DNB - Frank Sacherer's free line


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Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 2, 2009 - 06:00am PT
DNB - Eric Beck and Frank Sacherer's free line (revised title - sorry about my initial bungling)

When some routes are freed, a few variations may be used to find the free climbing line around where the aid line had favored piton cracks.
When I was working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail (alternate finish to DNB which avoids its chimneys), I noticed some old pitons on the initial pitches (above DNB p6 on the Meyers topo) and wondered if it had originally been aided that way.
I had previously followed p7 of the DNB - it is 5.10 and is not aidable with 60s technology (or very well protectable with pitons). The mystery of the original aid line remained.

On Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, my partner Nicolas was interested in doing the DNB, so I was glad for another chance to climb on one of my favorite routes. We were challenged at times, and I was afraid in particular of p7 which I recalled had a scary fixed nut 20 years ago with few other options. But I managed to lead it in spite of my fear and fading abilities. We didn't break any speed records, though - we ran short of time by the end of p10 and rapped off.

Back at home, I checked the 1971 (green) Roper guide, but it mentioned nothing about the original aid line. But then I remembered I was fortunate to have obtained the 1964 (red) Roper guide, which was published before the first free ascent. Sure enough, it described the original aid line, and it deviated significantly from the free line, especially starting at the end of p6, for several pitches.

Here is my best guess at the original aid line, and the free line is what we climbed on 5/24/09. The original aid line should be fairly accurate, except I'm not sure exactly where the two left pendulums were done. The light blue "unlisted free(?) var." was climbed by a couple of guys above us.

On p7, I was relieved to find that the start was just a traverse on good footholds to a reach for a big bucket shelf - only 5.9 . Then a crack was available for good pro with cams. Above was a moderate closed corner, and the ancient fixed nut (original Chouinard #6 Stopper) was still in place! In 1985, its perlon was faded white, stiff and scary. But the rest of the crack is closed so my partners in 1985 and 1987 clipped it and hoped they didn't fall. The rock is slick out left, though, and my chances of falling that way were high. In 2009, the original 9mm perlon was still in place in the left side sling hole, but someone had managed to remove the ancient perlon from the right sling hole and had replaced it with somewhat newer 5mm perlon. This was getting faded and stiff, though:

I clipped it and tried the moves with more positive holds directly above. The moves were thin and I climbed up and down a couple of times. I wanted better pro, so I cut the sling with the knife on my chalkbag cord. I could have used my 5mm chalkbag cord, but that is still fairly weak, so I tried shoving the cable from a #6 Rock into the sling hole. After a couple of tries, I manged to push it through and clipped this much stronger attachment. I left the 5mm perlon as well, in case it is some other person's only option.

I tried the moves a few more times, then reached high for the top of a flake and got my left fingertips on it at full extension just as my left foot skated. Determined, I pulled down my shoulder and got my other hand on it - success!

But the real story was that [Edit:] Eric Beck must have done this 5.10 move (or the 5.10 glassy face to the left) runout 20' from the last good crack below. [See below - Eric doesn't recall it being scary.] They didn't have #6 Stoppers in 1965. And climbed with the old Spyder or Kronhofer shoes. That is real determination, skill and boldness. It just doesn't fade away.

I know Eric Beck was on the First Free Ascent with Frank Sacherer in 1965, and he has been active on this forum. Maybe he has some recollections of the climb? (I apologize if the title of this post suggests that Frank Sacherer somehow did this without a partner...). [Edit: see Eric's recollections below!]

[Edit: Ho Chi Minh Trail overlay, for comparison]

Jun 2, 2009 - 09:52am PT
Nice Clint, very clever and good read. Did the Ho a few years back, great var.

Nice meeting you on Sun.

Dingus Milktoast

Jun 2, 2009 - 09:54am PT
Thanks for posting that Clint. I've clipped that nut myself a couple of times.

Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Jun 2, 2009 - 11:09am PT
Clint, great stuff. I have a question, though,
and forgive me if it seems in anyway of the
wrong spirit. When I look at that nut placement,
and what I am able to see of the crack, behind the
old sling, I wonder why a piton couldn't have
simply gone into that crack? It looks like a place
someone good with pitons could easily get something
in. Although I say it "looks like." How about a one-
and-a-half-inch angle, slightly downward, or maybe
a thinner blade piton deeper? For some reason that
crack looks very usable. We were pretty good in those
days at getting pitons in some pretty doubtful places.
My experience has been that some climbers who started
more or less after the "piton age" were great at
nut placements but couldn't imagine how pitons would
go in certain places that were, in fact, easy and
obvious for we "pitoners." Or is that crack all
simply too shallow or bottoming?

Jun 2, 2009 - 11:51am PT
Can't tell much from a picture but there is not much aluminum bearing on the left side of that stopper. Could be shear strength limited.

Might be possible to get a double stopper twisted for flair just below the stopper shown. Might be possible........
Greg Barnes

Jun 2, 2009 - 12:56pm PT
Patrick, I'm pretty positive that there's no real crack there, not enough for a knifeblade or even a RURP. Clint was just there - what do you think?
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jun 2, 2009 - 01:34pm PT
I think your representation of our free line is accurate. Where the original aid line went I have no clue, even though I watched much of the original ascent. On their second day, it was raining and Chouinard led everything.
Here are some of my recollections. I had originally asked Dick Erb to do the route, but things got scrambled and he and I believe Steve Thompson did the NE buttress of HCR while Frank did the DNB. We thought that the route might go free and each took only one etrier. The odd pitches were mine. On P7 I remember stretching for what turned out to be a pretty good hold and manteling. My recollection of the pro was not perfect, but not terrifying. We took a long time route finding on the lower part of the route, in fact it took us 8 hours to reach the Powel-Reed traverse ledges, and then only another 4 hours to finish the route. It was flurrying toward the top.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 01:49pm PT
Wow, Eric - thanks for sharing your recollections of the first free ascent! Sorry about the thread title - with Frank's impressive list of FFAs in 1964-65, I had ignorantly assumed that he was doing most of the leading. The fact that it was your idea and you alternated leads shows the weakness of my assumption - you were at least an equal team - cool!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 01:52pm PT

It is possible there is a pin scar behind the hammered stopper. But I would have to pry out the stopper to find out. It didn't look scarred on the surface. As Greg noted, the crack is way too shallow above and below to take any pitons, nuts or cams.

Barcelona, Spain
Jun 2, 2009 - 02:27pm PT
Thanks for this interesting post.

About the fixed nut, it appears to me that the wired nut is going to lever the fixed nut out, because a significant force will go over the top edge of the fixed nut if there is a fall. It seems to me that replacing the original sling would be a better idea.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 02:37pm PT
Yes, I would like to go back up there with a swager and thick stainless steel cable, remove the remaining perlon, and put a permanent thick cable on it in the normal orientation. (By thick I mean the same size cable as a large copperhead).

Removing the ancient perlon could be difficult - any ideas?

Trad climber
The 7th Pin Scar on Serentiy Crack
Jun 2, 2009 - 02:50pm PT
A hammer and copper head chisel might take care of that perlon.

Isn't there a nut like this on P4, just below that mini-roof traverse left?
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 02:56pm PT
There is a rusty bashed small nut just above the belay at the start of p4, before the reachy traverse left. This is if we are counting the mantle as p3. I think most people link p1+p2 these days.

The corner to roof traverse on p5 (my favorite pitch in Yosemite) does not have any fixed nuts. It does have a fixed Lost Arrow about 10' below the roof. This had some bad fixed slings which we cleaned up when we rappelled on 5/24.

Trad climber
The Great North these days......
Jun 2, 2009 - 03:27pm PT
Clint, I notice in the Climbing Routes section they have the DNB rated 5.11. I never remember any 11 on the climb. Has it been upgraded, hold fall off or a misprint?
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 03:39pm PT

5.11 is the supertopo rating for the mantle. I don't agree - it's quite a big hold and not very steep (5.10b is fine with me). If you try to face climb it to the left instead of mantling, it is 5.11+. The supertopo also calls p5 5.10d - I call it 5.10a.

I once was desperate leading p11 of the North Buttress, and swore it was 5.10d. It got uprated from 5.9 to 5.10a - after going back a few times, that seems about right.

Trad climber
The Great North these days......
Jun 2, 2009 - 03:45pm PT
Wow, I always thought it was 10b. great climb.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jun 2, 2009 - 06:28pm PT
I've heard that dnb is now read as "do not bother", that the Ho Chi Minh Trail is a much better route.
The spring of 64 was a good one for me. The previous weekend, did the 2nd ascent of Washington Column SF with TM Herbert and the following weekend would do the first one day ascent of Sentinel WF with Frank.
Clint, how about a writeup of the FA of HCMT, maybe a new thread?
Dingus Milktoast

Jun 2, 2009 - 06:34pm PT
I dug the perlon out of the right hole of that nut, sh#t well over a decade ago now. This was my 2nd time leading that pitch. The first time I just did the mantle with no pro at all, scairt the crap out of me.

I slung it with smaller cord, just as Clint did with the stopper (that didn't occur to me). I figured it would lever out if I fell but I also knoew the move above wasn't a show stopper.

Took me a long time, maybe 15 or 20 minutes, to clear the hole in that nut.

I distincly remember the impression that nut is welded into that placement.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 06:46pm PT

The story of the FA of the Ho Chi Minh Trail is at:

I could copy and paste it here, or in a new thread. It could probably use some photos, but I don't have a slide scanner. It overlaps a bit with my previous history on p7 of the DNB.

The DNB is certainly worth the "bother". The best parts of the HCMT are the DNB pitches. Heck, I thought the guys climbing above us on 5/24 were going to climb the HCMT, but they veered back left onto the DNB. They were still going up the big corners/chimneys when we rapped.


Thanks for clearing out that perlon!!

Trad climber
Jun 2, 2009 - 07:20pm PT
Nice post.

Jun 2, 2009 - 07:33pm PT

Did you and Frank S. do the FFA in a day, or was it a several day process? Looking at Clint's graphic above, it seems that the FFA involved many variations from the Roper/Chouinard line. Any idea how many times it had been climbed pre-FFA?

I love these threads. Like hanging out in the back rooms at the Smithsonian.


Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jun 2, 2009 - 08:16pm PT
I always considered the DNB one of the great old-school adventure routes in Yosemite. It was also one of my most memorable climbs (the first time I did it) because I got on it before I knew what the hell I was doing (age 18) and the thing scared the crap out of me - I think we (Will Tyre and I) did the 3rd free ascent. Eric and Frank did a great job figuring out where to go. And that first pitch is the hardest 5.7 in the world. Kudos to Chouinard for climbing it mixed sltyle. That wasn't easy either.


Trad climber
Jun 2, 2009 - 09:36pm PT
Good thread!
Clint, could you thread the stopper upward and then clip it above with a biner instead of bending it over, clipping the rope through another biner on the lower end. It seems that the rotational force would be less? Hard to tell in the pic if that would work.

Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jun 2, 2009 - 09:39pm PT
FFA was 12 hours. Total previous ascents I am not sure of. Frank had done it previously with Dick McCracken. At one point when I am leading up in the flared chimneys Frank said that Dick was doing A3 up the rotten stuff way in the back. I looked in there and thought that looked very awkward.

I had been on it the previous year with Tom Frost. I was leading P5 and off route to the left. I had climbed up 15 feet on a flake, 5.7, and then continued. The crack narrowed and was filled with dirt. I put in an aid pin and was standing on it driving another. The thought "Could this be one of those expanding flakes" came to me. The piton I was standing on pulled, my protection piton pulled and I fell 40 feet right onto Tom and the anchor. As I was falling past Tom I saw the pack falling with me and knowing the pack was clipped to the anchor thought we were done for. Another instant I stopped (good to have strong partners). I had a broken arm. We descended by Tom lowering me and then rappeling.

The following day he and Royal did the route, in part to get the stuff we had left.

Mountain climber
Mammoth Lakes, CA
Jun 2, 2009 - 11:35pm PT
Eric's mishap on his attempt with Tom Frost on the DNB a year before the FFA led to a pin in his elbow, his arm in a cast that held his elbow at a right angle (when he ate fried chicken, he could not lick his fingers) and to Steve Thompson's limerick:

A climber named Beck was becked
Upon the North Buttress Direct
Alas, poor Eric
Is now part ferric
And all of his climbing is fecked.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 2, 2009 - 11:42pm PT

Yikes, that's a very scary fall. Sometimes I forget that pitons are not just "slam it home" and have their risks. Good thing you survived it, although I bet the broken arm was very painful. But you recovered from it. It's a long journey sometimes and not just about the highlights.


> could you thread the stopper upward and then clip it above with a biner instead of bending it over

Cool idea - wish I had thought of that. Fortunately I didn't fall onto it.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Jun 3, 2009 - 10:45pm PT
Here's a dnb tale about Kevin Worral, best known for his FA of the evanescent Widows Tears with Mark Chapman. Kevin is leading, about 5.7 when he hears "Falling". Kevin is strong and is not pulled off. His belayer leaned out on the anchors and they came out!
Don't know where on the route this occurred.

Jun 3, 2009 - 11:02pm PT

George Meyers was leading and Kevin's anchors failed and George held on while Kevin slides down the lead rope to the end all while Kevin's Mom is watching him climb the first time ever.

Not sure if it was on the DNB though.

We had to tie Kevin's shoe laces at times while his hands were completely bandaged.

Kevin? How did you wipe your ass back then? I never really knew.


Insert crazy smiley here ......

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Mar 13, 2010 - 02:11pm PT
What a great thread, and well worth revisiting!

Thanks for the link Clint.

And thanks to Eric, for bringing it to life.

In 1980 my partner Keith and I did it in 7 hours while the big talkers that started next to us got benighted....

Ohh that made my day, in a wicked sort of way, since they had made such rude comments about climbing "over" us....HA!!

Mar 13, 2010 - 02:27pm PT
Great thread.

BAD Werner.

Go lie on your blanky now.
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Mar 13, 2010 - 02:51pm PT
Jorge held Kevin's belayer fall on the DNB.

Geroge's short summary, posted 1 Dec 2006, is included in this post:

Trad climber
Beautiful, BC
Mar 13, 2010 - 04:26pm PT
Bad anchors on the DNB ? I can remember midway or higher on the route using a hip belay while sitting on a semi dettached small block, the only piece for the station was a large Rp nut well placed between the block and the face, but positioned a foot below small ledge I sat on. I had 100% confidence in my partner Dean Hart, not to fumble it following or leading the next pitch as it was his 3rd ascent of the route.

It's truly one of the all time classic routes of Yosemite. Congratulations to Eric Beck and Frank Sacherer for the vision and talent to establish it as a free line.

Nice to read some of the history of the route from the FFA party

Oakland, CA
May 10, 2013 - 04:26pm PT
Hearing "Falling!" from your belayer while you're on lead... Damn. Had never heard that story, one of the craziest I've heard in Yos lore!

What if that anchor had popped ~20 minutes before, when Meyers was seconding up the previous pitch. Strong as he might have been, could he have held on for the nightmare scenario of his belayer and anchor coming down on his head?

tom Carter

Social climber
May 10, 2013 - 10:29pm PT
Thanks to all contributors - a great route and wonderful Valley history!!

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
May 10, 2013 - 10:32pm PT
ditto with TC!

May 10, 2013 - 11:19pm PT
Very cool history, thanks!
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