History and tales of big wall climbs
Buy the books here:
My first ever climbing story was about a time when I almost froze to death halfway up a massive cliff of granite. I was still shivering uncontrollably from the three days of hypothermic conditions, and wrapped in borrowed sleeping bags inside of an uninsulated VW Van in the Pines campground in Yosemite. The Yosemite rescue team, of which I was a member and had just helped saved my life, had been moved to the colder Pines campground that winter, while the Park Service demolished campground toilets in Camp 4. Unlike Camp 4 (also called Sunnyside because it gets all the morning warmth from the sun), the Pines is more shaded by the surrounding massive cliffs, so I was dreading the early morning routine of getting ready for the day in the cold misty morning to come.
That night, unable to sleep even though I was thoroughly exhausted, I wrote and wrote pages about the experience of the past week on yellow ruled paper, how Mike Corbett, Steve Bosque, and I joined up to climb the south wall of Half Dome, trying to adjust to the reality of not being up there fighting for my life. I couldn't process it, and could sense a cataclysmic shift in my worldview. The climbs I had been doing lately had only given me more and more confidence in my ability to fire up big routes in record time, nothing really seemed impossible. Now, shattered and so grateful for the outside help, I tried to reconcile the fact that I could not do it on my own.
The story I wrote got edited, refined, and eventually appeared in Climbing Magazine, and even featured later in a collection of top adventure epics. John Dill wrote the most straightforward account, in the 1987 Accidents in North American Mountaineering (though I could never figure out his noting of “inadequate equipment” as all our gear was latest state of the art at the time).
Since then, I have enjoyed the writing process. My first task was to document the tools and techniques I had been using and helped develop that enabled more efficient big wall climbing to happen, published in Climbing #99 and Climbing #100, and later put into a small booklet I called the "Big Wall Tech Manual". It was quite a challenge converting decades of shared climbing knowledge into a systematic written document. These days there are countless technique books, much more detailed and complete than my early work. I found immense personal satisfaction in sharing my ideas (much more so than sharing my “persona”).
I wrote a bit for the magazines and journals about my adventures while I was climbing, often prompted by fantastic editors like H. Adams Carter of the American Alpine Journal. But I questioned the purpose of writing and effectively promoting. Each slide show, each article, seemed to confuse me more about why I was risking my life so often in the mountains, sometimes blindly in pursuit of a dream that came from who knows where. Eventually, it all came to an end when, during plans to climb and BASE jump a new big wall route in Baffin Island (which saw me learning to skydive out of a friend's planes without an actual instructor), my friend Xaver Bongard was killed in a BASE accident off the Staubach in Switzerland. I finally realised then, fully, the impact of our borderline reckless behaviour, a mixture of personal drive and having something to "show". After that, I decided to strictly focus on design and engineering challenges, as I best felt I had something to contribute there, and did that for a while before discovering the joys of going with gravity, not against it, on the big rivers of the southwest as a Grand Canyon river guide (where I have no “claims to fame” but enjoyed every minute of it). And currently, now, where I am helping raise a family with my wife Jeni, Remi, and Rowen, and occasionally working as a high school teacher.
I really have no idea where these tales will go. I was witness to some great moments in climbing history and got to know some incredible people along the way; these glimpses are really what drives me to take to the keyboard, so here goes.