History of Rock Climbing

  • I've sent Steve an email inviting him to chime in if he wants.

  • " In light of that, it seems reasonable to assume that the Club's support for Jim's project is 'legit'---and I'm sure that Jim still has sufficient 'clout' to make sure it is"

    Apart from preserving the finest mountaineering library in the world, I'm not sure where the AAC is going. But you are correct about Jim's clout ☺ .

  • Here's one for all of you who are interested in climbing history. A short film of the first ascent of one of the first desert towers to be climbed. Agathlan, in 1949. Definitely worth watching. And then worth thinking about as you sort your gear for your next climb.


  • Thank you David for sharing the magic! I thought your essay was great and admit that that same sentiment was what motivated me in the past to post TRs on rec.climbing and Supertopo back in the day as well as publish some photos and writing in the climbing mags 20+ years ago.

    I'm curious what issues did David Brower and Galen Rowell have with your talk?

  • On the recommend of David Harris, I bought a copy of One Step In The Clouds at the end of November. I never got around to it until mid-Feb. & have now waded through all 1,023 pages of fictional climbing stories in it. I commend David for his wonderful & very-readable 198 pg. novel, which is the last story, but one of the best stories in the book.

    Unfortunately, per his below advice, I forgot his advice on Mother Goddess of the World, by Kim Stanley Robinson, but I enjoyed the novella in this book, second only to David's novel.

    I can certainly see why David's novel placed high in the Boardman Tasker awards. I suspect it didn't place first, since it is also a crime detective novel.

    Let me also note the first 286 pages of the book are climbing short stories, & although I enjoyed some, others were certainly sleep-inducing.

    @David-Harris said in History of Rock Climbing:

    Well, if you do lay your hands on a copy of "One Step in the Clouds" you'll find in it the novella "Mother Goddess of the World" by Kim Stanley Robinson.
    Before you read that novella, go online and find a copy of Robinson's "Escape From Kathmandu", a collection of four novellas of which "Mother Goddess" is the second. Yes, it can stand alone, but is much better if read in sequence.
    Why am I putting this in the history thread? Because the stories in "Escape From Kathmandu" provide a look into a side of Himalayan climbing that you are not going to find in any mainstream climbing article or book. But which I wish I'd been a part of.
    And, as a side note, in the year in which my novel "Vortex" took second in the Boardman-Tasker prize (Vic Saunders won with "Elusive Summits), "Escape From Kathmandu" didn't even make the short list. It is an incomparably better book than either mine or Vic's, and the publisher submitted it, but the clowns on the B-T committee that year had their heads so far up their serious mountaineering asses that they completely ignored it. Philistines.



  • @bargainhunt said in History of Rock Climbing:

    I'm curious what issues did David Brower and Galen Rowell have with your talk?

    Galen's was just a minor harrumph over my comment that, in the period after WW II, the US went through an age of plenty, with a strong economy and work for anyone who wanted it. Which, in general, was true, so I'm not sure what bugged him. And, unlike Brower, he wasn't upset or angry.

    And Brower? Well, he misunderstood what I was getting at with the big change in climbing writing led by Ascent and Mountain. He thought I meant that prior to 1967 there had been no good climbing writing. I tried to explain to him in the Q&A after the address that what I said was not that that the style of climbing writing that he had grown up with and contributed to was bad, but rather that it did not resonate with the bulk of climbers who had come to the rocks and mountains in the post-war period.

    I think that was clear to everyone else in the room, but he never got it.

  • Here's a bit of climbing history... Well, sort of semi-authentically recreated climbing pseudo history to take your minds off the current plague.

    Nothing great, but something to think about when you sort out your basement-full of fancy equipment for your next climb.


  • Nice link. Heidi & I just watched that on our big screen TV. Having been aware of Conrad Kain's original achievement on Bugaboo Spire & having descended the route, trying to beat the coming night after a long day climbing the East Ridge of Bugaboo back about 1975, I enjoyed the recreation. Heidi said she was somewhat disappointed. Here's Chris Puchner, after pulling our rappel off the Great Gendarme.


  • Speaking of history, Continental Divide, A History of American Mountaineering was brought up here last fall. I bought a new copy for under $5.00 through Amazon, even though suggested retail is $28.95. I finally opened it last week & found it easy reading. The history of earliest American mountaineering was mostly stuff I did not know. The chapters on Americans climbing in America & elsewhere from 1900 to 1950 were also interesting, even if I did know some of those stories. Even his history of the 1950's & 60's were (to me) well written.

    After that, he seemed to struggle. The Epilogue chapter, from 1964 to 2015, was just horrible. For true historians, there are 65 pages of footnotes. IMG_2232.JPG

  • @FritzRay I climbed the Kain route a million years ago, and, like Heidi, wondered what the big deal was. The bit that Conrad Kain said was the hardest lead of his life seemed trivial.

    5.6 slab. Big deal. In Squamish, where I learned to climb, 5.6 slabs were thought of as the approach. The part you did in your running shoes.

    But yeah, heavy boots with hobnails are probably the absolute worst footwear you could choose to put on your feet if you were planning to climb granite slabs.

    And Kain didn't have the rope and protection equipment I had. My memory of that pitch is that, having reached the top of the steep-but-easy wall, I plugged in a Friend fairly high and then traversed the slab without much thought.

    But Kain didn't have Friends. Well, not that kind of Friends. And probably didn't have the faith in the rope and belay that let me head out without any worry.

    But that is to cast no shade on his accomplishment. Just as I followed his footsteps with no worry, the kids are now climbing my testpieces as if they were casual beginner routes.

    And so it should be.

  • Just watched Third man On The Mountain. Disney movie from 1959. really well done. Gaston Rebuffat was in charge of the climbing unit.

  • @NickG --thank you nick... wow!! say, i may have seen it when i was younger, but, do not remember at the moment... i am going to see if i can see it again, sometimes... thanks for sharing...

    say-- would be nice to see some mts... i think i will go watch the glenn ford climber movie... "the white tower" πŸ™‚

  • @FritzRay , say! thanks for the share... πŸ™‚

  • @FritzRay -- oh my... what a collection for folks... πŸ™‚

  • @FritzRay said in History of Rock Climbing:

    Speaking of history, Continental Divide, A History of American Mountaineering was brought up here last fall. I bought a new copy for under $5.00 through Amazon, even though suggested retail is $28.95. I finally opened it last week & found it easy reading.

    I downloaded a copy a few days ago, and have been plugging away at it. Like you, I found some of the very early history new to me. But despite the book's scholarly tone, I'm not sure of the accuracy of some of Isserman's claims.

    Not the claims that this or that New Englander hiked up some peak in the White Mountains in whatever year in the eighteenth century, but rather some of his statements about the physical geography of the western mountains.

    Maybe someone here can reassure me that he's right, but here are a couple that I find dubious:

    • Describing the Sierra Nevada he says: β€œSheer granite faces, ranging between 4,000 and 7,000 feet high, dominate the eastern front.”

    • And in reference to Kings Canyon, he says: "Kings River canyon, which is more than 8.000 feet deep...”

    7,000 foot sheer granite faces? Canyons 8,000 feet deep?

  • David! Many western promoters like having the deepest river canyon in their park or state. I'm used to Hell's Canyon of the Snake River, between Idaho & Oregon being touted in Idaho, as deeper than the Grand Canyon.

    So I Googled King's Canyon depth & found this:
    "It reaches a maximum depth of 8200 feet, when measured from Spanish Peak down to the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Kings River." https://www.myyosemitepark.com/things-to-do/kings-canyon

    I know Hell's Canyon of the Snake River's depth is measured from the highest peak in the closely adjacent 7 Devils Mountains to river level. It doesn't quite match up with the King's Canyoun touters. "The canyon has a total length of 125 miles (201 km), along 40 miles (64 km) of which it is more than 1 mile (1.6 km) deep. It reaches a maximum depth of 7,900 feet (2,400 metres), making it the deepest gorge on the North American continent." https://www.britannica.com/place/Hells-Canyon

    I'll grant you, it is impressive to look down at the Snake River from lower peaks in the 7 Devils, but I don't think you can see it from the highest.

    Hells Canyon small.jpg

    I suspect you can also find claims in writing that the Sierra Nevada Range towers 7,000 feet above some spot in the desert east of it. Mt. Whitney to Bishop is a 10,350' elevation loss.

  • @FritzRay Pretty much what I thought.

    That is, you could make the case that he is right, but in the real world he's wrong. Sure, the base-to-summit elevation of Mt. Whitney (and probably some other peaks in the Sierras) is well over 7,000 ft., but it's hardly a sheer granite face. Likewise, the elevation from the surface of the Kings River to the top of a nearby peak might be 8,000 feet, but it's not really what we think of when we hear the word canyon.

    Not to say that those areas are dull and boring, or that the book is crap, just that he's being a bit dishonest with his readers.

  • @David-Harris said in History of Rock Climbing:

    Not to say that those areas are dull and boring, or that the book is crap, just that he's being a bit dishonest with his readers.

    He is not using the same criteria you are. With my river running background, including Hell's Canyon, I never thought it was 7.900 ft. deep, but the facts you disagree with on elevation differences in California, are widely accepted. As a historian, he uses what he finds, hopefully with some fact-checking.

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