Sunday, May 22, 2011

Santa Barbara Climbing History In Print: III

Note: Recently I've spent some time compiling and scanning as much printed medium that I could find that covers climbing in the Santa Barbara area. Originally intended to be one post, I've broken it up into what will be several, with some [I think] cool stuff that appeared in books, magazines, and newspaper articles over the years.

Part III: 1990-1995

SoCal Bouldering - Craig Fry - First Edition 1990

1990 brought us what was to become the bible of Socal bouldering for many years, Craig Fry's original volume covering areas from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. A true achievement in good information and number of areas covered, this is a really great book. Regarding Santa Barbara/Ventura in particular, we have the first printed mention of a newly discovered bouldering area called "The Brickyard" along with a note that "the Lizard's Mouth is not that great for bouldering", hmmmm, tell that to folks these days.

Mostly, the Santa Barbara/Ventura chapter is taken up with topos of Painted Cave and a nice photo of a very young and mustachioed Rob Raker busting out the
Old Soft Hsu, padless of course, although sporting a thick 'stache like Rob's is a form of toproping and totally cheating. If Raker were to fein falling off of anything that day, his mustache would have prevented it, and at the very least, caught him. Also of note is the infamous notation on the old Jonny Woodward line left of Static Eliminator, "Flake Broke Doesn't Go". Static Eliminator itself is erroneously noted as Finger Cank (sic) 5.11+, while The Baby's Head is noted as "Static Eliminator 5.10+".

Pine Mountain, although mentioned in Tucker's 1981 guide, is completely overlooked, although I'm guessing that this has more to do with remoteness and a lack of any real information on it. Overall, a great guide.

Climbing! - Stephen Tucker/Kevin Steele - 1994

Thirteen years passed on after Tucker's first "real" Central Coast climbing guide before the next rendition of a comprehensive guidebook for the area appeared in late 1994. This time in the form of another excellent tome by Tucker, with Kevin Steele assisting.

Rock climbing had undoubtedly become much more popular in the time between the first guide in 1981 and this one, so the updated edition arrived with much anticipation and was quickly swept up. In fact, by the time I moved to Santa Barbara in late 1996, the Tucker/Steele book was sold out.

One of the things about this book that I've noticed (and liked) is thumbing through the index by looking at star ratings, which shows a dirth of stars practically anywhere, evidence that the authors actually had their heads on straight and weren't trying to lead people to some fucking pile of shit in the hills just by giving it a star. If a route in this guide has a star rating, it likely deserved to be done, the rest of the routes, well, it's Santa Barbara choss, if you dig that sort of thing then, maybe you'll dig the route.

While greatly expanding on the hundreds of new routes put up since the original guide, this one also happened to come out on the cusp of even more development, missing out on a lot of the new bouldering in the area, and roped routes at newly discovered chosspiles like Silly Rock up in north county and The Playground on West Camino Cielo. Overall, an excellent book filled with an excellent local history and a lot of information that is still completely relevant and useful today. On a sentimental note, when I moved to town, this was "the book", and I love it just for that.

Stone Crusade - John Sherman - 1994

When John Sherman did his grand bouldering tour of America in the early 90's for his upcoming book, Stone Crusade, he was unimpressed with the Santa Barbara areas that were seeing more development at the time (The Lizard's Mouth and The Brickyard in particular), however he was more than impressed with what he saw at The Swimming Hole outside of Fillmore in the Sespe wilderness.

Right up Sherman's alley, The Swimming Hole was a maze of a gargantuan boulders climbed by a select few guys with equally gargantuan gonads, and Sherman practically created the legend of The Swimming Hole in his excellent piece written for it, highlighting the two main activists of the area at the time, Jeff Johnson and Paul Anderson. The write-up on The Swimming Hole was my favorite part of the book before I even decided to move to the area and remains one of my favorite climbing write-ups ever. While it created a sort of legendary status to the two climbers featured (Jeff and Paul), and having gotten to climb and know both of them quite well over the past decade, their legendary status in the history of American bouldering is more than deserving. The outstanding photo of Johnson on the epic crux move of Tar Face says it all about our beloved Swimming Hole.

Rock and Ice - Guide to Santa Barbara by Steve Edwards - 1994

Perhaps thinking that the long promised 'new' Tucker guide to Santa Barbara would never come, Steve Edwards, owner of "Just Another @#$%$ Video Shop/Climbing Boutique", jumped into the fray with this nice article in Rock and Ice. It briefly covered several areas with hand drawn topos and selected routes (basically the good ones, or at least ones that he put up).

The best part about the piece isn't the information though. It is the excellent, funny intro that Steve wrote, which, especially looking back, brings back fond memories. I mean, the guy references Carl Jung in a fricking climbing magazine...EPIC. And he also says that if you come there you "can stay at my place". He wasn't joking (I did), and up to this very day he pretty much has the same open invitation.

Another great tidbit in the article is the often forgotten fact that local mutant Phil Requist once climbed at a place that wasn't The Owl Tor. And he climbed at that place, Cold Springs Dome, with the same habitual schedule that he now climbs at the Tor. Steve brings up Bambino's $100 Challenge to follow him for a day at the steep Cold Springs wall, which no one ever collected on, 30 laps being his record (at the time). On another note, the Silly Rock area was discovered and bolted later on in 1994/1995 and I'd be willing to bet that Phil has never been back to Cold Springs since. Click on the photo for the article.

The Swimming Hole - 1994
In the Swimming Hole section of Stone Crusade, Sherman hinted that 'an underground guide is in the works'. Well, that guide actually did happen, but precious few ever saw a copy of it, because it was kept very low profile. And, no, you weren't on the list.

Achieving something of a legendary status because of John Sherman's "Stone Crusade", the Swimming Hole was still largely under the radar, mainly because people were completely scared off by it, and rightly so. Lines at The Swimming Hole were big, hard, and bold and were put up in an era/area where toprope inspection and pad-stacking were decidedly not accepted.

The underground Swimming Hole guide to bouldering is the kind I absolutely love, pure local. Hand scribbled topos, a handful of action shots and short but entertaining route descriptions: The Handicapper B2- R/X "...more than scary", or on the notoriously scary and rarely repeated Paul Anderson testpiece A Touch Too Much, "Touchy."

Put together on a Xerox machine, folded up and handed out to a handful of friends. Just perfect.

Hot Flashes - In the Light of Day - Climbing Magazine, November 1994

Just a short one (albeit with a nice photograph) to note the first ascent of the best route in Santa Maria (still), Phil "Bambino" Requist's awesome Better Than Life at The Owl Tor. Has it really been almost 17 years? Jesus. The best part about this piece in the Hot Flashes section is that it is placed directly next to another short piece, one describing an attempted ascent of Yosemite's notorious Southern Belle, a route which could not possibly be more opposite. Drilled pockets on sport bolted steep choss on one side, while sparsely protected slab/near vertical with death fall potential occupies the other side of the page. Oddly enough, I think these two routes have seen very close to the same number of ascents over the last 17 years. Go figure.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Santa Barbara Climbing History In Print: I & II

Note: Recently I've spent some time compiling and scanning as much printed medium that I could find that covers climbing in the Santa Barbara area. Originally intended to be one post, I've broken it up into what will be several, with some [I think] cool stuff that appeared in books, magazines, and newspaper articles over the years.

PART I: The 70's

It was a magazine article, not a guidebook, that showcased the first published information on Santa Barbara climbing [that I've come across]. Steve Tucker's introductory article, Climbing in the Santa Barbara Area in Summit Magazine (September 1975), gives us a taste of Santa Barbara-area climbing in the 1970's, which primarily was focused on the Gibraltar rock area and the Sespe Gorge. This is not so surprising, since they are two of the most obvious pieces of somewhat decent rock within 100 miles. But the article also touches on neat tidbits of history, such as the discovery of the steep north face of Cold Springs Dome (no completed routes are mentioned), and the recent "first ascent" of the Euell Gibbon route (The Nose) by the legendary vagabond badass from back east, Henry Barber.

The article is short and only has 3 photos, the best of which shows a climber on Any Minute Now at Gibraltar lead climbing with a backpack on as if he's doing some multi-pitch adventure in The Bugaboos, giving an unknowing reader the impression that you aren't 150 feet from a paved road. This brief expose is a terrific step back into a time when adventure climbing in Santa Barbara was much easier to come by than it is these days, when we have to wait for the hillsides to burn to the ground before exploring remote rock.

Since Summit Magazine is long defunct, I don't think I'll run into any copyright issues by posting the article in it's entirety, so here it is: Summit 1975

PART II: The 80's

For what is essentially a crap area for rock climbing (don't try arguing with me, it's true), Santa Barbara/Ventura for some unknown reason has been covered by a few much better than average guidebooks over the course of 30 years. Stellar climbing areas like Yosemite and Joshua Tree have been burdened in the past with guidebooks that have been downright boring, page after page of black and white maps, photos of cliffsides, and drab text (to be fair, I've heard that both of the new J-Tree books are a step up, but have not seen them yet). Sure they may get you to the right place and tell you how long the pitch is, but beyond that, YAWN. I've always loved perusing climbing guides that had a little bit more to say. Early favorites of mine were Alan Watts' Guide to Smith Rocks and what was the the best of the big ones, John Sherman's 1991 tome for Hueco Tanks
, a guidebook that I bought and read cover to cover 5 years before I ever made it to Hueco.

Why was Sherman's book so good?

Mainly, because it made me laugh. From the prologue all the way through the route descriptions, Verm made an effort to lighten things up and keep you reading to see what he might say next. Genius. In comparison, the latest Hueco guide by Matt Wilder might look pretty, but it's nothing special to read. I spun through it in the mountain shop, but unfortunately didn't feel the need to invest.

In general, I tend toward liking the smaller books not handled by some big publishing house (read: Falcon Guides suck ass, and it is entirely possible that at some point in the future I will detail why this statement is fact). Case in point for the small guys, the outstanding original guide to Santa Barbara, Climbing in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties self published in 1981 by Stephen Tucker. This is a true gem of a guidebook, one of the best of small local guides that I've ever come across. It's got legendary Yvon Chouinard on the cover, excellent hand drawn action images and topos, and lots of action shots of the pioneering local SB crew from the 1970s: Steve Tucker, Chuck and Steve Fitch, Kevin Brown, Doug Hsu, Rick Mosher, and Mike Forkash (first ascentionist of Makunaima and interestingly enough, one of the first climbers that I met after showing up in Santa Barbara). The book is pure joy.

Notable also is the first printed reference to "The Nose", previously referred to as the "Euell-Gibbon Route" at 5.10+ , and the first notation of Lizard's Mouth as laying claim to some of "the newer boulder problems in the area", and Pine Mountain as well, including a photo of local bouldering legend Doug Hsu bouldering in what looks to be The Happy Hunting Grounds area.

This spiral-bound guide is hard to find, in fact after a long time searching, I only finally picked one up 2 or 3 years ago. However, with the number of vintage book stores out there online, it's become a bit easier to seek out obscure titles like this one. Definitely worth the search if you're a climbing history/guidebook buff.

Santa Barbara Sandstone: Climbing Magazine - August 1987
Note: This one escaped my radar until Steve made note of it, hence the addendum.
Here's a short little expose by Frank Brodarick no doubt inspired by some of the recent goings-on in the area, notably Dave Griffith's ascent of Smooth Arete at the Gibraltar area. Not really a great read, it's more of a mini-guide, but it's got a couple nice photos, one of D-Griff on Makumania (sic - also mis-spelled in the text as Makunamia), and another of the always photogenic T-Crack.
Santa Barbara Sandstone

In 1988 came the first proper SoCal "compilation book" (that I have found), which has a brief few chapters on Painted Cave, Gibraltar Rock, San Ysidro, and The Sespe Gorge Wall. No great photos or or anything too interesting here, just basic information at a time when there was very little. Notable is the author's coverage of some obscure SoCal bouldering areas (not Santa Barbara in particular) that likely would be overlooked in a compilation guide put together today.

More notable though, is the author's choosing to use a cover photo of a crappy but photogenic climbing route with a hot chick on it, inspiring many more SoCal guidebooks of the future.

Where To Go When the Surf's Down - Climbing Magazine - July 1989

At the tail end of the decade Ventura activist Reese Martin posted up a short 1-page piece in Climbing magazine highlighting some of the recent development in Ventura and Ojai. Since the only featured photo is of the graffiti-ed artificial Ventura River Wall, I'm not so sure this one inspired many people to head to the coast to get their crank on. A short topo is provided for The Foot (can't say I've ever been there), and Thacher School bouldering, which is so small I went once about 14 years ago and haven't been back since.
Anyways, here's the article: Ventura-Ojai