Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Man In The Hat

In 2005 I spent my last summer in Mammoth working at the little climbing wall up at the resort.  I got to work outside in beautiful weather and spent all day hauling little kids up a 20 foot pillar.

I was young, 21 I think, and got to be around fellow climbers all day long talking shop and sharing stories.  During less busy times we'd take take turns trying to 'free' the natural routes using beat to hell climbing shoes from the shoe bin.  My go to shoe was a pair of purple Boreal Crux's.

Looking back on it now, I laugh.  Once again I didn't realize how lucky I was, but I don't think there was a better way to spend a summer.

That's not to say there weren't downsides, a kid once peed his entire way down the zipline, but the good far outweighed the bad.

My roommate Darren and I spent much of our free time in Tuolumne and we revered the legends of the area.  Croft, Long, Bachar, Kauk, Clevenger, Yerian.  We constantly wore out books written about them from reading them over and over.  It absorbed our lives and we just couldn't help ourselves as we became more and more enamored with the stories.

We'd constantly joke about going out and doing some proud, hard route only to promptly go and find the nearest 5.8 to sketch our way up.  We were not talented climbers.  I honestly can't count the number of times I motored up some pitch, unknowingly blowing straight past the belay station forcing myself to cobble together a sketch ball of an anchor.  Darren always knew it was bad news if I came into view standing gingerly at the anchor, leaning in as far as I possibly could so as not to weight the anchor too much.

Luckily we each had the same problem and we quickly learned not to complain, but instead went by the 'no fall' mantra.  I couldn't imagine a better climbing partner for the alpine rock environment.  We fit together so well.

In the middle of the summer we had one of our first cloudy and semi rainy days up at the climbing wall. There weren't many people at the resort so my coworkers and I ended up spending much of our day messing around and talking more shit than usual.

An hour or two before the end of the day two men and their sons came up to climb on the wall.  One of the men was friends with my coworker Keith so we set them up with harnesses and three of them went to town.  One of the guys stayed behind and hung out with us for a little bit.  I knew he was a climber since he was wearing an climbing companies baseball hat and he looked familiar but I couldn't place him.  I figured at first that he was someone I'd seen around town.

We sat around and talked about the weather for a bit.  Talked about a couple of local areas, gear and other random small talk.  He asked me where I was from and what the local areas were like back in Wisconsin.

We talked for maybe 30 minutes before his brother and their two sons came back over.  It'd started to rain and they were going to take off.  Keith came over to say goodbye to his buddy and as I was putting their harnesses and shoes away the man poked his head around the corner.  He noticed the bucket of shoes, and the Crux's in particular.

He laughed a bit and said quietly and unassumingly, "Been forever since I've seen a pair of those...I designed those things.".

Immediately I got nervous.  Instantly everything came together and I knew who the man was.

The man was my idol.  My hero.  The person that I looked up to more than anyone else.  The man in the hat was John Bachar.

Photo - Nathan Smith

I immediately froze and transformed from a climber into a jabbering, stuttering, awestruck fanboy.  We chatted for a few minutes, made plans to climb with Keith and he left.  I was stunned.

Later that summer we followed through with those plans to climb and I consider it to be one of the greatest honors of my climbing life to have spent time with the man.  We laughed about my reaction after the fact and it was something he made fun of me for, every time I'd see him.

He gave me some of my most cherished climbing related memories and for that, I'll be forever thankful.

When I got home that first day and told Darren what had happened we both smiled and sat in our living room, almost in silence.  As a young climber it was such a seminal moment for me that I truly didn't know how to react.

Darren opened up one of our guidebooks, picked out a nearby 4-5 pitch 5.6 and we busted out to climb it, fully inspired by the days happenings.  In proper fashion we missed multiple belays, didn't weight any anchors, got off route and topped out in the dark.  As we sat on the top of the route packing our stuff we both just laughed at the absurdity of it.

Darren looked at me and said all that he needed to, "Bachar woulda been back in town 2 hours ago".

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