Trip Report
Climbing with Bridwell--FA of The Handbook, July 1972, as told by Jim
Tuesday March 27, 2018 1:33pm
In 2014, Jim sent me a draft of an article that he had written about our first ascent of The Handbook in Tuolumne in 1972. I think that Jim had written the account in hopes of getting it published, but there were no takers. I have edited it and post it here.

This photo by Chris Frankenstein shows Chris Van Leuven leading.

Chris Van Leuven on Hand Book, 5.11c, North Whiz Dome, Tuolumne Meadow...
Chris Van Leuven on Hand Book, 5.11c, North Whiz Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.
Credit: Chris Falkenstein
A slide show of Chris Van Leuven leading the pitch

The first ascent of The Handbook as told by Jim Bridwell

I usually did not migrate to Tuolumne Meadows in the heat of the summer since I knew of many routes in the Valley, both old and new, which lay in the sanctuary of shade and which were all worth doing. But the summer of '72 was a little bit different. Granted I had honorable reasons to be in the Meadows and that was a promise to a friend, but a chance meeting would transform it into a romantic interlude which by its nature created an emotional complication. Were it not for my steadfast friend Roger Breedlove, I might have fallen into love-intoxication and indolence and a debilitating stupor called Puppy-love.

While I drank coffee from the Grill sitting on a nearly flat boulder on the edge of the parking, scout Breedlove informed me there were better things to do than watch Hippies throw a Frisbee and smoke pot. I squinted up at him, my eyes burning from the aerosol mosquito repellent recently offered and delivered by a young girl in the parking lot, while he delivered his inspirational report. Apparently, the potential climb Roger was describing had had a previous attempt by none other than Tom Higgins, a talented well-known climber from southern California.

I like doing routes others had tried, that is other than people named Tom Higgins. I had climbed a few Higgins' routes, and they were all hard; I knew the day ahead would not be an easy one--that was a given. The route was a crack in a steep corner, ranging from hands to fingers, with a previously placed bolt just above a small ledge about 30 feet up. And it was on the North Whizz Dome, which I had never been to. Beyond that little else was known.

I parked the old ‘55 Ford Chuck Pratt had given me in the small parking place Roger pointed to while leaving space for another car and a jerk. Roger led the way since he was the only one of us who knew the way. I was surprised to discover how near it was to the road and that I had never seen it or even knew it was there. Granted it wasn’t like I had been missing Fair View Dome tucked away: it was small, but worthy. There was a fears’ looking route near our proposed climb, Thy Will Be Done, climbed first by--guess who--Tom Higgins. I liked Tom’s imaginative use of Biblical reference in naming some of his more appropriate routes.

A little farther down along the wall there was our baby, a beautiful little open book shooting straight up. We plopped ourselves down and had a good look at the climb and planed our strategy. My first observation was the bolt above the ledge only a short way up the climb and a bad place to belay. Belaying from the ledge with the obvious crux not far above almost assured the leader would hit the belayer with a fall at or just above the crux. I wrote it off as a mistake or, the best option, a bail bolt, or for any other reason we didn’t know. But I would soon have a firsthand look for myself. It was my lead.

It was not my intent to one-up Tom Higgins but to share in a mutual challenge, do the best I could and offer the results as an adventure to others in the future. With that as my goal, I arranged the pitons from small to larger on my right side in accord to the right facing corner and started climbing. The climbing was right up my alley: good hands and occasional foot holds for placing protection. I was soon at the small ledge with the bolt. The scrutiny below foretold that the difficulties lay a few meters above and, surely, it was reality. Where the left side of the corner bulged out there was water seeping, around which moss grew. I could see now this would have to be removed before it could be free climbed. After clipping the bolt, I moved up higher before placing another piece but not high enough to hit the ledge and break something. The crack became thinner and climbing testier as I moved closer to the seep zone. I got a good piton in just below the mossy section.

Clinging by the fingertips of my left hand, I yanked at the moss with the other hand. Most of the moss came away but dirt and goo still filled the crack, so I took a thin piton off the gear rack and started digging it out. With my strength waning, I climbed down to better finger locks to get a little recovery rest, but it wasn’t that good. I climbed back up and started digging frantically, but quickly realized I wouldn’t succeed. I grabbed the pin just before falling and clipped a sling to it to stand in while continuing cleaning out the mud from the crack. Standing in the sling didn’t completely eliminate the need to cling to the crack with my left hand for balance, but now I could reach near the top of the wet grungy bit of the crack.

This was cheating, though not so much for the resting, since I could negate that advantage by starting anew at the lower piton, but for previewing every nuance of the crack at the crux, previewing which could be described in no other words. This dilemma was an evolution of ethical ideals contradicting cosmic reality. It just don’t work that way, and no matter how much even a saintly disciple of purity wants it to be different, it will ever be the way it is in the real world. Maybe in history only Jesus could be said to have both talked the talk and walked the walk.

I briefly discussed my disgust to Roger of this unavoidable sin against man made ethics, but so it is written and so it shall be. I finished the cleaning by mopping as much of the moisture away with what I could reach with my shirttail then Roger lower me down to the last resting place.

Then I started to climb back up to the crux. This whole preparation process had taken greater effort than I had first thought leaving me more pumped than I realized. My ethical concerns had possibly been over played and now the situation was in question. What a puritanical idiot I was being, now I had to deal with damage control.

I remember that the sequence I’d worked out required starting with the right hand from a certain finger-lock but, in my present state of fatigue, it seemed not so certain. The location for the fingertips of my left hand was oozing liquid goo, leaving the situation no longer questionable but doubtful. A mixture of water, mud and chalk paste greeted my fingertips, producing a feeling response best described as trepidation. Time was short, so I reached for my chalk bag, grabbing a handful of chalk which I threw at the crack, followed quickly by my fingertips and then pulled fearlessly and without hesitation. This at first sounds heroic but it was not because, after all, the protection was at my waist, with the result being maybe at most a three feet fall. But that innate fear of falling I had kept dear since my beginning years of climbing. The fewer falls you take the less the chance of the inimitable “Murphy’s Law” manifesting itself with unfortunate death as the result. I gave the heads-up to Roger as I committed to the dubious left hand. It was tense for about three moves where upon a good finger-lock allowed me to get in a great piton and a sigh of relief. Although the climbing was still difficult, it was within my comfort zone. Fifteen more feet and I would have been laughing, instead I was kicking myself for the near blunder incurred by rookie idealism.

Procrastination is the deadly enemy of evolution: in the words of Bob Dylan, “him not busy being born is busy dying”, or as my father would say, “do something even if it’s wrong.” The platitudes are many, varied, and appropriate, but my favorite is the analogy between the gun fighter and the Alpinist wherein the survivors are only the quick and the only remainders are dead. I pondered these thoughts while Roger applied himself to the day’s endeavor.

I could hear Roger’s labored breathing as he struggled to remove my protection at the crux, which I can assure you, was no easy task for truly it was welded. I hadn’t placed this piton for easy removal, it was meant to hold a fall, not to be the weakest link in the chain. Roger would soon be the victim of his own idealism. Seldom does human idealism prevail over reality and the reality was that he if he persisted in removing the piton he would necessarily run out of strength and have to hang on the rope. I suggested leaving the damn pin and fetching it on rappel, but this was not ideal. Ideally the second on the rope would climb to the protection, remove it, and carry on sequentially. Hah ha hah...! As Roger’s breathing reached a crescendo his cry for tension soon followed as did my beckoned administration of his request.

I felt bad for Roger, but I had to hand it to him though, he never used his polio induced handicap as an excuse nor did he ever once whine about it, just as he didn’t bitch about the over driven piton I had placed. Roger seemed a little physically and emotionally tattered when he arrived at the ledge, and from his demeanor, I surmised disappointed. So, I said, “what did you learn today grasshopper”? to paraphrase the Kung Fu master on television. I didn’t wait for his answer but instead offered, “leave the damn pin, I said."

Maybe if we were on a big wall he could be concerned, but on a one or two pitch climb, we can always rappel down and fetch the piton after the climb. You can’t be climbing for other people. That can get you killed, so climb for yourself and you’ll learn more…stuff.

In the fall of 2014, Jim called and said he had written accounts (in 2011 according to the Word.docx properties) about our first ascents of The Handbook and Hoodwink. He wanted to send them to me and was confirming my email address. I was not clear why he was sending them to me, but gathered that he was unable to get anyone interested in publishing them. I thought of the pieces recently and found them on an old back-up drive. I edited out most of Jim's rants as well as too much about me to stay mostly focused on climbing.

I know that several people have asked me about the bolt midway up the first pitch, and Higgins mentions hanging onto pins in his diatribes on style, so this account addresses both of those points. Jim's account seems accurate to me, except for maybe the Kung Fu quote. I looked up the TV show and the pilot was aired in 1972. I don't think I have ever seen the show, and certainly not in 1972--no TV. If Jim was back-casting, he is entitled: foreshortening is a part of our memory.

Historically, this would have been very early for 5.11. Me wasting myself on removing a pin would not have much changed the odds of my pulling the crux, not in 1972. I had forgotten that Tom had previously tried the route, maybe he was sore about it. I had also forgotten that I instigated our ascent. Regarding the style, cleaning potential routes was not well established, especially while hanging onto protection. This is one of the style changes Tom complained about, but cleaning was soon part of the foundation of some of the best new routes in Yosemite, either on lead with a back-down to the last rest, or on rappel (for me, I hung onto protection to clean Beverly's Tower on the Cookie cliff for the FFA and rappelled down Crack-a-go-go to clean it out, although I didn't get the FFA). From the tone of Jim's account, he seems to be addressing Tom's complaints about the way climbing styles were evolving both with irony, sarcasm, and scolding. We all had great respect for Tom and everyone liked him--he was a great guy--but most of us thought that his views on how climbing should be conducted should be restricted to his personal views, which we all agreed he had the right to express, but not broadsides against the whole community. Anyway, Jim's account seems to be responding to this as well as describing the first ascent.

  Trip Report Views: 2,987
Roger Breedlove
About the Author
Roger Breedlove is a former Yosemite climber from California who lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He lives there as the result of a carefully constructed "Life Plan," that was tattered by faulty execution and accidental outcomes. He may be the only Valley climber who quit climbing accidentally; not as the result of an accident: he just sort of wandered off and never came back. Cleveland--actually all of Ohio--has no vertical dimension to its charms. The hill Roger lives on to the east of the city is, geologically speaking, the last hill before you get to the Mississippi River, 560 miles away. However, because of the shallow scoops holding the Great Lakes, water tossed out my front door will eventually flow to the Atlantic. Across the street and a bit to the south, it is all downhill to New Orleans. Take your pick: it is a lot of work to get to back to California. Unless of course you use the proxy climbing features on SuperTopo and long-forgotten photos and memories for transport.

Nick Danger

Ice climber
Arvada, CO
  Mar 27, 2018 - 02:53pm PT
Wow, I'm not sure which is the better writing, the late Jim Bidwell's or Roger's little bio. Boffo performance in both instances.
Roger, thanks for posting this delightful bit of history; it is a worthy offering to the Gods of Memory, and a nice tribute to Jim.
ron gomez

Trad climber
  Mar 27, 2018 - 05:59pm PT
Nice post Roger....I was privilaged to have sat for countless hours listening to stories and probing deeper with questions of his ascents. I somwish I would have documented them, would have been priceless. Jim had an incredible recall and could recall minute details. I remember a story or two of this ascent...I think one version of how puckered he was turning the roof.

Big Wall climber
  Mar 27, 2018 - 03:29pm PT
Thanks Roger!

Caine: Is it good to seek the past, Master Po? Does it not rob the present?

Master Po: If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.

When one eye is fixed on the destination, you have only one eye to search for the way. – Caine

I'm glad I had Friends and stoppers when I did it!!!
Bruce Morris

Trad climber
Soulsbyville, California
  Mar 27, 2018 - 03:11pm PT
Here's a couple of shot of the "Handbook" to illustrate the storyline:

I think this is the time I did the route in 1983 with Dave Sessions and an anonymous climber I think from Colorado. We were all hanging at Tenaya Beach one day and I said the HB was a great route, so we drove up the road, parked and went out and did it. Recall doing it with Mike Hernandez a couple of years later in a driving hail storm. A huge clap of thunder went off when we got on top with electricity crackling through our rope. That was the same afternoon some people got killed by lightning on the summit of Half Dome.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Mar 27, 2018 - 03:16pm PT
Nice share Roger...are you coming to the memorial?
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
  Mar 27, 2018 - 03:34pm PT
That was fun. I have heard of very low success percentage on this climb.
Thanks, Jim.
Thanks, Roger.
(I meant reading it was fun)
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Author's Reply  Mar 28, 2018 - 05:12pm PT
Thanks all,

My bio is from the Trip Report I wrote 7 years ago on the FA of Freewheeling. Still true, or at least truish.

There is good history buried in this trip report including Roper and Pratt teaching me to edit in the voice of the original writer.

Ron, I think that the pucker roof you mentioned must be on the FA of Hoodwink, yes?

Jim, I would very much like to come to Jim's memorial. I promised Tamara and Liz I would make Royal's memorial, but work scheduling got in the way. I am hopeful that I can schedule work in California at the same time as Jim's memorial to make it. Would be great to see you again--40+ years?

I have asked Layton if he can find the full text of Jim's account of our ascent of Hoodwink. I will post both his and my account on the same trip report.

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
  Mar 28, 2018 - 05:02am PT

Thanks for that fine story from long ago.
ron gomez

Trad climber
  Mar 28, 2018 - 05:41am PT
Yes Roger it was Hoodwink, I thought I modified my post once I realized I was on the wrong route!!!! Old age, but yes, he was scared making that move.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
  Mar 28, 2018 - 12:22pm PT
I didn't know about the '55 Ford that Pratt laid on Jim.

That was a good way to mention yet another highly-regarded ethical conscience.

We all owe much to Pratt, Higgins, and Bridwell.

Thanks, Roger! Hope you can make the memorial in May.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Mar 28, 2018 - 02:19pm PT
Thx Roger. Enjoyable piece tying together different threads of the same cloth!

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Mar 28, 2018 - 02:26pm PT
I hope you make it Roger. I’ll have Mark Chapman with me...another blast from the past.
Jesse Wees

Trad climber
  Apr 2, 2018 - 01:03pm PT
Nice one, Roger! Thanks for sharing your perspective, and the essay.

Trad climber
  Apr 2, 2018 - 02:53pm PT

Trad climber
  Apr 2, 2018 - 02:58pm PT
Wow I really like Jim.s writing. This is its own golden years looking back. Peace and love. Children Thank you all ..
Double D

  Apr 7, 2018 - 11:35am PT
Great read Roger. Thanks for posting and hope to see you at Jim's memorial.

right here, right now
  Apr 8, 2018 - 07:08am PT
Much thanks for that, Roger!

An interview with Bridwell by Trip Gabriel, Rolling Stone magazine, 1986:

right here, right now
  Apr 8, 2018 - 03:39pm PT
Helga Brown, Handbook crux fingerlocks, 1988:

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Author's Reply  Apr 8, 2018 - 02:52pm PT
Hey Tar is that you belaying at the small ledge with the bolt. It looks like another bolt has been added. If the leader fell off at the crux would she crash onto you as Jim feared?

right here, right now
  Apr 8, 2018 - 09:03pm PT
Yes, Roger that is me.

I don't remember exactly what the full arrangement was for the anchor, whether the original single bolt was amended with cams in the crack or a second bolt or whatever. (It does appear to be two bolts in the photograph, with a "Y" cconfiguration of yellow slings.)

I was, however on reading Jim's piece, thinking exactly what you are: was Jim correct in expecting that a fall from the crux would land the leader on the belayer?

It's been quite a while, as you can see, 30 years, but as soon as I read that passage from Jim, my first thought was that it didn't sound plausible to me (that a leader falling from the crux would hit the belayer). Of course, that just depends how widely spaced the gear is at the time of the leader's fall from the crux. My guess is any leader has gear pretty darned close to the actual crux moves, which are quite some distance from the belay.

Not to discredit one of the tension points in Jim's story.

[edit] So to be more direct, no she wouldn't have hit me, because she had gear right there at the crux, and the crux is a good distance from the belay, IIRC.

right here, right now
  Apr 9, 2018 - 11:02am PT
Here's a few more.

I think I have all these in sequence, and they precede what I'm calling the crux shot, just up thread.
This illustrates just how much action transpires between the belay and the crux.

In this first of three shots, look at the top of the picture where the crack opens up, forming a slot:

In this second photo, her left hand is now in that slot:

If you look at Helga's hand placement in this third photograph (horizontal overlap extending out to the right), it's just where her foot is in the first photograph which I posted up thread, depicting the crux, as I remember it in terms of its position on the route, where it thins down to a sequence of finger locks.

Having said all of that, someone who's done the route recently might come along and tell us that the crux is in fact that section just off the belay, and not up higher as I remember it.

So, in that case, Bridwell's criticism of the belay placement would fit his story.

Like I said, Roger, it was 30 years ago when I last did the route (First climbed it in 1980).
Probably should consider that possibility before editing his piece, right?


I just visited the entry for Handbook on Mountain Project, and it didn't provide any more clarity about the position of the crux after the bolt/bolts, except that it describes it as I recall, involving finger locks. But it doesn't say how high up above the bolt anchor.

Skip the obvious bolted anchor (its a good shake-out) and continue through a second crux of 10+ and cool stemming and finger locks.

right here, right now
  Apr 9, 2018 - 11:11am PT
Sorry to get so OCD about answering a simple question!

I have added a topo from Reid and Falkenstein's 1986 Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows.

Note that it depicts a two bolt anchor, and also shows the crux just above it.
This contradicts my recall, and supports Jim's story.

I have an e-mail in to someone who may have climbed the route recently.
I also happen to personally know the guy who made the Mountain Project post on the route. I may contact him shortly.