Wings of Steel


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Oct 26, 2005 - 12:23am PT
Mike H. what route on Middle Cathedral was that?

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
Oct 26, 2005 - 01:28am PT
Well, I'm quite impressed by the number and quality of the follow-up posts, and the tone of most of them motivates me to say a bit more. I know I said "in another decade or so," but the responses to my post have been MUCH different from what we have come to expect over the years. So, I'll invest a bit more effort here, if you can sit through another lengthy post.

A common complaint in the replies is that Mark and I didn't do enough to "defend ourselves" during the last twenty-plus years. Werner even suggests that we are responsible for the sheer mass and impenetrable density of misinformation, given that we didn't defend ourselves. So, rather than to be thought "stupid" in addition to everything else, I will continue now to "defend ourselves".

In his recent post, I think that Mark did a good job explaining that we DID make every reasonable effort to defend ourselves, but it seems that some here have missed his points. So, let me list the things we did over the years. We each wrote articles and got them published in the mags (Climbing and Rock and Ice). We toured all over the country giving slide shows to tens of thousands of people. During the months surrounding the ascent itself, we spent ENDLESS hours attempting dialog with people in the Valley, and we spent YEARS afterward at major climbing areas all over California explaining ourselves to the MANY people who would gather around to badger us. And, as Mark has said, our every attempt to defend ourselves has been cast in the climbing press as "hyping the route," coupled with lengthy published diatribes devoted to defaming us yet further.

In fact, we climbed the Sea partly to demonstrate that we weren't the inept losers we were being cast as (although the primary reason was that we wanted to see for ourselves where we stood, because Wings sure seemed damn hard to us)! When we climbed the Sea, it was being touted as the hardest rock climb in the world, and we were being challenged to give it a shot (along with public exhortations to the gods that we would meet our demise in the attempt). So, we did it without adding a hole, without taking a fall, and in a reasonable period of time (given our Sabbath days off).

Later, various authors (our critics) in the mags were frothing at the mouth about Intifada in Utah. This was called the hardest rock climb in the world, with tales of A6 (new rating scale), death anchors, and the likely possibility of ripping multiple pitches to the deck. So, we did the second ascent of that heap, downgraded it RADICALLY for the pile that it was, and published an account of that in Climbing. Those two climbs were partially done as attempts to "defend ourselves".

Our attitude during those years was, "Go ahead critics, call something the 'hardest rock climb in the world,' and we'll go climb it and downgrade it." But we got past that attitude for the self-serving, reactionary phase that it was.

At any rate, actually, I'm not sure what more we could/should have done to defend ourselves. What we found, and what we have ALWAYS found (which is WHY I had no intention of devoting any more time to this forum after my first post), is that NOBODY would actually HEAR us or believe us. Our critics have been on the "in," and we have been on the "out". It has always been assumed that we were lying about the route, and the people actively and vindictively spreading the actual lies about us have been well-known, highly-regarded climbers.

It turns out that people are inclined to believe someone they know, who knows someone, who knows someone else, who knows one of these highly-regarded climbers, and so the rumor-mill is pervasive! There would not have been time in our lives to explain to all the people needing an explanation, we have utilized the climbing press to the extent we were allowed, and people simply have not believed us.

Then, later, as I said, even Slater couldn't get a letter to the editor printed in Climbing magazine. So, the more public avenues were closed to us. What, Werner, were we supposed to do then? Hire out TV spots? Take out ads in the mags? I'm honestly not sure what you expected us to do. Almost nobody has wanted to take our side seriously, and we have wasted amazing amounts of time and energy getting nowhere toward changing minds. So far from our posts in this forum being our first attempts to defend ourselves, we have been trying ACTIVELY for decades!

The whole experience has been very eye-opening for me, as I have seen first-hand the amazing power a small group of credible people can utilize to get an entire community of people to believe a lie, and this in the face of us being VERY vocal and active in our own defense.

Witness the length of my posts as evidence of the effort it takes to "respond". Werner can in a line pop off with something like, "as stupid as this," yet, it takes significant space to explain WHY I would say something like that. EVERYTHING about the ascent requires significant space and effort to explain, and prior to this second post, I had come to conclude that such effort was entirely wasted.

On that note, I honestly want to thank the many posters for their obvious interest in finding out the actual truth, and for quite apparently taking my post seriously. As you can imagine, our dealings with the climbing community at large has usually been quite painful, and the reply posts so far have been very refreshing to me.

Another point that bears mentioning, since people on this topic keep asking about repeat attempts, is that Mark and I quit counting aborted attempts on the route after about fifteen. It was easy to see "new" attempts, because one of the bolts about 1/3 of the way up the first pitch kept sprouting new rap slings. We counted more than fifteen new rap slings in the first two years alone, and after that we just quit keeping track. Of course, we don't know how many of these "attempts" were just treating the first pitch as a "base route," but the fact remains that people were NOT making it to the first anchor because the first pitch anchor slings never changed. Maybe that has changed since we stopped keeping track, but, nevertheless, a LOT of people have been on at least the first pitch, and so they KNOW that the route is NOT some sort of ladder. The route has been attempted MANY times, and the route itself defends us!

Over the years, one has to ask how much time and anguish the defense effort is worth. I mean, HOW much do you expend before you finally say, "Well, it's pretty clear that we can't win even battles, much less the war," and you retire from the field? And comparing this fiasco with the Robbins/Harding debacle (as has been done elsewhere) doesn't even come CLOSE! Robbins was HONORABLE in his dealings with Harding, a point that Harding has admitted to me many times, and Robbins actually respected Harding in spite of their radical disagreements. I have seen in the later generation of climbers an unwillingness to treats others in honorable fashion. Mark and I are not the only ones who have been defamed unjustly; we just happen to be the ones who have probably gotten it worse than anybody else.

So, I hope I have hereby answered the question, "Why have you not defended yourselves until now?" We have never totally ceased from defending ourselves (witness my first post here), but over the decades of making NO dent in the defamation, we HAVE begun to tire of it.

Thanks again all for actually stimulating me to "pick up the fight" once again. :-)

I'll answer some of the logistical questions in another post.

Oct 26, 2005 - 01:44am PT
Yes It worked, .... eh Richard.

That's why I "popped off" the one liner to get you to respond because you said you will come back in a decade, now that wouldn't do us any good, would it?

Now it sounds like you need some kind of "closure" to relieve the pain in your heart after all these years.

How will that work, Richard? Some unseen forces in your destiny by the powers of karma have brought all this on to you. How will you make amends with your fate?

Best wishes, Werner

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
Oct 26, 2005 - 01:49am PT
A few logistical answers...

We did haul seven bags off the ground, for a total of 1200 pounds of stuff. We took along eleven ropes, mostly 11mm and a couple of 9mm. We fixed three pitches from bivy anchor to bivy anchor and then devoted one day to moving the massive armada up those three pitches.

By the time we reached the top of the slab, we were down to two bags (containing mostly gear, clothes, sleeping stuff, etc.), and we had been on the wall for over a month. We were also down to about 1200 calories per day at this point. Our planning for about twenty-five days on the wall was woefully short, and we paid the price for that miscalculation! The last week of the ascent, we were down to 600 calories per day, and we were getting quite weak.

Keep in mind that we knew we were going to be on the slab for a LONG time, which totally changes the way you have to think about food and water. For a week or two, you can go light on water and eat pretty much any sort of garbage that turns your crank. But as the weeks pile up, you have to start thinking about how your body is going to respond to the abuse. Effects are cumulative. So, expecting HOT weather that never came, we planned on a gallon of water each, which amounted to fifty gallons of water (450 pounds of just water). We poured water out all the way up the wall, but I have also been on El Cap many times when a gallon a day didn't even come CLOSE to what I was needing. So, we had more water than we needed, as it turned out, but to do over again, with more summer El Cap experience under my belt, I would have taken MORE water, not less. You cannot keep yourself in a state of chronic dehydration for that long without significant ill effects.

The same principle applies to food. We brought up balanced meals, which included a lot of canned fruit and vegetables. We planned on 2500 calories per person per day, although looking back that was clearly not enough.

In answer to the "beer post" (ptpp), :-), prepare to be amazed, but neither of us like how it tastes. We both like various wines, but they don't do much for dehydration.

I'll give more details if asked... but I'm trying for a "short" post this time.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 26, 2005 - 01:53am PT
sounds like you maybe think your route is important or something?

are you saying you think it is the hardest route on El Cap because it's unrepeated?

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
Oct 26, 2005 - 01:59am PT
Oh, Werner, you keep baiting me :-)

I don't believe in either fate or karma. I do believe in people causing good or bad in this present life/world, and I do believe in moral accountability.

Actually, I don't expect "closure" at this point. We thought that once a guy like Slater had gotten as high on the route as he did, and was willing to very vocally try to vindicate us, that the nightmare would be over... but such was not the case. So, we reached a point of thinking that external circumstances were not going to be the source of any peace.

After enough years, you come to know yourself, as I'm sure you know, and I think that our pain has largely morphed into a sort of quiet acceptance that we will never be understood by the climbing community. So, perhaps that's "closure" enough.

It is possible to have ongoing joy without constant happiness, and it is possible to have peace in spite of ongoing pain. So, our experiences with the climbing community have been largely painful, but I think I can speak for Mark as well when I say that we have lots of both peace and joy. My climbing has been the most worthwhile, rewarding, ongoing-life-changing aspect of my entire life, and the climbing community can't affect that. Thus, the way I see "defending ourselves" in forums like this is quite distant from the core of who I am and from the climber that I am.

I hope that makes some sense.

Big Wall climber
Walla Walla, WA
Oct 26, 2005 - 02:05am PT
No, Lambone, I don't think the ROUTE is important. I DO think that what has happened in our relation with the climbing community is important, because it speaks volumes about human interactions in general.

I haven't done enough routes on El Cap to know where Wings is in the scale of "hard" climbs. I don't think that "hard" is an objective feature of routes anyway. Mindsets make routes feel "hard" to people. Some people hate hooking, and that seems "hard" to them--then Wings will seem really, really hard to such a person. Others hate expanding nailing. You know, it's all in the mind anyway. Right?

I have done "harder" routes than Wings. Our last route, Ring of Fire, seemed MUCH "harder" to me than Wings did, while the Sea and Intifada seemed MUCH easier to me. But, I hear of new horror routes that are way "hard" on El Cap. So, who am I to say where Wings is in the grand scale of things?

Oct 26, 2005 - 02:07am PT
Richard said: "So, we reached a point of thinking that external circumstances were not going to be the source of any peace."

Yes, that's intelligent.
John Vawter

Social climber
San Diego
Oct 26, 2005 - 02:26am PT
Lambone sez: "sounds like you maybe think your route is important or something?

are you saying you think it is the hardest route on El Cap because it's unrepeated?"

Interesting idea. Not baiting Mark, but if it was or is the hardest route on El Cap and no one has bothered to give a serious go since Slater because it is universally dissed as a sh#t route? What if it is harder than the (original) Sea? The word irony doesn't adequately describe that possibility.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Oct 26, 2005 - 02:58am PT
"I DO think that what has happened in our relation with the climbing community is important, because it speaks volumes about human interactions in general."

Which climbing community?

My guess is that 99.9 % of the "climbing community" as a whole has never heard of Wings of Steel. Nor would know what formation it's on, or wo put it up, or the story behind it.

Probly the same could be said about Ring of Fire.

Were you really suprised when the Valley locals were not happy when you picked the most FEATURELESS aspect of El Cap to make your first ascent?

Seems like the traditional ethic was to minimize blank face aid climbing (i.e. bolting) whenever possible. You chose the opposite approach. A move that takes balls no doubt. But I can easily see how people took it as you giving climbing ethics the middle finger, so to speak. What you got from the community was the middle finger back, which is generaly how most human interactions work.

Just an opinion from the sidelines. I'm glad that you have apparently found peace (or not, considering your lengthy posts), but what you have written makes it sound like you have learned to cope with living with cancer or something....

I supose you could call this post a troll.

Gym climber
San Francisco, CA
Oct 26, 2005 - 03:28am PT
yes lambone .. that post is definately troll bait
mike hartley

Oct 26, 2005 - 09:38am PT

The route was Catdancer and the climber that told me the story was Paul Landrom. Paul was a hell of a nice guy and a very solid climber. I never heard anyone in the Oregon climbing community ever say a bad word about him. He seemed rather shocked by the response he received while putting up the route.

Mountain climber
Portland, Oregon
Oct 26, 2005 - 10:39am PT

Hey, Iím sorry for what you at Camp Wawona have gone through over this.

ďIf the rumours and seeming reputable stories about your routes aren't true... Mark and Richard why have you not defended them until now?Ē

When I showed up to do Wings of Steel, I was focused on personal mission, although I donít think I really understood it at the time. I had no idea of the extent of the controversy that would ensue. My mom had recently died after a long battle with cancer and I needed to know who I was and the point of my existence. If there hadnít been another climber who would ever notice or care we were there, I would have climbed Wings and would have climbed it to the best of my ability, all 39 days of it. The reality was that the climb was extremely stressful for me and was beyond my ability. Stepping up to a higher level became the formative event in molding who I am today. Nothing can take away what Wings means to me, so perhaps this diminishes my need to defend it. Of course it would be great to be respected for the climb. I want that now as much as then. As Richard details in his post, we did do a lot to tell the story. I think that Climbingís decision to not publish Slaterís article helped lead me to take a fairly fatalistic view of the whole thing, that the inertia against the climb was too much to overcome. Of course, the Internet wasnít a forum until recently.

To reaffirm, we climbed the entire Great Slab without a single bat hook. If you can look at a Wings placement and say ďthat was done with a drill or chisel,Ē then you are looking at a rivet or a bolt. Mark Spencer, who isnít an admirer, wasnít in the Valley during Wings and is getting his info from others. I donít doubt that Mark believed what he told you; many others have believed as well.

Prior to this thread I have never posted a view on bat hooks or bolting, so the previous source you read wasnít mine.

Regarding Blue Moon, no, Iíve climbed a line that crosses through its traverse pitch, but I havenít climbed it. Blue Moon and several other Wawona Dome climbs are well worth the hike. Some great stuff there for those who like being the only car at the trailhead.

Mountain climber
Portland, Oregon
Oct 26, 2005 - 10:55am PT
To John Vawter,

In reply to "are you saying you think it is the hardest route on El Cap because it's unrepeated? ... Not baiting Mark, but ..."

The fact that Wings of Steel is unrepeated is certainly interesting, but it doesn't prove anything. The only thing I'll assert is that I was maxed when we did it.

Trad climber
Sonora, California
Oct 26, 2005 - 11:07am PT
I'm a bit surprised by the amount of real discussion here instead of the normal baiting and drivel (Lambone's cheap troll excepted). Still, no reply from Ammon or Bruce Morris, both of whom seemed to have opinions before the explanatory posts. Any more comment guys?

NOT Fresno
Oct 26, 2005 - 11:15am PT
I haven't cared either way on this (though I've heard the slander from numerous sources) and I'm inclined to give both Richard and Mark the benefit of the doubt. I for one am super glad you downrated that Intifada sh#t. That makes many people smile.

But here's what bothers me:

With a hook failure rate of 30% on the FA, what's the sustainability of such a route?

If the route got twenty ascents, would there be anything left but rivets/bathooks?

Is it possible that many people (upwards of 15 parties?) have bailed from the first pitch because it's been ripped clean by traffic?

Was Slater forced to drill or unwilling to drill and forced to retreat?

And re: Ammon, don't yank his chain too much, he might go second this thing in like 18 hours.

Trad climber
Sonora, California
Oct 26, 2005 - 11:26am PT
I'm not yanking Ammon's chain, nor am I yanking Bruce's. They posted and I'd like to hear their follow up opinions. I for one would love for someone with Ammon's (apparent) climbing abilities and Werner's integrity to climb the route (I say apparent with no slight intended. I don't know Ammon and without personal knowledge I can only assume from what I've seen that he's a cutting edge climber. And I assume and hope that he has Werner's integrity, but I don't know him, so I use Werner as a "measuring stick.") Anyway, if someone with these attributes repeats the route and reports "objectively" it could clear up decades of conflicting information. I still remember the contoversy that swirled around this route in my very earliest days of climbing and I'm very interested in the information coming out now.
John Vawter

Social climber
San Diego
Oct 26, 2005 - 11:59am PT
"The route was Catdancer and the climber that told me the story was Paul Landrom. Paul was a hell of a nice guy and a very solid climber."

That's Landrum. Good guy, and alive and well. Not to be confused with Lambone, who made some good points. The business pitches on these routes (Wings and Winds of Change) are on the apron (Great Slab). Yecch. That angle is more conducive to balancing a hook on a very minimal edge. But why bother when it takes so many rivets and bolts to put it all together?

Sustainability. Once the flake is gone you can't make the hook move without drilling a hole. Whereas nailed out routes usually take micro cams, ball nuts, etc., or have fixed gear. That is a qualitative difference.

Ultimately, as Werner says, it's a free country, notwithstanding the objections of the Valley Christians. We can speculate 'til the cows come home but it's all just gas until somebody climbs it and renders an informed opinion.

right near the beach, boyeee (lord have mercy)
Oct 26, 2005 - 12:35pm PT
It would be awesome to see some of the current badasses go give it a serious go. I wish I was at that skill level, as it sounds like it would be quite a thing, almost a service to the climbing community to clear up all this tripe, sad, bickering.
mike hartley

Oct 26, 2005 - 12:59pm PT
J. Vawter,

Yea, Landrum is right. Simple typo. Paul inspired a lot of us Oregon yahoos back in the '70s. On his first trip up to Half Dome he went up to do a standard overnight ascent but they climbed so fast they topped out in a day. Paul said they didn't plan to do it in a day, it was just an "accident". The man liked to move. Glad to hear that he's doing well.
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