Sorcerer's Apprentice-Nose route 40 years ago


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Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Topic Author's Original Post - Oct 31, 2008 - 08:09pm PT
This is one of my favorite articles from the 60s; the 15th and first British ascent of the Nose on El Cap, in July 1968. Rob Wood and Mick Burke were part of the initial migration from the British Isles that hit the climbing scene in North America during that era. Most of the “lads” emigrated to British Columbia, settling anywhere from the BC Coast to Calgary. Rob Wood, Brian Greenwood, Ray Gillis, Stevie Smith, Bugs McKeith and a host of others were to forever change the climbing scene.

With their love of music, drinking and bold climbing endeavors, things got to be more fun and certainly more interesting. Occasional visits from Doug Scott, Dougal Haston and Don Whillans contributed to the British influence on style and technique.

Rob lives on Maurelle Island on the coast of BC. With his wife Laurie and quick access by the family “car”(sailboat) to Butte, Knight and other deep fiords that penetrate the coastal range, they have spent years exploring and pioneering new routes in this beautiful area. He has written a wonderful book, “Towards the Unknown Mountains”about a lifetime of climbing in Britian, Yosemite, Canada, and Baffin Island.

Mick Burke tragically disappeared near the South Summit of Everest in 1975 as a member of the South West Face expedition.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Nov 5, 2008 - 01:33pm PT
This must have been thought a fairly significant climb at the time, although I believe that a French (?) party was the first foreign team to climb the Nose. And of course Jim Baldwin was the first 'foreigner' to climb El Cap. The Brits who visited the Valley in the 1960s - Whillans, Haston, Burke and then Scott - all wrote of their trips. It would be interesting to hear what the locals thought of their visitors.

Mick Burke was on the south face of Annapurna trip in 1970, and was climbing partner of Tom Frost, aka father of Yo.

Another on that trip was Nick Estcourt, who was in the Valley in autumn 1976. He did a fair number of climbs with Richard Harrison, if I remember rightly - the Brits were camped across from the Canadians that year, and we did some climbing together. Anyway, Richard and Nick did the Lost Arrow Chimney, the Steck-Salathe, and other classics, plus Nick and Blob Wyvill did the Salathe after Blob and I were defeated. During his three weeks there, it was Nick's birthday one day. He was then in his mid-30s (ancient!), with thinning hair, a salt and pepper beard, and mountaineer's weathering. When he went to the store for food and beer that day, someone had the bright idea of getting ahead of him in the lineup, and tipping off the (cute) cashier. Who then made a fuss about insisting on seeing his ID. "Sir, may I see your ID please. You must be 21 in California to buy beer." Made Nick's day.

Sadly, Nick died in an avalanche on K2 two years later.

right here, right now
Nov 5, 2008 - 03:49pm PT
"Three shillings and nine pence" Mountain Magazine!

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Nov 5, 2008 - 04:06pm PT
Richard Harison and I grew up together in Upland, California and he was my first climbing partner, along with Rick Acomazzo, also from Upland. We knew all about Nic Escourt's epic climbs so when we first met him in Camp 4 we were super impressed he was actually there. Nic and Richard were natural partners and they climbed a ton of great stuff together, including El Cap and other walls. Richard was one of the first Stonemasters to begin the tradition of always climbing with the best of the visiting climbers, something we all did all the time. My first time up El Cap in '73 was with British ace, Ron Fawcett.

Nick was one of the really grat guys to ever visit the Valley, and he will always be remembered warmly.

Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Nov 5, 2008 - 04:23pm PT
Yes, the French team did the 7th ascent of the Nose just prior to Ken Boche and me in March 1967.

Guido supplied me with the complete listing of ascents through 1967 and I haven't got a clue where I stuck the list. This is the best I can do from memory:

1- 1958 Harding, Merry, & Whitmore
2- 1960 Robbins, Fitschen, Pratt, & Frost
3- Roper, Kor, Denny
4- Colliver, & ?
5- 1966 Williams, & ?
6- 1966 Rowell & Fender
7- 1966 2 man French Team
8- 1967 Boche & Lauria

Anybody want to update this?

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Nov 5, 2008 - 05:43pm PT
Don - I would love to see that list if you can dig it up.

Until then...

1- 1958 Harding, Merry, & Whitmore, 45 days over a year and a half.
2- 1960 Robbins, Fitschen, Pratt, & Frost, seven days
3- 1963 Roper, Kor, Denny, three and a quarter days.
4- 1965 Gary Colliver, Richard McCracken, & John Evans
5- 1966 Dick Williams & Ants Leemets
6- 1966 Galen Rowell & Tom Fender
7- April 30th, 1966 Jacques Dupont & Andre Gaunt, 6 days
8- 1967 Boche & Lauria

Summit magazine, July/August 1966 has a report by Royal Robbins where he says:

"... two French alpinists Jacques Dupont and Andre Gaunt, made the first foreign ascent of the 3,000-foot South Buttress of El Capitan. Both are guides in Chamanoix, and both were ski instructors as Yosemite's Badger Pass last winter. ... This was the sixth ascent, and after six days of thirsty climbing (they had lost part of their water on the first day), they reached the summit on April 30, 1966"


"This route was also climbed by two American parties this spring. One was composed of Galen Rowell of California and Tom Fender of Colorado. Dave Dornan, of Colorado, and two New Yorkers, Richard Williams and A. Leemets, made up the other party."

The article also adds that Steve Roper and Jeff Foote made the first one-day ascent of Half Dome.

Social climber
Salt Lake City
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:52pm PT
I think Colliver's partner was John Evans

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Nov 5, 2008 - 06:53pm PT
4th ascent of the Nose appears to have been done by Gary Colliver, Richard McCracken, and John Evans in 1965

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Nov 6, 2008 - 11:20am PT
Bump for Guido, my favorite old/new taco slinger.

One of the greatest things about hanging out in Yosemite was the number of international climbers we always met.

I climbed with people from many different countries because of the magnet called Yosemite. It helped me shape my world view by learning from these people and realizing that they almost always knew more about the states than we knew about their country.

It was always important and fun to show them that many of us in the states were not as narrow or ignorant as they thought Americans were. Truly one of the great joys of my life.

Vision man...ya gotta have vision...
Nov 6, 2008 - 02:30pm PT
Roper letter from the 3rd ascent of the Nose is at this link:
James Doty

Trad climber
Idyllwild, Ca.
Mar 6, 2010 - 11:59am PT
Edit: The letter linked is a crack up.

Social climber
Paradise Island
Mar 6, 2010 - 12:54pm PT
The Dec., ’67 “Summit” has an article by Robbins, P. 26-27, “Happenings in the Valley” that documents three Nose ascents that year. Then in the Oct., ’68 issue of Summit Robbins adds five more ascents. So the list up to then looks like this:

1- 1958 Warren Harding, Wayne Merry, & George Whitmore
2- 1960 Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen, Chuck Pratt, & Tom Frost, seven days
3- 1963 Steve Roper, Layton Kor, & Glen Denny, three and a quarter days.
4- 1965 Gary Colliver, Richard McCracken, & John Evans
5- 1966 Dave Dornan, Dick Williams & Ants Leemets
6- 1966 Galen Rowell & Tom Fender
7- 1966 Jacques Dupont & Andre Gaunt, 6 days
8- 1967 Ken Boche & Don Lauria, 7 days
9- 1967 Jim Madsen & Kim Schmitz, 3 days
10- 1967 Dennis Hennek and Yvon Chouinard, 3 Days
11- 1967 Pat Ament & Tom Ruitch,
12- 1967 Don McPherson & Ron Burgner
13- 1968 Jim Logan & Wayne Goss
14- 1968 Jose Luis Fonrouge (Argentina) & Rick Sylvester
15- 1968 Jim Bridwell & Bill Stanton
16- 1968 Mick Burke & Rob Wood
17- 1968 Jim Madsen (again) & Mike Covington

In his summary of Oct., ’68, Robbins also summarizes the other ascents of other routes on El Cap. More later, I’m sure.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of having the Brits in C4 was that they brought a new thread of humor and music to the campfires. At the time, I knew a few limericks, but they had a melody for them followed by their musical refrain which encouraged others to sing their own limericks:

“That was a very good song;
Sing us another one
Just like the other one;
Sing us another one do.”

Bugs McKeith was also a wonderful musician and he brought may good songs to the C4 scene, the most memorable to me, because it seemed to resonate with the climbing lifestyle, was "The Wild Rover."

I've been a wild rover for many a year
And I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,
And now I'm returning with gold in great store
And I never will play the wild rover no more.

chorus: And it's no, nay, never,
No nay never no more,
Will I play the wild rover
No never no more.

I went to an ale-house I used to frequent
And I told the landlady my money was spent.
I asked her for credit, she answered me "nay
Such a custom as yours I could have any day."


I took from my pocket ten sovereigns bright
And the landlady's eyes opened wide with delight.
She said "I have whiskey and wines of the best
And the words that I spoke sure were only in jest."


I'll go home to my parents, confess what I've done
And I'll ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And if they caress (forgive) me as ofttimes before
I never will play the wild rover no more.


Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 6, 2010 - 01:33pm PT

Bump for a great historical CLIMBING post!!!!

(Like where's Mr. Grossman been lately--WE NEED YOUR
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 23, 2010 - 09:52pm PT
Right here for a bump! Great post!
Barry Bates

Boulder climber
Smith River CA
Jul 24, 2010 - 10:23pm PT
I'm not positive but I think the Bridwell Stanton ascent #15 may have been the FFA of the stove legs something that paved the way for the future.


Jul 25, 2010 - 12:28am PT
Excellent post Guido

Thanks to all contributors!!

Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 25, 2010 - 12:41am PT
This issue of Mountain was the introduction of Yosemite climbing to a British and continental audience. All the luminaries, even Boodawg, weigh in!

Beginning with the photo that accompanies the OP.


Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 25, 2010 - 03:52am PT
Sweet thread! I love this stuff.

Mountain climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Jul 25, 2010 - 10:58am PT
Great memories. The real British Invasion (following the Beatles in 1964) into Yosemite began in 1966, when climbers like Don Whillans and Mike Kosterlitz came. Royal Robbins had been in Europe the year before, where he and Liz along with John and Marilyn Harlin taught at the Leysin American School. In 1966 Royal started using nuts on some of the Yosemite climbs, and in the following year he and Liz put up Nutcracker Suite on Manure Pile Buttress.

Because there were many fewer climbers back then, those of modest ability, like me, got to climb with legends. That summer, I did a bunch with Chuck Pratt and Don Whillans. Although they had just met that summer, Pratt and Whillans got along really well. They both had an irreverent, somewhat cynical but good-natured view of the human condition. As documented elsewhere on SuperTopo, Pratt was always genuinely helpful with newcomers, he was completely non-competitive, and he never tried to sandbag anyone. I’m sure Whillans had seen his share of sandbag attempts. After he said how much he enjoyed something we did in the Cookie area, Pratt replied, “Well Donald. I am starting to figure out what you like.”

Whillans was helpful to me, “Jeffrey my lad, I’m worried about you. You're out a ways. Put in one of them boing-boings.”

There are some other stories on the thread Where Whillans Went. At the end of the summer of 1966, Whillans and Kosterlitz and two others did the Regular Route on Half Dome, perhaps the first British ascent of a Yosemite Grade VI.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jul 25, 2010 - 11:22am PT
Boing Boings!!! Gotta love that!
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