The First Ascent ot 'Hoodwink'


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Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 02:04pm PT
Hey DMT, I can believe that. Part of the reason, I think, is that he laid into everyone who didn't live up to his standards. Even guys like Vern whom he was close to.

I don't have any idea what is considered good style now. Are there any sport routes in the Meadows? Are bolts placed only from natural stances? Does any one use aid? Pins? What about yo-yo'ing leads?

Just curious. Best, Roger

Hey Werner, aren't we all?

BTW, I heard that Tom has been slowly recovering from a terrible back injury. I wish him all the best.
Greg Barnes

Aug 11, 2005 - 02:34pm PT
I was really bored one day a few years ago and typed up the whole Higgins ethics piece from the '83 guide, so here it is (but I wasn't bored enough to type up the whole FA list with all the style comments):

From the 1983 edition of Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows by Don Reid and Chris Falkenstein, published by Chockstone Press.

A Climbing Commentary
by Thomas Higgins

Climbing in Tuolumne is much more than picking your way along the lines and symbols of route descriptions. Climbs here will vibrate within you for awhile. The very blue sky of Tuolumne quiets you, if you gaze into it from up high. The sparkle of crystals and the sheen of polished granite can haunt you, if you turn to find them. The water and meadows you pass fix your climbs in memory, so you may long recall them.

Climbing in Tuolumne will titillate not only your senses, but your mind. With some knowledge about who climbed here before, what they tried to create, and what were the rules of the game, you can speculate about the vision, motives, fears and skills of climbers. You can wonder how or why some routes were done earlier than others, or think about how some routes led, and will lead, to others. You can play detective, historian, anthropologist or judge. And best, you may be inspired or challenged to make your own contribution to the best traditions of Tuolumne climbing.

The Beginnings

At first, Tuolumne served as a pleasant diversion for climbers from Yosemite Valley. Warren Harding and Dick Leonard played some on Lembert Dome in the 1950's. Chuck Pratt and Wally Reed climbed a prominent crack system on the west face of Fairview Dome in 1958. They used lots of aid and didn't proclaim the route a superior one. Now, of course, the Regular Route on Fairview is well known as a wonderful free climb. In 1962, Jeff Foott, Jim Baldwin and Hope Morehouse climbed the Great White Book and told people it was great fun. But the prestigious action, the "serious climbing," was in Yosemite Valley where big walls and hard cracks focused everyone's attention. Driven crack man Frank Sacherer visited Tuolumne in 1963 to do West Crack (on Daff Dome) with Wally Reed. Frank liked the route but climbed few others in Tuolumne. And, his secret log of planned first and free ascents always listed only Valley routes.

Nevertheless, 1962 and 1963 brought stirrings of the great climbs and free climbing tradition to come. In these years, Bob Kamps and Mort Hempel virtually free climbed the Regular Route on Fairview. Mort used one pin for aid, but Bob free climbed past it. Kamps and Reed also free climbed the Inverted Staircase. The crux pitch, a three step arch, was hard 5.10. Suddenly it seemed that the little knobs on Tuolumne domes might provide incredible free climbing possibilities.

No sooner were the possibilities raised than discussion began of ends and means. If the little knobs and flakes could be climbed, how could and should the climbing be protected? Jeff Foott, Eric Beck, Bill Amborne, Bob Kamps and others had some experience with bolt placements on Glacier Point Apron in Yosemite Valley. It was possible to stop in some places and put in a bolt. But many of the domes in Tuolumne were smaller and like playthings compared to the oceans of rock in Yosemite. Would it be okay to come down on rappel here and there, place a bolt and create a fine, safe climb? Or create a short aid ladder to allow for free climbing attempts? Naive neophyte I was then, I put these questions to Frank Sacherer and Bob Kamps in 1963. Sacherer never answered. But by his look I knew that climbers might die doing such things if Frank caught them. Kamps answered. He said, "No."

Tom Gerughty was perhaps the first to climb and protect a large, crackless expanse of Tuolumne rock. He demonstrated that bolts could be placed while free climbing, but not without difficulty. In 1966, Tom began climbing the lovely crystal dikes on the northwest face of Pywiack Dome. But Tom had an aversion to bolts and had little experience placing in them. Once in Yosemite, Tom stepped on a bolt in the presence of Sacherer. Frank yanked the rope so hard Tom nearly fell off the wall. Perhaps Tom learned the lesson too well. He trembled up and up on the dikes of Pywiack, unable or unwilling to stop, the drill dangling uselessly from his side. Dave Meeks and Roger Evja, his partners, waited for the 200 foot, slab splashing fall. Somehow, it never came. Tom captured the aesthetic plum, The Dike Route, on Pywiack, as well as the respect of numerous climbers who imagine leading the last pitch with two less bolts, since added with Tom's permission.

The issues of how climbers could or should protect with bolts lay dormant in the late sixties. By and large, climbers sought out the major crack systems. When they did venture onto blank, open faces, climbers abided by the prevailing ethic - placing bolts from stances on lead, and leaving alone what could not be done this way. Examples of the better face climbs created during this period include Rawl Drive, Nerve Wrack Point and The Vision. The Vision is on a far-away buttress that glows in the afternoon. Look at if from east of the climb. Rawl Drive is just for fun, perhaps after dinner, and by using the original protection and not the bolts on another route to the left, you can feel the old challenge of the route.

Period pieces of the sixties following major cracks include Phobus, Deimos, The Yawn, The Coming, Hobbit Book, Crescent Arch, Cooke Book, Chartres and Lucky Streaks. The Yawn presents the only long chimney and crack climb in Tuolumne. You won't find a more astounding dihedral than at the top of this climb. The Hobbit Book features waves of curling rock. Phobus and Deimos are wonderful, moderate crack climbs. The approach suggests that you might be visiting Japan. Has a crazy Japanese gardener been working on the trees, creating gigantic, twisting shapes? Lucky Streaks is a superb gem, following wispy cracks on a steep, golden wall. Kamps and I turned back once before doing the first ascent. With so little done on Fairview at the time, we refused to believe free climbing would be possible on such a steep wall. What a joy when the route proved feasible, well within the standards of the day!

After fifty routes were done between 1965 and 1971, and four climbers figured figured in over half of them. Tom Gerughty, Bob Kamps, TM Herbert and I climbed in this period. A couple of reports in Ascent and the American Alpine Journal told a little about the routes, but no guide book ever evolved and few other climbers visited Tuolumne. Rumors developed suggesting that certain climbs were horrifying. Consequently, many routes were not repeated for several years. Lucky Streaks and Chartres are examples. TM Herbert did much to scare climbers away with his rubber-faced, wide-eyed tales of first ascents he had witnessed. "God, you should have seen them," he would say, referring to a first ascent team, "...their butts quivering, no place to stop, no protection except for some dinky bolt..." Of course, the routes were not horrifying, however intimidating in appearance.

A Time of Controversy

As the seventies arrived, the era of boundless opportunities drew to a close and a controversy began over climbing styles. Climbers began attacking more fearsome faces and cracks. New climbers on the scene spent long periods in The Meadows, sometimes returning several times to try the same route. Climbers hung ropes for weeks at a time to reserve a prospective route and allow repeated access to high points. A few aid climbs appeared, unheard of since 1958. Also, climbers resorted to preprotection (placing protection on rappel or on aid, then free climbing); previewing (viewing and/or rehearsing moves on rappel or by top rope); and resting on protection or yo-yoing (repeated tries at moves, lowering, and possibly hand-walking the rope to try again). Needless to say, climbers of the sixties were appalled at the new styles. The new stylists argued that many new routes couldn't be done in any other way, or that the final route was more important than the means.

Several routes focused the debate. On Fairview Dome, aid was used on the Plastic Exploding Inevitable to climb the giant roofs above Crescent Ledge. What a disappointment to the climbers of the sixties who unsuccessfully tried the roof, then turned back with the expectations that some day it too would be free climbed. Death Crack was rehearsed several times with a top rope before it was finally led. Hoodwink involved a short aid ladder to protect immediate free climbing. Wailing Wall was preprotected, as was a short section of Shambles. Handbook was yo-yo'd.

Perhaps the lightning rod for the debate was Willie's Hand Jive. Here, nearly the entire route was created by placing bolts on rappel. In 1974, in a fit of righteousness, I chopped the bolts and lectured one of the first ascent team about traditional styles. Later, the bolts were replaced on rappel, this time more numerous than last. Such was the intensity of conflict between new and traditional styles!

Hand Jive taught me more than had my old, strict mentors about adhering to traditional climbing styles. The route broke no frontier of difficulty, while robbing others of the opportunity to try the first ascent in traditional climbing style.

You may want to do the route and judge whether or not it could have been protected in the same way most face climbs of the sixties were done. Ponder the same question on Hoodwink, just above the roof on the last pitch. Finally, the super crack climbers of today may want to try Handbook, Death Crack, Wailing Wall and Blues Riff without rehearsing, preprotecting or yo-yoing. My hunch is that some of today's climbers will find these climbs possible in the traditional style. If so, how will they feel about losing the chance at a first ascent in traditional style?

Go Climb!

Maybe the campfire is the best place for debates on style, history and ethics. When the sun comes up, you are lusting for the raw experience of climbing, for testing your limits and nerve. For climbers craving the jitters of tiny edges and knobs, Polly Dome and vicinity is a must. Try Get Slick, Piece of Grass, Sweet Nothings and Golden Bars. Or, wander a little way to Ursula, wonderfully wicked and hidden in the woods. In the roof category, Thy Will Be Done might warm you up. Then try Wailing Wall. Can you do it in good style, your first try? What about doing Boa? No matter what you answer, you'll want comic relief. So, do Un-Huh on Fairview - its twenty-five foot ceiling is only 5.3! Getting to the roof is more of a problem. Be warned, TM Herbert nearly lost his life (again) on the third ascent, trying to find the way on the second (or third?) pitch.

In the category of long climbs, Pièce de Réstistance on Fairview Dome may be the best. Several climbers figured in the ascent. Bob Kamps and I had tried the route a couple of times in the late sixties. We stopped at a headwall which appeared to need a couple of bolts of aid. Vern Clevenger and Bob Harrington climbed the headwall after placing some bolts from difficult stances and other bolts with aid. Then, in 1974, I returned with Clevenger to free climb the pitch and complete the climb. The headwall involves ceaseless 5.10 and 5.11 climbing. Most climbers now call it 5.12, saying that little flakes keep falling off to make it harder. Whatever the case, the line is a most dramatic and direct one. An enormous arch marks the route, powerfully drawing you along.

Of course the wonder of climbing is not in mulling over the past but creating the future. Think and question yourself as you climb in Tuolumne Meadows. Try to assess which routes and ethical traditions seem best. There are magnificent routes done by compromising the traditional style, the most recent example being the Bachar-Yerian on Medlicott. Always the compromise seems justifiable at first, then doubts arise. Maybe the climb could have been done another way? Or, maybe the wall should have been left alone?

Probably, you will be torn between climbing in the traditional style and relaxing your standards to do the hardest routes. If so, consider that most mortal climbers have only ten or fifteen seasons with sufficient energy, time and ability to do their best climbing. Then, a time comes when climbing memories far outnumber climbing prospects. A guide book may mention your name, and so might a few old friends. But the end result will be your own memory and evaluation of climbs you have done. Will you prefer to remember having done the most severe routes in whatever way was necessary, or having done a few of the hardest in the best style, while perhaps failing miserably on some others and avoiding altogether some others? It is a question the tumultuous climbing traditions of Tuolumne forces upon you. Think before you answer it, for your best climbing days too soon rush by.

Social climber
Aug 11, 2005 - 02:51pm PT
Bottom line:


Aug 11, 2005 - 02:51pm PT

Your question about us being stuck in our own personal view, “aren’t we all”, can hold true to some degree. But, this is one of the main reasons I read these threads.

I don’t want to remain left behind in the flow of knowledge as it turns for better or worse.

I understand all these ethics very clearly, but I don’t like being stuck somewhere and not being able to move past the crux or being able to down climb around it, either, (referring to ethics).

Aug 11, 2005 - 03:15pm PT
"I had run into Jim (like everyone does eventually)"

i went to a slideshow Bridwell was doing a few years back at nomad venture's in Joshua Tree.
after a very great show he was fielding a few question when a kid that looked about 12 years old asked him. what's the harriest thing you ever did on the walls beside those big falls?
Jim's reply went something like this:
"i once had to rap down a f*#king 8mm fixed cord that looked like it had been there for f*#king ever. the sheath had some nasty sh#t on it and the f*#king cords were showing in half the goddamn thing. scared the sh#t out of me, i thought i was gonna f*#king die!"

the kid was in awe.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 11, 2005 - 03:25pm PT

Werner, I think I know what you mean. My own goal is to not have a personal view that keeps me from being able to see the world around me, while still being able to think and act decisively.

My experience with reporting on Ray Jardine's climbing style still reminds me, 30 odd years later, that sometimes the future shows up in disguise--someone breaking all of my cherished rules. I am constantly reminded of how easy it is to get stuck in one's own personal view.

When I look back on the way we used to climb and compare it with the way people feel about it now, I don't feel like our way is more absolutely right than any other way. But as Dingus points out, Tom's absolutist standards, laid out in the idyllic of the 60's climbing world, probably did more to maintain 'good' standards than more balanced views like the ones I held.

Dingus Milktoast

Aug 11, 2005 - 04:05pm PT
"Hey DMT, I can believe that. Part of the reason, I think, is that he laid into everyone who didn't live up to his standards. "

I mean the article itself and its printing in the guidebook. Me? Never met Higgins, never climbed in the Meadows back in the Day, never established or even tried to establish any FA's there.

But Higgins staking out of the ethical turf of the Meadows certainly colored my opinion of the place. I would not want to see that tradition of boldness over run with sport climbing and a more gym-like atmosphere.

Nor would I want to see Tuolumne Meadows styles exported wholesale to other venues either.

If there is room for the Meadows so too there must be room for Jailhouse.

I wouldn't cotton to Higgins or a modern counterpart lighting into me either though. It would almost certainly produce counter-results!

Thanks for posting up this thread dude, I've done your Hoodwink and found it a grand adventure. So what's it feel like to have an FA of yours as the guidebook cover photo?

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 11, 2005 - 04:20pm PT
what an amazing thread!

My point was perhaps not well stated, planning is important and proper preparation (steeping yourself in ethics?) may also be part of that... but once you get on a climb it is a different world. You can look and scope and study photos, and all that, but at some point you go up and climb it. At that point reality intervenes.

The response to the reality is what it is all about, at least for me. It's not like I went up on Hoodwink unaware of all that has been written... but being on the climb is a whole lot different than speculating about it... in fact, everytime I go up on any climb it is different then any other time I've done it. The experience is in the moment.

On first ascents there is the uncertainty about what you will find, and it is exciting and hugely rewarding to pick your way through the puzzle. Read the account of the Angel Glacier route up Mt. Edith Cavell and then go sit on the east buttress of that mountain and watch the sh#t fall down that face... the written account pales in the vision of that reality.

Funny thing, we all say at the end of these discussions: go climb! it is what it's all about.

And the Meadows is a special place because the community that developed it had very high standards at a time when commitment was an important character of climbing. I wouldn't want it anyother way, it should be preserved, I am happy it has been. Who would want to miss it?!
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Latitute 33
Aug 11, 2005 - 04:50pm PT
Roger, thanks for the interesting and stimulating posts. There is a natural tendency to ascribe the purest of motives and "ethics" to our own actions of self restaint and critique those who do not seem bound by these self imposed "rules."

But often, we confuse "style" and "ethics." I like to think of Style as a matter personal to the climber and which does not affect subsequent parties of climbers. Ethics concerns matters that are less ephemeral and have a lasting impact and thus the power to affect future generations of climbers and/or the rock itself.

By this criteria, pre-inspection, hang dogging or pulling past a hard move is a mere stylistic matter. By the same reasoning, how a bolt got placed (rap, lead) is not particularly relevant. However, the actual physical presence of a bolt or alteration of the rock is an ethical concern.

PS: I'll email you George's telephone #.

Aug 11, 2005 - 07:19pm PT
Great posts, Roger, and great route. I have climbed Hoodwink twice and thoroughly enjoyed both outings.

Perhaps a little off topic, but do you (or does anyone) know the history of "Table of Contents" on Stately Pleasure Dome? I think it is a Clevenger route, but not sure. I have climbed, excuse me, flailed on it twice. Am I correct in assuming the bolts were put up on lead? From stances?

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jan 28, 2007 - 04:38pm PT
a favorite
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 12, 2008 - 01:26am PT
Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Nov 12, 2008 - 01:52am PT
very nice. just added a link to this story on the Route Page for Hoodwink

Trad climber
Nov 12, 2008 - 02:24am PT
Derek Larson and I replaced the bolts on that last pitch in the summer of 98 or 99. We had a lot of fun though one of the bolts broke off completely and we had to drill a new one. I'm glad to now know they history because it always terrified me to think of someone actually placing those bolts on lead. It makes much more sense now.

Trad climber
Nov 12, 2008 - 08:34pm PT
Hi Ed,
The picture you posted that spawned this thread is now gone. Can you post it here? It would be cool.

Mountain climber
Inside my head
Nov 13, 2008 - 02:46am PT
I'd like to see the pic too.

Thank you Rodger for posting up the story. Maybe it's just me but I tend to put myself in the place of climbers in stories like yours. I can imagine standing on the ledge with the wind, looking back at the drop to the slab and fighting that feeling that you just shouldn't be there and dreading getting stuck or climbng back down. Your account puts the climb in a very real light. One that many people can relate to.
Lapse in ethics? Nah. I think a lapse in ethics is when you're doing something you know you shouldn't to push a route. Something on half dome comes to mind. Call it a mistake if you will but I don't think those two climbers were considering ethics when the bolt was drilled.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Nov 13, 2008 - 04:01am PT
look here:
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 13, 2008 - 10:47am PT
It was a pleasure to meet you at last, Roger! You are certainly no trickster in my book although the sentence passed down by the hanging judge on the Buzzwell default drill mode still makes me laugh upon rereading your fine tale. Thanks again for posting it! Hoodwink is at the top of my TM list even after all these years and I think most parties have an adventure onsighting it ---- sentence commuted!
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Topic Author's Reply - Nov 13, 2008 - 11:05am PT
Thanks Steve. I enjoyed meeting you and Mimi. It would be great to spend more time getting to know one another.

Hanging out in the Valley for a few days got my juices going again, at least for free climbing. (Looking up at El Cap for the first time in 22 years, all I could think is that there is no way I ever climbed that. Werner told me that the longer you stare at it the smaller it becomes, but if you leave and then return it gets bigger. Seems apt.)

But looking at the Cookie and Middle made me want to climb, to feel the moves, to recapture that pleasure jolt of jamming and counter pressure. I am sure I would want to re-climb Hoodwink if I ever get back to Tuolumne. (I would probably also want to pull the bolts and replace them on lead--atonement.)

All the best, Roger
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Nov 13, 2008 - 11:30am PT
I have been dreaming on the lower half of Mother Earth myself and some other unfinished business on Middle Rock. Funny how the feeling lingers even if the contact power is fleeting.
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