Ever since I first began climbing as a punk kid in Berkeley I have had a fascination with with pinnacles and spires. Seeing the Lost Arrow on my first climbing trip to Yosemite in 1958 was an eye opener. I was obsessed with being the youngest person to climb it and two years later at the age of 14, I stood on the top for the first time.
Early in the summer of 1962 I got a call from Roper asking if I was interested in climbing Castle Rock Spire with him and Mark Powell. I had turned down an earlier offer from Steck to climb the Steck–Salathe on Sentinel and was bound and determined to never make that error again. Castle Rock Spire! “Sure man I’m in. ”The plan was, we would drive to Fresno, meet Powell who was coming up from L.A. and together drive to Sequoia.
For $250, I had recently acquired a 1948 Chev in superb condition with only 19,000 miles on it and the owners manual in the glove box. The car had a fairly low gear ratio so it made a lot of noise cruising down the road at 70 mph. It had a large back seat, voluminous storage area and was great for hauling gear and “other things.” Vacuum start, vacuum shift and fun to drive. Blew through the first engine that summer but that was expected with the miles and pace of the summer. I wouldn’t let Roper drive because he scared the living sh#t out me when he was behind the wheel.
We arrived in beautiful downtown Fresno mid morning and it was already 110 degrees and we had hours before Powell was due to arrive. Off to the air -conditioned public library where we could pass the time in comfort. This was a routine rest stop for Roper, he heads over to the tape section, slips on a pair of earphones and disappears into la-la land with some obscure recording from the past.
Now Roper loves classical music and he particularly loved to share his Beethoven recordings at full volume when you showed up at his house for a visit. He would sit there and play the start of the the 5th over and over and over, while he directed the orchestra. So I figured he was headed for a classical rendezvous.
I’m relaxing and enjoying the cool comfort when I suddenly hear this very loud, very familiar voice, ”Yesterday-Dec 7, 1941, A Date Which Will Live In Infamy………” and I see the librarian quickly heading his way to cut him off. Earphones off, apologies and back to normal. Almost.
Not more than ten minutes later, again, I hear at an even louder volume, “A Date Which Will Live In Infamy………” Apparently, Roper could not resist the temptation to recites these famous words by Roosevelt at full volume and now we are in deep trouble. 86ed out of the Fresno Public Library on a hot, sweltering summer day and nowhere to go. Fortunately, Powell shows up and we head off for Sequoia.
Best viewed from Morro Rock, the 1000 ft Castle Rock Spire and the beautiful and spectacular face of the Fin next to it are inspiring to say the least. The Spire was first climbed by the SE face on April 27, 1950 by a team composed of Will Siri, Phil Bettler, Jim Wilson, Allen Steck and Bill Long, all prominent climbers of that era.
A month later, John Salathe along with Anton Nelson and four others made the second ascent. Powell made the 4th ascent on Oct 1, 1955 with Don Wilson and the 6th ascent on July 22, 1956. Our adventure was to be his third or fourth ascent in less than 7 years.
The infamous approach was a significant part of the mystique of the early and later ascents. We approached from the back and not from below which seems to have become more popular years later. No GPS, Giardia, or topo but we did have Powell with his encyclopedic memory and he had been there three times before. I don’t remember much about the approach except it was complicated, it was hot and it was long.
Hiking with Roper is always an interesting experience. He has one pace and that is fast and he knows only one song to hum or whistle and that is Greensleeves. Powell on the other hand, because of his fused ankle had a slower and more painful syle and was easier to keep up with. Basically we were on a three day bivy so the food was minimal. One day in, one day on the climb and one day out.
My impressions and memories of the climb narrow down to it was spectacular, exposed, high angle and superb rock. There was certainly some aid but not a great deal and some rather challenging free sections.
Roper and Powell were fun and easy to climb with. Around the fire at night the limericks would fly. Once they got on a roll it was hard to stop. The fouler the better. They were bantering limericks back and forth like a ping-pong ball. My jaw was sore from laughing so hard.
I would certainly place this ascent of Castle Rock Spire with Roper and Powell as one of THE most enjoyable and rewarding climbing adventures I ever experienced. It has been almost fifty years, yet I still smile when I think of the fun, comaraderie and good times.
As Roper would often say
orig photo Levy?
My photos were shot with a Petri 35 mm half frame camera and they were virtually unviewable until Haan did his magic on them. Kudos to Peter!