notes for Volume 3, Wild Vertical by John Middendorf
Glen Denny passed away recently after living a long and varied life both in and out of the mountains. Like many who spent their formative years mastering the craft of big wall climbing in Yosemite, his intense memories of his active time there in the late 1950s and early 1960s never faded, and in 2016, he published his memoirs, depicting experiences from 50 years prior and sharing vivid details as though they were yesterday.
I only met Glen once; I was strolling through Camp 4 on one of my own reminiscing visits sometime around 2000, a time of astounding progress on the big stones that I could only once imagine, and as he walked by, I recognized him and stopped him for a chat. Although my peak “valley time” was decades later than his (1980s), I sensed we both shared a wistful yearning for our younger days, when at the peak of our abilities and climbing at the cutting edge, when we were both participants, albeit of different eras, in discovering new limits of the possible on the magic walls of granite that rose all around us.
In the late 1990s I faded from the climbing scene and instead focused on other pursuits and started a family. However, during one of our first family climbing trips to Arapiles in 2016 (which has now become our annual reconnect with climbing), I came across Glen's recently published memoir, Valley Walls, A Memoir of Climbing and Living in Yosemite in the Arapiles Mountain Shop. His inspired writings motivated me to write a review for the American Alpine Journal (my first climbing writing for several decades), which in turn has led to rediscovering the fun of writing and my recent efforts to delve deeper into the inspiring stories related to the development of climbing tools and techniques. Here is the review I wrote:
In the 1980s, Glen's awe-inspiring images from the 1960s that captured the essence of early bigwalls played a fundamental role in my own discovery of living on massive rock walls, and his later writings encouraged me to venture into capturing the same magic, so I am doubly indebted to Glen for his contributions. Thank you Glen!
His partner Peggy invited me to his memorial in Yosemite, and I was sad to decline as we live in Tasmania, but as I never got a chance to talk with Glen again, I asked Peggy if he had ever seen my review. She wrote back and I was so grateful to hear:
Glen was delighted by your AAJ review; he felt that you fully grasped his intentions for the book. Unlike most climbing literature, Valley Walls purposely downplayed the heroics, as Glen recognized that every generation will accomplish more amazing feats. Rather, he was striving for an immersive evocation of that unique time and place--not just what the climbers were doing on the walls, but what they were eating, singing, reading, and talking about the rest of the time. And he really tried to capture what it was like to be a beginner daring to take part in something grand yet scary, as you pointed out in citing "The Endless Night." So it was most gratifying to him that you, a climber he greatly respected, was so receptive to his writings.
Best wishes, Peggy