The history of New Dimensions?


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Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Apr 12, 2009 - 02:48pm PT
That was good Mark, really. And also your comments on Rik Rieder. He really was a great guy and climber. After his accident on the Pacific Ocean FA attempt, did he eventually resume climbing? I am thinking not.

Warbler's Bircheff-Williams was a GREAT route and very very creative achievement of his! And clearly 5.11. Really incredibly cool. Never got over to Overhang Overpass though.

best to you, ph.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 12, 2009 - 03:04pm PT
Thanks for the clarification Peter and Mark!

THE FOOTHOLD on the crux pitch is a nice little crescent right where the crack size hits off hands. Just like the hold on the second pitch of Outer Limits right where the traverse starts.It could be natural but the surrounding stone is mighty smooth.

The last pitch starts off nice hands in a tight corner. The crack narrows and the dihedral opens wider as you climb. Cams would make ND much easier than what the early parties faced.

It was my first breakthrough into 5.11 and I got all of that route with my poor technique. Almost pitched off the finish buckets because I was soooooo pumped! It was Fig's first 5.11 too!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Apr 12, 2009 - 09:06pm PT
Mark, lots of good thoughts. I have my doubts,
first of all, for various reasons I won't go into now,
but very real reasons, that the Swan Slab
thing was even done, although I had heard stories
later about the attempts and so forth, but as for you experience
with Center Slack, vs. New Dimensions, my experience
was the opposite. John Bachar and I climbed New
Dimensions one day in the early 1970's two or three
years after it had been done by Bates, and I found it quite
solid and straightforward. I was willing to give that
last pitch a 5.11 grading, but it was nowhere as difficult
for me as the Center Slack. John said to me he hadn't seen
anyone climb ND that solidly, so I think I did it in adequate
style. It really surprised me when I grabbed the
bucket at the top. I was thinking there was going to be
much more ahead. Anyway, when you mention the big spike
with the slings around it, on the Slack, you're talking
about the big spike right at the top of the route that
everyone lowered off. The block that came out was lower,
and believe me you would have found it much more difficult
right there than the "bouldery moves" at the bottom. Now
all the route has is those bouldery moves at the bottom,
as your description so clearly elucidates,
and the crux has good hand jams. So I reasonably assume
you did it after the block in question came out, and your
memory is of the other big block just above,
beyond the difficulty.

I have done enough 5.11 in my day, and plenty of them in
Yosemite and elsewhere, to know what 5.11 is. I can easily
see how Slack Center could be viewed as 5.10c now, as it is,
with its changes, but the original pitch stopped all the
best in the area at the time. And if I recall, no time passed
before the block went missing. But having done both
New Dimensions and Center Slack, the latter is/was
the more difficult technically, while of course, ND
was the grand, lovely crack climb of superb quality
and length. I guess one of the
questions is whether we want to grant people an achievement
if, by some gross change, it no longer exists. We tend to
forget what the times were back then, few now can remember that
consciousness, those shoes, that gear, and other factors...
I've had John B., John L., Tom H., among others say they feel
it was the first 5.11, so I am not alone certainly in that
thought... Bates would tell you what he thinks as well,
and I would trust that. I'm not sure where the idea
comes from, though, that the grading didn't stand
the test of time. It was something else
that didn't stand the test of time, I guess -- not the
strength of the climbers but maybe the strength of the rock?
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Apr 12, 2009 - 10:14pm PT
I remember bouldering and climbing with
Rick Reider in Boulder several times in the
late 1980's and early 1990's. He read a draft of
one of my books and came to my door one night
weeping, said he loved the book. He struck
me as one of the most beautiful and sensitive
spirits I had ever met, rich in honest and
powerful feeling. He also was bouldering
very impressively, simply walked up Smith Overhang
on Flagstaff, and I think that was his first try.
Then he vanished, and I married and moved from Boulder.
I would love to see him again, if he might be
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 13, 2009 - 07:13am PT
What's in a grade? A route by any other number would still smell as sweet!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Apr 13, 2009 - 09:05pm PT
Well, Steve, it all has to do with the history
of New Dimensions and the claim by some that
it was the first 5.11. It's a small detail of
the whole history, but worth getting right. There
are plenty of mediocre and/or lousy stewards of
the history, especially those who remember
something someone did or said and that someone
they can't remember now told them at some point
they can't right now recall, or maybe they read
it somewhere, but..., and another kind of bad
steward is the person who is biased, always
favoring their own friends or people of their
own region, and in their minds lessening or
altogether dismissing those not of that crowd.
I hope some of these discussions
can inspire more accurate thought on these various
subjects... not just about my climb, and it should
begin with those who were
actually there, or if there are no longer such people
then those who were close to being there and
were devoted to preserving the history as accurately
as possible...

Trad climber
Apr 13, 2009 - 09:39pm PT
You've got access to the archives, isn't there a picture of Mead Hargis climbing the last pitch of New D in RR's? That would be an impressive feat today with cams!

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Apr 13, 2009 - 09:56pm PT
I remember doing the Center Route of the Slack either in 71 or 72 with Werner and Luke Freeman. I don't think there was any doubt that it was 5.11 back then. I'm sure people nailed it for another few seasons, widening the locks, plus the block came out (similar to what happened on Right Eliminator at Ft. Collins - which got way easier after a hold broke) creating a big hold. We used to do Slack Center almost every time we passed by, finally just soloing up to a fixed pin up about 20 feet and lowering off on a trail line instead of bothering with the rest of the route.

I suspect the problem some have is that Slack Center was basically a two or three body-length boulder problem just off the deck (after which the difficulties ease dramatically), whereas the other routes mentioned were multi-pitch and don't really compare.

Some folks consider the mantle on the DNB to be 5.11, and that was done in '65. I've heard others say that Twilight Zone is 5.11a and that was done in, what, '68? Perhaps the first no-question-about-it 5.11 was Abstract Corner, done in '71. Or Hourglass Left, in '70.

I don't really know, but it's all interesting to consider so long as things don't get too serious.

One last question - did Lloyd Price actually free that pin hole start to Swan Slab? I know Rik Reider did it around '72 and it was quite hard with bunk pro - basically you had to solo the botom crux before a bolt got added. It had a nasty ankle wrenching fall you basically had to take a few times to get the ultra greasy moves sessed out. Later, Bachar used to free solo the whole route, including the 2nd pitch, which was also hard.

Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Apr 13, 2009 - 10:10pm PT
By modern standards, I wonder what the first 5.11s in the Valley, in the U.S., and the world were? That is, if a route was newly ascended now, in its present condition, and with modern equipment - there's no way to roll back the clock. But we can certainly assess how things would be graded now.

Another interesting thought-experiment. If climbs were in their original state, and if climbers had similar equipment to what was used when they were first freed, what were the first 5.11s? Wales or the Peak District in the 1950s? Colorado or Utah in the mid-1960s? Shawangunks or Yosemite in the late 1960s? Or sometime earlier in the Elbe region or the Dolomites?

It's all pretty subjective, so fertile ground for discussion.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Apr 13, 2009 - 10:20pm PT

> I remember doing the Center Route of the Slack either in 71 or 72 with Werner and Luke Freeman. I don't think there was any doubt that it was 5.11 back then. I'm sure people nailed it for another few seasons, widening the locks, plus the block came out ...

From Pat's description here and elsewhere, somebody pried the block out very soon after his FFA in 1967 - so perhaps in 1967 or 1968. I know those handjams where the block used to be are now the end of the hard climbing.

> I suspect the problem some have is that Slack Center was basically a two or three body-length boulder problem just off the deck (after which the difficulties ease dramatically), whereas the other routes mentioned were multi-pitch and don't really compare.

It's true that cruxes near the ground tend to be downrated. But Swan Slab Aid Route is very comparable with Slack Center, in terms of its crux down low. Swan Slab was not listed in the 1971 Roper Guide as a free climb, but Bridwell's 1973 Brave New World article listed it as 5.10D
and in the 1982 Meyers guide it was given 5.11a (FFA 1967).
Of course ratings changed a bit between Brave New World and the Meyers guide, so I don't take BNW as fully accurate; just a sample.

> Some folks consider the mantle on the DNB to be 5.11
Only in the supertopo guide, I think. :-) It would be 5.11 if you try to face climb around it, but not if you just mantle.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Apr 13, 2009 - 10:26pm PT

The first 5.11s in the world were probably not in Yosemite. Pat's book is a good place to get a good feel for this. My very abbreviated list has them as boulder problems, then as climbs at the Gunks and Devil's Lake:

7C (5.13d, V9) 1959 Red Cross Overhang (original dynamic style) Jenny Lake, Tetons John Gill (maybe too short to be considered (3-4 moves))
7A (5.12c, V5) 1961 Thimble, North Face Needles (SD) John Gill (30' high)
6c+ (5.11) 1964 (V2 bouldering?)? Shawangunks (NY) Larsen, Williams
6c+ (5.11) 1965 Son of Great Chimney Devil's Lake (WI) Pete Cleveland

Actually this list is rather poor - I don't even have the name of the first Gunks 5.11 route (or was it bouldering?). Doug's Roof? And I don't have a copy of Pat's book on hand.

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Apr 14, 2009 - 09:11am PT
My posts were specifically about 5.11 in Yosemite. No question about it, Chingadera at Tahquitz was 5.11 (Kamps and Powell) and that was done in 1966. I'm sure other 5.11s were around before then.


Social climber
Apr 14, 2009 - 09:30am PT
Howdy Largo,
I am sure there were other 5.11s around as well. I think some of the early 5.11s Bridwell did in the Valley were done before New D as well. My point is that I think New D (more than any other route)in the seventies was the benchmark 5.11 by which a Yosemite climber measured his ability. If you could climb New D you were a legitimate 5.11 climber, one who more than likely worked his way up through the grades (figure a number of Bate's classic 5.10s were ticked along the way) and had a good solid foundation in crack climbing. One needed skills in everything from finger locks, to off hands and flaring chimneys as well.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Apr 14, 2009 - 10:01am PT
I never thought that the specific subject of the first 5.11 in the Valley was ever an issue or contentious. In Roper’s Green guide both The Slack and Serenity are listed as 5.11. Of course with the loss of both of those routes as originally done by Pat and Tom, and Bridwell believing that New Dimensions was 5.11 A1, most casual history buffs think the first 5.11 was New Dimensions as freed by Barry and Steve. But there is no sinister intent in that as far as I have ever heard. It is based on current ratings with the changes in the rock on Slack and Serenity and the current rating of New Dimensions.

Other than Pat and Tom, I don’t think I have every spoken to anyone who climbed their routes in the original conditions. I have to believe Jim did, but I have never asked him.

In any case, notwithstanding my sense that the first 5.11 was more or less a settled deal--The Slack in 1967 by Pat--it still remains a contentious issue because Pat feels strongly that his place in Valley history has been diminished because the first 5.11 is not front and center in Valley history. (While I agree with Mark’s comments above, they do not sit well with Pat.) I am sympathetic to Pat’s issue but I don’t think there is much to be done about how much importance history will place on it--we won't be around to vote, and nobody can do the original routes. Nevertheless, at least on ST, we can lay it out for everyone.

Pat’s write up in A History of Free Climbing in America sums it up very well I think:

“Late summer or early fall 1967. Pat Ament and Larry Dalke made the first free ascent of the Center Route on the Slack, 5.11, a short climb along the base of El Capitan in Yosemite.

“This was Yosemite’s first 5.11. The route later would be altered (a block pulled out, leaving a couple of solid hand jams instead of finger-tip jams), decreasing the difficulty. Some climbers then suggested a lower grade of 5.10 c or d, while other climbers felt it should retain its 5.11 grading. According to John Long, ‘1 climbed it after the block pulled out and thought it was still 5.11.” (Personal correspondence.) Ament:

“I took a 2-inch fail above the crux, when a block I was standing on shifted out of the crack an inch and caused my foot to slip off. I had just clipped into a piton above my head, and when the block shifted I was instantly stopped by the rope. I returned to the ground, removed my rope, and did the climb again—taking more care with the little block. Chuck Pratt gave the Center Route on the Slack its grade of 5.11 —and called it the first in Yosemite. It was not an untested route. Royal had tried it, as had several other Yosemite veterans. Bob Kamps and Yvon Chouinard, 1 believe, were among those. They were probably all better climbers than I was, for the most part, but at that time in my life I was very fit and determined and had been doing a lot of bouldering. This was a very small climb, really, but technically speaking it was indeed the first 5.11 in Yosemite.”

Pat and I exchanged a series of e-mails on this topic a few years ago (totally 23 pages when printed. Can you believe that?). It came up when I referred to the period between 1967 and 1970 as the ‘lull,’ in which not much happened in the Valley. While that statement is true for my what-came-next view of the history of the Valley free climbing, it is offensive if your most important climb is in that period, as is the case with Pat.

It matters a lot to Pat that The Slack Center was the first 5.11 in the Valley, and I think we should respect that.

I accept that Pat did the first 5.11 because there is no good reason to think otherwise. Tom’s Serenity was the second 5.11, also done in 1967. Both are rated 5.11 in Roper’s Green Guide. And somewhere in the 1967 season, Lloyd is credited with climbing the Swan Slab Aid Route all free in the Meyer’s guide. This didn’t get rated 5.11 until the mid-70s guide came out, and Pat and John both seem to question if Lloyd actually did the route in posts up-thread. (I do not remember anything about the Swan Slab Aid Route.)

When taken together, these routes have a bizarre place in Valley history. Sort of like the Valley climbing god—think Nike--deciding that 5.11 couldn’t start yet. Even New Dimensions, with Jim’s belief that it was 5.11 A1 and then not going back himself to free the last pitch after Mark swung off, adds to the bizarreness of sorting out the first 5.11s in the Valley.

All three 1967 routes were aid climbs originally and continued to be aid climbed after they were free climbed. Serenity got easier due to pin damage. I don’t know anything about the details of the first ascent of Swan Slab, but Lloyd apparently didn’t rate it 5.11 (for sure, Jim didn’t in his Brave New World article). If the climb was free climbed by 1971, Roper didn’t even know about it to include it in his green guide. And a loose block filling good hand jams came out of The Slack.

The odd bit about The Slack is that the block that was filling the good hand jams was loose when Pat led the pitch—according to Pat—so it is hard to see that the block would have stayed in for long. Either the winter weather would have pushed it out or someone, either an aid climber or a free climber, would have pried it out when they too discovered it was loose. I think most of us would have pried the thing out and reclimbed the pitch as a normal part of doing a first free ascent. Maybe Pat can tell us why he didn’t or couldn’t. This doesn’t say anything about how hard the pitch would have been in 1967 if Pat had pulled it out since folks continued to nail it after Pat free climbed it.

My own view of tracing the history of climbing in the Valley is the numbers are only a part, and sometimes a small part, of the engine of Valley climbing progression; some times they help and sometimes they don’t. What I think matters most is tracing the climbs that caused other climbers, sometimes the next generation of climbers, to try things that were not previously tried. (This is the same point Mark makes and the reason that New Dimensions was so important in the development of the wave of hard free climbing in the 70s.) Pat objects to this approach (strenuously so) to the extent that it leaves out The Slack since it was milestone of the first Valley 5.11.

I think there are different ways to account for the history, but the numbers are interesting to me only to the extent that they affect the way climbing progresses. A case in point is the history of the first 5.10 in the Valley which points out the issues that come into play in trying to balance the relationship of the first to reach a number versus the impact on climbing progression.

The original ‘history’ was that Pratt's Crack of Doom, climbed in 1961, was the first 5.10. The current ‘history’ is that Robbins' Rixon's, climbed in 1960, was the first 5.10. Both histories are Roper’s. If the interest in establishing the first 5.10 is focused on what happened next, most of us would say Doom is much more important than Rixon's. I cannot tell in Pat’s write up in his Free Climbing History of Rixon’s if the layback is 5.10 or ‘just’ scary, hard 5.9—Pat just says that the layback is easier than the off-width. Royal rated Rixon’s 5.9 as a layback but that doesn’t mean much since first ascent rating are reassessed as others climb the route. If it is ‘just’ scary, hard 5.9 (odd sounding, isn’t it?) as a layback, then, frankly, I cannot quite figure out how Royal’s Rixon's was the first 5.10. (Now that would be heretical!) I have never heard who first climbed Rixon’s as an off-width.

If an early 60s climber wanting to reach or surpass the newly minted 5.10s in the Valley by the two best free climbers he or she could climb Doom with its committing off-width or you climb Rixon’s which was, perversely, more committing to climb as a 5.9 unprotected layback as Royal had done than as a 5.10 off-width.

Pointing out these details is sort of fun but also points out how murky it can be to assign historical importance based on the numbers. (As an aside, I think the way Pat sums up the first free ascent of The Slack in his History of Free Climbing write-up sets the right balance.) And for sure the details of the first 5.10 in the Valley don’t have any direct relationship to thinking about the first 5.11 in the Valley. More importantly in my mind, neither Royal’s nor Chuck’s position in Valley history is affected by sorting out the first 5.10, whereas in the case of the Slack keeping its place in the history as the fist 5.11 is very important to maintaining Pat’s place in Valley history.

The real difficulty in keeping the Slack and Serenity in the minds of young climbers, even in 1970, as test pieces was that repeating them was only possible for a relatively short period. This was even more difficult given that for the next couple of seasons after both The Slack and Serenity were first free climbed, the period of 1967 – 1970, there were relatively few new climbers or new routes: the 60s climbers were past their primes or had moved on and the younger climbers of the 1970s had not shown up yet. By the time those younger climbers did show up the 5.11 status of both of these routes was lost. (I know that John thinks that the Slack was still 5.11 into the 70s, but the consensus was that it was ‘just’ hard 5.10 after the block came out. There is no coterie of climbers who have done the routes in their original condition the way there is, in say New Dimensions in this thread or The Good Book which cannot be safely climbed nowadays.

This doesn’t change either route’s original status as 5.11, but it surely affects what young climbers now know or care about. They cannot go do the climbs as done by Pat and Tom, nobody is around to talk about the routes, and the guide books don’t include the history—how many young climbers have or use the Roper’s Green Guide? For New Dimensions the original climb is still there, and while Jim honestly thought that some part of the lower pitches was 5.11 (he otherwise would not have rated the climb 5.11 A1) anyone who wants to can go see for them selves.

I will end by repeating that I continue to think Valley history should clearly state that The Slack was the first 5.11, as it was stated by Roper in his Green Guide, and that it was downrated to 5.10 after a loose block either fell out or was pried out.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Apr 14, 2009 - 10:16am PT
Thanks, Pat and Roger! Historiography and its application to climbing is a fascinating subject. Anyone writing about climbing history soon runs into this - first when getting the facts straight (so far as is possible), then when trying to interpret them, and put them into some sort of context or perspective. All while knowing that a truly objective history of anything is a goal not easily attained, given that we're all subjective.

I did the start of Slack Centre in 1976. Less than ten metres of climbing, to some slings wrapped around the base of a big flake protruding from the crack. By then, that part of the climb was essentially pulling up on pin scars, with one or two tricky moves. It may have seemed a little easier, at least mentally, because it was right off the ground. I did Serenity about the same time. The first part of the first pitch was very scarred, but the third (crux) pitch wasn't so bad. I wonder if there are pictures of the third pitch from 1967 and then from the early 1970s? May be interesting to compare. By the mid 1970s it was graded 5.10d, but whether that was due to scarring, or equipment/technique improvements (EBs, nuts), or both, I can't say.

Gym climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Apr 14, 2009 - 10:43am PT
New D chipped?

I don't think the last pitch is chipped. Maybe some other pitch is chipped but I never noticed that either.

I suppose there is minimal pin scarring on the last moves of the last pitch but they are not that noticeable in my recollection.

Just for the record....jb


I never got the feeling that the rest foothold was chipped either - always looked natural to me.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Apr 14, 2009 - 02:20pm PT
I don't like the notion a that any of it has been chipped but the clarification of events possible here might just put the matter to bed.
The Warbler

the edge of America
Apr 14, 2009 - 02:37pm PT
I don't remember thinking the last pitch of New D was altered. Bridwell seems to have a rep for creating holds, and it seems if he was going to try make the last pitch easier for himself, he would have done it free first, rather than making a halfassed effort and leaving the FFA for someone else.

The suspect hold I remember at Arch is on the wall to the right of the crack on Gripper's first pitch, just after turning the roof. It's a level edge a foot or two from the crack on an otherwise holdless wall, right where the jams get a little rattly.

Gym climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Apr 14, 2009 - 02:56pm PT
I agree with Warbler - there's no chipping on the last pitch. That rest foothold is natural and it's not even near the crux anyway.

Chapman's right about New Dimensions being the first "gold standard" Yosemite 5.11 of the day. The other candidates were too short or too close to the ground....

Some kook with sticky rubber and a chalkbag...


Constitutional, states
Apr 14, 2009 - 03:47pm PT
I took out the previous post. Yes the military base
boulder that John Gills did free may not meet free
soloist height.

I'm still wondering about the Red Tahquitz Suicide
guide noting the 1'st 5.11 is there regardless of
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