Monday, November 30, 2015

Treasure of the 1970's

Finding treasures in a thrift shop is always fun! My girlfriend especially loves searching for the one thing that everyone believes has no value. This one day my girlfriend was truly eager to show me what she found. It was an old but spotless copy of a 1974 National Geographic Magazine. On the front cover was a picture of an old school climber managing a hard-looking traverse on Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley! She had paid a mere 50 cents for the issue. As we were both born in the late 80’s / early 90’s we felt overwhelmed to open the more than a 40 year-old issue of Nat Geo.

The ads for the first Polaroid camera, the vintage cars, a wooden rocking chair and a very old slide-projector got our eyes hungry for more. That fifty-cent piece of junk was now our open-door to the 1970’s. We would soon discover about the forgotten bad-asses of the Yosemite Valley.

The article brings you back in time. Back to the first ascent of half-dome without pitons. ‘’A piton is a steel support that is hammered into a crack until it rings like a railroad spike. Big climbs had been considered impossible without such aids as pitons and expansion bolts’’ says Rowell. The team of three, Dennis Hennek, Galen Rowell & Doug Robinson, brought nothing but a rack of aluminum nuts. It was at that time, the longest and most difficult rock-climb ever accomplished in North America. As Galen Rowell recounts their epic ascent, he mentions Robinson’s feelings towards Pitons. This common practice in the day made routes unattractive. Pitons would scar the mountains and gave them a bit of a Frankenstein look. They didn’t even bother bringing them ‘’just in case’’.  Doug Robinson made it clear he wanted to do it ‘’clean’’.

I have so much respect for these guys. They proved to the world that you can climb and ‘’leave no trace’’ on the hardest of climbs. To me this was a strong message to the climbing community about ethics. Obviously today, there is a lot of talk on what is acceptable and what isn’t. The principles of climbing today have changed a lot. One thing is for sure, I don’t know anyone who could comment negatively about this ascent. It took them 3 days and two nights to climb.

As I look at the pictures in the article I can’t help myself but shake my head in awe. This is still today an impressive exploit. They didn’t have fancy shoes nor did they have camming devices. They didn’t have half the technology we have today and they didn’t need it. They did it the hard way! That for me is passion and dedication. This article apparently motivated a fair amount of readers (climbers or not) to hit the crags back then. Forty years later and 50 cents poorer, I feel the same. The big walls are calling!

Author : Vincent Kneeshaw
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