By Tom Frost and Pat Ament
Since 1941, Yosemite Valley's Camp 4, now known as Sunnyside Campground,
has been the "base camp" of the world's greatest rock climbers. It is from
Camp 4 that climbers such as Jim Madsen set out to go to the rescue of
fellow climbers in trouble. In Madsen's case, the effort ended in his
laying down his life for his friends in a terrible storm. But people
remember Madsen, for he exemplifies the climbing spirit at its best. While
some might regard climbers in a kind of roguish light, there has always
existed a higher elementùnamely the boldness and heroism, and reputation of
integrity, belonging to a sub-culture of true pioneers and artists. Camp 4
writhes with the past energies and memory of these famous spiritsùJohn
Salathe, Royal Robbinsà. The legacy, however, is still being left by the
genius of the present day, such as found in the likes of Peter Croft and
John Bachar whose achievements are the mind-boggling world standard.
On 29 May 1997, National Park Service historian Harlan D. Unrau visited
Yosemite Valley and Camp 4 to conduct "site-reconnaissance research." This
was relative to the significance, integrity, and potential eligibility of
Camp 4 as a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. His
conclusions, contained in the NPS report of 6 June 1997, state that the
campground does not meet the standards or criteria for listing in the
Register. Such an answer betrays "an agenda." Mr. Unrau had apparently
come to Yosemite with his own mind about things and found ways to support
such thinking. But he is simply wrong.
Unrau's report feels like a social evaluation of various Camp 4 residents.
At any given time, among any social variety of people, can be found the
"low-lifes." Outside the Metropolitan Museum, someone will be snatching a
purse from an elderly lady. But such contradictionsùthe good and
evilsùthat live side by side in this sacred world by no means negate the
good. Perhaps Unrau was not able to acquaint himself with what is truly
worthyùas well as historically significantùabout Camp 4 and Yosemite
climbing. Not everyone who goes to the museum is the measure of the art
within. One must develop one's standards of judgment, perhaps best by
having passed through a few of those Camp 4 years.
An observer must get tuned into the feeling, the legacy, the spirità of
quiet revolutions that took place in that little spot of dust and trees and
boulders. Camp 4 is full of history. Camp 4 is a site that more than
possesses all of the criteria necessary to add it to the National Register:
historical significance, integrity, and uniqueness. It is one of a kind.
Camp 4 is a center place for events that have significantly contributed to
California, national, and world history.
Rock climbing is not simply an activity enjoyed by a few basically
tourist-types who come to Yosemite. It is a spiritual enterprise. That
is, it embraces all of the deepest meanings of life. It pursues those
meanings, even if one does not refer to oneself as a "spiritual" person.
Climbing leads the way upward and, by necessity, upward in terms of
personal growth. Individuals must rise to the challenge of the
difficulties and must face their human limitations. More than any other
sport, and equal to any art, climbing polishes a person by rather
immediately identifying imperfections of thought or character. Climbing is
also artistic, an art of the highest order and with life and death
While a sometimes more mediocre world would banish such notions as
"spiritual" or "artistic," and would resent such claims to historical
integrity, climbers go forward in their mission. They keep climbing, as
Royal Robbins says. They pin-point their hits, taking a berth high in the
sky of their personal vision. They are anchored to ideals, alighting on
footholds that speak of the exact detail of existence and how little
separates failure and success. A climber by nature attends to the grace of
the occasion of life. He goes upward into realms of granite, with its
views down to the river or the cars tiny so far below. Two climbers
present themselves to the warm day and soak up the sun. They bear out the
storm and feel life. The live life, as opposed to being spectators. The
blank desolations of granite and fearful crack climbs teach them of their
souls, of what the true inner person is about. These climbers indeed will
learn something of their character, their courage. Upward is the general
line of movement, the nooks, the crannies, the great lairs behind huge,
exfoliating flakes. Climbing is a study in interiorityùgoing inside,
breathing the rock, smelling it, using it as a shelter, finding it warm or
cold, sometimes pleading with it. There is life everywhere in climbing,
even in the granite. Their vision is fixed on upward progressùfor which
climbing is the outward exercise and the sweetest of spiritual metaphors.
These climbers are souls who, at a glance, may sometimes have left their
tattered climbing clothes on or failed to shower. They may be tired, even
irritating. These are the people who can upon occasion be found wanting in
terms of immediate social graces. They are, after all, distracted. There
is so much space up there to think about, so much exhilaration to consider,
so much rich blue flooding down everywhere from the heavens and clean,
yellow light of a morning's sun hitting the pitch.
The relatively simple disposition of the climber's habitat, Camp 4, tends
to conceal deeper habitats of thought and hope. Here is found the "spirit
of place." Just trees and boulders and campsites? No way. Here is an
ever-evolving colony of minds and spirits seeking the relevant in life,
seeking to be among this campground residence of kindred spirits and
friends who share the quest of higher life or who may be able to teach
something of it. Don't look any deeper, don't look any farther back into
the sacred past, and you will see only the trees and the boulders. You may
not even see those. For in them, as they truly look, is a deeper
spiritùthe same one just described as being in the possession of climbers.
The trees have life. They have stood there and absorbed. They have blown
with every Yosemite wind and wind of change. The boulders have felt the
hands, the hands of the genius boulderers of several generations. The
boulders have felt the loneliness of centuries. These boulders remain
quiet. They seem to say nothing. Yet there is an interchange among those
who know, those who are doing the deeper looking. Camp 4, worthy of at
least two whole books of which we know, and the center story of hundreds of
articles and other international publications, has more going for it than
meets the eye. You must meet it with your soul.
Camp 4 deserves the recognition and inherent protection of enlistment in
the National Register of Historic Places!
Today Yosemite is the world center for rock climbing. This was not always
so. Rock climbing initially began in the British Isles in 1850. And no
roped climbing was practiced in Yosemite until Francis Farquhar and Robert
Underhill brought a knowledge of modern European rope management to
California in 1931. Armed with this new vision, rock climbers in Yosemite
began thirty years of quiet development. They were shielded from the
scrutiny of the rest of the world's climbing. During these years of
independent involvement, a Yosemite climbing system developedùa unique
system of practices dictated in large part by the glorious and frightening
specter of the Valley's monolithic walls of granite.
Camp 4 was not simply a place of repose, rather a launching place of these
bold energies. It was and is a gathering place where winsome relationships
between souls become solidified and prepare to mature in the cloudscapes of
sweeping adventure and symmetry of stone. The aesthetic of climbers
embraces, above all, the art of discovery and self-confrontationùthe
principle of progress on a personal and team level. No where on the earth
was and is such an opportunity more available than on the incomparable,
sheer wilderness of Yosemite's granite walls. To suddenly be a part of
such a heritageùwhat creation had somehow placed before these climbersùwas
a blessing of unimaginable worth. To speak almost poetically for a moment,
it was also as though the right individuals were chosen by some grand,
pre-mortal, spiritual design to partake in the adventure. Such a striking
individual as Royal Robbins, for example, seemed to come from nowhere. But
he was in fact the right man for the job. He possessed all the integrity
of a great artist, a Thomas Edison of climbing techniques and a Jefferson
of high ethics. The beautiful, graceful, sacred walls of Yosemite were not
left just to anyone to first explore. Of course they were too difficult
for just anyone.
The development of Yosemite climbing "peaked" in the Golden Age of Yosemite
big wall climbing of the late '50s and 1960's. The unique system practiced
by Yosemite climbers then became the worldwide standard, especially in
terms of "style"ùa term among climbers meaning to play the game, to
practice the art, with honesty and fairness. The walls could not be
reduced to mere technical, mechanical achievement. The mechanical side had
to be held in the right proportion with raw, developed physical and mental
ability. Faith, integrity, and courage were given an opportunity to have a
say. The early Yosemite climbers insisted on this and set the standard for
others throughout the world to follow. That is history! And now, still,
Yosemite climbing ISùremainsùmodern rock climbing. It might be said that
Yosemite, along with a few isolated achievements of climbers in other
places of the world such as England and Colorado, is the birthplace of
style and integrity in modern rock climbing.
Anyone with any sensitivity who visits Camp 4 must feelùin the very
boulders and high, ponderosa pinesùthe mystique of Yosemite's substantial
and meaningful climbing history.
John Muir was the first Yosemite rock climber. He made many explorations
and ascents in the Valley and in Yosemite's high country. Gary Arce, in
his book Defying Gravity, writes, "His style of treading lightly through
the wilderness, learning nature's story along the way, and constantly
discovering new beauties, still provides modern climbers with an enduring
role model." (Arce, p. 12). Said actor Lee Stetson, playing John Muir in
the Yosemite theater, "When I discover a new plant, I sit down beside it
for an hour or a day and see what it has to teach me." John Muir's respect
for the creation is a philosophy that formed the solid, basic foundation
upon which every succeeding generation of Yosemite climbers would build.
Armed with their new knowledge of rope management, in the early 1930's,
Dick Leonard and other Bay Area climbers invented the American rope
techniques of dynamic belay and hip belay and made the first ascents of
Higher and Lower Cathedral Spires. Observes Steve Roper in his
award-winning book Camp 4, Reflections of a Yosemite Rock Climber,
"By and large, the two Cathedral Spire climbs of 1934 set a marvelous
standard for future climbers. An ethic had unconsciously evolved, one that
seems to me to speak volumes about the character of the three climbers
involved. Train hard for a climb and know what you're getting into. Be
boldùbut practice proper safety measures. Don't be afraid to turn back.
Most of all, don't subdue the rock with technology; use sophisticated
gearùbut use it wiselyà these three men did a splendid job. They are the
first modern-day climbing heroes of Yosemite." (Roper, p. 25).
During World War II, many of Yosemite's best climbers answered their
country's call and put their skills to work at the same time. "Among this
group were Captain David Brower, Captain Raffi Bedayan, Major Richard
Leonard, Lieutenant Fritz Lippman, and Colonel Bestor Robinson. Their main
assignment was training U.S. troops in the fundamentals of climbing and
mountain travel." (Arce, p. 28).
Camp 4 was established as an official, numbered campsite on the north side
of Yosemite Valley in 1941 (according to Linda Eade, Yosemite Research
Librarian). Roper, in his book , notes, "Enormous, incense cedars
dominated the site, though oaks and ponderosa pines rose here and there.
Boulders dotted the entire camp, where climbers usually stayedà. Into this
soon-to-be-famous campground came the post-war climbers. (Roper, p. 30).
Indeed Camp 4 is famous, and fame does not come without history and without
certain principle-based attitudes that underlie what is achieved.
The greatest, humblest, boldest, most visionary climber to enter this
post-war stage, and the one having the greatest impact on subsequent
generations, was John Salathe. A Swiss blacksmith, Salathe arrived in San
Francisco at age forty-five and took up climbing a year later. After
familiarizing himself with Yosemite cracks, he forged by hand the world's
first hard-steel pitons. This enabled placement in otherwise hopeless
seams of rock, eliminating the need for many bolts. Additionally Salathe
was willing to travel light and self-contained up some of the Valley's most
frightening walls. Such intelligence and forethought, such courage,
allowed him to establishùwithout siege techniquesùthree of the greatest
climbs in the world: the Southwest Face of Half Dome (two days, in 1946),
the Lost Arrow Chimney (five days, 1947), and the North Face of Sentinel
Rock (four and a half days in 1950).
John Salathe left an enduring legacy. He "was the first to see that
artificial climbing would open up vast new possibilities." (Roper, p. 12).
He set the big wall process in motion. "But for Salathe, more important
than reaching each summit was the mannerùthe styleùin which the climbs were
completed. He neverà tried to bring the difficulties down to his level.
On the contrary, he worked hard to build himself up to the level of each
climb, whether by training to do without water or devising new tools to
eliminate bolt placements." (Arce, p. 34).
Royal Robbins recently called Salathe "the father of American climbing."
(Slide lecture, Boulder, 7 November 1997). In respect for this man, an
edified later generation of Yosemite climbers would name the magnificent
Southwest Face of El Capitan "The Salathe Wall."
As the 1950's progressed, southern California climbers Royal Robbins and
Warren Harding began to take residence in Camp 4 and to build on the
big-wall legacy left them by Salathe. During five days of 1957, master
climber Robbins pioneered a route up the two thousand-foot Northwest Face
of Half Dome. This was the biggest wall that had ever been climbed to this
time. It was a profound achievement, considering the youthful age of
Robbins and the quality of their footwear and other gear.
Immediately after Robbins' success, Warren Harding laid siege to the three
thousand-foot Nose of El Capitanùwhich ended after forty-five days and
thirty nights of climbing spread over a year and a half. "Harding's ascent
represented a major breakthrough in Yosemite rock climbing. The
psychological barrier of El Capitan had finally been overcome. The Golden
Age of Yosemite big-wall climbing was now well under way." (Arce, p. 46).
Steve Roper writes, "The Northwest Face of Half Dome and the Nose of El
Capitan showed that the biggest walls were possible, and the names Royal
Robbins and Warren Hardingà will forever stand for vision and courage."
(Roper, p. 12).
The decade of the '60s started fast, with historically cornerstone
activities. One was the arrival of truly modern Yosemite hardware in the
form of hard-steel pitons of all sizes from Yvon Chouinard's shop in
southern California. Designed for Yosemite, these pitons ranged from
postage-stamp sized "RURPs" and near paper-thin "knifeblades," up through
forged horizontal pitons and angles in sizes from _ inch to 3 or 4-inch
"bongs." The critical tools for efficient climbing of all widths of
Yosemite's cracks had arrived, and these are in use todayùbasically
unchangedùin the mountain ranges of the world. One can recall the photos
of pitons spread out across the full length of a Camp 4 picnic table as
Robbins and Pratt prepared for another new ascent of some imposing,
conspicuous wall. The history includes the fact that these men were
experimenting with this new equipment, finding out how it worked and IF it
worked, as they ventured upward vertically and on overhanging rock.
Chouinard's new-design carabiners (which allowed the gate to open under
load) helped in the development of aid climbing, whereas a leader could
climb up in his aid slings on the new piton before having to clip in the
climbing ropeùan efficiency still almost universally employed. The silent
realms of Yosemite's big walls, the soft sounds of blowing air, were
accentuated by clips of carabiners and tapping soundsùpiton hammer against
pitonà. Such breathtaking discovery, such exploits, stand as the bedrock of
climbing history and integrity.
Another epoch-making breakthrough was the continuous ascent of Harding's
Nose route in seven days in 1960 by a four-man team headed by Royal Robbins
and Chuck Pratt. Here, using no fixed ropes to ensure retreat, was born
the true spirit of adventure on big walls. Steve Roper observes,
"It is difficult to imagine now what a psychological breakthrough this Nose
climb was. Without fanfare, the best rock climbers in the world had simply
gone up and done the planet's toughest climb without using fixed ropes. In
a single stroke, this changed Valley climbing permanently; never again did
top-level climbers string fixed ropes from ground to rimà. In short,
Robbins believed in commitment. This attitude, as visionary as Harding's
original El Cap plan of three years earlier, was to have far reaching
implications during the next few years, leading to stern words and actions
among two camps: those who thought fixed ropes were fine and those who
thought them wholly unnecessary. For a few years, this polarization
causedà countless discussions in Camp 4." (Roper, pp. 116-117).
One year following this continuous ascent on the Nose, the trio of Robbins,
Pratt, and Frost were together, in Camp 4, organizing "to embark on one of
the great endeavors in Yosemite climbing." (Arce, p. 51). Their goal was
the ascent of the Salathe Wall of El Capitan. Roper analyzes the
"And so ended what Robbins was soon to call the finest rock climb on earth!
Nine and a half days, two pushes; less than two weeks had elapsed. Fixed
ropes had lain on the cliff for only three days, and the thirteen bolts
placed low on the route became the total for the entire route. àThe time
was ripe for evolution. Harding pioneered the big-wall concept; Robbins
refined it." (Roper, p. 128).
Indeed there were ethical developments, as exist in any area worth its
weight in history, and the setting was one of building upon the
achievements of others. Climbers were somewhat obsessed with the urgency
of the opportunity, and it was natural perhaps that some began to succumb
to less ethical, less bold methods. In the end, the higher ethics would
hold supremacy. Yet the little emotional struggles between the
participants on any side were vital and would express, in some unusual way,
the value of the various spirits involved. The conflicts were not so much
a representation of division as they were of growth. Later, in Galen
Rowell's book The Vertical World of Yosemite, Robbins would acknowledge
Harding as participating in another great, siegeless ascent: the South Face
of Yosemite's Mount Watkins.
Steve Roper calls Robbins' philosophy "noble and calculated." (Roper, p.
125) As of this writing, the Salathe Wall is still widely considered to be
"the greatest rock climb in the world."
On all these climbs, and until 1963, climbers ascended their fixed ropes
using prusik knots and hauled loads by sheer arm strength. Or a climber
whose duty it was to handle the hauling would prusik with a heavy,
sometimes 50-pound, haul bag hanging from his waist loop. In 1963, Jumar
ascendersùdeveloped in Switzerland for cavingùwere brought to Yosemite.
Jumars allowed more efficient ascending of ropes and were perfectly suited
for use in hauling a heavy bagùa vital, labor saving technique invented by
Robbins. (Roper, p. 171). In this new, Yosemite big-wall method, the
second man cleans the pitch by jumaring the climbing rope while the leader
hauls the bag with his two jumars. This Yosemite invention opened the
largest walls to two-man parties and is a method still used today on
multi-day ascents of big walls. (Roper, p. 171 and 190)
In October, 1964, the forbidding, overhanging North American Wall of El
Capitan was climbed. About this climb, Steve Roper muses,
"If you assemble the four best rock climbers in the countryùprobably the
worldùand stick them on a steep, unclimbed Yosemite cliff, you may not have
too many stories to tell afterward. On October 31, nine and a half days
after starting, the quartet had completed the most difficult rock climb
ever done. The exposure had been awesomeùmuch more so than on the Nose or
the Salatheùand the nailing difficulties [piton work] unprecedented.
Mightily determined to avoid bolts (only thirty-eight were placed), the
team performed miracles and made wild pendulums and traverses. Robbins
wrote me a few weeks later: 'The best way to sum it up is to say that there
were at least a dozen pitches which on almost any other climb would be the
crux pitch. This is the greatest climb I have done, but the Salathe is the
best.'" (Roper, pp. 191-192).
Chouinard suggests that "àthe basis for this type of climbing was
established by the naturalist John Muirà. He used to roam the Sierra for
weeks, eating only bread and whatever he could pick off the land, sleeping
under boulders in only his old army coat and rejoicing with the summer
storms. He chose to accept nature as it was without trying to force
himself onto the mountains and to live with them, to adjust himself to the
rigors of this sort of life." (Muir WallùEl Capitan, American Alpine
Steve Roper's history of Yosemite climbing's "formative years" (his book is
significantly titled "Camp 4") proceeds on this basis:
"I focus on the most significant climbs, the most visionary climbers, the
most far-reaching equipment advancesà. My choices are subjective, of
course. By significant climbs I usuallyùbut not alwaysùmean first ascents
of either big walls or fierce jam cracks, climbs that by their very
boldness upped the ante. By visionary climbers I mean those who saw that
the big walls could be climbed using no fixed ropes, or with few bolts, or
in a more efficient style, or perhaps with a new kind of equipment. Such
people, and there were but few, thought long and hard about rock climbing
and then acted on their ideas." (Roper, p. 13).
In the book Climbing In North America, author Chris Jones notes, "When
John Harlin and Robbins made the direct West Face of the Dru [in the
Chamonix Alps], it became apparent that Les Americains were ahead of the
Europeans on granite walls. The locals [Europeans] were in awe of the
technological wizardry, and American chrome-moly pitons commanded a high
price in Chamonix. Before long Europeans adopted many of the Yosemite big
wall innovations." (Jones, p. 363)
Roper closes his story by describing his general departure from Yosemite
climbing in 1971: "The relative solitude of Camp 4 had given way to the
crowded conditions of Sunnyside, the renamed camp. Thus the early 70's, to
my mind, signal the end of a special era of Valley climbing." (Roper, pp.
It must be realized that "Sunnyside" was and still is viewed by most
climbers as Camp 4. The name really did not change because a bureaucrat
decided to offer a new name and paint it on a sign. No uniformed mandarin
was able to destroy any of the history or the lore or the magic or the
memory of eras gone by. Kevin Worrall writes in Climbing Magazine of
"Camp 4 will never again be the community it was in its heyday, and I feel
fortunate to have lived there so easily during such an exciting and
historic era. It's much more difficult now for a young climber with
limited financial resources to really get to know Yosemite. The changes
imposed on Camp 4 and Yosemite's climbers by the National Park Service are
an example of their misunderstanding of climbers and the essence of our
sportà. Yosemite Valley is the cradle of American climbing, and the
undefeatable spirit that was nurtured here is as strong as ever among the
boulders of Camp 4." (Climbing Magazine, p. 152)
Regarding Royal's new route on Half Dome in 1969, Gary Arce writes,
"It was fitting that Royal Robbins should complete a demanding new Half
Dome route at the end of the Golden Age. His 1957 ascent of the Northwest
Face had opened the era, and Tis-sa-ack [another Half Dome route] would be
the closing chapter. The Age had come full circle.
"In the short span of twelve years, Yosemite climbers advanced from
youthful mountaineers to the best rock climbers in the world. They were a
rag-tag assortment of serious thinkers and whimsical jokers, but the routes
they established would come to be revered in the climbing community.
Drawing strength and inspiration from their predecessors, these climbers
were able to accomplish routes of unbelievable length, severity, and
elegance. But even as they pushed ahead, they had a clear sense of where
Yosemite's climbing heritage had come from. Personal challenge and
adventure were what drew them to the sport, and the familiar Valley walls
always seemed to offer something new.
"With each bold step forwardùfrom the ascent of the Northwest Face, to the
Nose, the Salathe Wall, the North America Wall, the Muir Wallùtheir
techniques and philosophies revolutionized the sport. The methods and
attitudes developed in the Valley would soon have a major effect on how
climbers applied their skills." (Arce, pp. 77-78)
As far back as the American Alpine Journal, of 1963, Yvon Chouinard wrote,
"Yosemite Valley will, in the near future, be the training ground for a new
generation of super-alpinists who will venture forth to the high mountains
of the world to do the most aesthetic and difficult walls on the face of
Recent decades have verified that Chouinard's vision was on target. In
Camp 4 in recent years, English is just one among many languages spoken.
The climbers that now come to "mecca" are just the tip of the iceberg
compared to those who want to come and those who will come.
Among all the varieties of spirits and nationalities that now congregate
in Camp 4, are those climbers who go to the rescue of climbers. The
"rescue site," a group of camps within Camp 4, is where the rangers turn
(and have turned since the 1960's) when they need the true expertise and
help necessary to bring someone in trouble off a Yosemite wall. Countless
times, over and again, the rescuers of Camp 4, many of whom are among the
world's elite, such as Jim Bridwell or Peter Croft, have risen to the
challenge on a moment's notice and saved livesàmany lives. These climbers
are real life heroes, and the evolution of their skills has produced
state-of-the-art rescue techniques. Some of the most dramatic, and simply
amazing, rescues ever performed in the world have occurred in Yosemite.
This will speak of the importance of climbers to each other but also should
prove the value of climbers to the National Park Service.
In the early days of Camp 4, there were no rescue services. A serious
accident on a big wall was just thatùa most serious situation, and there
were few (if any) climbers with abilities far reaching enough to aid in
such a rescue on a big wall. Thus one can sense the commitment required of
those early days, the dread seriousness and responsibility involved in
beginning a big wall. That mystique has never lessened, even in the face
of today's high standards of ability. The many adventures of the early
pioneers, combined with the many rescues through later years, add up to
important history and a kind of folklore all its own that very much adds to
the story of Yosemite. Indeed the folklore of climbing in general, much of
it centered in and around Camp 4, is as valuable as any aspect of the
history of Yosemite.
For today's climbers to gain a sense of their heritage, it is important for
them to return not only to their routes but to their roots. In America,
and the world, the look backward historically takes the eye, heart, and
mind right to Camp 4, as though blown there by the wind, and to the
pioneers, the great heroes, the legends who early ventured from their home
base campground onto the most difficult and aesthetic routes known in the
world. In this process, and isolated in their Valley home, climbers of
exceptional individuality developed new techniques, specialized equipment,
and a pure ethicùwhich would become the worldwide model. Camp 4 became and
remains "the home place." Visiting climbers will think of staying nowhere
else. It is part of the pilgrimage to stay in Camp 4 and, in some sense,
to live as the pioneers and become a part of that history.
Yosemite's Golden Age on the big walls was followed in quick succession by
a renaissance in free climbing and bouldering, as small cadres of dedicated
climbers continued to raise the standards of Yosemite climbing. Many
climbers now come to Yosemite just to try themselves against the free
climbing test pieces or the classic boulder problems. Many of the world's
free climbing test pieces are located in Yosemite, and names such as Pratt,
Bridwell, Kauk, Barber, Bachar, Croft, and Hill, and visitors such as
Gulich, Moffat, and Moon will long be remembered.
Now, decades later, in the 1990's, the Nose remains the most famous and
sought-after climb in the world, followed by the Salathe Wall. Examples of
free climbing test pieces that are known far and wide include the runout
classic Bachar-Yerrian and the milestone Phoenix. One of the two most
famous boulder problems in the world is still Camp 4's Midnight Lightning.
(Kevin Worrall, Climbing Magazine, May 1994, p. 89)
A new generation now begins to inhabit the campground in the persons of
teenagers Chris Sharma and Tommy Caldwell. These lads are representative
of a new wave of American climbers whose abilities equal any on earth.
They are true athletes in the world-class tradition and carry a banner
passed on by many generations that have occupied their individual and
collective places, sleeping on the ground amid the boulders and the
ponderosa pines in this center place for rock climbing worldwide.
Camp 4 has been a vital, living domain of Yosemite from 1941 to the present
(the Camp was actually designated as a camp as far back as 1906, according
to a U.S. Department of Interior report in 1987 by Linda Wedel Greene).
The capital features of Camp 4's history are all the constructs of not only
the Park Service and the renowned climbers who have left an aura there but
the Master Craftsmen, and they remain perfectly in tact. And not only does
Camp 4's integrity meet the 50-year criteria, but the site isùas the above
treatise should showùof exceptional importance.
To be determined eligible for listing on the National Register, districts,
sites, buildings, structures, and objects must "possess integrity of
location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and
association" and must underà
Criterion Aù"be associated with events that have made a significant
contribution to the broad patterns of our history." This is met. Climbing
is a broadly based activity and one of the fastest growing sports in
America, enhanced by the explosive growth of indoor climbing. (1997 State
of the Industry Report, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of America, p. 11).
There are an estimated 7.5 million rock climbing participants in America,
two million of which (1 percent of the population) are considered
enthusiasts who account for 78% of the total days rock climbing. The total
sales of technical climbing equipment in 1996 were $108,200,000. (1997
State of the Industry Report, p. 17). Beyond this broad participation,
many additional Americans have a keen interest in the sport. In El Cap
meadow, astonished climb-watchers far outnumber the climbers doing
pendulums or struggling up difficult new terrain. Interest is evidenced at
the El Capitan meadow stop of the Valley floor tour by the rapt attention
given to the guide as he exclaims, "I'd like to say they are not crazy,
folks, they just like to enjoy the beauty of the park." (Overheard by Tom
Frost, in Yosemite, October 1997).
Certainly the Yosemite Mountain Shop is a thriving business and contributes
to the interests of the Valley concessionaires. And a simple walk into
that shop will enable one to realize that literature on the subject of
climbing is in abundance. Widespread interest is evidenced by the millions
who have read the current No. 1 best sellers about the Mt. Everest climb.
The development of rock climbing, stories and history of how it has come to
be what it is today, and the way it is practiced, appeal more and more to
the world's readers. And the broad popularity of rock climbing in America
and worldwide is proof of a huge influenceùeven a revolution. For this
revolution to have taken place, to have begun, right in Yosemite and Camp
4, is more than significant. It is not only a history of a real people and
some true artists but represents a very, very important contribution to the
way things are in the worldùto the shaping of actions and
thoughtsùliterally the lifestylesùof millions of Americans and countless
others around the world.
Criterion Bù"be associated with the lives of persons significant in our
past." The persons named in this history suffice. They are world-class
athletes, artists of the art of climbing, and pioneers par excellence.
They are among the greatest individuals in the world, and their influence
extends beyond the immediate experience of climbing. David Brower is the
most influential American conservationist in the second half of the
century. Ray Jardine invented spring-loaded cam devices that
revolutionized rock climbing protection. The address he used on his patent
application was General Delivery, Yosemite National Park. He was a Camp 4
resident (or "bum"), one of those Bohemian in appearance who in fact was
simply looking for a constructive and purposeful place in life. He found
it. Yvon Chouinard is always a great innovator. The climbing equipment
business Chouinard founded, now called Black Diamond, employs 250.
Chouinard's line of Patagonia clothing is equally well known throughout the
world. If you have fleece hanging in your closet, the connection runs
directly to Camp 4. Galen Rowell is respected throughout the professional
photographic industry as one of the finest wilderness photographers in
America. Brower, Bedayan, Leonard, Lyppman, and Robinson's training of
10th Mountain Division Troops made a difference in the Italian
campaignùwhich was one of the smoothest running of the war. Royal Robbins
is world famous and not only an internationally successful clothing
entrepreneur but a highly respected contributor to communities and lives.
Many other one-time Camp 4 legends have made their name in the world:
David Breashears, for example, has gained international fame for his
ascents, rescues, and film work on Mt. Everest. And so on and so on. It
is very easy for a single observer to say, with cheaply flowing words, that
such individuals are not significant in our past, but such a statement
lacks all of the foundation that bears up the tower that is the truth.
Criterion Cù"embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or
method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that
possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and
distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction."
The significant elements of Camp 4 not only represent the work of many true
masters of an art but also The Master. Consider a black oak. Or the
flawless, streaked granite and intimidating overhangs of the boulders
dotting the site. Moss and lichen grow on the trees and rock. Air blows
through the pinesà. The work is perfectly fashioned for the purpose
intended and for the legacy it was to leave. As for "artistic values," as
the criterion mentions, climbing itself has always been more artistic than
it is a sport. Suited so well to individual implementation and expression,
those with the flair of an artist have found their way in rock climbing and
painted the canvas of gorgeous granite with their own slants on life amid
sunlight and storm. Climbing technique not only requires the precision
selection of strokes but is akin to the artistry of the gymnastùrequiring
grace, balance, exactness, hours-months-years of severe trainingà. What
the climbing artists give to their art is no small matter. It is
dedication of the highest order, with very life and safety dependent upon
the degree to which the art is mastered. Unrau does notùor is not able
toùrecognize the mastery expressed in climbing, or the true masters and who
they were. Nor is he apparently inclined to know their artùwhich is every
bit as great as any produced in the world. Unrau would likely have spurned
the Bohemian art of Greenwich Village or written off Picasso, orùas the
Spaniards didùpersecute and defame El Greco. It would be an interesting
lesson for Unrau (or any uneducated observer) to simply attemptùeven with
the safety of a top-ropeùChuck Pratt's crack The Twilight Zone. If ever
there was a work of art, and not just art, but art of a combined physical,
mental, spiritual, and creative nature, the horrendous, steep crack of The
Twilight Zone should suffice as a small example.
Criterion Dù"have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important
in prehistory or history." Gettysburg is a historical siteùhowever plain
and open it may appear to tourists and however mean and roughly hewn some
of the participants were who suicidally ran and shot at each other there
with rifles. More than any other site of its type in the world, Camp 4 has
yielded and continues to yield more information of more importance to our
history than any other. It may well be the scene of greatest significance
in all of grand alpinism, exceeding places of renown such as Chamonix. Nor
is it rivaled in any measure by the beautiful Jenny Lake campground and
bouldering area in the Tetons, another famous location central to
The significance of Camp 4 is precisely historical. Rock climbing is the
foundation of it, and Yosemite Valley is the crucible.