Climbing Journal of John Evans
What follows is little more than a typed rendition of a journal I kept in an effort to document my doings as a member of the Yosemite rock climbing tribe in the 1965 summer season. I scribbled it by hand with no thought whatsoever as to whether or not I would ever let anyone else see it, and even now (October 2019) I have no clear vision as to where (or even if) it might find any interest—.
Assuming for now that any readers will likely have some familiarity with the Yosemite climbing scene, I have left intact all references to the many features and denizens of the Valley. But even readers with this familiarity will doubtless be stymied by the many non-Yosemite-specific events and people referred to. Accordingly, I am noting here for context the following details of some of the non-Yosemite-specific timing and people referred to.
For me, this Yosemite climbing season came directly on the heels of a small boat (Sportyak) trip in the lower Grand Canyon, courtesy of my brother-and father-in-law to be-Buzzy and Bill Belknap, respectively. That life-changing trip is documented elsewhere.
This all came after an October-to-March stint at McMurdo Station, Antarctica-significant in that it was here that I met Buzz Belknap who seduced me into the Sportyak trip.
Also significant is the fact that at this time I was in the process of requesting re-admission to a PhD program at the University of Minnesota-a program that I had put aside for two years to work in Antarctica. This journal includes several references to my vacillations re this far-reaching decision.
Similarly, significant is the fact that this Yosemite climbing season was truncated for me by another life-altering trip-a trip to the Yukon for the “Hummingbird Ridge” Mount Logan” expedition-also documented elsewhere.
Buzzy and Bill Belknap (mentioned briefly above) were soon to become my brother-and-father in law, respectively. (Although I hadn’t yet met her at the time of the 1965 Grand Canyon Sportyak trip, Loie Belknap and I were married in December of 1967.
Phil Smith (entries for May 19 et seq) was the Manager of Antarctic Operations for the National Science Foundation, and also a river-running aficionado.
Tibor Zoltai (entries for June 13 et seq) had been my PhD advisor at Minnesota and had become Chairman of the Department of Geology while I was in Antarctica.
Dock Marston (mentioned briefly in the entry of June 23), the venerable dean of Grand Canyon river running, had been one of the four of us on the May Sportyak trip.
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Monday, May 17, 1965
Camp 4 Yosemite
Enjoyed the top-notch R&R at the Belknap’s for 2½ days, including straightening out the gear from the river trip, a fairly successful water-skiing lesson, and I even got a rather interesting job feeler from Bob Livingston at the US Bureau of Reclamation who (according to Bill Belknap) probably just wants to hire someone willing to shoot the canyon so he won’t have to.
Left Boulder City early Sat. afternoon, drove to Las Vegas where I stopped at the Fremont Hotel, hit a $50 jackpot on a slot machine, and subsequently lost all but $10 of it.
Hit the Fresno entrance to Yosemite about 4 p.m. Sunday and made a quick side-trip to Sentinel Dome to contemplate the next few weeks. Felt really quite moved at this home-coming and it was nice to gaze from the Dome at the so-named “Incomparable Valley” below, and wonder what was in store this time.
My entrance to Camp 4 could hardly have been nicer. Parked low on the hill, got out, and was enthusiastically pounced by Cathy Campbell who happened to be walking out of the ladies’ john. She quickly filled me in on some of the doings: McCracken & Colliver were on Quarter Dome, Pratt & Kor had just done N. wall of Higher Spire–at the same time Rowell and Fender had done Leaning Tower¾ the first time two Grade VI’s had ever been done simultaneously), Sacherer and Beck did Sentinel West Face in one day for the first VI to go in a day. For this they’d taken only one rope and a couple quarts of water. Jeff Foott & Glen Denny were then up on a rescue of some climbers who’d done Harding’s route on the apron but could not find the descent route. Pratt was not in the valley that day, but Cathy told me that when she & Foott were wondering if I was going to show up, Pratt had said “He is coming, it is written.” (How nice!)
Saw Harry Daley, Jim May and Jo. Cathy introduced me to her friend Peg who immediately burst into peals of laughter. It’ll be interesting to find out the joke, if I ever do–. As I was putting up my tent, Cathy brought over Layton Kor who said he was starting early in the morning on the N. Face of Middle Cathedral, hoping to do it in a day. Kor had done Washington Column E. face a couple weeks ago. Pronounced it hard.
Later Cathy got me to lug her friend Peg (who had a sprained ankle), from the ladies’ john up to their tent. Peg weighs about 500 pounds, and the tent is at the very top of the campground, so I was seeing spots by the time we got there. Good old Cathy¾never a dull moment! She & I later went to the Tent Room for a beer and then strolled up the trail toward the falls. I’ve never seen it with so much water¾the spray very nearly reached the paved road. The stroll was fondly reminiscent of that of my last night in the Valley last year.
McCracken & Colliver were in camp when we returned. Foott had been back & gone again. He takes his army pre-induction physical this morning,
Spent this morning getting my camp set up, later took a look at Kor & Fender high on Middle Cathedral.
Tuesday, May 18
Awakened to find Chuck Pratt had returned. Quite good to see him again. Did Pat-and-Jack Pinnacles with McCracken, Daley and Jane Waters. They seemed just right and good fun. Jim May tells me I have a telegram at the Lodge P.O., but I didn’t get around to picking it up in time. Enjoyed Camp 4’s 1965 innovation tonight! Bach played on a record player plugged into an extension cord strung in the window of the men’s john and plugged into a shower outlet.
Wednesday, May 19
Did the Iota with Pratt, Fredericks, and Will Bassett. Belayed Pratt on the Chingando, for the first time it’s ever been led. I couldn’t follow the lead, (a 5.9 or 5.10 jam crack) but made it farther than I ever thought I would.
Picked up my telegram this afternoon, from Phil Smith, asking me to phone him. I tried, but the local D.C. line was down. Pratt, Christ & Bob Pillow contributed to a very successful dinner at my place. (Christ was our very tasteless nickname for Chris Fredericks)
Thursday, May 20
Phoned Phil Smith in Washington this a.m. and learned that he’s coming to San Francisco and hopes to talk to me there next Tues, or Wed. Went out with Pratt & Fredricks to try a 5th class ascent of Reed Pinnacle’s left side. Pratt did a marvelous lead with marginal protection on the crux pitch—a 5.10 flaring, overhanging 8”crack. His comment chilled the blood of both Christ and me, who were on a sloped alcove directly in his fall line. First it was “Desperate.” Then some ten feet above—he called down, “Watch me, Daddy-O. I’m going to push it ‘til I fall.” Fortunately for the three of us, he didn’t fall, nor did Fredericks, who followed. Much to my amazement I also made it, and in what seemed good time, although I was nearly exhausted at the top. Chris led the last pitch which began with a hard 5.8 jam-lieback and finished with a 5.9 jam on the last block. What a beat-out—but how nice to have made it at all, even though I didn’t lead a move!
Met Jeff Foott back in Camp 4. He was not accepted for the army and is back for some climbing. It was good to talk with him again. We hope to get an early start for the Powell-Reed route on Middle Cathedral tomorrow.
Sunday, May 23
Rained Friday & Sat so no climbing. Friday night I ran into Mary & Roger Garrett and spent a couple hours chatting with them. Cathy Campbell pulled out unexpectedly Saturday for Berkeley and then the east. Royal Robbins arrived shortly thereafter.
On Friday Pratt got a letter from Charlie Raymond expressing a wish to do the Leaning Tower on Tuesday & Wed.; guess I’ll go with him.
Today Foott and I did the S. Face of Rixon’s Pinnacle. Quite nice. Had a splendid dinner of hash, eggs, & fried potatoes at Jeff’s.
Monday, May 24
Generally looked at and made preparations for the Leaning Tower. Watched McCracken & Colliver on that climb. They’re now bivouacked beneath the triangular roof a couple hundred feet below the top. I was hoping for an early start with Raymond tomorrow but it’s now after 11 p.m. and he hasn’t yet arrived.
Phoned Phil Smith in Washington this morning and agreed to meet him in San Fran Wednesday night.
Friday, May 28
Well, Raymond didn’t show up for the Tower on Tuesday so I bouldered with Jeff and at noon left for the Higher Spire with Royal & Liz. Glen Denny hiked up with us to take pictures of the approach & start. I had the crux (first) lead which seemed quite hard but somehow went rather smoothly, although Liz had a great deal of trouble following. The day was glorious, and we had a remarkably enjoyable climb. Ate salami & cheese on the summit at 6 and returned to camp where the Robbinses invited me to dine with them. We polished off several bottles of wine with the dinner and got thoroughly smashed. Kor & Pratt stopped by in the meantime and the conversation was exceptionally hilarious, if not coherent.
Planned to leave Wed. a.m. for Berkeley, but by the time my passengers (McCracken, Colliver & Maya) were ready it was about noon. Dropped them off about 5 at Hemple’s and headed for the Ski Hut where I met both Al Steck and Phil Smith. Smith took George Marks and me to the Top of the Mark for drinks, after which Phil took me to dinner. Once again the wine flowed freely and the conversation sparkled. He offered me a position with the Antarctic Program, which could be a good thing to do. I told him I’d try to decide before Mt. Logan. (Note: This small low-key conversation led to a multi-year mini-career with the U.S. Antarctic Program. This was to become a major focus of my early adult life.)
Phil left at 11 for the airport to catch his return flight to Washington, and I drove to Sacramento where the food for the Logan trip was being packed at Long’s. Arrived about 1 a.m. and things were really in an uproar. Present were Jim Wilson, Al Steck, Frank Cole, and a number of non-expedition helpers, as well as the Longs. Spent a couple hours arranging food into meals, days, base-camp food, climbing food, emergency food, etc. The only member not present was Paul Bacon; all other prospective members have cancelled out and we discussed at some length other possibilities but nothing good came up, so I think probably only the 6 of us will go.
Dropped Dick off at the hospital at 8:30 on my way out of town, and then drove back to Berkeley where I did laundry and then spent most of the afternoon at the Ski Hut. There I spent untold dollars on equipment, and there I also met Cathy Campbell and Jeff Foott, the latter of which took me home for a steak dinner and the former of which went with me to see Royal’s slides & movie, which I quite enjoyed but thought really too dry and clinical for a non-climbing audience.
Returned to the Valley this evening to find it swarming with Memorial Day crowds.
Saturday, May 29
Drove to Tuolumne with Gary Colliver & Reva Johnson for a splendid picnic, complete with Bach suites played on Reva’s battery-powered phonograph.
Dined with them in the fantastically crowded Camp 4, and Gary & I sorted iron for the West Face of Sentinel (VI, 5.9, A 5) which we hope to start on in the morning.
Sunday, May 30
Face of Sentinel Rock
Hanging Bivouac Between Expanding Flake & Doglegs
So far, so good. I’m sitting up in my hammock to write and Gary Colliver is dangling some 6 inches above my head in his bright red Robbins hammock. The sun disappeared behind El Capitan about a half hour ago and the evening stillness has enveloped the valley.
Off to the west we can see the North Face of Lower Cathedral Rock where Eric Beck and Galen Powell started on the 3rd ascent this morning. Not so readily distinguishable is the Higher Cathedral Spire where Tom Fender and Jim Bridwell also started a 3rd ascent this morning on the North Face.
This is the first time that three Grade VI’s have been in progress simultaneously, and only 2 weeks ago today was the first time two VI’s had been done at the same time (Rowell & Fender on the Leaning Tower; and Sacherer’s & Beck’s amazing one-day ascent of the West Face of Sentinel. This latter also was the first time a VI had been done in a single day.)
Our progress today really was quite slow, although the climbing was pretty demanding. I had the odd-numbered leads, the last one (number 5) being the notorious A5 “Expanding Flake Pitch” where Baldwin took three 20-foot falls before successfully leading it (with Kor on the 3rd ascent). Fortunately, such was not my fate and I made the whole lead without pulling a pin, although Gary said that cleaning the pitch was quite unnerving as the pins slid right out for him.
I rather doubt that we’ll summit tomorrow as we have 8 to 10 pitches left, beginning with two 5.9 jam crack pitches in the Dog Leg Cracks.
Meanwhile we just finished off a marvelous pint of jello, an orange apiece, some dates, gumdrops, and kipper snacks, so all is right with our world.
–Come to think of it, Gary anchored my hammock with a nested knife-blade and horizontal, so maybe I’d better not put my full weight down!
Tuesday, June 1
Although we awoke about dawn Monday in our hanging bivouac, it was probably about 6:30 before we were up, had everything packed away, and Gary was ready to lead out. Some 30 feet above he entered the Dog Legs, and he moved quite smoothly, considering the severity of the pitch. He ran out of rope before reaching a good belay stance, so he descended a few feet to an alcove where he belayed me up 30 feet to where I could belay him while he finished the pitch.
I found his lead very difficult and strenuous, and twice I took tension. The last 20 feet was a squeeze chimney which I couldn’t begin to negotiate with the pack, so I sent it up on a loop of the hauling line. Thus, unencumbered I was able to handle reasonably well the final 20 feet, which Gary had thought the most difficult of his pitch.
The next lead seemed much more straight-forward and I’m sure it wasn’t 5.9. Gary’s next lead involved difficult tree climbing and aid, but 30 feet above him I was able to traverse 5th class left for 30 feet and climb 15 feet to a nice ledge at the base of the great chimney. This was the first decent ledge of the climb, and here I cut short the 9th pitch, and here the difficulties eased.
Gary chimneyed 40 feet, then nailed another 100 to the broken area near the summit. I started the next pitch 4th class but after 60 feet used a pin to protect a 5.6 layback then another to protect a hard 5.8 layback which led to a 5.7 jam. Thirty feet of this brought me to a sandy ledge and what looked like the end of the climb. This turned out not to be the case, however, and Gary’s next lead required a pin to protect a move in a smooth trough, then I led 150 feet of 4th class which brought us to within 200 feet of scrambling from the top. By this time, it was about 6 p.m., and after a brief rest on the summit we began the tedious descent, reaching the valley in the twilight about 8 p.m.
The climb turned out to be quite enjoyable, (although I didn’t enjoy the first dog-leg) and not quite so difficult as I’d imagined. Showered and hit the sack at midnight. I can’t remember ever being so acutely aware of the luxuriousness of a sleeping bag!
The climb took 14 pitches, although the last 3 are mostly 3rd & 4th class. Only the 6th, 7th (the Dog-Legs) and final 4 pitches went without aid, although the first pitch or two have been done free. The first 8 belays were hanging as was the bivouac. We did not need the 4” bong although had I led the first Dog-Leg, I’d probably have placed it.
We learned upon descent that the other two VI’s had cancelled out: Higher Spire because when Fender & Bridwell reached the base of the climb they found they didn’t have enough bivouac food; Lower Rock because Beck & Powell discovered after a few pitches that their one rope was only 120 feet long!
Tuesday, June 1
Rolled out of the sack at about 8:30 this morning after a most wonderfully restful night. McCracken came over a few minutes later to see if I would be willing to start on the Nose tomorrow noon with him and Colliver, heading for a bivouac on Sickle Ledge that night. I answered in the affirmative although I have a few muscle pains in my arms & legs from yesterday.
We spent most of the day sorting iron, ropes, prusik-handles, hauling bags, food, slings, water, etc. I must admit it was quite a show and we had most of the Camp 4 resident climbers for an audience.
The 3 of us had a chat with Chief Ranger Flatmark this afternoon and got the go ahead to try the Nose. (N.B. At this point in time, any attempts at an El Cap climb required a specific approval from Yosemite Park officials. The three of us, Dick McCracken, Gary Colliver, and I were arguably quite competent, but key at our interview with Chief Ranger Flatmark, was the endorsement of sorts we got from none other than the widely acclaimed Royal Robbins, who stated “I think the lads can do it”!)
Dotty Borghoff fixed a huge pot of stew this evening which was heartily devoured by the hungry mob.
Fred Becky who arrived Sunday is recruiting for a climb in Alaska. Frank Sacherer showed up about 10 p.m., hot to do some hard cracks to get in shape for the West Buttress of El Cap.
Wednesday, June 2
A most interesting day.
Awoke to find a bear had made off with the day-pack we’d packed for the climb. We found it a hundred yards east of the campground with only the candy bars gone.
Left at 12:30 in very high spirits for the climb, accompanied by a large company including Glen Denny, Neil Jacques, Maya, and others—who all made it up the 3rd class to the base of the nailing. Gary, Dick, & I were carrying heavy loads on pack frames which Neil & Glen agreed to take back to camp. By prior decision Gary was hauling and Dick & I climbing.
Mine was the first pitch, and it sure seemed different to have a mob of care-free people enjoying themselves below as I nailed my way up. Gary joined me on prusik at the top of the pitch and Dick cleaned up to me about the same time the hauling bag reached the ledge.
Dick led out the next 30 feet 5th class, and Gary & I were just congratulating each other for being there and were marveling at the excellent rock and the exhilarating weather, when Dick suddenly stopped pounding a piton, and seized his left wrist, crying, “O God!”
I called up asking if he had been cut, and he said that a chip had blown off the head of the piton and cut an artery in his arm. He was standing on a comfortable pedestal of a square foot or two and was able to stop the bleeding by direct pressure while Gary searched all the packs for the first-aid kit which was, of course, in the last one.
Dick pulled up the kit on the hauling line and put a Band-Aid and an elastic wrapping over the wound—which turned out to be a vein rather than an artery. He decided to push on, and we agreed to descend via rappel from Sickle Ledge if he was having trouble in the morning. He ascended 20-feet to the bolt and made the pendulum right very nicely, and soon finished the pitch.
Gary tightened his prusiks on the line and I eased him out until he was right below Dick, and then I ascended, cleaning the pitch. I made the pendulum and was pulling my lowering rope through when Dick called down that his hand was getting worse and that he would have to go down.
He hoped to rappel directly down below him, but we could see no ledges within reach, so I nailed back down until I could catch the other end of my lowering line and pendulum back, and rappel down to the top of the first pitch.
At this point the wind was very strong and I couldn’t hear what was going on above, but soon Gary & Dick joined me, leaving all our gear above at the top of the 2nd pitch. We rappelled again on a single line, leaving the 2 pitches fixed, and scampered down and took Dick to the hospital.
The doctor probed but could not find the chip, so he put in 2 stitches and turned Dick loose. Meanwhile a thunder shower rolled in and we 3 and Maya and Steve Miller cooked & ate under a hastily-improvised tarp at my place. We plan to try again tomorrow as the weather seems to have cleared. In fact, the storm ended in time for the last rays of sunshine to hit Sentinel & the Higher Cathedral Rock, so we hurried over to the meadow to enjoy the view.
Thursday, June 3
Dick’s arm was still bad this morning, so we put off the climb another day.
Had a most enjoyable day of leisure in the valley—Neil Jacques fed me a breakfast, then I did my laundry, watched Sacherer & Christ on the Direct Right side of Reed Pinnacle; played my guitar by the Merced, stuffed myself with Dotty Borghoff’s whole-wheat bread, bull shot with Becky, Maya, McCracken, & others, bouldered with Royal & Charlie Raymond, then had a beer in the Tent Room with Sacherer and Faint.
A lovely evening in Camp 4. I certainly sympathize with the sad feeling Royal & Liz are experiencing with their departure for Switzerland impending. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos completed the picture.
Friday, June 4
Dick’s arm was feeling much better today, so we decided to return to the Nose. Spent a leisurely morning around Camp 4, then Dick & I put Maya on the 1:50 bus to Merced. Not being able to think of any other handy excuses, we left for the climb about an hour later. This was quite a different departure from that of Wednesday. Today we simply said good-by to Glen Denny & Dotty Borghoff, the only two friends that were handy, and off we drove by ourselves.
We prusiked up our fixed lines to the top of the 2nd pitch and I led out. After a few easy pins things got fancy. About 40 feet up was an old fixed RURP, driven in until it was nearly buried, and almost burying the tie-off hole. The piece of shroud line with which it was tied off looked quite old & rotten, but I felt the pin was too far buried for me to replace the cord, and unfortunately the old loop held my weight. (Note: RURP is a sort of acronym for “Realized Ultimate Reality Piton”)
I called down to McCracken that I was going off on a bad pin but that I had a good one below it, so he should “conduct himself accordingly.” He quickly replied, “O.K. Off belay.”
As I might have expected the cord didn’t cut loose until I was high in my slings, and it unfortunately gave me a horrible 2-second warning by slipping slowly out. I cried “Falling” before it quite let go and then again in mid-air before coming to a stop some 10 feet below. Dick’s first words were, “All right, get back up there and finish your lead.”
Gary sent up some new shroud line which I managed to worry through the rivet hole after about 10 minutes work with the toothpick & tweezers from my Swiss Army knife. This time it held, as did the bad tied-off pin above, and 30 minutes and a few more questionable pins brought me to the end of the pitch. Dick cleaned on prusik and did a fine job on the 4th pitch to Sickle Ledge. I took longer to clean it than he did to lead.
We planned to fix the next couple of pitches, so Dick & I went up while Gary rigged our bivouac lines. My pitch off the ledge was mostly easy but steep 5th class. I belayed at the arch just left of the pendulum bolts. Dick came up, clipped into the bolts, and I lowered him about 70 feet for the pendulum, which was rather easy. He anchored to a bolt and I cleaned out all the high pins and rappelled from the pendulum bolt to join him. He then rappelled another 80 feet until Gary could pull him over to the easy slabs above Sickle, and I soon followed.
What a splendid bivouac we have! We shared a can of Chinese vegetables heated over a heat-tab cooker, supplementing it with canned chicken, candy, & cheese. The night is clear and quite warm, the moon in its first third, and below we can see the headlights of the weekend crowds streaming into the valley.
I didn’t climb awfully well for the most part today. Every time I seemed to get clicking something hard would come along and I found myself getting scared. I’ll have to do better tomorrow when I haul.
Meanwhile, a little mouse has been running along the ledge from time to time to check me out. Hope he leaves our ropes alone.
Oh yes—I nearly forgot! One of our gallon water bottles opened and we lost 2 quarts of precious water.
Guess I’ll put my hands in my pockets now; the mosquitos are fierce.
Tuesday, June 9
Yosemite Lodge (Continuing the Nose Account in retrospect)
Saturday was a long and exhausting day. Started with a breakfast on Sickle which included hot tea, but a few minutes later I was letting myself out across the pendulum we’d fixed the night before until my prusik rope was vertical-or nearly vertical I should say- as the wind was blowing very hard from the west and pushing me giddily to the side.
I had one hauling bag hanging from my Swami just below my feet and the other fixed to the end of the rope. First my let-out line hung up on the anchor pin I had left at Sickle, and then the wind blew the lower bag so that it was behind a flake. Fortunately, I could reach a piton crack where I tied off the end of the let-out line. Then I prusiked to the top of the pitch, anchored my tail bag, prusiked down to my tied-off let-out line, managed to get it freed, descended still further to free the lower bag, prusiked back up, and finally hauled up this bag.
The next pitch was Gary’s lead to Dolt Hole and the hauling went without mishap. I stayed in Dolt Hole for 2-3 hours, while Dick & Gary took turns at the wild pendulum above. Dick finally made it and one pitch later they fixed me a line. (We later learned that they were penduluming from the wrong bolt and should have used the 4th instead of top bolt in the ladder.) I was fortunate in having the shade of Dolt Hole to cower in while all this was going on.
Again, it was quite wild getting started out of Dolt Hole, but at least nothing got badly hung up. The 4 pitches up the Stoveleg Crack also went without major incident until finally Dick led to the top of Dolt Tower at approximately 7 p.m. and we collapsed in a heap. Our respite was short, however, as we still had hopes of reaching El Cap Towers for the night.
Gary led a very impressive free jam-crack and Dick took the next lead. I stayed on Dolt until he was quite high, and it seemed like we’d make it to El Cap Towers all right. Again, I badly hung-up my let-out line and had a very hard time. I finally had to unfasten my tail bag and carefully place it on a narrow ledge so I could haul myself hand-over hand back to Dolt Tower where I re-rigged my let-out line and swung out again. (I picked up 2 of Dolt’s old carabiners that were on Dolt Tower for souvenirs.)
Had one more bad hang-up on the last pitch in the dark and had to down-climb a lay-back-jam combination with a prusik safety to free things. Gary & Dick graciously hauled the bags up the last 30 feet and I prusiked up and collapsed in a heap.
El Cap Tower was wide, flat & comfortable, and again we had a good night.
Sunday morning, I led out, using a couple aid pins to reach the 4th class to the chimney behind Texas Flake, all of which went in one pitch. I anchored to a bolt at the top of the flake and backed it up with first bolt of the ladder leading west. When I fixed the prusik lines I didn’t notice that Gary’s was caught on a slight bulge far below. Soon after he started up the rope popped off the bulge and dropped him about 10 feet against the sloping ledges below El Cap Towers. He scraped his elbows a bit but that was all. Both he & Dick thought at first that the anchor had pulled out and he thought he’d really had it.
He was still shaken when he prusiked up to me, and he wanted me to make the double-pendulum pitch, so I first led off the bolt ladder and then belayed him as he nailed very expertly the notoriously expanding Boot Flake.
When I cleaned up to him and took a look at what I had to pendulum to, my heart really sank. My goal was a piton perhaps 60 feet below and 25 feet to the left. Gary lowered me on a brake, and I began a series of wild wide swings. On about the 3rd arc I touched the pin with my finger tips and on the next swing I was able to stab a carabiner through the eye and clip in. The pin was old & rusty, and I would have liked a more sturdy anchor, but Gary soon lowered me again, and again and I began swinging violently now level with the base of Boot Flake— until I was able to catch the edge of a crack with my left hand and pull myself over. I chickened out of nailing up the crack and chose instead to slither down 15 feet to a ledge where I belayed and pulled Gary over as he lowered himself. He finished my lead by nailing 50 feet to a sloping ledge with a bolt, where he anchored Dick’s hauling line and Dick lowered himself from the top of Texas Flake where he’d been relaxing & watching the show. Dick’s let-out rope was long enough that he didn’t get much of a swing—much to our dismay.
The next pitch (the 20th of the climb) was also an expanding flake and took me a long time. I belayed beneath a small roof and we left Dick below as Gary led through, because this was another pendulum pitch. Gary nailed up about 50 feet, and I lowered him as he flailed wildly at the pendulum, which was complicated (painfully) by a great rib of rock below the pendulum point.
After several game attempts as Gary was resting and panting for breath I asked if he wanted me to have a try. He made one more unsuccessful attempt and then I lowered him off and we switched ends of the rope.
I too, flailed violently at the pendulum without success until I lost control and came crashing back across the face upside down, narrowly escaping a bad impact with the rock rib. Gary lowered me off and I gradually regained breath & composure and went up again, this time with a seat sling to ease the agony on my waist.
This time I tried the swing several feet higher and was able to catch a small loose flake with my left hand and pull myself over on a series of quite delicate moves on flakes to a ledge. (Again, we later learned we should have made the pendulum with a longer support arm.) I anchored Dick who brought up the loads as Gary made a fancy diagonal downward prusik to join us.
Gary then led across a short easy traverse and we brought the bags over. I led up to Camp 4, arriving at about 7 p.m. Gary wanted to push on and I concurred, fully intending to make a plea for returning to Camp 4 for the night after fixing 2 pitches.
I took the first pitch to let Gary have the Great Roof (at his request, as he was climbing faster than I was). He really did himself proud on this magnificent and spectacular pitch. I followed to clean as Dick brought up the loads. It was dark by the time I reached them, and after we speculated for a time on just how far it might be to Camp 5, Gary volunteered to try the next lead in the moonlight, and I gladly and faint-heartedly concurred.
Again, Gary did a nice 6th class lead up a wide crack behind a huge flake, now in the Great Dihedral in the moonlight. Dick brought up the loads before I had the pitch cleaned, and like a true martyr he even removed 3 of the upper pins while suspending one bag from his swami so as to speed things up.
Also like a martyr he volunteered to take the next lead for me, but I couldn’t think of any good reason, so I said, “No, thanks—unless you particularly want it.” He replied, “ hell no. I just wondered if you were feeling up to it.”
This lead probably would have been straightforward enough in daylight, but it was in a narrow corner which was entirely in the shadow and I couldn’t see it at all. I found it quite strenuous to stand high in my slings, measure the crack above with my fingers, search on the massive iron string in the dark for the right pin, get it in the crack, find my hammer, relocate the pin, and try to hit it—all by braille. On one occasion I just nicked the piton with the first blow and it sailed out. I yelled a warning to Dick & Gary below and a second or two later heard Gary’s howls of pain as the pin (a 1½” angle!) struck his hands with which he was covering his head. He ended up with painful gashes on the thumb & forefinger, but if he hadn’t covered his head with his hands, he might have been badly injured.
I finally climbed out of my slings (prematurely) and did 20 feet of scary and rather dangerous friction to a ledge with a bolt. Gary & Dick prusiked up, leaving all the iron in place and we again collapsed in a heap. Our ledge at Camp 5 was not awfully comfortable but we were so exhausted we slept rather well. I was feeling the effects of dehydration quite a bit by now and couldn’t eat except for the orange and canned peaches which were all too soon gone. We did allow ourselves over a quart of water apiece as it now seemed we’d make the summit tomorrow for sure.
In the morning (Monday June 7) Dick descended to clean my last pitch while Gary & I straightened out our ropes, iron, bivouac gear, etc., all of which was in a terrible mess.
I did a short 5th class pitch to a good belay ledge; Dick nailed a beautiful straight-in crack to a small alcove 80 feet above. Then I led through, starting with a 100 foot slightly over-hanging dihedral with splendid cracks, followed by a 4th class traverse 30 feet right to a jam crack which took me to a fine ledge as I ran out of rope.
Dick did another short 5th class pitch to a fine belay ledge. Either this or the proceeding is Camp 6. It seemed to be not yet noon and we felt the top was quite near, but the Great Dihedral still swept unrelentingly upward.
I led (pitch # 32) to a belay in slings at 3 bolts, and Dick got a long lead up and around another roof. It was very windy now and the ropes blew giddily to the side. My next lead took me to an alcove beneath another ceiling which Dick again turned on the right with some pretty fancy nailing. Gary’s prusik line ran down from far out over the roof so I let him out until he was hanging quite free.
When I cleaned this pitch, I joined Dick & Gary at the base of Harding’s incredible bolt ladder. I was most pleased to find the bolts mostly to be excellent, and I marveled at Warrens’ fantastic lead where he placed some 26 of these in a single all-night lead to reach the summit.
In my anticipation I did not take proper steps to avoid rope drag, and had a bad time finishing the pitch (which involves placing a single regular angle piton in a crack which appears between a couple of the last bolts). I almost, could not pull through enough rope to get myself over the final few feet of 5th class friction and anchor to a tiny pine tree at the top of the Nose.
This last pitch in part is wildly overhanging, and Gary exclaimed that his prusik seemed like the end of the world. (Dick let him out about 50 feet from the wall!) Dick came up partly on prusik as at first, I couldn’t pull the ropes through to belay him. Just at dark we shook hands and congratulated each other on completing a most magnificent route.
After coiling the ropes and hastily packing our gear we set off in the moonlight across the rim. After half an hour we entered the forest and soon found our most urgent need—water. We built a fire a hundred feet from the creek, brewed tea, and feasted on the meager remains of our bivouac food.
This night was quite cold, and I slept much less than I had any night on the wall (reminiscent of the Ribbon Falls climb of last July). The hike out in the morning also was quite a joy, although the day was very cloudy, cold & foreboding.
Came down the Yosemite Falls trail and arrived at Camp 4 shortly before noon. We were given a heart-warming welcome by our friends, and bought showers, shaves, etc. The Borghoffs then treated us to an immense and delicious breakfast prepared by Dotty on my table beneath a hastily-erected rain fly. Most at Camp 4 were in attendance and the conversation really sparkled.
In the afternoon we were given another party by Reva Johnson, and only then did I learn that she and Gary are to be married next week! This party was singularly excellent, complete with champagne, pickled mushrooms, artichoke hearts, smoked oysters, and a gorgeous 4-layer cake baked by Reva.
Phoned home, read a bit, and crawled into my luxurious sleeping bag. Today I mostly rested & recuperated and enjoyed immensely a beautiful Yosemite June day. Tomorrow I start on the Leaning Tower with Charlie Raymond. The iron is all racked and we’re planning on a late (10 a.m. start with a bivouac at Ahwahnee Ledge. Somehow, it’s hard to be too apprehensive of this climb after the Nose, but if I don’t get in the sack, I won’t be able to move. Hope tomorrow night on Ahwahnee is as lovely as tonight.
Saturday, June 12
Leaning Tower in retrospect
I have decided to stay off the walls for a few days to recuperate from the activities of the past week. At the moment, in fact, I don’t care if I stay down for keeps.
Charlie & I left Camp 4 for the Leaning Tower at about 11 a.m., and by the time we roped up it was probably nearly one o’clock. The wall looks extremely imposing from the approach, which passes along the base some 1500 feet below the summit overhangs. The walk out along Tree Ledge is equally impressive, but these are transcended by the aspect at the route itself, which appears as a line of bolts leading out and up the overhang and disappearing from sight where the overhang eases slightly above.
Charlie won the toss for the first pitch and he led up out of sight, using all bolts except for 3 aid pins. When I let out the hauling bag for him it swung giddily out from the wall. I followed on prusik, and my lead and Charlie’s next one were, much the same—short & overhanging.
On the 4th pitch I ran into trouble. Had to tie off a bolt a short ways below Guano Ledge, and then placed a shaky pin about 2 feet above. An arch with a hairline crack curved over to the left where after 15 feet a bolt appeared. I stood, quite precariously, high on the tied-off bolt and tried vainly to place a pin under the arch. My position was quite awkward, and I was using a small hand-hold with my right hand to keep from falling over backward. Thus, I could not hold the pins as I tried to drive them and in this half-assed manner, I managed to drop all the knife blades except for 2 flat Longwares, and also a thin horizontal, a thin Bugaboo, and one of my aid slings. This latter came off the carabiner as I opened the gate to move the sling. During this time, which must have taken about a half hour, Charlie was rather annoyingly berating me, although he refused the offer I gave him to take over the lead. I tried using a couple large but badly sloping foot holds to leave my slings but that only seemed to make matters worse and I nearly came off. In desperation I called for the bolt kit and tried to drill, but my position was so strenuous & unstable I didn’t think I could make a hole. Suddenly I saw right before me an old bolt hole obscured by lichen. I drilled in it a bit, trying to drill out the sleeve that was in it. Finally, when the hole was still less than an inch deep, I slammed in a rawl drive that was lousy but would at least hold my weight.
Moving up on this bolt using my one sling and a tiny face hold I tried to place a Longware flat knife blade under the arch. With each hammer blow I had to pry the pin out from the wall so I could hit it again. It went in only a short ways but held my weight. One more very bad pin made a handhold which enabled me to utilize some foot-holds on the face and reach the bolt¾ and two minutes later I was on Guano Ledge.
The sun went down before Charlie reached the Ledge so we were not able to fix the next pitch or so as we’d hoped. Had a good bivouac on adjacent Ahwahnee Ledge—an incredible flat shelf in the overhanging wall.
Charlie’s first pitch in the morning was a piton crack that diagonaled 45 degrees to the right and was rather difficult both to lead and to follow. My pitch began with some pins behind loose flakes and proceeded up and left along a marvelous Denny bolt ladder. Fortunately the nuts I’d bought Thursday morning, fit the 9/16 bolts and I was able to put a hanger on one and a tie-off on the other. The bolts were so far apart that Charlie could hardly reach them following.
His next lead was short and all nailing. He belayed from an uncomfortable alcove as I nailed the strenuous overhang above, using cracks in which swallows were nesting. The top 70 feet of my lead was low-angle nailing until the final overhanging bulge leading to the tree beneath the great roof. Charlie began this incredible pitch as the sun sank low in the sky. His gymnastics for the short while he was in view were wondrous indeed, and his exclamations after he passed the lip of the roof assured me that the going still was strenuous above¾ and indeed when I followed, I had all I could do to pull the pins.
It was nearly dark when I started the last pitch which began in an overhanging dihedral. Fortunately, I was climbing better at this point, but after 60 or 80 feet when I reached the roof, it was completely dark and I couldn’t see where to go, and furthermore the rope drag was such that I could hardly pull it. This was one of the bleakest points of the day, and I debated the choices of coming down to unclip from some of the pins to reduce rope drag, coming down to bivouac where Charlie was belaying, or just tying off the climbing rope and leading on the hauling line. A notch some 10 feet to my left at the base of the roof tempted me to try to lead out that far for a look.
As I was feeling beneath the roof for a piton crack in the dark my hands found a bolt, to which I quickly clipped in. Placed a pin beneath the roof, then found a fixed pin, drove another, and suddenly I could reach a fixed pin on the corner and swing onto a spacious ledge on the top of the climb. Pulling the rope through as Charlie started out was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do.
He soon joined me in the moonlight and we spent a couple hours Mickey-mousing our way down to Bridal Veil Creek where we drank copiously and sacked out. Came down this morning via the Leaning Chimney; found a couple of our pins as we passed beneath the wall, and by 11:00 we dragged into the very crowded Camp 4.
I must have gone on this climb too soon after the Nose, as I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I’d anticipated. The afternoon sun on the climb was extremely hot and the belays quite uncomfortable. Quite a shame, as this is a most remarkable wall, surely one of the world’s largest granite overhangs.
Shared a chicken & conversation with Pratt this afternoon. He was depressed because his attempt with Kor on the Dihedral Wall was defeated when their hauling bag fell apart on the first pitch.
Late this evening Jim Bridwell related to me that he & Royal had been watching through binoculars when I’d led the A5 Flake Pitch on Sentinel West Face. Bridwell said he’d watched me hook my sling on the horn at the end of the traverse and remarked to Robbins that I’d made it. Robbins replied, “Impossible. Nobody could do that pitch in 40 minutes.” Bridwell said, “Well, he made it.” Royal: “Let me see. Hmm—; I hope those kids don’t get hurt up there.”
(Thank God for dumb luck!)
Sunday, June 13
Up at 8, had a huge breakfast of fried potatoes & eggs, did laundry, went to the Village Restaurant with Eric, Jock, Jan Herbert & her sister; went with the above to El Cap to watch TM & Yvon, then I went to the base of Sentinel & flaked out in the sun; returned to Camp 4 for a huge meal prepared by Jim Harper & Don Tavistock, then to the lounge where I composed a letter to Dr. Zoltai requesting his stamp of approval for my readmission to the U. of M.; then to the Tent Room for a beer with Sacherer & Faint. A most enjoyable day. (Wonder if I should send Tibor my letter?) (N.B. Tibor Zoltai had been my PhD advisor at U. of Minn when I left the university to go to Antarctica for two summer seasons. He had since been promoted to Chairman of the Geology Department.)
Tuesday, June 15
John Muir Trail, Tuolumne
First things first. Got a letter yesterday from Phil Smith asking me to call, which I did. I told him, not without regret, to cut me out of Deepfreeze ‘66 as I had just decided to return to school. I then mailed my letter to Dr. Zoltai, and have been pondering my fate ever since. It’s going to be tough sitting on my duff this fall when the Antarctic season opens, but I think I made the right decision.
Drove to Tuolumne this noon with Bob Pillow, Eric, Jock, & Tom. We got a fire permit for a 4-day trip and are now camped some 6 miles in from the highway. The others are hoping to make a circuit back to Tuolumne but I plan to leave them tomorrow or the next day and hike in to the valley via Little Yosemite.
It began sleeting about 5 p.m., just before we reached our campsite, and shows no sign of stopping. We are arranged beneath polyethylene shelters rigged on a big log. Hope the weather clears, but we should have a fairly good night anyway unless the wind comes up.
Wednesday, June 16
Awoke to find a thin coating of snow on the ground, but clear skies. By the time we broke camp at 9 o’clock clouds were gathering in the skies. We hit snow very soon after breaking camp, and soon we were out of the trees and moving over snow which fortunately was hard enough to support us. The Sierra scenery was splendid, although the skies dreary and rather threatening.
Lunched near the Vogelsong High Sierra Camp after covering 7 miles. From this point the way was all downhill and we soon were down among the Lodgepoles and out of the snow. The scenery became more typically Yosemite-like, with glacial domes and rushing streams.
Arrived at Merced Lake about 5 p.m. as the rain started. Camped by the lake, ate dinner (including many cups of tea) then had a batch of pancakes. It’s now 7:40 and the rain stopped 10 minutes ago, and the clouds lifted. A number of deer have passed by about 100 feet from our camp. Tom just left to do some fishing.
Monday, June 21
The following will be a rather desperate attempt to bring this up to date in a hurry—tomorrow probably will be worth a page or two and I’d hate to be too far behind at the start.
Last Wednesday night at Merced Lake we were visited by a bear that stole a packet of Jello and demolished my water bottle before I scared him off.
A hearty breakfast under dreary skies, then we broke camp about 8 or 9. An hour later the trail forked, and I headed down for the Valley while Eric, Jock, Tom & Bob took the Sunrise Trail back for Tuolumne. I had a nice, scenic & very leisurely hike, stopping occasionally to read. Holed up under an overhang during a rainstorm in late afternoon about a mile above Nevada Falls. Fixed hot applesauce, pork chops, fried potatoes & onions as I waited out the storm. Got to Nevada Falls about 6 p.m. and decided to camp there and come down to the Valley in the morning. (Finished Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot before dark.)
Had a nice hike down the John Muir Trail Friday morning, reaching Camp 4 about 1 p.m. Rested, read & bathed in Sentinel Creek.
Yvon & TM were high on their new El Cap route Saturday (their 7th day) so in the afternoon I hiked the Tamarack Flat trail with Jock, Eric, Jan Herbert & her sister Mary. Had a fine camp & excellent dinner near Ribbon Creek. Eric & I went to the rim at dark but couldn’t contact the climbers.
After a huge breakfast Sunday, we went back to the rim and finally about noon Eric roped down to a ledge from which he could see the climbers. They were only a hundred feet or so below, but the going was quite hard—overhanging with bad cracks. They had 5 bolts remaining at that time. We holed up under a boulder during a thunderstorm and at about 6 p.m. Yvon finally emerged into view from beneath an arch. We watched him drive some A3 pins, place a bolt, then a fifi hook on a bad flake got him left to a good crack. He nailed up 20 feet, then got lowered about 40, pendulumed to a lieback which he ascended like a rat up a drainpipe for 30 feet to a belay ledge. TM soon joined him, led up a 5th class ramp to the left, and belayed on a good ledge only 50 feet below us. That short distance, however was overhanging and pretty blank looking. Yvon did a splendid mixed lead, however and finished just at dark, with only 3rd class above him. For his last lead Eric held a flashlight for him from a prusik line from above as he placed pins in the poor crack.
By this time the support party on top also included Chuck Pratt, Chuck Austin, Gordy Webster, Jim Buckley, Tom Garrety, and Jim Bridwell. We pulled up their hauling bag and, on the spot fed them milkshakes, apples, a chicken, and champagne. They were very tired, hungry, thirsty, and grateful—to say nothing of being in a state of rather exhausted euphoria on reaching the summit.
We all hiked to the Ribbon Creek camp, built a fire, ate, drank, shot the breeze, and sacked out about 1 a.m. Arose shortly after 6, breakfasted, saddled up, and took off about 9. Stopped an hour later for a rest and to drink up the beer Pratt had packed in. Reached Tamarack Flat Road about 11:30, drove to Camp 4, cleaned up, and had a splendid mid-afternoon meal courtesy of the Herberts.
Immediately after the meal, Yvon, the Herberts, Jock Lang, and Eric Rayson pulled out. Those climbers remaining could really feel the emptiness—as always when the exodus is underway.
Meanwhile I’d asked Bridwell if he wanted to try the North Face of Lower Cathedral Rock, and unfortunately, he agreed, so we spent the rest of the afternoon sorting iron and making preparations. It was after 9 o’clock by the time we got things somewhat ready to go. I drove with Pratt to the meadow below the wall about 7 p.m. and Carlos kindly pointed out the route in some detail. It looks quite impressive, and we’re counting on Roper’s guidebook being wrong in saying, “This route, because of loose, decomposed, and dirty rock is considered the most unenjoyable and dangerous of the Grade VI’s in the Valley.”
When Kor made the 2nd ascent last fall he said it really wasn’t all that bad. (A nice thought to sleep on though, and I’d better get after it, I guess. We’re hoping for an early start.)
Forgot to mention one of the reasons this climb seems necessary. Got a letter today from Dr. Zoltai welcoming me back to the University of Minnesota, and this hit me so hard I figured I’d better get a really tigerish wall by the tail to see if I’ll wish while I’m up there that I were back in Minneapolis.
Wednesday, June 23
I remember asking myself yesterday morning if I wished I were back at U of M but I couldn’t reach a satisfactory answer to my own question. The climb, however was an utter fiasco.
First of all, my borrowed alarm clock failed to go off at 4 a.m. and I didn’t awake until nearly 5. Awoke Jim and fixed us a hasty but ample breakfast of cakes & eggs, and by 5:45 we parked the car below the wall & started up the talus. Roped up at about 6:30.
Even by following Pratt’s explicit directions I was unable to locate the 4th class start of the first pitch and began the climb with 3 lousy pins of aid in a mungy crack, followed by mixed 5th & 6th for 40 feet, then 50 feet of middling 5th over loose blocks & flakes. Belayed from a good ledge anchored to bad pins.
Jim came up & began his pitch by descending & traversing left, and he soon disappeared around a slight bulge 30 feet to my left. Suddenly I heard a horrifying crash, followed by some muffled expletives. As I later learned he was traversing over a flake which was detached at the bottom and had some large blocks wedged at the detached lower edge. These blocks had survived Jim’s dainty testing and he passed the flake using its side edges for his hands and standing on the blocks. As he passed, the flake he caught a good handhold on the wall and immediately the blocks he was standing on broke loose and he caught himself with his hands!
I soon heard him drive a pin and he asked me to lower him, which I did for about 20 feet. He drove another piton there and again I lowered him, this time to a ledge which he followed right and then ascended to a good ledge where the first pitch was supposed to end. How one could get there 4th class I’ll never know.
Jim ended his pitch slightly below me and 100 feet west. We’d been leading on his doubled 100-m 9 mm perlon and hauling on my 150 ft. goldline. To get the pack across I untied one of my ends of the perlon and Jim pulled it through and tied in. I then pulled the perlon back until I could tie on in the middle and put the pack on one end. Then I lowered the pack and Jim pulled it over; then I pulled the perlon back, tied in the end, and Jim belayed me over. I was fortunately able to remove the pins and down-climb over where I’d lowered Jim, and I soon joined him on the ledge. We were none too pleased with our progress thus far, but could see a knife-blade piton in place 50 feet above. Thus, confident that we were finally on route I started up on mixed 5th & 6th on generally loose rock & bad pins. I managed to reach the knife-blade which was in a slightly overhanging section and after testing it I clipped in. By taking tension and standing high in my slings I was able to reach an old pin scar and smacked in a small horizontal. The crack expanded very badly so I drove a larger pin an inch below, which made the horizontal fall right out.
My larger horizontal survived an all-too-dainty test, so I stepped up on it with my left foot in a low step. It immediately pulled out and smacked me in the kisser, chipping my left upper incisor and bashing my upper lip. Fortunately, the old knife-blade held, and as my right foot was still in a sling there, I didn’t go any place.
Jim was a bit discomfited and said, “Man, come on down. I won’t hold it against you.” I somehow wasn’t too upset though and buggered around a bit trying to place another pin.
A dihedral, a couple feet left of the bad flake I’d tried had absolutely no crack in the back—a phenomenon I’d noted also on the first pitch. I found a good edge hold high on the overhang and around a bulge to the right, but it looked hideous and hopeless.
I turned to Jim who was tensely belaying below, gave him the thumbs-down sign and said, “Let’s go down.” His relief was obvious. I stood on my next lower pin to replace the Bedayn ¢biner in the old knife-blade with a more expendable army carabiner so I could be lowered from the knife-blade. I no sooner got clipped back into the knife-blade when the pin I was standing on pulled, and again I swung on the old-knife-blade.
I feared the 100-foot fall I could take if the knife blade pulled out when I got lower, so I untied one end of my double perlon, pulled it through the lowering carabiner and retied, so Jim could belay me again on both strands but only one was through the knife blade. Thus, he lowered me and I down-cleaned the pitch, leaving in my one decent pin and another Army carabiner as a back-up in case the knife-blade pulled. I soon rejoined Jim at the belay ledge, untied, pulled down the ropes, and we rappelled the 120 feet to the talus, packed down to the car, and drove to Fern Spring where we mixed and polished off a quart of Tang.
Returned to Camp 4 about 11 a.m., told our tale of woe to a sympathetic Pratt & Sacherer, sorted our gear, and ate our bivouac food, washing it down with wine. I got rather high and spent much of the afternoon just talking with Glen Denny.
This morning I went to the dentist who sanded off the sharp edges of my broken tooth and predicted no problems. Got a letter from Steck, to the effect that I would probably drive with Long & Paul Bacon to Anchorage rather than fly.
Drove to the base of El-Cap this afternoon for some casual snake hunting. Picked up an amazingly complacent Pacific rattler about 2 feet long and a coral king snake the same size.
Pratt & Sacherer packed in today to the base of Half Dome which they hope to do tomorrow in a single day.
I was conversing with a couple climbers at my table about 9 p.m. when John Swenson rushed over to ask what was going on Sentinel. A series of 3 flashes of light had been coming down periodically. I looked from the parking lot and saw that the flashes were coming from quite high on the wall—certainly above the narrows. Joe Faint and a partner had bivouacked at the base of the wall last night in hopes of doing the regular route today.
I drove to the Ranger Headquarters to pass along the news but was told that they were already “working on it.” I was rather dubious (unjustly so, it turned out) but took a badly needed shower and went to the lodge where I soon found Bridwell and passed the news of the trouble on Sentinel.
We decided to grab a cup of coffee before going to the Ranger HQ for further information. While we were there, Chris Fredericks joined us and asked me if I’d like to go on a rescue tomorrow. He’d been to the base of the wall with a Ranger and by asking certain questions with the bull horn they’d been able to ascertain that the climbers were some hundred feet apart and that one of them had a leg injury. Chris said a chopper would arrive at 9:30 a.m. and that the Park Service wanted him, me, and Glen Denny to help with the rescue.
At midnight I started writing all of this up in the lobby of Yosemite Lodge. About 1 a.m. Glen Denny walked in looking for me. He was quite concerned that we were happily sitting on our duffs, and planning a rescue in the morning—yet not knowing the extent of the injuries of the victim or whether we really could be taken up by chopper. I ashamedly concurred with Glen, and we decided to push the Rangers for another attempt to contact the party by bull-horn.
When Glen pointed out that at this point, we didn’t really know whether the accident was a life-or-death situation, the rangers agreed that more information was necessary. Another try from the base seemed to confirm that the injury was a leg injury, and not a life-or-death situation. The responses to our questions, however were not entirely consistent as they apparently couldn’t hear and/or understand everything we said. (All the questions, of course, had to be phrased so they could be answered “yes” or “no” by a flash of the light high on the wall.) We learned at the Ranger HQ that Faint’s partner was a Pete Spoeker from Berkeley, who’d climbed the route only a few days before.
Sacked out at 2, up at 6, and then the frustrations really began. The arrival of the chopper was postponed until 10:15, then 11 a.m., but as of 8 o’clock the rangers still didn’t know what chopper they were to get, what its capabilities would be, or just when it would arrive. Chris and Glen and I began to wish more & more that we’d hiked up at the first light to bring them food, water, sweaters, and moral support. The three of us sat at Degnan’s drinking coffee and easing our tension by morbid jocularity about the accident and the possible outcome of the coming rescue—all in exceedingly bad taste.
At about 10 a.m. Jeff Foott appeared and was promptly (and wisely) put on the payroll. We had seen the injured party through glasses from Camp 4 and determined that the injured man was Pete, who was in the chimney above the narrows and 100 feet below Joe. It appeared that Pete was directly below a point about 150 feet down from the summit on the West Face route. I’d belayed from this point last month when Gary and I climbed the West Face and I now thought that this would be a good point from which to lower the cable.
The chopper meanwhile had to rendezvous with another chopper from Sequoia or somewhere which was bringing in a cable winch, as the Yosemite apparatus was out of commission. Finally, however, we learned the chopper was in the air, and we drove with all hands & rescue gear to Turtle Dome from which the chopper was to shuttle us to Sentinel, hoping to land on or near the top.
The first flight to recon the face and the landing possibilities left at about 11:30, if I remember correctly, with Rick Anderson and Lee Shackleton who was responsible for chopper operations. They located a touchdown point on top and Rick got off, sending back word that I was to come with the winch on the next trip.
That chopper ride was one of my most splendid, painless, yet memorable experiences in the Valley. The view was absolutely superb! The pilot gave me a close look at the face to spot the injured party and then pulled to the top where he touched a skid to a huge boulder, and I hopped out. He then lifted her up, turned around, and hovered about a foot off the deck while Rick & I unloaded the winch. Rick stayed on top to direct the chopper and I started across the summit and down the messy 3rd class gulley which terminates the West Face Route. The gulley was rather steep, had some large bushes and far too much very loose rock for comfort, as I was carrying my pack, the back harness with two coils of cable and had the winch wheel in my hands¾ but by moving carefully I was able to reach the point I had in mind. I certainly erred in not spending several minutes cleaning the loose rock out of the chimney at this point as we subsequently had to do this before bringing Pete out, but I was concentrating on making contact with the party and locating the best place from which to affect the rescue.
I called down and was able to hear Joe clearly. He said that he was all right, but that Pete had a crushed hand and compound fracture of the leg. I told them we’d be down to get them soon. Meanwhile Rick had come part way down the chimney but decided to wait for a safety line. The chopper now was shuttling in rangers, but we really needed climbers to start rigging anchors & lines. I busied myself removing a great quantity of loose rock from the notch in the ridge where the cable wheel was to go. Fortunately, Glen Denny came along soon and was able first to belay me as I pushed some large blocks down the W. Face and then he helped establish fixed lines and anchors with the help of Chris & Jeff. Meanwhile the rangers were kicking a fearful number of rocks on top of each other in the gulley.
(Both Huson and Anderson, by the way, even after a chopper recon of the face to locate the climbers, had joined me on the W. Face with the opinion that we were on the N. Face and that the messy gulley we’d descended led down to the injured climbers!)
After a great deal of web-weaving and anchoring, the winch was set up on a flat platform above a huge block at the bottom of the gulley, and the pulley wheel was established some 80 feet away and somewhat above, at the notch between the North and West Faces. Huson decided he would go down on the cable with the litter, and if he had difficulties Glen would rappel down to lend a hand. As Huson was lowered I went up the gulley to rig Denny’s rappel line with the 1,000-foot goldline from the top.
I had a bit of a struggle getting this very heavy rope to the summit, and by the time I got it anchored I had one of the worst spaghetti messes I’ve ever seen, but still had several hundred feet on a free end that I could drop to Glen for his rappel. I spent about an hour on top untangling and was afraid I’d miss out on all the heroics, but finally made sense out of the rope just as they began calling for me to give them a hand on the cable.
I descended to find that they were bringing up Dave & Pete on the cable but were having trouble with the wheel, which tended to tip precariously. Also, the belay rope was horribly twisted around the cable and could not be taken up. As I later learned, Huson had been held on the belay rope when a connection was made in the winch cable, then when he was taken back on the cable the rope had started its inexorable twisting. The cable took Huson straight down to Pete (to my great relief) but he was beneath an overhang and they couldn’t quite reach each other. Pete had then tossed Dave an aid sling with which Dave pulled himself in. Dave said that Pete was able to get in the litter almost unaided and into the sleeping bag but that Dave had to unclip Pete’s anchors. The trip up certainly must have been harrowing, as Dave said that some of the time they were “30 feet out from the wall,” and spinning giddily. He had taken a walky-talky down with him, and Glen, Jeff, and I tried to maintain some semblance of communications (hampered by poor reception and some others somewhere who unfortunately were using the same frequency for an insipid conversation of their own).
Dave would periodically plead for us to take up on the belay rope, but even with Chris, Jeff & me pulling we couldn’t gain on the twist. Dave also became (very understandably) impatient when he was left dangling and spinning with the basket whenever we had problems or connections to break above.
When Dave and the basket did come into view over the last big overhang, Jeff descended some 25 feet on a series of aid slings so that he could reach the basket and untwist the belay rope.
Huson on descent had not seen Joe Faint who was in a chimney to his left, but on the way up they were able to talk a bit. Huson later told me that on his descent when he first saw Pete, he thought this was the upper man and that he would have to descend another 150 feet.
Pete had a pretty rough trip for the last few feet into the notch, as the stretcher could only fit through lengthwise and we had to stand him on his head to get him through. From the notch we had to make a 60-foot traverse across a smooth wall over which Jeff & I had rigged a series of pendulums. At this point Rick & Dave decided we should clear the loose blocks out of the gulley before bringing the litter up, so Pete had to wait many minutes in the notch while the winch was removed from the gulley so this could be done. Meanwhile Huson put an inflatable splint on Pete’s mangled leg, and Glen & Chris rigged a prusik line for Joe. I tried to get them to give Joe a belay, but they didn’t think this was necessary.
By this time, it seemed to me that the rangers had become a bit complacent and it seemed that they must have thought the rescue was over when the winching was discontinued. They opened some tidbits of food and diddled around with the winch and generally seemed suddenly relaxed, but here we were with a badly injured man we had to move across a high angle face and up a hundred feet or so of messy gulley by sheer manpower.
We finally got things underway once more, traversed the wall with pendulums from 3 anchors, running belays from both ends of the traverse, and 3 men at a tree near the terminal end.
Once in the gulley we simply manhandled it up using a single belay-hauling rope manned by 3 rangers on top. It was hard work and I’m sure quite rough on Pete as the stretcher was tipped up, down, & sideways as we moved upward. At one point we had to pause at a small flat step to slide Pete back up into the litter as he’d slipped a couple of feet downward when we’d had to stand him up. He took all of this with an amazing stoic composure. In fact, one of the first things he’d said to me when we horsed him up onto the notch below was, “Man, that was quite a pitch!”
We eventually got him up the gulley, however, and across the summit to the chopper pickup point. His sense of humor again was remarkable, and he responded well to Chris’s chastising him for using “aid” and to my suggestion that we throw him off the North Face, litter and all. It was now about 6 p.m. and some 26 hours after his accident. Soon he was loaded into the basket of the chopper and taken to the Lewis Hospital in the Valley.
The chopper was to get us off by shuttling us to Glacier Point which was much closer than Turtle Dome and would have been better for our embarkation that morning. Meanwhile I cleaned up the rubbish the rangers had strewn over the gulley & winch platform, and thus won a great moral victory for the climbers. The rangers dutifully loaded my box of trash onto the chopper when it returned. From Glacier Point Jeff & Lee took the chopper to the Valley and the rest of us went down by Park Service pickup.
Joe Faint, by the way, had finished his prusik as we were taking Pete across the traverse. Our first sight of him was a bit of a shocker as his face showed the ordeal he had endured on the wall. Here’s what had happened:
Joe was belaying from the sandy ledges above the narrows and Pete led out, heading toward the chockstone chimney. He crossed a great block and hung a sling for protection without testing it, as (so he later told me) he’d tested the block thoroughly and used it for an anchor in his climb of last week. Pete apparently started up somewhat to the right, soon noticed his mistake and descended to move left. As he crossed the block it came down with him, smashing his hand on the way, and lodging on him at the base of the couloir and slightly beneath Joe. Joe descended to him but the two were not able to lift the block from Pete’s leg, which was badly crushed. This was about 4 or 5 p.m.
Fortunately, they had 3 expansion bolts which Joe placed above the block on either side of the chimney. They fastened aid slings below the block and to the bolts, and by using their 2 hammers to twist the slings and by wedging the block up with pins they were able to ease the weight—estimated at 500 lbs.—enough for Pete to free his leg. This was accomplished at about 7:30 p.m. Joe thereupon climbed another pitch to a bivouac ledge and was able to get Pete above a block to where he could sit. Joe gave Pete his sweater, but both later said they were miserably cold. It turned out that Pete had compound fractures of the tibia & fibula in 5 places, fractured thumb & forefinger, and severe lacerations of right hand & forearm. He said he was most impressed by the speed with which the doctors patched him up —he was worked on for less than an hour.
The rescue operation, of course, drew great interest in the Valley, and crowds were watching all day.
On the following day (Friday) I broke camp, loaded up, and left about 4 p.m. with Bridwell for the cities. Released my rattler & coral king beneath El Cap on the way out. Dropped Jim off in San Jose, and I arrived at Berkeley about 11 p.m. and sacked out at the pad.
Spent Sat, Sun, & Monday taking care of last-ditch preparations, visiting friends, feasting, etc. At 5 p.m. Monday I was showering at Jeff Foott’s house when he phoned from Livermore that he’d gotten in a wreck en route to Yosemite. I drove out to pick him up, brought him home, and after a fine roast fixed by Mrs. Foott, we decided to take his gear to the Valley in his dad’s car so that he could get squared away in his living quarters in the morning. Arrived at Camp 4 about 2:15 a.m. and sacked out. Up at 7, breakfasted in the cafeteria, then I spent a couple hours writing up last Thursday’s rescue while Jeff got squared away.
Got back to Berkeley about 6 p.m. Learned by a phone call that the heat treating of the aluminum snow-shoe frames for Mt Logan had been completed and that these could be picked up any time before about 11 p.m. in San Francisco.
Stopped at Dock Marston’s house to drop off my slides of the river trip for his perusal. He still hadn’t returned from Boulder City but I had a nice chat with his wife, daughter, & son-in-law.
Got to Steck’s shortly before 9 where I met Al’s parents and stashed my iron, ropes, Coleman, and many other items. I arranged with Al to meet him at 8 a.m. at the Ski Hut to pick up the last remaining items.
Next stop was Mort’s pad where I hoped to catch McCracken and leave the El Cap pictures with him. My timing was fortunate, in that just as I arrived a great pan of Jim Harper’s cherry-pineapple cobbler was being dished up. McCracken wanted to have a slide showing so I sped to San Francisco to pick up the aluminum while Dick went for a slide projector. Returned about 11 and spent an hour viewing Dick’s slides of his desert trip with Harry Daley and my climbing slides which I then left with Dick.
Wednesday, June 30
Pulled out of the Ski Hut at 9 a.m. and arrived at Long’s around 11. Dick was not to get off work before midnight, but I learned from Betty that I would have to take his Buick to Lake Tahoe and pick up his father’s pickup. Meda & Bret went along for the ride and I made the mistake of teaching them the chorus to the “Bozener Bergsteiger Lied” which we subsequently had to sing for Betty and Bruce Marshall when we got back that evening.
Paul Bacon phoned from Denver that he would arrive about 9:15 a.m. Spent the evening sorting out gear for the Mt. Logan trip as Betty repaired & revised Dick’s clothing. We still hope to be able to leave sometime tomorrow afternoon.
It’s now 12:20 a.m. and Betty just left to pick up Dick. I’m feeling the accumulated lack of sleep of the last few days, so I hope to get in the sack soon. Guess I’ll retire this book and use a new one for Logan. I’m sure the trip will warrant it but doubt if my efforts to keep an up-to-date account will work out.
I guess the “great burning questions” of May 3 have been answered; I plan to have another fling at the University of Minnesota and I’m certainly going to Mt. Logan rather than Peru. My most optimistic prognostication gives small chance for ultimate success (i.e. a PhD and the successful ascent of Logan’s SW ridge) in either of these ventures, but in both instances the experiences inherent will certainly make the effort worthwhile —I hope.