While teaching skiing in Aspen, I had met a local climber, Harvey Carter, who was on the Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol. His patrol nickname was “Mr. Balls”. Towards the end of the winter he invited me to accompany him to Utah, to do some climbing. We first headed to Arches National Park, and did the first free ascent of Skyline Arch.
The next day we drove to the area of Double Arch, where there was a route Harvey wanted to complete. He had named this particular spire “Bureaucracy Tower”, because the rangers had pulled him off it, for placing bolts on his first attempt. It was later renamed Buccaneer Rock. We completed the climb, which he called the Bureaucracy route.
We next headed back up the river road, to Castle Valley. The river road was, at this time, unpaved and treacherous. You could easily get stuck when crossing gullies, and you had to have chains and a shovel with you, just in case. But, compared to the paved roads, it was still a time-saver for the trip from Aspen to Moab. We drove up Onion Creek to just below a spire Harvey called the Hindu and camped in the bed of the wash. We did the first ascent the next day.
Then I headed to “the Valley” – Yosemite Valley. I installed myself at Camp 4, the climbers’ camp. In these early days of climbing in Yosemite Valley, life in Camp 4 was free and easy – the Valley was uncrowded, there was no limit to the time one stayed, no formal campsites, and the Camp 4 boulders to work out on. Sometimes there were even girls. One could steal showers at the Lodge, and try to beat the bus boys to meals left unfinished in the cafeteria. There were always plenty of partly-eaten “Green Plate Specials” left sitting on tables to tempt us. There were also “bones”. These were the bones from prime ribs, that we could buy for a buck each from the kitchen. They would still have big gobs of meat attached. And one could shop lift – at least until caught. Non-climbing occupants of Camp 4 – tourists with pets – would throw out food, which we would retrieve.
We were bums, doing whatever it took to be able to stay in the Valley and climb, similar in many respects to ski bums. One’s daily existence in Camp 4 was as laid back as one could imagine. Sitting at the camp table, lingering over a morning beverage, reading fiction and poetry, photographing the abundant beauty that surrounded us on all sides, writing in one’s journal, talking about what to climb next. Wood smoke, blooming azaleas and dogwood in the Spring, the smell of the ponderosa pines and pine needles, gallons of Red Mountain wine, outrageous waterfalls, the bears, the magnificent forests (there are no trees like those that grow in the Sierras), the meadows, the Merced River, the granite … what a place to be able to just hang out! And, there were one’s fellow climbers, as interesting a collection of people as you could hope to find. A recently published book of memoirs, by Glen Denny, is must-reading for those interested in life in the Valley in the early days. It’s titled: “Valley Walls”, and published by Yosemite Conservancy.
In May, David Hiser joined me in the Valley. We started with a climb of Selaginella Slab, named by Gary Colliver (a botanist) for a moss-like plant found on the route. David and I were not high-caliber climbers, looking to do first ascents and multi-day routes. Rather, it was our plan to tackle the classic one-day routes. Here’s the list of our climbs, courtesy of David Hiser’s journal (edited):
“We started 5/8/64 climbing Selaginella Slab (5.7) and doing numerous climbs until 6/12 when we did El Cap East Buttress in 8.5 hours. Eric Beck was our mentor, suggesting routes and drawing topos. I have it that we climbed Lower Cathedral Spire (5.6) on 5/9/64. Royal Arches 5/11/64. Washington Column Direct 5/14/64. Yosemite Point Buttress ( w/Lito and McCracken) on 5/25/64. Arches Terrace (5/28/64)and Half Dome SW Face on 5/30/64. On 6/4/64 we did Patio Pinnacle with Ed Leeper and Higher Cathredal Spire, Steck-Salathe Route on 6/5/64. El Capitan, E. Buttress on 6/12.64 was our last climb and I went back to the NW.”
I met up again with David in August, in the Tetons. Again, it was our plan to climb the classic routes. The North Face of the Grand Teton is the Teton classic.
Not long ago, the NPS released photocopies of the summit registers of the Teton peaks.
David and I climbed the N.E. snowfields route on Mt. Owen, another classic, prior to climbing the North Face of the Grand Teton.
David and I finished our summer of climbing with a trip to the Cirque of the Towers, in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. We walked over Jackass Pass to Lonesome Lake, where I caught lots of trout for us to eat. We even found a cache of corn meal and lard to aid in the frying of the fish.
We climbed nice routes on Mt. Mitchell and Pingora, hiked down valley aways and then hiked north to Hailey Pass, and east to Grave Lake. We also visited Baptiste Lake, at the foot of Mt. Hooker. It was now late August, and we hiked in fresh snow back to Big Sandy, along the east side of the Cirque. The “Winds” were everything that they were cracked up to be – spectacular mountains with fabulous rock, howling wilderness and plenty of trout.
In these crude photos, you can see the artistic photographer in me trying to come out. But first, I needed a better camera. The following photos were taken with a 16 mm Minox sub-minature camera.
I returned to Yosemite Valley for the fall months, and then to Aspen for the winter. That, my 5th ski bum winter, will be seen in the following chapter.