Routes are like people, who we discover and learn from in life; they are vertical books whose ideas stretch us physically and mentally; they are meridians of current that sing the energy of each particular mountain. In the dizzying, wrap-around granite world of Yosemite, the routes outnumber the local humans by tens of thousands. The lessons and boons are endless.
In the mid-2000s, I worked at the Yosemite Wellness Center directly across the street from Camp 4. The gym was slow, the floods of ’98 having washed away the adjacent employee housing dorms and tent area (the Wellness Center is now located in Curry Village), so I had plenty of time to stand outside and admire the marble-colored swirls and striking white granite of the Camp 4 wall. I would trace lines up the angling cracks, over the folded overhangs, interrupted only occasionally by someone asking if I could change the CD, or rent them a movie. After work, I would invariably run into a friend who was stoked on a big climb on a more famous Yosemite formation, and I would promptly forget the Camp 4 Wall and sign on for the climb.
Five years and dozens of El Cap ascents later, I was still blissing out on the Yosemite climbing life, but had still not been up to the Camp 4 Wall. I asked Cedar Wright and Lucho Rivera, who did the first free ascent of the wall back in 2001 via Camp 4 Terrorist, what they thought and they said it was cool. I couldn’t find anyone else in Yosemite who had climbed up there. One local told me that the wall wasn’t steep enough to be worthy. Another mentioned that someone had told him the descent was horrendous. It was the typical climbing rumor mill – long on opinions, but short on facts. Online I fared better. A “Camp 4 Wall” thread had dozens of posts. A soloist reported climbing two routes up there in the 80s, and had posted original chicken scratch topos drawn on brown paper bags. I set the spotting scope up in the Lodge parking lot and looked closer. The wall looked crisscrossed with continuous cool cracks. It was time to check it out!
On a splitter, April morning in 2012, Richie and I headed up to check out the wall. We brought my one-year-old son Austin, and within a half an hour from camp, Austin was picking up dirt at the bottom of the wall. Sweet short approach! Wet cracks glistening with grass tempered Rich and my enthusiasm. We traced the line we had spotted on www.xRez.com like marksmen. A few pitches up the cracks looked cleaner and steeper. Our last climb had been an epically cold, winter re-drill fest of the old Harding line on Porcelain Wall. Grass or no grass, Camp 4 wall was sunny and offered cracks bottom to top. We were sold.
A couple days later, Richie led the juggy 5.8 crack first pitch of the Camp 4 Terrorist. This pitch was dry, and from the anchors, it looked like we could traverse left fifteen or twenty feet into our line. We weren’t sure if the line we had picked had been climbed, so each pitch had an exploratory nature, like, “does this go?” But also some uncertainty as the climbing was so natural, we wondered if we would find old bolts or slings above. By the top of the fourth pitch, we would be certain we were on uncharted terrain.
We hung our gear and I went back to work and Richie hiked some loads and fixed more pitches. We were giddy. The wall steepened as we climbed higher and the cracks were cleaner, too. The rock was super frictiony for Yosemite and beneath the grass, the cracks we were climbing were good.
Putting up First Ascents takes longer than repeating routes, but the excitement and anticipation of each new pitch rewards your efforts. A week later, we jugged our ropes, excited to spend the next two days finishing the wall.
Nights on the Camp 4 Wall are a safe perch above the hum of the Valley. You look straight across at the Yosemite Falls Trail. At night the stream of jubilant headlamps bounding down to creature comforts, mixed with the occasional hoot or yell from Camp 4, provided the visual entertainment. Richie’s shortwave radio warbled funk and jazz. Once all was quiet below, the Valley landscape gleamed with an unpeopled feel. On the wall, you are above it all.
Richie and I enjoyed a leisurely morning on the ledge atop pitch 4, just taking it all in. The gentle Merced carved lazy S turns in green fields below; birds flitted around. Life was good on the wall. Eventually we headed up our ropes and continued up more sweet, mellow cracks. We worked well together and by nightfall we were settled into a palatial ledge, with the summit pitch fixed above us. Thunderclouds flickered above Half Dome as we howled monkey lingo and laughed.
What’s In A Name
Naming previously unclimbed features or pitches is one perks of first ascents. Often the route or pitch names speak to current events of that time period. The Zodiac, on El Cap, for instance was climbed during the chronicled Zodiac murders. It was 2012 when we climbed Good Ol Boy, and the presidential election was front and center in the news. The candidates tried to differentiate themselves, each claiming that they represented the interests of the 99% of average Americans, and not the 1% super wealthy. We named a cool tower half way up the route ‘Tower to the 99%’ in this vein. The Chicken Wing was an obvious, curvy corner that drew us to the climb.
We named our route Good Ole Boy, because it was just mellow fun cruising up a sunny wall. Pitch after pitch would offer grassy/splitter climbing. Our Direct Northwest Face Route on the Porcelain Wall, a variation start to the Harding Route, had required endless drilling (Harding and team famously chopped all the bolts on their route behind them in 1974 in response to other climbers chopping some bolts on Harding’s El Capitan epic Dawn Wall). Gold Ole Boy needed just a handful of lead bolts. We both said this route felt like an old friend, or like a new favorite film that spoke our language of loving the vertical life less traveled.
Richie (R.I.P) died in 2014 in a climbing accident on Liberty Cap. He was the Good Ole Boy in this story, for sure. Always psyched, always interested in trying some new bigwall foods or new equipment, just always psyched to be sharing an adventure up above the everyday world below. Huge hearted and generous, Richie’s grin touched everyone he met in Yosemite. Shine on Richie! Woot!
4 thoughts on “First Ascents: An FA Story of Good Ol’ Boy”
Great stuff Eric! Love the story, pictures and history. You too are a “Good Ole Boy” and thankful to know and bond with you whenever possible. Thank you for sharing this!
What’s a kinder teacher doing reading this article? I am one of the many cousins of Richie, and loved reading about this incredible climb. Your writing style is beautiful, descriptive and kept me wanting to read more! Keep writing. You have a gift! And thank you for sharing this glimpse into how Rich really “lived” in Yosemite.
Psyched to get up on this wall!
Very enjoyable read. I’ve stared up at that wall every time I’ve camped at Camp 4, but have never seen anyone on it. I’m stoked you wrote about your climb, and sorry to hear about Richie. It sounds like he lived his life fully.