Sorting out late 70s Valley climbing


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Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 15, 2008 - 01:25pm 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 FFA 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, but had not tried 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 first hand knowledge to do it.

Maybe we can sort it out collectively.


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Aug 15, 2008 - 01:36pm PT
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. . .

right here, right now
Aug 15, 2008 - 09:01pm PT
From Climbing number 51, November/December 1978:

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 15, 2008 - 09:02pm 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.


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.


right here, right now
Aug 16, 2008 - 12:27am 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.

right here, right now
Aug 16, 2008 - 12:44am PT
From Climbimg 54, May/June 1979:

Double D

Aug 16, 2008 - 02:07am 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.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Aug 17, 2008 - 11:08pm PT
These last posts of Worrill and Diegelman are really tremendous!
Double D

Aug 17, 2008 - 11:36pm PT
Kevin... good know I'm really just a yoyo yahoo at heart!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 18, 2008 - 12:06am PT
You really need to post RR's response to JB's editorial for full flavor!
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 21, 2008 - 03:45am 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

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Aug 21, 2008 - 10:01am PT
I love this stuff!

right here, right now
Aug 21, 2008 - 10:57am 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 - 11:23am 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 - 11:24am 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

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 21, 2008 - 05:10pm PT
Hi Ed,

Does your data base include good data for free climbs in the 80s, 90s, and 00s? If so, can you post a list? Maybe campers who climbed during those times can fill in the stories and relationships.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Aug 21, 2008 - 05:18pm PT
You guys trying to get a wikiclimbia going around here or something?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 22, 2008 - 11:10am PT
there are inherent problems with any selection of climbs as "notable"

I have used a rather simple criteria: is it a climb I know about.

Further, I have used only documented climbs, and the rather limited identification of "First Ascent" or "First Free Ascent." Climbs that are not identified as such are not a part of the selection process. So significant free climbing projects, such as the West Face of Sentinel a long time, unsolved free climbing project are not represented.

However, given the state of communication regarding climbing, it is difficult to use any other method. For instance, Sean Jones has put up about 100 new climbs in the Valley, I can name only two: Gates of Delirium and Growing Up, are any of the others notable?

So when I look at the list of Yosemite Valley climbs by year I have to think whether or not I have heard mention of it. Don Reid asks the FA teams that submit climbs for a "star rating," so just looking at the stars is of dubious value, who wouldn't think their climb is a "137.75 star dick wrenching mega-classic"?

What seems to have happened is that Yosemite Valley ceased being a place to develop higher standards and more a place to train. The style developed in the Valley, rapid ascents of long technical routes, has been applied to many other regions. The proximity of long technical routes, the simple logistics of visiting the Valley and the ease of getting there make it a natural place to train for climbing projects elsewhere in the world. An ambitious climber will get more mention of pushing a new wall on some Baffin Island fjord than squeezing another line onto the already crowded walls of the Valley.

The additional constraints imposed by the now enforced rules limiting time in the Valley have also greatly reduced climbing activities.

Finally, the magazines, in their quest for satisfying their reader's thirst for "the new" have long ago moved beyond the Valley, relegating it to "museum" status, where they feel that there is nothing of interest to the current equipment-buying generation of magazine readers... after all, every young Valley first timer complains that the route ratings are incomprehensible, they can pull 5.12 at their local gym yet get shut down on a 5.7 in the Valley, what is there to spray about to the local gym crowd.

Bouldering in the Valley has a long history, I haven't delved into Reid's new bouldering guide, I'm not sure it has the historical information necessary to attribute dates and FAs, though bouldering was a notoriously solitary activity when done seriously back in the day, sort of in the mold of Gill. When done socially then, I suspect it wasn't serious, more like party games to establish hierarchies, and something that could be dismissed as "just training" or "just trickery" but not "real climbing." Those days have passed, and we find climbers who are in the Valley just for the bouldering. It still boggles my mind, but there you have it.

A history of Valley bouldering is probably still possible, but as it continues to be an oral tradition, the stories should be captured before the primary historical sources cease to be. Gill has done some of this, but the Valley scene is most colorfully rendered by the Stonemaster set.

Then there are the numerous stories of excellent climbers coming in from far away places, like Wyoming, who have a quite different point of view of climbing in the Valley. The parallax they offer is quite refreshing, as the stock Valley stories told from the Valley local perspective can be cloying at times. These voices are aging too, and cultural inhibitions have prevented them from providing their stories in the past, after all, they didn't really "know" what was going on, did they? But their stories adds a richness to the history, and they were often more aware of the currents of the times than the locals, who were caught up in that fast moving stream, the world is different if you arrive at it from the banks than if you are in the current.

ANYWAY, it would be wonderful if a lot of this could be captured. Most young people will yawn, just as we did, but they will be as appreciative as we are when they get to be our age.

It doesn't really matter in the sweep of history whether or not this story gets written. But it will most assuredly be lost if it does not. Many of you will have spent a large fraction of your life living this story, it must have had some importance to you, perhaps important enough to communicate to those who might follow your path.

Trad climber
Lancaster, PA
Aug 22, 2008 - 12:39pm PT
I agree, this is great stuff...I fondly remember reading about these cutting-edge free ascents as a very young climber growing up in fostered many dreams of growing up to be a climber!

Anyway, I did a fun interview with Mark Hudon last month...he talked a bit about some of the routes he freed in the late 70s, and gave some insight into his attempt to free climb Salathe.

Go to and look for the Masters of Rock interview.

I'll try to paste a direct link here, so you can listen to the interview.

Mark Hudon Interview

right here, right now
Aug 23, 2008 - 11:47am PT
There seems to be a lot that is misunderstood about the culture of 70s bouldering. To talk to many younger climbers, one might gather that bouldering was invented in the early 90s.

Bouldering culture during the mid-to late 70s was very much about a group dynamic and was heavily pursued both as a means to training and as an end in itself. When getting to know an area, often bouldering was the litmus test to understanding the stone and a gateway to mastering the subtleties required of that particular style of rock.

Bouldering could be used as an introductory medium to bring a visiting climber up to speed and to test that climber’s prowess; to quickly assess strength, aptitude, and technical maturity.

Having arrived on a scene, blending into the bouldering culture helped an aspirant to get one’s bearings. In some sense, the routes would take care of themselves, because they were well known, listed in the guide, and ascents would slowly accrue in accord with long-term commitment. But the bouldering experience belonged to a discrete and fervent oral tradition.

In my first full-time season in Yosemite, 1980, Bachar took me on a tour of the boulders at Camp 4. This was an introduction and a nod to goodwill on his part; clearly he occupied a class above mine on the surrounding walls, yet he could quite easily provide the initiate with a valuable tour of the standard problems. I remember the Titanic, Blockhead, Ament’s Prow and others. (don’t believe for a second that I actually topped out on those things). As we moved through the circuit, John would divine sequences, tell stories related to the personalities engaged in the earlier ascents.

Mark Chapman graciously did the same on the other side of the Valley, one afternoon taking me through the standards among the Sentinel Boulders and a couple of other areas on that side; Housekeeping Boulders I recall. I remember the stiff mantel of the Purple Barrel most vividly. He gave me a look at the Amazon Face (just a look, haha).

In the Eastern Sierra that spring, it was Vern Clevenger at Dead Man's Summit. In Southern California we would often boulder in our running shoes, thinking that the deficit would help us to build up our finger strength. As I was fiddling about on the welded tuff at Dead Man's, Vern said to me: "You should put on your EB's and get more serious with your footwork on this stuff..."

In May of 1980 heading up into the Sierra Nevada, on the way to Mammoth Lakes, I stopped at Wheeler’s boot repair, where Al Bard seemed to stand as an emissary of sorts, holding forth in his signature white cap, happily dispensing directions to the storied Buttermilk Boulders. This is a bouldering haunt I returned to many times; a particular day during that summer a bunch of us from Mammoth Lakes, Vern, probably Claude Fiddler, Bob Finn, Marco Milano and others went down and scattered about among the problems, had a picnic, hung out and soaked it all in. That evening we got together with bishop locals Bob Harrington, Rick Wheeler, and more Bishop locals. This was (and still is) a fairly tight knit yet sociable group of itinerant high country regulars. Bouldering was just such a handy means to affect a casual gathering.

Midsummer in Tuolumne Meadows, Katherine Besio, "KB", showed me around The Knobs and Tenaya Boulders.

These introductions also served to provide an avenue of autonomy; to know a circuit intimately was to possess knowledge of something akin to a training apparatus which one could then pursue in one's own time, training alone as needed to fill the solitary down time which would naturally arise over a season's course.

I enjoyed a similar experience with Yabo, although his introduction characteristically involved something more fringe, although not necessarily uncommon: some late evening ascents and attempts on boulders out behind Camp 4 …this was done without any light whatsoever, snatching holds on difficult problems, silently cloaked in the black of night.
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