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El Capitan

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El Capitan (the one on the left) is a 3000 foot tall piece of granite that today is possibly the world’s most favorite challenge for rock climbers, but it wasn’t always that way.  In fact, everyone believed that it was impossible to climb until 1958.  The challenges to climbing were immense, the rock face is vertical or overhanging for nearly the entire ascent, and tis’ rated at like 5.1+ something for the whole time.  This statistic is meaningless to me as a non-rock climber, so here’s a photo of the Dawn Wall that sufficiently conveys the difficulty: s.newsweek.com/sites/www.newsw… (This is, I believe, Tommy Caldwell whose amazing story of overcoming a devastating radioactive spider bite in high school to become one of the world’s premier insane people is an inspiration to climbers everywhere)  The first ascent of El Capitan was done by a man named Warren Harding, and although he was significantly shorter and skinnier than the Warren Harding who held legendary bootleg parties in the White House during the height of Prohibition, they both shared an important hobby: love of the sauce.

Warren Harding, or Batso Harlem Shake Emoticon , was a good ol’ California boy, born in gold country of parents who had migrated to California during the dust bowl, a kind of James Dean of the north, with greaser hair and hot rod cars, and a hammer arm that would have easily have pounded John Henry into the dust.  Harding never went on a climb without sufficient supplies of jug wine.  Red, naturally, because we’re not savages here.  He spent 18 months hammering pitons into El Capitan to make the first ascent, with his ever changing retinue of climbers who would either break their legs, or chicken out, or move on with regular life.  Not Harding.  He had already learned that he wasn’t particularly skilled at many things, but mountain climbing was his forte, or as he put it “I could only do what required brute stupidity”.   The years before he began his total conquest of Yosemite valley found him bouncing between jobs, and even being rejected by the draft board.  Cause: weak heart.  So, he pulled together “whatever qualified climbers I could con into this rather unpromising venture” and continued to plough upward with sheer force of will.  To surmount the mountain Batso hammered for 15 hours straight through the night, up a 300 foot overhang, after weathering a 4 day winter storm in their little campsite that was hanging off the side of the mountain, with his B.A.T. inventions like Bat micro-shuriken pitons and Bat antigravity hammocks and stuff.  (Basically Absurd Technology)  (I am not making this up)  (No really).   At 6 a.m. on 12 of November, 1958, El Capitan was conquered. 

The National Park Service was not amused.  Here is a copy of a letter detailing the frantic attempt to stop Harding from doing cool things in the future via congressional action.  static1.squarespace.com/static…    More Great Pics and rest of letter here: www.yosemiteclimbing.org/new-p…  

This didn’t phase Harding in the slightest.  He continued to climb, unconquerable.  On his famous first ascent of the Dawn Wall the next year after being on the wall for 22 days, he was caught in a particularly bad storm and the Park Service tried to rescue him.  As Harding recounts: Ropes were lowered and a hallo came filtering down through the sleet.  “Good Evening!” says Harding to the Park Ranger, “What can we do for you?” “We’ve come to rescue you!”  “Really?” says Harding “Come now, get a hold of yourselves.  Have some wine.”

The necks of Hardings wine bottles are still on the ledge of his camp ‘Wino Tower’ on the Dawn Wall.  As he summited the Dawn Wall five days later, one of the reporters who were waiting at the top asked him: “Mr. Harding, why on God’s green earth do you climb mountains?” “Because we’re insane,” Harding answered.  Harding died in 2002 at a ripe old age.   Not of cirrhosis of the liver. 

Xander envies him.  And his jug wine.

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Kimiski's avatar
You have such a good eye for lighting.