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Book Review: Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber

Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber

By Steve Roper

The Mountaineers, 1994, ISBN 0-89886-587-5

Reviewed by Rick Booth August, 2001 

The book Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber is a fascinating
account of the history of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley.  It covers the
years of 1933 to 1971 but Roper is mostly concerned with the years of 1947
to 1971 which have been dubbed "the Golden Years" of Yosemite Valley
rockclimbing.  It is during this period of time that the first ascents
were made of the "big walls" of Yosemite Valley.  These first ascents are
certainly marked by their vision and boldness.  In spite of the fact that
later routes were harder and bolder there is no denying that being the
first to even try these ascents certainly warrants special attention,
hence, the "Golden Years" concept is justified.  The Golden Years cover
the ten years that Roper spent in the Valley so it is no surprise that
this dominates this memoir.  Nonetheless, the description of the early
years covering the achievements of Leonard, Brower, Eichorn, and Robinson
are as interesting as the Golden Years accounts.  The abrupt ending of the
Golden Years is defined by Roper to coincide with Harding's ascent of the
Dawn Wall on El Cap.

The book covers the first attempts at climbing in the Valley by various
individuals including the now legendary Eichorn, Leonard, Brower and
Robinson.  This includes the many attempts on the higher Cathedral Spire. 
In spite of the short attention paid to this period Roper fills in many
interesting details concerning the structure of Yosemite Valley and the
equipment used by these pioneer climbers.  Of interest is the role the
Sierra Club played in these early years.  Indeed, the Sierra Club was the
only organization with an interest in climbing in the Valley and all of
the early climbers were members.  The Sierra Club Bulletin was the
definitive document for describing these adventures.  How times have

The early phase of the Golden Years is defined by the climbs of John
SalathÈ.  His invention of the hardened steel piton essentially opened up
the possibilities of big wall climbing.  His other contributions included
first ascents of the Southwest Face of Half Dome and the Arrow Chimney
which essentially defined the first big wall multi-day climb in North
America.  Roper gives much credit to this man as a contributor to the
Golden Years.

The main part of the book describes the years of 1947 to 1971.  It covers
the years spent in the valley by Allen Steck, Mark Powell, Layton Kor,
Chuck Pratt, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, TM Herbert, Tom Frost, Warren
Harding, and a large collection of other contributors to the Golden Years. 
I was most struck by the description of the brilliant but humourless Frank
Sacherer.  In these chapters Roper makes a large effort to point out the
difference in style between the "Valley Christians" as exemplified by
Royal Robbins and the supposed heathens as exemplified by Warren Harding. 
It is a fascinating account and even though Roper counts himself as one of
the "Valley Christians" he gives Harding his due.

Roper's book includes accounts of the contributions of many other
individuals than the main characters filling the Golden Years.  Indeed,
the inclusion of Mike Borghoff, Jeff Foott, Joe Fitschen, and others
indicates that there were many people interested and bold enough to be
making first ascents in the Valley.  The last phase of the "Golden Years"
includes a description of the efforts of Schmitz, Madsen, Henneck and
Lauria and finally Jim Bridwell.  Jim Bridwell seems to have arrived in
the Valley during the supposed closing phase of the "Golden Years",
indeed, his arrival signals the start of the efforts by a new generation
of Valley climbers.

One of the remarkable features of this book is the large collection of
pictures.  Most of the picture credits are given to Glen Denny, another
participant in the Golden Years and apparently the only one with a camera. 
I was keenly disappointed to not see a picture of Bob Kamps, David Rearick
or Wally Reed.  On the other hand, it was several hours before I could
actually start reading the book because I kept flipping between the
pictures, just fascinated to see faces associated with the many prominent
names of Valley climbing history.  It is unfortunate the book ends at 1971
since much has happened since then.  This period will have to be left to
another motivated chronicler.  Nonetheless this is a fascinating piece of
reading and is recommended for anyone interested in Yosemite Valley or
climbing history in general.