HISTORIC ROOT FOUND ON WASHINGTON COLUMN
HISTORIC ROOT FOUND ON
For a few decades the
So by 1965 I had done the Column, and had a great time on it as a 17-year old. The historic aspects of the climb were thrilling to experience for a young aspirant. There really weren’t traces of prior climbers on the route--- except for some unusually cleaned out cracks. But very oddly the only fixed point on the whole route was one soft iron vertical piton pounded into a root, freakishly bent over on it, high up in the decomposing second pitch (p8) of the Great Chimney. At this point the once noble polished chimney has deteriorated into a large gross seam with all the inner stone guts having fallen out of it, revealing tree roots that had grown in the cracks of that mess, forcing the blocks out into the void who knows how long ago, and so forming a shallow granular chimney with some danger to it. Some of the roots thus revealed were kind of square and flat from growing and forcing their way through these fissures now long gone. And perhaps on the first ascent, this pin had been driven desperately into a root to provide the only protection in many feet in the rotting mess. And as time went by, this root got weaker and weaker and although used as a handhold by hundreds of parties, the poor thing was ready to give up when in the early 70’s I was up there again, unroped, alone and flashing through on my way to summit North Dome as well one spring.
So of course I tore that thing right out of there, throwing it down the Great Chimney, which about 200 feet below, had this nice sand floor and alcove at its base. I thought it was just dangerous and a scary nuisance to lesser climbers who I imagined would be freaking out in this rubbishy upper section, feeling they needed to have at least something to pull on, only to have it break off. I rushed on towards the wonderful open South Face route of the dome above, a crazed young athlete craving many things, forgetting all about this root.
But Royal was up to the same thing, soloing the Column and North Dome on a regular basis and it turned out that in ‘75, he and I actually unroped this together, including the variation of Charley Brown Chimney, pushing the route to 5.8 and went on to North Dome as well. But I also worked for RR at times a few years earlier, when he would receive big containers of climbing equipment from
One week I arrived, and in the living room was the root with the flatten piton in it, resting on the mantel. RR had clipped it on to his sling not long after I had brusquely thrown it away, both of us on crazy unroped outings, unbeknownst to anyone. It had been waiting in the sandy alcove for Royal’s keener sense of its meaning. He even doubted my story of throwing it away, probably because it seemed too coincidental or perhaps he thought I would hungrily, pretentiously, lay claim to it or worse, try to insinuate some personal importance in this little piece of history now enshrined in his house, the father of modern American rockclimbing.
But shifting his approach quickly, he went on to say that Chouinard had been collecting all kinds of historic items for years. He remembered observing this in Yvon and originally thought it was petty. But he soon realized the provenance and joy of these things and began another hobby. So I kicked myself mentally, understanding too how wonderful the old squarish root really was, with this thirty-year-old piton flatten on it. I saw in the living room, how much it told, how much it meant to those of us who had climbed past it for decades, and that it was of a time when such things were done in the dawn of our history. And I also quietly played a cinema to myself of Royal dragging this oddly shaped root clipped to him, all the way up the rest of the climb, through the forest, and then much further, up the South Face of North Dome, rounding the spectacular arch and reachy stretch, unroped with this wierdosity hanging off him, totally committed to bringing it back to the Central Valley and his living room, his home, his friends. And how I had not been in that movie.