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


  1. The flower children faunt makes the Summit piece, and the article by Reese had me climbing at The Foot before I even moved to SB.

    There's at least one more SB article from the 80s. Don't remember who wrote it but there's a pic of someone at Cold Springs, probably DGriff. You should find it quickly.

    Patagonia had a shop copy of the old Tucker guide forever. Perlin might be hanging on to it for them. Great guide except the pic of Swift Trip that made it look so cool that I actually climbed it.

  2. Somehow that slipped from my radar. Good memory there, Manny. Found it.