Dear Steph Davis,
Via a link from prAna, I found a YouTube video of you making a wingsuit flight in Lauterbrunnen. I was there in I guess late May/June 1973, camped in the valley with my wife of three months, on our way to spend a year in her native Poland [it will be 40 years this month!] I recognized our camp site from the video of your wingsuit flight and chute drop! I was happy to see it has not changed much. Looking further I was astonished – I mean, I was blown away -to find a video of you free climbing the Diamond on Long’s Peak; was that climb in 2011 or earlier?
Here is a short story. I think in 1967 I did a couple of cross country trips with friends – some solo camping & hiking down the Muir trail in the High Sierra . I don’t remember the month maybe late May early June. I remember there was still snow on the side of Basin Pond where the Diamond meets a small field of scree by the water. On my hike up Long’s Peak to stay over night at Basin Pond I met two young guys who had just come off the Diamond – the first climber was very down cast , but the second told me the story of their aborted attempt to climb the diamond that had ended after spending the night camped on Broadway, or “bagged out on old broadway” as I wrote about it. I was so struck by these two young technical climbers as they came down the trail, their clanging petons and ropes and the terminology about the unpredictability of ‘rotten rock’ and the weather, that I walked part way back down the trail with them so could get their story from the younger climber. I scribbled it all down and turned it into a song, which some 35 years later I recorded in 2005. Because of your free climbs of El Capitan and the Diamond I thought you might get a kick out of the song.
Climbers I talk to these days find the song, “Rock Boys”, quaint, dated and flawed- but after watching the short bits of your free climbing route up the Diamond I realized the story in the song still works even though the techniques have evolved dramatically with nuts, cams and other gadgets, to just using hand jams- much cleaner, very little if anything is left behind to mar the rock. Watching you climb the Diamond – telling myself to breathe and relax – I understood in a new way the images I was searching for to describe and imagine the two young climbers that did not make that particular attempt on the Diamond [I want to believe they returned]. I wanted to imagine their sense of time slowing to where their blood slows & flows like scree, to imagine their understanding of the rock. I also realized from one of your narrative comments that it was the more experienced climber’s inability to control fear as much as the extreme weather that stopped the two rock boys.. Watching you and others I realized the control of emotions as much as technical skill and strength remain paramount over time. Climbing is geological in a temporal sense too – like rafting down the San Jan out of Bluff, Utah through several billion years of rock formation! I notice you talk about gaining perspective in some of your notes to others- I think rocks and topography give us great perspective. Over the years almost every passionate climber I have talked to from the US to central europe have always said the Diamond is the most amazing rock face to climb and that climbers come from every where to learn on it.
On the same trip out to Colorado in ’67, I drove by Moab; we stopped for an hour at some red rock formations, I think it was in Arches – I climbed up into the shade & just sat in the silence. Every time I fly to LA from JFK we pass over Moab and I remember that stop and think of going back to hear that silence. I heard that silence again in the Valley of the Gods near the San Juan in 1999. In the 80s I use to take my son & daughter to climb artificial walls before they were teenagers – it was an experience we had a lot fun doing together – that and hiking in the White Mountains, skiing in Europe.
Anyway – attached is an MP3 of the song, its called “Rock Boys” in the US; I think we called it “Petons” or “Pytony” in Poland where the CD was mixed [my lead guitarist was a Polish jazz musician in the band Prowizorka ]. The song is out of date if for no other reason then there are so many astonishing women climbers now! Which reminds me however, that my oldest friend’s uncle, Bradford Washburn’s wife Barbara, was the first woman to summit Denali – they use to take us out in the winter in new hampshire to map the bottom of Squam lake – I think that year 1962-63 was the coldest since the Little Ice Age:))
There are a few “clams” in the lyric I sing: it should be “Up on the face of El Capitan in lightening hail and rain/OR camped out on Long’s Peak ‘Broadway’…” You can find the lyrics at www.zendotavern.com As you can guess from the dates mentioned, I’m in my late 60s – 69 this April. I wanted to write and tell you that watching you and your fellow climbers is a tonic – prodding me back out in the mountains climbing and hiking for sure. I best send this before I ramble on even more – seeing you climb & fly has brought back a lot of good memories!
Wm. Biff Cuthbert