient vertical cracks (no bolts or chalks, just rurps; if the top one pulled loose the resulting fall would zipper them all out clear to the bottom. Charlie was thought dead for several years, lost at sea while attempting to paddle a kayak, solo, from the Atlantic to Pacific Ocean, around Cape Horn. Early this year, Charlie was discovered alive and well, living with a tribe of Patagonian Indians (and a common law Indian wife) on Tierra Del Fuego. Yes - people like Cunningham, Whillans, Shields, and Porters; climbers with heart! Our two Virgils stand out as Defenders Of The Faith, one with barred fangs, the other with a brilliant conceptual mind. But the latter stands virtually alone, trying to save us from ourselves; a Don Quixote like figure, dreaming the impossible dream. With his ambitious marathon fell running and jumaring up his ‘Towers to Nowhere' he is truly a 'Conquistador of the Ridiculous' in the finest tradition. Carry on Virg, you deserve our support, for without members like you we're all too likely to become the Rodney Dangerfield Climbing Club!!!

Trad climber
LA LA Land
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 15, 2008 - 04:22pm PT
Wow, healyje -- I'm eatin' this stuff up!!! Thank you!

EDIT: "...Cape Horn by kayak..." Sheeeeezz!!!

Santa Fe, NM
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:30pm PT
excellent post/thread. Thank you very much for the contributions.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:36pm PT
Yeah, good stuff.

But when it credits him with "rounding the Horn" I wonder if the strict interpretation of doing it east to west from 50 degrees South to 50 degrees South is in play.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:39pm PT
Added one more excerpt just below the picture of the Ocean Tramp

Trad climber
Top of the Mountain Mun
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:42pm PT
A man's man, Charlie Porter, great stories!
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:43pm PT
And the REAL find from the Beagle would have been the whaleboat that was stolen by the Yaghen indians.

A remarkable story really.
Stranded, some of the men fashioned a raft and were BARELY able to return to the ship, rescue the rest, and set off in search of the highly valued craft.
They found bits and pieces, an oar in an indian settlement, a scavenged bit of metal.
Unfortunately vengeance was wreaked, likely on innocent bystanders.

An unsolved mystery.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Feb 15, 2008 - 04:55pm PT
Oh, and his mother, [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Cooney" target="new"]Barbara Cooney[/url], was a gifted and [url="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F03E0DB113BF936A25750C0A9669C8B63" target="new"]renowned author and illustrator[/url] of children's books. His uncle, [url="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE3D7113FF932A25750C0A965958260" target="new"]Howard Porter[/url], was a respected scholar of Greek and Latin studies and ran part of the code breaking group within the Enigma Project that busted German encryption codes during WWII and received a bronze star and British Empire Medal for his service. From the look of it, Charlie appears to come from quite accomplished stock.

Trad climber
LA LA Land
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 15, 2008 - 05:58pm PT

If anyone gets stuck indoors this weekend and has a little time to kill cruising the Internet, I recommend following the link provided by healyje for the Vessel Condesa. Start with the "About Me" section -- wouldn't that be the life? but nobody has a totally perfect life, as the Captain of the Condesa explains.

Sport climber
Buzzard Point, TN
Feb 15, 2008 - 06:02pm PT
"If you wait for the weather, you'll never do chit." CP, purportedly.

Trad climber
Boulder Colorado
Feb 15, 2008 - 07:18pm PT
outstanding healyja.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Feb 16, 2008 - 01:23am PT
wow cool!
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Feb 16, 2008 - 02:25am PT
Thank you! I can put up with a lot of idiotic threads - which I don't read anyway - if there's some like this.

Hopefully Werner, or perhaps John or Largo, can add some stories.

ps I thought apparitions were ghosts? Or did you mean an "appreciatarition" thread?

Feb 16, 2008 - 02:33am PT
dude meant apparition when he wrote "apparition"

Double D

Feb 16, 2008 - 09:24am PT
Thanks O.D. & healyje for an awesome thread. Charlie is the real deal, that's for sure!
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