Bob Kamps Stories


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Social climber
West Linn OR
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 4, 2009 - 08:27pm PT
Ken Yager asks on the YCA site for Bob Kamps stories. When I do a search here I find 796 references to Bob. I didn't read them all, but I will and add things as I see them here. So, why not anyone with a good Kamps story put it down. Here's mine.

I first met Bob Kamps at UCLA when I arrived there in 1958. By then he had been climbing a couple of years, having started about the same time as a friend of mine, Dave Harvey. Dave was a middling climber, but Bob had really taken off. Bob's wife, Bonnie, was already a teacher, and they were committed to live their lives with lots of vacations, as Bob once told me. I believe they lived in the UCLA veterans housing. Bob had completed his military service, part during the Korean War. I think he came from somewhere in the mid-west. I asked Bob once if the idea of living to maximize vacations wasn't somehow against the Platonic ideal of service to state, and he gave me a reply that I recall still, "Bill, I live out of civilization the way some people live out of a suitcase." Contact among climbers at UCLA was maintained through the Bruin Mountaineers lunch spot near Kirchoff Hall where one could meet with hikers, peak baggers and rock climbers (the very few).

In the semester break of January 1959, Bob organized a trip to wander about the desert to see what could be seen. He was a good organizer as he had a car. There were four of us, Kamps, Dave Harvey, a third whose name eludes me, and me. I was a 17 year old freshman and had been bouldering for about two or three months on weekends at Stoney Point. My equipment consisted of a lot of loaned Bruin Mountaineer items (the UCLA club had very fuzzy white ropes and other curious things one could borrow).

The trip was over a week and memorable because the climbing was so bad. Chiricahua National Monument had pinnacles all over the place, but they were like those at the Pinnacles National Monument in California – conglomerate ready to shed its parts at any time. We also went into New Mexico, but it started to snow and the roads weren’t good. Cochise Stronghold was granite and pleasant, and it being a cold time of year one had little concern for snakes. Mexico was, to me as a first time visitor, bizarre. Kamps wanted to go there to get some liquor, a gallon per person of which could be brought in tax free so we popped across the border at Mexicali. I was told to "be asleep" when we crossed back so I could be counted as a person for the gallons they purchased. It was not a hard role to play, and I did it with style.

As the vacation began to run out, we headed back toward the Colorado River area. Bob had in mind climbing Monument Peak, a volcanic pinnacle first climbed in 1940 by the Mendenhalls and two others. On one side the pinnacle drops off 1000 feet, but on the other side it is only a 250 foot vertical distance as it is connected by a saddle to another peak. The description by John Mendenhall of the peak is in the 1940 Sierra Club Bulletin: “Precipitous, overhanging here and there, and evilly loose, the Monument had defied at least two attempts as 1939 drew to a close.”

We arrived at the peak on February 2, 1959. I don’t recall much about the climb up except that Bob led everything and rocks seemed to be falling around Dave and me lot when Bob was up above, and below us when we climbed. The climbing wasn’t hard, but it was dangerous, "evilly loose", and the actual value of protection was anybody’s guess. On the way down we rappelled with extreme care as the anchors were nothing to shout about and the mere act of going down caused rocks to be dislodged by rope movement, and when they did it themselves, no one hollered “Rock!” Just silent whizzing sounds and little explosions when they hit.

One rappel ended on a sloping ledge under a little overhang which was a nice respite from the falling rocks. Bob started to pull the rope down and just at the point where we thought it would come whipping down, it got stuck. On what? We all gave a tug, but no movement. So after many tries Bob took charge and headed off hand over hand up the rope. Dave and I sat huddled under the overhang wondering what will become of us if Bob loosens the rope by accident and takes the big plunge. Would anyone ever find us? Would it be possible to climb down from where we were? All the while rocks were pinging down outside our overhang. As a new climber I couldn’t imagine doing what Bob did then, but of a sudden, the rocks stopped falling and the rope started moving up. Bob had gotten up and was re-setting the rappel! He never said what the actual situation was with the point at which the rope was stuck. I took his silence to mean “too scary for words.”

I remained at UCLA for a couple of years and spent Sundays at Stoney Point, and many weekends at Tahquitz.. Under Bob's tutelage I was up to leading 5.8 in September 1959 and following 5.9 by October 18, 1959 when he and I and Dave Harvey did the Consolation at Tahquitz, according to a pen and ink note in my 1956 "climber's guide to tahquitz rock". Bob led it easily and following was not hard with a top belay. Bob was big on climbing 5th class for, we all know anyone can step up slings doing direct aid. I took Bob's opinion as my gospel and avoided 6th class whenever possible.

On occasion I was the odd man out and got stuck sitting around at Lunch Rock. One time it was just Bonnie and me, and I asked her if she ever climbed with Bob. She said no, he was against it. So we chatted and she said she was interested in trying it. So on May 31, 1959 we did the Swing Traverse (5.1) and on June 12, 1959 the Fingertip Traverse (also 5.1). I could see Bob's point. I may be one of the very few to have climbed with both Bob and Bonnie.

I left UCLA for Berkeley in 1960 and did no more climbs with Bob, although I ran into him now and then in Yosemite.

The last time I saw Bob was about 1976. I was in Los Angeles for a work related trip and stopped out to Stoney Point one afternoon to revisit a site of my younger days. It was a week day and deserted except for one person, Bob, of course. We had a chat and did some bouldering and then we went our separate ways.

I remember Bob as a friend who always had a big smile on his face, enjoyed a bit of verbal jousting, and was patient with a new climber.

Bill Amborn

Trad climber
Aug 4, 2009 - 08:44pm PT

Great post. Nice to think of Kamps walking in the footsteps of the Mendenhalls along the River.

What was your major at UCLA? Kamps's?

Aug 4, 2009 - 10:14pm PT
solid gold. great to have the word from the originals. dang i'm glad some things have changed for the ladies. as for stuck ropes on rappel, i guess some stuff stays the same
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Aug 4, 2009 - 11:07pm PT
Thanks for this extremely special historic account, Bill Amborn.

Ahhh, the way it was.

I have always thought that hanging up a rappel has to be the most dangerous moment in climbing, and still remains to be the vulnerable point even in modern climbing systems. This nagging possibility still remains at every rappel. The damned rope has to come down and back to us.

Bill, tell us more about some of Bob’s interactions with you back then. That was quite a desert trip. Do you still see Bonnie? She’s still active with us you know. Saw here a couple of months ago. Lynne Leichtfuss is in regular contact with her, spent a weekend with her at her house, I guess in June.

Higgins, up here in Oakland, still misses Bob. We talk about him often.

best to you,

Peter Haan
Captain...or Skully

Social climber
Boise....It's like Mars with air
Aug 4, 2009 - 11:12pm PT
Cool story......The Old Dads Rocked!

Social climber
West Linn OR
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 4, 2009 - 11:34pm PT
klk - Bob was in Education and became an elementary school teacher. I was in pre-Forestry at UCLA, then Forestry at Berkeley from which I dropped out to live in the valley at the same time as Roper 61-62.

Peter - Bob enjoyed kidding me a lot. I was 16 when I graduated high school and turned 17 over the summer, so guys who were 22 or 25 or whatever and veterans were wise old men to me. I think Bob got that and took advantage. When I got out of the army and got a degree, I never went back to the climbing scene and have only been in slight contact with Guido who told me I should read these forums and post up now and again.
Chicken Skinner

Trad climber
Aug 4, 2009 - 11:43pm PT
Bill, thanks for answering on my site and re-posting on this site as this one gets a lot more traffic. Your memories are great.


Not here
Aug 4, 2009 - 11:54pm PT
What a fantastic story. I must say that Kamps treated me the same way only a decade ago. He truly was a treasure, a hero and mentor to many of us.
Please tell us more stories!


Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Aug 5, 2009 - 02:54am PT
I posted this a while back and will try to come up with some more Mr Kamps stories. Wally is of course Wally Reed.

Wally is truly a humble and mellow person. Very difficult to rile. I did a number of climbs with him in the early 60's. Kamps, Wally and moi did one of the early free ascents of the Worst Error. The rappel rope hung up on the third pitch, a long and unprotected chimney. Kamps and I watched in horror as Wally climbed back up without a belay to free it. Neither Kamps, nor I volunteered.

Having climbed a lot of routes with Sacherer I believe Wally to be the perfect partner for him. He could sit back and smile when Sacherer "went off". "O.K Frank, can we get back to climbing now"?

Several years prior, Galen, Walker and myself went up to climb the Worst Error, got lost, made a first ascent which we appropriately called the Real Error. Ascent by default i guess.


Aug 5, 2009 - 07:20pm PT
I had the honor of climbing with Bob when he stopped by So Il on one of his trips, a chance meeting at a gear shop and I offered to show Bob our area. Of special interest was a route of mine at Cedar Bluffs "April Fools" 5.10a trad which had gone unrepeated for several years. Bob onsighted the route in the finest of style and he was 63 years old at the time. I have always been very proud that he got the second ascent of my route. I showed and he climbed around 15 routes on that visit, and I know he really enjoyed "Ant Killer" 5.9 at Drapers Bluff. Bonnie chronicled our climbing, and the routes we did are posted on his memorial site. Fond memories of a true definition of a climber as I took him to Jackson Falls a sport area which he was equally excelled . He returned a couple of more times, and I think enjoyed our area.

Big Wall climber
Los Angeles, CA
Aug 5, 2009 - 07:52pm PT
I remember Bob most vividly from the long summer evenings out at Stoney Point in the mid 80s. Bob was always hanging out at Boulder 1, more often than not trying to traverse it using impossible holds. Everything that looked usable was "off". Herb Laeger, Kris Solem, Guy Keisee, Jan & Owen Fordham, Mike Powell were never far off either.

Bob was quick with a smile and always took an interest in helping pretty women and newbies (helped to be the former) figure out problems he had completely wired, even with half of the holds deemed "off route." I think it was a full year before I even learned he was "someone famous"...Bob was like that. Quiet, unassuming and well...just Bob.

Last time I saw him was around '96 in Josh floating up Diamond Dogs like it was 3rd class.

Trad climber
Aug 6, 2009 - 08:18pm PT
Bob was my climbing mentor and best and lifelong friend. He and Bonnie brought me to the mountains at a formative time in my life when lots of hell was breaking lose. Not sure how things would have gone without climbing and Bob. I've written several tributes to Bob on various threads, but just for the record here is my tribute/obituary for Bob from Climbing Magazine, 2005, I hope capturing some of his essence:

And for a story of the inspiration I drew from Bob in a first ascent in Tuolumne Meadows, here's another link:

Finally, all should know Bob has a website with many loving memories and stories, as well as a record of his climbs. Bonnie keeps up the photos too, so visit, enjoy and chime in there with stories if so inclined.The link:

Tom Higgins

hanging from a crimp and crying for my mama.
Aug 6, 2009 - 09:19pm PT
Bump because all of these are diamonds...

Social climber
West Linn OR
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 8, 2009 - 11:13am PT
This is something Bob loved to remind me about over and over. Especially if a rock was dislodged at Tahquitz and fell, he would say, "just like a grenade" when the rock hit and exploded.

Arriving at Stoney Point one day, I was just out of the car and had a Bruin Mountaineer fuzzy white rope over my shoulder when I saw on the floor of the back seat what looked like a fragmentation grenade. Being at UCLA where they had ROTC as a mandatory subject I was aware of how these things worked, so I asked the owner of the car why he had a grenade on the floor. He was in medical school and the Army Reserve, and said, "Oh, it's just a training grenade." Well, I thought, that's cool, and, with the rope still over my shoulder picked it up and took a glance. Bob was nearby and getting the conversation. Then I said, "It's me, John Wayne in the Pacific!", and pull the pin. The fuse clicks over in a too realistic fashion and I see the grenade owner with a panicked look and saying "Drop it!" I didn't, and a charge of black went off which blew a cork out of the bottom of the training grenade and obscured me with black smoke. When the smoke cleared I, somewhat blackened, was revealed still holding the grenade (and all these people were staring at me), and parts of the rope, which I hurriedly tossed on the ground, were fused together and smoking as a result of the small, directed explosion. I was lucky to have the rope on.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Aug 8, 2009 - 04:12pm PT
Bob and I climbed many times, in California and in Colorado,
and every occasion was precious to me. He and Dave Rearick
were my first true heroes in climbing, when they did the
first ascent of the Diamond. I always admired Bob's utter
devotion to his beloved Bonnie. Bob and Rearick were best
friends, and whereas I was Rearick's protege, Tom Higgins
was Bob's. Rearick and Kamps often communicated about
their respective younger counterparts, and thus Tom and I
became acquainted quite a while before we actually met.
When Tom and I finally met in Yosemite we both thought
it would be a competitive thing, but we simply had
fun, laughed, and enjoyed climbing... and have
remained good friends ever since.

I feel nothing but love for Bob and Dave and Tom and feel
incredibly blessed for having found my way into their lives.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Aug 8, 2009 - 05:15pm PT
Many of us were under the care, at one time or another, by Dr Sturm in the old Lewis Memorial Hospital in the Valley. In reference to a posting on ST about Dr Sturm and the "Great Yellow Jacket Episode" that Bob was the main character in, I wrote this to Bonnie last Dec.

BBA you had me choking on my coffee this am with your grenade story!

Hi Bonnie:

Yes, I was referring to the great Yellow Jacket episode. I was not on the climb, but believe it was on Middle Cathedral Rock. My recollection is Bob had climbed a very difficult section with minimal protection, had climbed through a tree and wham got hammered by a nest of angry Yellow Jackets. He had to extricate himself out of the tree, downclimb the difficult and unprotected section to a point where he could be lowered. His face was a disaster I remember. Many stings and bumps combined with a white paste(corticosteroid?) and an overall swelling that was rather hilarious if not so serious.

Who was he climbing with? My guess would be either Sacherer, Fredericks or possibly Beck. Remember, in the summer of 61-63, very few climbers spent the entire season in the Valley or Meadows. Myself, Sacherer, Denny for the entire season. You and Bob would come early and then head off to the Needles.

I knew DR Sturm quite well in later years, as my girlfriend Carol Ottonello was the daughter of the Federal Magistrate Geno Otonello, who was one of Dr Sturms best friend. I just assumed it was Dr.Sturm as he handled most of the emergency cases and seemed to have a general interest in climbing.

I have looked at the database and what a treat to have so much of record. I did notice the dates were off, but that is understandable. Bob and I did the first ascent of the Left Side of the Hourglass, The Hinterland and has fun exploring some mine site in the High Country of Yosemite. I remember Bob stepping on a small rattlesnake on one of the many approaches we made up to the Hourglass. He was concerned he might have hurt him!

In the mid 70's, Bob, Russ McLean and moi did what i believe is the second ascent of his beautiful route on Fairview, The Great Pumpkin. I wonder if you could check your notes on this and see if you have anything.

Norman Claude

Aug 9, 2009 - 03:02pm PT
In the early or mid eighties Kamps showed up in the Meadows on an annual pilgrimmage. He was bouldering down at Tenaya Lake. Of course I was curious to see if Kamp's legend status was deserved. I watched him do this dinky two move problem. An undercling hold, bring the feet up and reach for the top. That was it. He probably got a foot off the deck. When Kamps was safely in the distance I walked up to the problem and thought I'd add this to my Tenaya bouldering circuit. I grabbed the undercling and proceeded to paw, scratch and flail trying to get my feet to stick. I searched in vain for the hidden hold I must have missed. Kamps made the problem look so easy that I thought it probably wasn't worth my effort. I failed until frustration drove me to easier ground. My awe for Kamps was cemented.

I introduced myself to Bob at a problem I knew I could cruise. Lucky for me he was in need of a climbing partner. We met up the next day and Bob showed me his new, sort of collection of climbing gear. He'd bought a small assortment of stoppers and hexes at a garage sale. This was in the day of Friends and brass nuts. Bob stuffed newspaper into a new pair of shoes and we were off on one of the best weeks of climbs I've ever done.

I'd heard the rumors about Bob and his RULES. His rack, no f*#kups, better be bold, climb smooth, lead the crux or you didn't do the climb. If I made a sloppy move I was chastised, Claude you cannot climb that way."

"I'm sorry."

"Here, have a hard candy. This is a scary lead you're going to do and I want you to have something to bite down on."

"Thank you."

Tom Higgens joined us for a romp up Old Goats on Lamb dome. The bolts were typical 1/4" inch Rawl catipillars dangling half out of the hole with rusting hangers. Bob never did do a great job drilling. At the top of the climb Bob tied into some dead branches that at one time passed for a living bush. Higgens and I could only laugh when we got to the belay. Of course we were simul-climbing.

Bob and I went onto harder, much harder climbs. And what will stick with me is how quick Bob was on his feet, and how he made me feel so positive even when I should have been whimpering.

I miss him and grateful I had the priviledge of climbing with him.

Claude Fiddler
John Rander

Trad climber
Paris, France
Aug 27, 2009 - 05:33am PT
Funny how paths cross in the climbing world. I first met Bob Kamps at Stoney Point in the Fall of 1967, thanks to Ivan (then “Bud”) Couch. I was a physics student with Ivan at UCLA, and one day after a morning class I asked him a question about climbing grade classifications, as I wanted to do a summit in the Sierras and knew nothing at all about climbing. He grinned and said that the best explanation would be a short visit to Stoney, and asked if I was free that afternoon? No one was there when we arrived in the September heat, except Bob who appeared at n°1 not long after we had started to boulder. I must have bought my first pair of Kronhofers that weekend (from Don Lauria at West Ridge). Well undersized as they had told me, soaked in the tub, and then worn all day. I recall ridding my motorcycle to UCLA wearing those damp shoes. Ivan told me to smear epoxy over the toe tips, where there’s rubber on shoes today, to limit the wear. A detail that I would doubt the first time I stuffed those toe-tips into a jamcrack, but I’m a little ahead of myself. Incidentally, I’m not sure that Bob was using Kronies. Ivan would take me climbing often over the next few years before I left for CERN and my thesis experiment. So I had the chance to boulder with Bob on a number of occasions. He seemed so much older than us. He was patient and impressed me a lot at the time.
One anecdote that I can share from that period was about a bouldering problem that Ivan had devised up at Idyllwild. It was after Ivan had dropped out of grad school to teach. I came up fairly often Friday evenings to boulder and climb with him at Tahquitz or Suicide on Saturday’s, as I had family obligations on Sunday. Ivan had spent a number of afternoons wiring a big boulder with a crux move that required his extra large size. I recall Bob, Ivan and I doing a round of boulders one Friday evening, when as by accident we found ourselves standing in front of Ivan’s new beauty. He gave us a demonstration ascent and coming down, stepped back grinning to watch Bob’s reaction. It was too hard for me at the time; this was their game. Bob smiled and inspected the rock, rubbing his chin. Then without a word, he ascended the problem using a micro-flake conjured up to bridge that enormous stretch of Ivan’s. Youth had been vanquished for a moment and Ivan was a bit disappointed. I had also learned a lesson. Later that evening Bob took a moment to show me how to best use a micro-flake. His optimistic approach made it seem like anything could be done with some thought and effort.
Ivan’s teaching methods were efficient but more direct. Like when we went to Yosemite and he sent me up my first lead ever, I think it was La Cosita - Left side I guess because that’s when I “noticed” those epoxy coated toe-tips were weird, or later when I returned to UCLA after an interruption working in the Bay Area. Nuts were replacing iron. The first morning I went up to see Ivan at Idyllwild, he told me to leave my hammer in the car. He had me lead a crack at Suicide on aid with wired nuts, and then rap and clean the pitch myself to see if the stuff held anything. The only “pedagogical” remark that I can recall on either occasion was, “Faster or I’ll tie you off and go down for a beer.” But on another occasion, after I’d lead the Serpentine in RR’s, he told me to change those “things” for PA’s, and get a pair of RD’s for edging problems. I did it; that was after he’d done the FA of Valhalla.

By 1976 I had returned to Geneva after my thesis to join a physics experiment at CERN… and climb with Frank Sacherer, whose lack of patience was notorious. But somehow that helped me put those early years in to perspective; I knew that I was lucky to have met Ivan and Bob at the start. Many years have gone by now, and I’m still having fun climbing when I can. I guess that grin of Bob’s was really catching…
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