Sorting out late 70s Valley climbing

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Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 15, 2008 - 10:25am PT
Kevin Worrall posted on my thread on Barry Bates and Mark Klemens Barry Bates and Mark Klemens--Valley free climbing that I stopped short of the spectacular end game of 70s Valley climbing. He is certainly correcct in this, but it was purposeful.

Linking all of the elements of the great climbing of the 70s in to one story line is complicated. For sure, it is possible to trace each step along the way, but the span of accomplishments and the differences in scope of the climbs and changes in style is hard to pull together.

What follows here overlaps with the Bates and Klemens thread:

In a way the period from New Dimensions (1970) to Astroman (1975) is the Bridwell era. This is a gross over simplification in almost all regards save for the beginning and the end of the period. The beginning is pretty much covered, but I glossed over the ending.

In 1973, Bridwell and Chapman climbed Hotline with some aid. In 1975, Kauk and Bachar free climbed it. I don’t know anything about the route, but it was a huge watershed--"Bridwell route free climbed." (The Hotline that I mention in my post on Barry and Mark is the FAA in 1975.)

Kauk, Bachar, and Long followed it up with Astroman. You can trace the antecedents of Astroman back into the early 70s free climbing—I would put the Good Book (1973, I think) at the head of the list of antecedents given that it was an obvious long corner with a hand crack that was just too long and steep to contemplate free climbing before you guys climbed it. At least that was the old view: the new view, “Let’s try it.” When I followed the long corner of Good Book, I remember thinking that I had just not pushed hard enough to try stuff.

Aside from the spectacular line and climbing on Astroman, it was also marked by two other features. The first is that Jim was not on the first free ascent. He was part of the team on the Good Book, Geek Towers, and Free Blast, the other ‘Big Wall’ free climbing, but absent on Astroman. The second feature was that all of the prior generations had nailed the route and could visualize what it would take to free climb it.

Nobody said anything, but it was sort of demoralizing—we could see you guys moving away into the future and rolling up the ground behind you, leaving us moored to the past. We quickly developed a more personal understanding of Royal spending an afternoon free soloing the routes at the base of El Cap after Hot Henry tooled up the Steck-Salathe without a rope, on sight, and Chuck spending time with close friends on easy routes in then obscure areas around the Valley, and Jim discovering his inner ice climber.

We were young, we were strong, we were forward looking,…we were history.

So if Astroman marks the absolute end of the prior era of climbers who started in the 1960s, then how best to describe the next phase. The climbs I know about that seem to close out the remaining of the 70s are The NW Face of HD free, Space Babble on Middle, the Chouinard-Herbert all free, Gait of Power, Crimson Cringe, Hang Dog Flyer, Tales of Power, Owl Roof, The Phoenix, Separate Reality, Elephant's Eliminate, Hall of Mirrors, The West Face of El Capitan all free.

This list is almost certainly incomplete, but it seems to me to be way too short—what was everyone working on? If Valley climbers were spending more time in other areas, there might also be a good case to broaden the view of influences from other areas on Valley climbing. There is also the story of new shoes and new cams for protection.

And, perhaps more contentiously someone needs to sort out an accurate historical view on narrow issues such as establishing for the record who really climbed the Owl Roof, with and without preplaced protection, but no aid, and on broad issues such as the influence of sport climbing and Ray Jardine’s hang-dogging learning style and how these influenced the general adaption of modern free climbing.

I would really like to flesh this period out, but I don’t have the fist hand knowledge to do it.

Maybe we can sort it out collectively.

RB
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Aug 15, 2008 - 10:36am PT
Roger
One thing I would add to the mid seventies ('76?)
was Charlie Fowler's solo ascent of the DNB.
That was something that put a lot of people in awe at the
time. . .
The Warbler

climber
the edge of America
Aug 15, 2008 - 05:25pm PT
Hi Roger,

I sensed you left Tales and SR out deliberately, as they were done later in the seventies, and you do have to draw the line somewhere in doing a mini history. It seems you moved on from the Valley scene somewhere around '76 or so, ending your first hand recollections of climbing evolution there.

Those two routes, from my perspective, seem to be at the end of an era of Valley climbing that is fairly distinct, whether you call it the Stonemaster era, or whatever. A few factors signaled the end of that era, and the start of another, in my mind. One of those factors was the use of Friends, and the routes put up by their inventor, Ray Jardine. Phoenix, The Cringe, Elephant's Eliminate, A Dog's Roof, Hangdog Flyer - all were as hard or harder than the routes done by the core Valley crew you talk about.

Jardine was very quiet about how he did those routes, and always kept to himself around the Valley - definitely not one of the boys. In retrospect, part of that was his desire to keep his Friends secret for business reasons, at least at first, but it also gradually became apparent that he had been using them to hangdog his projects, and that style of climbing was just not acceptable or even considered as an option by the Stonemasters.

Friends were invented, in a way, to facilitate hangdogging.

The appearance of Friends coincided with a tightening up of regulations in Camp 4, which limited the sense of community there had been for a decade. Sportclimbing was catching fire in Europe, and the next thing the Valley crew knew, The Stigma was being openly worked on by Todd Skinner, using hangdogging methods. Unabashed dogging, right at the base of what is perhaps the premier crack climbing crag in the Valley, was probably the final event in the Stonemaster era.

Or the opening event of the next.

From my perspective, the 80's and 90's witnessed the Valley and it's climbers fall from their position at the cutting edge of climbing - I can't flesh out the details as I wasn't there. Basically, IMHO, there was a strong resistance to sportclimbing's components - rap bolting and hangdogging - that led to bitter feuds and a fractured, unfocused freeclimbing scene.


I'd love to hear an historical perspective of Valley freeclimbing from somebody who was there in the 80's and 90's


Free ascents of El Cap routes have put the Valley on the map again. Long new free routes, more FFAs using sportclimbing methods, speed climbing, and long free route linkups might keep it there.

KW

Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 15, 2008 - 06:01pm PT
From Climbing number 51, November/December 1978:





Roger Breedlove

climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 15, 2008 - 06:02pm PT
Great post, Kevin.

You are right in your timing of me leaving the Valley as a full time climber. I still climbed and guided in the Valley until 1980, between school years, but 1976 was my last full year there.

I think we should use the capabilities of the Forum to develop the history of the Valley. It will take a while, just as it did for the earlier periods. But it will otherwise be lost.

RB

Nice article, Tar. You know, when I saw Jim about 5 years ago, he showed me his Friends. Even let me hold one for a bit. Then he took it away. Sad.

Buzz
The Warbler

climber
the edge of America
Aug 15, 2008 - 09:18pm PT
Roy -

Amusing to see an article like that in Climbing. It's hard to imagine a modern rag running a story questioning the value of a pricey new climbing equipment breakthrough.

No surprise Bridwell took the development in stride, and saw the positive as outweighing the negative. Definitely a climber with vision. Plus he's a gear freak if there ever was one.

Thanks for posting that.

KW
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 15, 2008 - 09:27pm PT
You betcha' Kevin.

Hey, I'd like to see someone nail the late 70's as well as Roger pegged the Bates/Klemens reign.
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 15, 2008 - 09:44pm PT
From Climbimg 54, May/June 1979:







Double D

climber
Aug 15, 2008 - 11:07pm PT
Roger, Kevin and Roy…great read. I think it’s important to see the building blocks of free climbing through a respectful eye toward those who brought the sport to the next level in our prior generations. Roger your words were very thought provoking and seemed to hit the nail on the head for the mid-seventies era. I remember climbing with CF one day on this little 5.9 overhanging lie-back (Kat pinnacle???) that was by the days standards easy. Chris mentioned that the first free ascent was protected with pitons placed on the lead. As I pondered this, I was extremely humbled. Even though my climbing ability was several grades higher at the time, I really couldn’t picture leading it and hanging in there to place a pin, draw the hammer, beat it into submission, replace the hammer, clip it and then continue on to do this all over again several times while steadily getting pumped on the overhanging lieback.

Fast forward to the first prototypes of friends that Ray graciously lent us on several occasions and the doors they opened. Protection went from a fairly intricate ordeal that needed a strategic, well thought out plan to…blam, it’s in. So of course the standards were pushed but what really struck me at the time was how many more climbers stepped up to the plate and were doing hard routes for the first time. Were the standards pushed proportionally or was the learning curve just shortened for the masses?

Now enter the tactic of hang-dogging. Although it seemed like an insult to the purer styles of the day, the reality was that many of the harder routes were “worked” repetitively before they were sent. The difference was that traditionally they were not worked section by section but from the ground up. Butterballs was tried numerous times by many prior to Hot Henry firing it off. Does that imply a decline in aesthetic style? Within just a couple of years of the first ascent it had been done by perhaps hundreds and in good style with essentially the same gear for pro. In fact it was hard to imagine why some of the more talented climbers of Yosemite didn’t do it first after it became a well traveled climb. What changed? Perhaps it was only the vision of what was possible.

Hang-dogging IMHO was nothing new to the mid 70’s if you broaden the definition to include top-roping (Short-Circuit, Bad-ass Moma and numerous other technique-inspiring climbs of the day) and working to free bolt ladders (The Calf & several TM classics). Tales of Power and Separate Reality were certainly worked repetitively prior to completion by Ron and same thing with the Cosmic Debris when Bill did it. The one difference with Ray’s routes was that he was rather secretive about his ascents tactics and that really didn’t set well at the time with the Yosemite boys. Most of the harder bouldering problems were certainly worked but again, from the ground up.

But then, John Bachar and Peter Croft made many of the classic hard routes... into mere boulder problems!

Enter the era of sport climbing. Although I checked out of climbing for years due to physical reasons when I was able to get a glimpse again of where climbing had gone, I was stoked about the quality and sustained nature of climbs that were being done both in the sport and trad venues. My first introduction to modern sport climbing was walking into an ancient Roman stadium in Nimes France where instead of gladiators pitting their skills against lions, there were masterfully-set artificial climbs set for a competition being televised on French TV with the same enthusiasm as our Superbowl. It was a very surreal experience.

What really impressed me was how many folks are climbing really hard stuff and how far sport climbing has taken the standards of both trad and sport. Linking long, hard sections together has given climbers not only much better physical conditioning but mentally has crystallized their vision on the pushing the realm of what was impossible to possible. Equipment has definitely assisted with the explosion in standards, but overall climbers are just doing a lot more hard moves and etching them into their minds a lot quicker than prior generations.

The vision of past generations might well be today’s stepping stones.
Sewellymon

climber
.....in a single wide......
Aug 17, 2008 - 11:04am PT
............bumpage.........
The Warbler

climber
the edge of America
Aug 17, 2008 - 01:04pm PT
Hi Dave,

You make some good points, but I beg to differ on a few...


"Now enter the tactic of hang-dogging. Although it seemed like an insult to the purer styles of the day, the reality was that many of the harder routes were “worked” repetitively before they were sent. The difference was that traditionally they were not worked section by section but from the ground up. Butterballs was tried numerous times by many prior to Hot Henry firing it off. Does that imply a decline in aesthetic style?.....Hang-dogging IMHO was nothing new to the mid 70’s if you broaden the definition to include top-roping (Short-Circuit, Bad-ass Moma and numerous other technique-inspiring climbs of the day) and working to free bolt ladders (The Calf & several TM classics). Tales of Power and Separate Reality were certainly worked repetitively prior to completion by Ron and same thing with the Cosmic Debris when Bill did it. The one difference with Ray’s routes was that he was rather secretive about his ascents tactics and that really didn’t set well at the time with the Yosemite boys. Most of the harder bouldering problems were certainly worked but again, from the ground up."

I think it's important not to blur the line between "hangdogging" and "working" or toproping a route, at least when discussing history/evolution of Yosemite freeclimbing. First of all, we didn't use the term "working" to describe the pre-dogging method - it was called "yoyoing". Also, I don't think you can "broaden the definition (of hangdogging) to include toproping" - toproping an unclimbed lead was a different sort of ethical compromise. Before dogging became accepted, toproping a new climb to prepare for leading it was also considered cheating, and like hangdogging, just wasn't done, at least openly.

By the earlier ethical standards, a failed lead attempt was followed by immediate lowering of the leader to the belay or a no hands rest - repeatedly doing this was "yoyoing". After pulling the rope, the sharp end was usually then handed to the other climber, and he gave it a go while his partner belayed and rested. I think, and it seems we all thought at the time, that it was certainly a compromise of style to resort to yoyoing, but resting on the rope, or hangdogging, wasn't a compromise that was acceptable.

The ethic of not using the gear to rest on to repeatedly attempt a section, usually the crux of the pitch, and often a section arrived at after many forearm pumping moves, was the critical ethical dividing line between hangdogging and yoyoing. Adhering to that arguably small ethical distinction had the effect of slowing down the evolution of upper end crack pitches, especially because it went hand in hand with the challenge of fiddling with hexes and stoppers, on lead without hanging, usually on very parallel sided cracks.

Ray's potent, and initially secret, combination of dogging and Friends was, therefore, a doubly "revolutionary" approach to crack climbing, giving the leader a huge new advantage, and IMO defines the end of an era.

KW

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Aug 17, 2008 - 08:08pm PT
These last posts of Worrill and Diegelman are really tremendous!
Double D

climber
Aug 17, 2008 - 08:36pm PT
Kevin... good points...you know I'm really just a yoyo yahoo at heart!
(-;
The Warbler

climber
the edge of America
Aug 17, 2008 - 08:58pm PT
Dave,

I didn't mean to be judgmental in any of that, towards you, Ray or anybody really. Just trying to follow through on Roger's OP theme as I saw things back then.

I like the positive attitude that runs through your perspective, I try to look at all of climbing's evolution with an open mind also - more now than back then - it's easier to do from a firsthand retroperspective (how bout that word) gained by many decades in the game. The end of an era is the beginning of a new one.

I'm psyched to see some incredible new freeclimbing happening recently in the Valley, particularly on El Cap, after the long slow spell that followed the period we discussed above.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 17, 2008 - 09:06pm PT
Roy,
You really need to post RR's response to JB's editorial for full flavor!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 21, 2008 - 12:45am PT
Notable FAs and FFAs from 1975 to 1979

Fish Crack 5.12b FA 1975 Henry Barber
Free Blast 5.11b FA 1975 Jim Bridwell, John Long, Kevin Worrall, Mike Graham, John Bachar, Ron Kauk
Hardd 5.11b FA 1975 Henry Barber, Ron Kauk, Steve Wunsch
Kauk-ulator 5.11c FA 1975 Ron Kauk, John Yablonsky
Mother Earth 5.11c A4 FA 1975 George Meyers, John Long, Kevin Worrall, Mark Chapman, Ron Kauk
Realm of the Lizard King 5.11c FA 1975 Kevin Worrall, John Yablonski
Short Circuit 5.11d FA 1975 Stone Masters
Hotline 5.12a FA 1973 Jim Bridwell, Mark Chapman FFA 1975 Ron Kauk, John Bachar
The Moratorium 5.11b FA 1969 Bruce Price, Bill Griffin, Bob Edwards FFA 1975 Pete Livesey, Trevor Jones
Washington Column, East Face (Astroman) 5.11c FA 1959 Warren Harding, Glen Denny, Chuck Pratt FFA 1975 John Bachar, John Long, Ron Kauk

Crimson Cringe 5.12a FA 1976 Ray Jardine, John Lakey
Hang Dog Flyer 5.12c FA 1976 Ray Jardine, John Lakey
Chouinard-Herbert 5.11c FA 1962 Yvon Chouinard, TM Herbert FFA 1976 John Long, Pete Minks, Eric Erickson
Half Dome, Regular Northwest Face 5.12 FA 1957 Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas, Mike Sherrick FFA 1976 Jim Erickson, Art Higbee

Owl Roof 5.12c FA 1977 Ray Jardine, John Lakey
The Phoenix 5.13a FA 1977 Ray Jardine, John Lakey
Tales of Power 5.12b FA 1977 Ron Kauk

Hall of Mirrors 5.12c FA 1978 Chris Cantwell, Bruce Morris, Scott Burke, Dave Austin
Separate Reality 5.12a FA 1978 Ron Kauk

Red Zinger 5.11d FA 1979 Ray Jardine, Dave Altman
El Capitan, West Face 5.11c FA 1967 TM Herbert, Royal Robbins FFA 1979 Ray Jardine, Bill Price
eeyonkee

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Aug 21, 2008 - 07:01am PT
I love this stuff!
Tarbuster

climber
right here, right now
Aug 21, 2008 - 07:57am PT
Right on Ed!

Mr Grossman:
Do you have Royal's rebuttal on friends?

Of note -Hot Henry doesn't dig cams.
'Still climbs with a slim rack of nuts.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 21, 2008 - 08:23am PT
Sorry Roy but I don't have the followup issue handy. Worth finding it though since Royal takes JB to the woodshed! LOL
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 21, 2008 - 08:24am PT
interesting to look at the next 5 years
Notable FAs and FFAs from 1980 to 1985

Alien 5.12b FA 1980 Tony Yaniro
Controlled Burn 5.11a FA 1980 Don Reid Grant Hiskes
Cosmic Debris 5.13b FA 1980 Bill Price
Energy Crisis 5.11d FA 1980 Bill Price Randy Grandstaff
Goldfingers 5.12a FA 1980 Chick Holtkamp Eric Zschiesche
Mary's Tears 5.11b FA 1980 Bill Price Mike Borris
Pegasus (East Quarter Dome, North Face) 5.12 FA 1962 Yvon Chouinard Tom Frost FFA 1980 Max Jones Mark Hudon
Quarter Dome; North Face (Pegasus) 5.12 FA 1962 Yvon Chouinard Tom Frost FFA 1980 Max Jones Mark Hudon

Crest Jewel 5.10a FA 1981 Dan Dingle Michael Lucero
Soul Sacrifice 5.11c FA 1981 Werner Braun

Essence 5.11b FA 1983 Werner Braun Don Reid

Lost Arrow Tip 5.12b FA 1946 Fritz Lippmann Jack Arnold Anton Nelson Robin Hansen FFA 1984 Dave Schultz

Autobahn 5.11d FA 1985 Charles Cole Rusty Reno John Middendorf
The Crucifix 5.12b FA 1973 Jim Bridwell Kevin Worall FFA 1985 Peter Croft
The Rostrum, The Regular North Face Route FA 5.11c 1962 Glen Denny Warren Harding FFA 1985 Ron Kauk John Yablonski Kim Carrigan

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