Dolt Photos - First Ascent of the Totem Pole


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Trad climber
Jun 13, 2012 - 12:47am PT
Great thread. Did you guys ever hear the story about why the Totem Pole is completely closed to climbing now?

Jun 13, 2012 - 12:53am PT
Because of dogs named "Dark Star" or some phallic insecurity?
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jun 6, 2013 - 12:31am PT
Not quite sure how this one got past me but here is the original account of the FA by Mark Powell from Summit April 1958.

Jerry Gallwas prusiking on the cover.


Trad climber
Jun 6, 2013 - 12:36am PT
Awesome, Steve!!! TFPU!
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Jun 7, 2013 - 12:18am PT
Mark Powell didn't write many articles so this one is even sweeter.
Carmel Climber

Mountain climber
Carmel California
Jun 18, 2013 - 07:13pm PT
To All,

Get it through your heads, the Totem Pole is off limits for climbing. It's sacred to the Navajo people. That's that! So you'll know. The pole is in Monument Valley. One way in, one way out. They lock it up at night and you better be out of there by that time. There is no driving to it. You'll be spotted if you hike to it. You'll be spotted if you try to climb it. You can be fined, you can be jailed. Just like in Yosemite. You'll have to be content climbing El Cap or Cerro Torre. You were just born 40 years too late!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Jun 19, 2013 - 02:02am PT
"sacred" is often not a permanent concept, actually.

Shiprock was called "sacred" at one time, but it really got closed initially because too many noobs were trying to climb it and kept needing rescues.
Later, Cameron Burns asked around and it turns out the people who had the grazing rights to the Shiprock area would permit climber access if you gave them something useful in return (like cleaning up broken glass at the base).

Cave Rock is another example - nobody paid attention for a long time, then somebody noticed climbers were having fun there and started complaining....

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 19, 2013 - 09:30am PT
Correct any incorrect info here, but I do know that the Navajos were extremely pissed off over Spider Rock being climbed in Canyon de Chelley. They have always had a story about the Spider Woman coming down and nabbing unruly children. I talked about it with a Chinle local once, and climbing Spider Rock pretty much destroyed the Spider Woman myth, and it is a myth that all of the locals have known for centuries.

Sure, the Navajo are modern, in the sense that this was a bedtime story to make sure the kids behaved, kind of like the bogey man.

I remember when Tom Cosgriff did Spider Rock. He told me that as they were climbing out of the Canyon, some locals were pushing rocks down on them, and they had to wait for them to leave. So I say that the problem with climbers all started with Spider Rock. I know for a fact that this was a huge abuse. To this day a non-Navajo can't go in there without a Navajo guide, which we were careful to use. We brought no alcohol in there either.

A weird but true fact:

We used to BASE jump in Canyon de Chelly totally legally. A white or non-Navajo can't go down into the two Canyons without a guide. Since Carl Boenish and friends did the first jumps in there, from the start they took a guide, as did all parties afterwards.

We would go out there and jump for a week straight, with our guide picking us up and driving us back to the exit point, even long after dark. One Thanksgiving, we were treated to a huge dinner of frybread and other good stuff in one of those little hovels in Chinle. The house had a whole bunch of BASE pictures on the walls, and they insisted that us 3 sit at the only table, while the women, kids, and old people sat on the floor to eat. It was very cool. So they liked jumpers.

We scouted the area thoroughly, and found one really nice spot, that probably hasn't been jumped since. We had to get the permission of a 90 year old woman who owned the little farm plot in the canyon floor. When we did the jumps, her kids put a big recliner in the back of a truck and came out to watch from below. It was cold, so they built a big fire and put the old woman, who didn't speak English, down by the fire in her recliner. She thought it was cool, or at least she was smiling about it.

They loved it.

We would go get our permits from the local park service, which was a small office, because the Navajo ran the place despite it being a national monument. Eventually the district ranger found out about the jumping and it was shut down. The main exit point still gets jumped, but now the locals make no money from us. The people are so poor there. We paid the old woman for the privilege of landing on her field, for example. So we were tight with the Chinle locals.

We asked permission and were very respectful. We wouldn't set foot on the valley floor without a guide. This is no longer possible due to the park service jack offs as far as BASE goes.

The Navajo were pretty cool. There is a lot of alcoholism on the res, but not among the ones we hung out with.

That went on for quite a while, and we kept it secret from all other jumpers, lest somebody go in there and blow it for everyone, which eventually happened.

Here is a pic of a group of us in Chinle with our guide. We always used this one guy. His name was Dan Staley, and he was super cool and explained all sorts of things about the canyons and their history, indluding when Kit Carson ran a whole bunch of Navajos up Canyon del Muerto and slaughtered them:

That's me on the left, next to our guide. This was back in the mid eig...
That's me on the left, next to our guide. This was back in the mid eighties. The rest of the jumpers are a who's who of original BASE.
Credit: BASE104
Don Lauria

Trad climber
Bishop, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 19, 2013 - 11:36am PT
On our way to or on our way back from a San Juan river trip, Bill Russell and I visited Monument Valley.

All you had to do was tell Billy that driving to the base of the Totem Pole was prohibited and before you could blink we were there at the base. That's it! Then we went home.

Social climber
Jun 19, 2013 - 12:01pm PT
Nice story, Base104

The Navajos originally gave permission to climbers to climb Spider Rock and the Totem Pole. Climbers (and base jumpers, by the sound of it) were welcome.

As Clint suggest, one of the reasons for the climbing ban is the threat of a constant stream of climbers, every weekend. The Navajos could see how allowing access to all would depersonalize and cheapen the experience, destroy the ambience that surrounds the Totem Pole and Shiprock. It would destroy exactly what climbers came looking for (some of the Sherpas who live around Everest may now be regretting the circus they have enabled).

The Totem Pole, for instance, just three pitches, an easy guiding objective, would today be the same mob scene as Ancient Arts in the Fishers.

Not sure what the solution is. How about a requirement for all who want to climb Standing Rock, in addition to paying some kind of peak fee, to do what would effectively be a number of hours (20?) of community service on the rez, before climbing?

Social climber
An Oil Field
Jun 19, 2013 - 12:26pm PT
Yeah. Some of us have been happy that certain areas are illegal to jump.

It helps to keep away the riff raff for the hard cores who know how to do them on the down low. I can think of a number of objects like that, including El Cap, which I used to have dialed and was never even chased or seen, other than by climbers who I used to fly by under canopy. I would say hi to them if I knew them.

Climbers would never rat out a jumper back then. Now with cellphones and crowded El Cap, I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't call 911 on you.

That sucks. I hosted many of the biggest jumpers on the planet in the SAR site. Rangers never walked inside of the SAR site boundary. They would see things that forced them to fire everyone!

By the way, who did Troy Johnson climb Iron Hawk with?
Cam Burns

Social climber
Jul 1, 2013 - 09:31am PT
Later, Cameron Burns asked around and it turns out the people who had the grazing rights to the Shiprock area would permit climber access if you gave them something useful in return (like cleaning up broken glass at the base).

What Brandon, the grazing permit holder, wanted was $20 and some motor oil so he could drive his car to visit his kids in Arizona. I suggested cleaning up the 6 garbage bags' worth of broken beer bottles and the awful graffiti on the boulders. He hadn't thought of that and probably couldn't have cared less. He said, "okay, good idea." Brandon ended up visiting us nearly every day we were on the route and ate dinner (pizza) with us each night. The weather at that point was really strange. Every day at about 3 pm the storms would roll in and lightning would blast down onto the prairie around Shiprock. So we'd bail, and go get Little Caesar's pizza in Shiprock. Fun times.
Slabby D

Trad climber
B'ham WA
May 16, 2014 - 12:17pm PT
Bump for awesome thread

Mountain climber
Tustin, CA
May 16, 2014 - 04:29pm PT
Great stuff - been reading Crusher's book about all the Spires (history) out that way!

Mountain climber
May 16, 2014 - 04:42pm PT
Enormocast podcast #55 is an interview with Eric Bjornstad including a discussion of the Totem Pole ascent and The Eiger Sanction filming.
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