Note: Warren gave me (John Middendorf) a typewritten copy of this piece when I went to visit him in the Sierras in 1998. I took the time to type it out on the computer so I could share it, with Warren's permission and encouragement, of course! I don't think it exists elsewhere in the digital world.
"AS THE CURTAIN FALLS"
By Warren Harding
Copyright Warren Harding, 1997
In 1971 Galen Rowell wrote a piece for the American Alpine Journal with the above title. This was soon after the Dawn Wall debacle. This excruciatingly sensitive article deploring "excessive bolting and other heinous practices which have destroyed climbing in Yosemite Valley" was only one of a deluge of hostile responses to this despicable climbing travesty.
These hostile responses took many forms from a spirited letter of outrage from TM Herbert through a letter to the editor of Mountain Gazette which closed with the phrase " ?? Carborundum".
But the most ominous of all was a secrete meeting of the "Council" in Yosemite Valley. The "Council" was composed of five top climbers of the day: Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Chuck Pratt and Steve Roper.
In addition to their top flight rock climbing expertise, these fellows possessed omniscience...superior minds that could clearly discern the moral and ethical concerns relative to climbing. They were especially zealous in protecting the moral fibrocyte of "young climbers" (seduced by the infamous Dawn Wall) whom they feared would stampede in herds to start blindly bolting up the blank walls of Yosemite Valley.
What action the "Council" took to preserve the PRISTINE RESILIENCY of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley remains a mystery. It is know, however, that climbing shops put the sale of bolting gear on an under-the-table basis and, of course, the Dawn Wall route was erased.
Warren J. Harding, chief culprit with a long history of RETROGRADE CLIMBING* in Yosemite Valley, drifted into obscurity soon after the Dawn Wall fiasco.
So it would seem, the moral ills of climbing had disappeared, uncorrupted by unsavory influences, pristine young climbers have pursued the true path FREE CLIMBING!
Since then, however, new ethical problems have arisen use of chalk, hang dogging, pre-bolting, and gardening of proposed free climbing routes, climbing for self-aggrandizement, fame and fortune. These and other dubious climbing practices have come to the attention of the "Council". It was determined that an investigation was imperative a meeting was called to deal with any suspected moral ill afflicting the current climbing community.
*Actually, "RETROGRADE CLIMBING" was not clearly identified and defined until early 1988 (ROCK AND ICE#24 "The Steve Roper Interview-Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing".)
"AS THE CURTAIN FALLS"
A climbing soap opera by L. Lamborghini***
Real Name State / Code Name**
Royal Robbins High Golden Boy (HBG-RR)
Yvon Chouinard St. Yvon Golden Boy (St. Y-GB)
Steve Roper Attorney General Golden Boy (GB-SR)
Tom Frost Golden Boy Tome Frost (GB-TF)
Chuck Pratt Golden Boy Chuck Pratt (GP-CP)
DB Novice Golden Boy DB (NGB-DB)
*Now known as the "Golden Boys" (See Rock and Ice #24 "Golden Age, etc."
**Due to the sensitive nature
***A formerly famous writer of TV daytime soap operas. Credits include "The Old and the Listless", "One Life to Lose", "All My Dastards", "As the World Churns", "The Wild and the Wealthy".
A secret stone building in Yosemite Valley. This was the location of the secret meeting called back in 1971 to deal with the Dawn Wall atrocity.
Editors Note: The now older Golden Boys appear to be holding up quite well in spite of their advancing years. In some ways they have improved over the past 17 years. For example, their attire -- at the 1971 meeting they wore an unattractive mish-mash of climbing togs, monk habits and hair shirts. In contrast, today's Golden Boys are sartorially elegant. They are attired in designer three piece suits tailored in Patagonia Cloth.*
Novice Golden Boy is not attending the meeting. But if he were, he'd be flashily dressed in the latest Lycra tights, sticky shoes, Vuarnets and other Modish items.
Today's Golden Boys Council is more relaxed, almost mellow, compared to the highly intense group that met in 1971.
*Except for HIGH GOLDEN BOY-ROYAL ROBBINS whose suite was custom designed by Liz and tailored in rich, lustrous RR cloth.
The Golden Boys are preoccupied with their individual thoughts as they assemble for this "most serious meeting."
High Golden Boy: Can't believe I'm still doing this sort of thing...Wonder what the stock market is doing today. In any case, I'd rather be playing chess.
St. Yvon Golden Boy: I'd rather be fly fishing in New Zealand!
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Hope this meeting doesn't drag out interminably. It's almost happy hour at the Mountain Room...
Attorney General Golden Boy: Damn! I wish I had a pitcher of Martinis.
Golden Boy Tom Frost: (Absent from the meeting, at a retreat somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra near Planada, California.) Gee-what am I doing here? In spite of some of his less than admirable characteristics, Mick Burk wasn't such a bad fellow. I find it difficult to believe that tenting with him for a month on the South Face of Annapurna (in 197--) could have frayed my moral fibrosity all that much!
Novice Golden Boy DB: (Soloing - less than halfway up the Porcelain Wall*) Wow! I've got to come up with a major breakthrough in free climbing. Present techniques just don't make it anymore! After all, I've been on this damned Porcelain Wall for nearly 13 years now. To be sure, at least 5 years were spend "preparing the route". Then there's the matter with W.J. Harding's topo -- deplorably deficient -- virtually useless! No wonder it doesn't appear in George Meyers' great, new expanded Yosemite Guide Book!
This alleged topo has certainly caused me problems in my High Minded Quest to make the first all free ascent (and therefore the first proper ascent) of this formidable looking wall. How could I have known that the 5.7b of the first pitch would give way to what surely must be minimum 5.16+ sustained for the next several pitches. The pre-pro-bolts set at 20 feet intervals were barely adequate -- worst of all, there could be no thought of free soloing -- the purest climbing form of all!*
*Add possible the most stupid.
And now this overhanging 1,000 foot upper head wall -- no mention of this in W.J. Harding's deplorably deficient topo. I knew nothing about this until I repelled placing Pre-Pro-Bolts. I suspect I'll have to Re-Pre-Pro-Bolt reducing the interval to as little as 3 feet in some cases. Hopefully, I won't be forced to resort to hand-dogging -- I'd never do that! There's gotta be a better way!
The Golden Boys file solemnly to their seats which are arranged much as they are in any secret council meeting room. High Golden Boy's seat is located in a central, slightly elevated position and has a small lectern. The remaining five seats are two to the left and three to the right -- all at the same level. This seems to cause a slight problem.
Attorney General Golden Boy: (grumbles) I can't accept the fact that Novice Golden Boy-DB sit's at the same level as I. As a matter of fact, he isn't even attending this most serious meeting. This could confirm my belief that Novice Golden Boy-DB is not mentally qualified to serve on the council. He simply isn't sufficiently concerned with climbing morals and ethics. In fact, he seems preoccupied with just have a good time as his interview in Rock and Ice #24 clearly shows.
The meeting is called to order. In spite of the two absentees, it is decided that there is a quorum.
High Golden Boy: Well, let's get down to business. Two absentees -- Golden Boy Tom Frost and Novice Golden Boy-DB. Does anyone know why they are not attending this most important meeting?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: As you may recall, Oh High Golden Boy Royal Robbins...
High Golden Boy: Cut the shit, Pratt! Tell me what you know.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Oh...Uh...Well, as you know Novice Golden Boy-DB has become obsessed with the concept of making the first all free (and therefore, the first proper ascent) of the formidable looking Porcelain Wall. He's been working on it since 1976.
Attorney General Golden Boy: (leaping to his feet, quite agitated) Porcelain Wall? What the fuck is this? Another non-route by Harding?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Hmm? Remember that bit in your wonderful original Yosemite guidebook? "Beneath the Diving Board lies a formidable looking wall -- the Porcelain Wall".
Attorney General Golden Boy: Yes, but what does that have to do with anything?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: You may have missed this. Back in 1976, W.J. Harding and a couple of (then) no name climbers hammered and drilled their way up this non-route. Perversely, they chopped the non-route behind them. And - worst of all - wrote nothing about it.
High Golden Boy: How does this concern Novice Golden Boy-DB?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Seems that W.J. Harding -- Chief Culprit of this climbing travesty didn't particularly like (then) "Master Climber" DB -- who had virtually demanded to be included in the climbing part attempting this formidable locking wall.
Attorney General Golden Boy: (feigning exasperation) How could this be? How could a "Master Climber" be denied a position on any expedition?"*
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Well, as we all know, W.J. Harding had always been a rather hard nosed individualist who failed to profit from the aggregate wisdom of ELITE ROCK CLIMBERS. In the fit of egomania, then famous climber W.J. Harding opted to do, what could very well be his last big effort, with no-name climbers, -- so that he would be the star performer. It's a pity that Master Climber DB should have been victim of such deranged thinking!
High Golden Boy: So...?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Eventually, W.J. Harding and his no-name companions hammered and drilled their way up this formidable looking wall.
High Golden Boy: Again...so?
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Apparently, (then Master Climber DB wasn't easily put off. He had kept an eye on the progress(?) of W.J. Harding and the no-names. When the W.J. Harding Descent Party arrived at the check stand at Degnan's (Beck's beer is so good after a climb!) (then) Master Climber DB appeared magically.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: This is a close approximation of the ensuring dialogue:
Master Climber DB: Didja** make it?
W.J. Harding: Ayup!!!***
Master Climber DB: Well, I want a complete topo -- I must do it all free -- free solo, even.
W.J. Harding: Hey, Mon**** -- I know you can do it! Topo is Fuckin' simple -- what you do is start at the bottom -- come out on top. Nothin' to it!!
High Golden Boy: So, this accounts for the absence of Novice Golden Boy-DB. But, what about Golden Boy Tom Frost?
*Which poses the question, "Why didn't Master Climber DB form his own party?"
**Then famous climber W.J. Harding.
***As we say in the old country.
****Lapsing into a pseudo calypso accent.
St. Yvon Golden Boy: Royal -- I thought you knew -- Golden Boy Tom Frost has been called home by the HIGHER COUNCIL or -- uh -- moral evaluation.
High Golden Boy: Whaaat!! That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard! What could Golden Boy Tom Frost possibly have done to warrant such action by the HIGHER COUNCIL?
St. Yvon Golden Boy: Wait, wait!! You don't understand. It was no misdeeds on Golden Boy Tom Frost's part. He was an unwitting victim!
What this is about is his participation in the 197-- expedition to the South Face of Annapurna. As you'll recall, this was basically a British expedition, lead by Christian Bonington Jones. This highly regarded expedition leader unthinkable placed Golden Boy Tom Frost (USA) and the unsavory Mick Burke (UK) as tent-mates on this lengthy climb.
The HIGHER COUNCIL learned of this -- the worst was feared -- that the prolonged proximity to the unsavory Mick Burke may have compromised Golden Boy Tom Frost's PRISTINE RESILIENCY.
High Golden Boy: Yes, yes, I understand...if not empathize with this. What is the prognosis?
St. Yvon Golden Boy: Oh, quite good, I'm sure. As I said, it's merely for moral evaluation. Rehabilitation, if deemed necessary...
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: (in a singing voice) It seems to me I've heard this song before...
High Golden Boy (Wearily) Shut up, Golden Boy Chuck Pratt!! This is a serious meeting. You are out of order!
To continue...let's get on with the business at hand. What must we deal with?
Attorney General Golden Boy: (Attorney General Golden Boy stands and reads from his notes). We have three major items on our agenda. Least serous is the matter of questionable practices in current HIGH LEVEL FREE CLIMBING. It's possible the council does not have sufficient knowledge of modern Hi-Tech-Free Climbing to accurately sit in judgement of these practices.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Yeah! I hardly know what they're talking about these days...5.13 Ct hangdogging -- flashing -- red pointing -- sticky shoes -- Lycra tights...chipping holds...pre-pro-bolting for all free ascents...
St. Yvon Golden Boy: (in a sudden moral crisis) Oh, my God, can it be that we are all sinners? It's possible that our very own high level first ascents in Yosemite Valley were, in fact, sacrilegious? If only we had waited -- only now, thirty years later, they could all have been done properly -- all FREE!
(St. Yvon Golden Boy sinks into a supplicant position -- making all sorts of religious gestures.)
Attorney General Golden Boy: (Suddenly, a stabilizing force in an otherwise shaky situation) Well, after all, it was W.J. Harding (the Retrograde Climber) who was somewhat responsible for any impieties that any of us young men climbers may have perpetrated in those days. He was ten years older than any of us Pristine High Minded Young Fledgling Climbers.
All W.J. Harding was interested in was making first ascents of these beautiful virginal Yosemite Walls*. In contrast, we HMYFC's were more concerned with the morals -- ethics of climbing --
Somehow, while we HMYFC's were pondering who was qualified to make the first ascent of El Cap, W.J. Harding (the Retrograde Climber) slipped by -- and --
(Attorney General Golden Boy -- emotionally drained, sags to his chair -- unable to continue.)
High Golden Boy: (In comforting tones) Yes, yes. I agree that more research is needed in this area. If Novice Golden Boy-DB ever completes his most admirable quest -- The First All Free Ascent of the Porcelain Wall, he can bring us all up to date on contemporary, Hi-Tech Free Climbing.
It's even possible that there is no problem here. After all, Modern Hi-Tech Free Climbers make frequent reference to "Ethics" -- it's simple: All we, the Council, need to do is conduct sufficient research in this matter so that we can accurately evaluate the Ethical Code currently in Force.**
For now, we'll put the matter in abeyance. So -- what's next?
Attorney General Golden Boy: (Takes a comforting pull from his flask, slowly gets to his feet, resolutely reads from his notes) There have been some reports of climbing for less than pure reasons. Namely, climbing for self-aggrandizement and -- ugh, gagg, making money from climbing.
High Golden Boy and St. Yvon Golden Boy: (In chorus) What are you talking about? All this was resolved years ago. Climbing for self-aggrandizement has never been clearly defined. Substantial financial remuneration derived from climbing related activities has become a highly respected, if not widespread, practice.
Attorney General Golden Boy: Oh, I hadn't heard of this. To go on, potentially more dangerous is the emergence of the Retrograde Climber. You'll recall that I identified W.J. Harding as a Retrograde Climber. In my interview with R&I#24.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Yeah, I remember that. W.J. Harding wrote a letter of rebuttal which appeared in the next issue of R&I. But, what was he talking about "Decaying vegetable matter?"
Attorney General Golden Boy: Chuck, that's easily explained. W.J. Harding is virtually illiterate...he has the vocabulary of a caveman. He simply didn't understand the term "retrograde". Probably thought it was a complement. Presumably, he became curious. With the spelling before him, he was able to look it up in a dictionary. Unfortunately, the dictionary was of low quality, it's only definition of retrograde was "decaying vegetable matter".
*In his own words "One fuckin' way or another".
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Deplorable! But if this is indicative of W.J. Harding's mental level, what damage could he possible do? Surely today's HMYFC could not be corrupted by such ignoble personage!
Attorney General Golden Boy: You'd think so. But I'm not too sure. Even though W.J. Harding hasn't been on the walls in many years, his ridiculous writings and slide shows seem to continue -- to the possible detriment to the Moral Fibrosity of HMYFC's.
High Golden Boy: (Mock harrow) Oh, God! This could be very serious. What do we know about this situation?
Attorney General Golden Boy: It may be far worse than we imagine. There are rumors that W.J. Harding is involved in some scheme to republish DESCENT -- that trashy, irreverent climbing oriented magazine of the early 70's.
St. Yvon Golden Boy: (Gravely) How far has this gone? It could be a potentially disastrous flaw in an otherwise clean climbing scene.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: Could this be a Downward Bound trend? I mean, a few months ago, R&I, that otherwise exemplary journal of climbing literature, ran a trashy section called "Schlock and Vice"...
The implications are rather ominous.
High Golden Boy (In Stentorian tones) They certainly are!!! I feel certain that the real culprit is the only thus far identified Retrograde Climber -- I didn't realize that W.J. Harding is still alive! Where is he? How much damage could he actually do?
Attorney General Golden Boy: It's rumored that he's somewhere in Colorado, or Utah -- Moab? If this is true, it's possible that we could relax a bit. Moab is sort of a backwater for old, burned out, pseudo intellectuals, anarchists and other miscreants.
However, we must not lapse into complacency -- leave no Farce unturned in our quest for Moral Purity in Climbing!!!
COUNCIL: (In chorus) Hear! Hear!
High Golden Boy: (Grandly) Our course is clear! We must conduct a full scale investigation of this DESCENT and get it stopped!
You all know what to do...
SCENE: The Secret Council Meeting is adjourned. The G.B.'s disband -- each heading for his own immediate destination.
High Golden Boy: (Stepping into his waiting limo, RR instructs his chauffeur) Julio, rive me straightaway to corporate headquarters...uh...let me rephrase that...(mindful of the twisty canyon river road to Merced).
RR is mildly amused at his un-intentional pun...he muses as the sleek black Mercedes Benz Limo purrs toward Modesto.)
Julio, damn, I don't trust that slippery Argentine. I should never have let Chouinard talk me into taking that clown off his hands. Well, we're on the way. Only two to three hours now. It'll be good to slip into my computer room, check the stock market. Actually, I'm a little concerned about the reverse upward spiraling trend in prices.
I wonder if I'm getting the best advice in these matters. Perhaps, back in the early sixties, I was somewhat hasty in referring to Ed Cooper as a dark and ugly outsider to the Yosemite climbing scene. How could I have known that he'd go on to be a stock market wizard. As an "old climbing buddy," he could be an invaluable consultant for the financial portfolio of RR, Inc. Wonder if he's still pissed off. Surely, he's not the type to hold a grudge!
St. Yvon Golden Boy: (tooling along highway 41 toward Fresno in his sleek Volvo station wagon...Ventura...home...corporate headquarters is only six hours away.)
Damn! I shouldn't have let RR steal Julio away from me. I damned well shouldn't have sold my limo just because I felt that I was straying from my monk-like life style.
Well, I'm sure as hell not driving all the way to corporate headquarters tonight. I know what...I'll just go as far as Fresno...take a modest suite at the Airport Hilton. From there, I can check with CEO O'Donnell...deliver a stirring pep talk "Looking good, young man. Keep up the good work!!!"
Damn good man POD!*
I'm sure there is no factual basis to the rumor that POD is considering a move to K-Mart.
Sounds like some farce that Dastardly Descendeur W.J. Harding would perpetrate. In any case, I think I'll book a flight to New Zealand. I'm glad I brought my fly fishing gear.
Golden Boy Chuck Pratt: (His plans are less auspicious. He merely hot foots it to the Yosemite Lodge Mountain Room). Hey! This is great!! Happy hour is just starting in the Mountain Room.
Attorney General Golden Boy: (Went straight to his favorite cocktail lounge in Yosemite Valley, "The Diggins" in the Ahwahnee Hotel. He's into his second martini...) Glad that meeting didn't drag out interminable. I wonder if I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. I have an uneasy feeling that I may have lost some of my former "Fire & Zeal" in my moralistic tirades. But, it does seem rather futile considering the fact that miscreants such as W.J. Harding are so abysmally illiterate. Why he doesn't even understand the terminology I use in my scathing remarks!
Perhaps I should make a concerted effort to speak and write less like William F. Buckley.
*Pat O'Donnell, CEO of Patagonia is a formerly famous Developer of Major Ski Areas.
SCENE: At an obscure location (possibly Moab, Utah) a quasi-underground meeting is in progress.
Real Names Stage Names*
W.J. Harding W.J. Harding
Warnicki Jaroslav Hardinski**
Don Warrano Jull Hardinghetti
Kyle Copeland KC
Charles Fowler CF Czarl Fouislaski***
*Even though this is a quasi-underground meeting, there are no security measures in effect. The initials used in this portion of the text are merely a writing expedient.
**These stage names suggest Polish or Italian lineage.
***Kyle Copeland and Charles Fowler claim to be hot shot entrepreneurs in climbing oriented business. However, it is rumored that they know nothing whatsoever about climbing or its associated equipment business. In fact, there is evidence that they are recent deportees from Czechoslovakia. It is further rumored that Kyle Copeland and Charles Fowler are actually survivors of an old country rock and roll band "The Bad Czech."
Alice Willi AW/Dr. AF****
aka Dr. Alska Flompski
Rather Beautiful Young Lady #1*****
Rather Beautiful Young Lady #2
****A dual personage, Alice Willi is business manager of Downward Bound International and W.J. Harding's personal bodyguard.
Dr. Alska Flompski's identity is not clear. It has never been proven that Dr. Flompski once directed a Nazi death camp. However, incriminating photos are on file in Tel-Aviv...
*****Have no direct connection with the meeting. They were granted observer status and anonymity.
SCENE: Obscure location. A semi-safe house. Possible in Moab, Utah.
The group is seated around a dinner table in no particular order, although Kyle Copeland is seated at the head of the table. It is assumed that he is presiding.
Even though much wine has been consume, no one is particularly drunk. The meeting is called to order.
Kyle Copeland: (Energetically) Ok, OK, let's get this show moving! W.J. Harding, do you recall anything of our conversation a while back?
W.J. Harding: (Vaguely) Oh, sort of...
Kyle Copeland: (Wearily) Well, to refresh your...uh...memory...we agreed that producing a new DESCENT would be a most worthwhile undertaking...intellectually stimulating...artistically rewarding.
W.J. Harding: Yeah! And fun too!!
Kyle Copeland: Now you've got it. Do you recall the basic organization we established?
W.J. Harding: Well, let's see...Kyle Copeland and Charles Fowler were to be Co-CEO's and...uh...who were they? Annie Carrera and Sally Ferrari co-editors. Who are they anyway...I've never heard of them.
Kyle Copeland: (Nervously) Oh, well...They're brilliant photo-journalists, editors! In demand throughout the industry! And they are loaded!
W.J. Harding: Loaded? You mean drunk?
Kyle Copeland: No, actually, its quite "new money"...possibly not yet "laundered".
W.J. Harding: Not yet laundered??
Kyle Copeland: Yes, actually their real names are Sue Kemp and Sally Moser...junk bond brokers on the lam from Wall Street investors and the SEC.
W.J. Harding: Wow! That could solve the problem of financing DESCENT!!
Kyle Copeland: No it wouldn't be a good idea to get financially involved with these two...they would most likely take over control of this operation. It is rumored that they have connections with the Yiddish Mafia. They often mention "Buggy Bugatti, the notorious hit man!"*
*Actually a rock climbing "hit man". His trademark is a pinstriped Lycra costume and a Bosch bolt gun.
W.J. Harding: That leaves AW as the chairperson of the board.
Real Beautiful Young Lady #1: (Enthusiastically) Hey! I'd make a great editor-in-chief! My illustrious academic background would lend stability and dignity to DESCENT.
Kyle Copeland: Fine. This all makes sense to me!! So where do we go from here? (Looking hopefully around the room) Well, any suggestions? (Not really, just blank stares, shrugging shoulders, upturned palms.)
Real Beautiful Young Lady #1* (Now, editor-in-chief) I see we're not exactly ready to go to press! I'd say that there's a hell of a lotta work to do!
The meeting deteriorates. The semblance of parliamentary procedure gives way to disorganized babbling. More wine is poured.
*Later identified as Nancy Hardbody, a competition climbing star with little or no journalistic ability.
CLIFF HANGER: So, DESCENT lives again! Or does it?
Will this motley crew of would-be entrepreneurs and photo-journalists be able to actually produce a new, intellectually stimulating, artistically rewarding issue of DESCENT?
What will the Council's investigation of DESCENT -- Retrograde Climbers reveal?
SEE THE NEXT EPISODE OF "AS THE CURTAIN FALLS".
Note: any resemblance or direct correlation of characters in this parody is purely coincindental and the opinions expressed are not necessarily the opinions of the publication.RETURN TO Bigwalls.net