By Dave Yerian - Co Founder of Jam Walls
The 1970’s and early 1980’s were an amazing time to be in Yosemite Valley. I lived there during most of that golden era of hard free climbing discoveries. John Bachar was arguably the best rock climber in the world then, and changed the sport forever with his bold and stylish free climbs. His free solos were legendary and set a new high water mark for our sport.
He was my best friend and frequent climbing partner. One day in 1982, John convinced me to go with him out to Highway 120, near Foresta’s first tunnel. We parked, then walked down through the tunnel until he spotted a dark alcove. Turning into the alcove, I could see daylight up ahead and we soon ended up on a 2’-3’ wide ledge over a sphincter-tightening sheer drop off.
John and I rappelled down the huge granite face to a big ledge system. We arrived at ledges that led toward Ron Kauk’s route “Gaits of Power”; a horrendous, flaring, over-hanging 5.11+ crack. I just assumed we were going to do Gaits of Power. A rating of 5.11+ in today’s world barely receives any notice, but back then, overhanging flares of this difficulty commanded respect and well-honed crack skills, and I wondered how well I would pull through these jams.
As we hiked down John stopped me, “We’re not going to Gaits.”
Instead, we down climbed 5th class below the ledge which took us to the base of a spectacular new crack. The climb was 500 ft. off the deck and started on an exposed little perch. Looking up at the climb I noticed pitons in the crack. This was a delicate, exposed finger crack that had first been attempted by crack master Dale Bard and other super stars with no success. I watched John start the crack which barely accepted fingers and toes with each jam posing a high degree of uncertainty.
Bachar climbed up to a spot where the crack became both horizontal and overhanging. He cut his feet loose into space and hooked one heel on the rock. He pointed the toe of his other shoe into insecure jams. Now John was confronted with a series of extremely insecure parallel crack finger sequences. He moved upward slowly and steadily, placing very little protection. I could see by the strain of his body, he was entering a difficulty level rarely if ever encountered and just a little higher, John fell.
That was it for this day.
John Bachar collection
Weeks later we came back with Werner Braun for another attempt. This day was different. It was a second attempt and Bachar had trained for it. Werner was with us for support, John knew he could do it and the psych was up! As John led up to the roof, Werner and I belayed in the alcove. John got up to the horizontal roof again. This time he didn’t rattle in the finger crack or foot holds. We thought he would fall, but he kept going up through shaky finger locks towards the punishing finger crack above. It was one of John’s most powerful leads, and he made it to the top of the crack to finish “Tunnel Vision”.
There was a reason this climb had yet to be done. “Tunnel Vision” as he called it, would become one of Yosemite’s first solid 5.13 climbs. We were excited to be pushing free climbing to the next level with John and up to this incredible new standard.
Werner went up next, cleaning the route, pulling out pitons while trying to do moves, but tensioning the rope - he couldn’t do it all free. These were the days before “Hang dogging” became an acceptable practice. At that time, hanging to rest in the middle of a climbing sequence was absolutely considered taboo, and you didn’t do it in front of John Bachar if you could help it.
I got through the roof and also had to hang dog my way up the last part, hanging to finish the last part of the climb. John pronounced this ferocious finger crack 12d. Werner and I looked at each other with big eyes and we both responded 13a at the same time. We walked away thinking about what Bachar had just done and it’s significance and impact in Yosemite’s climbing history.
At the time in the late 1970’s, you could count on a couple of fingers all the people in the World that could lead 5.13 clean, and John Bachar was one of them.