I would like to pay tribute to my original climbing mentor, Randy Friedlander, who taught me that climbing is awesome but not worth dying for. It was his respect for the dangers of climbing that helped me take safety more seriously.
Within days of graduating high school in 1987 I started working on the maintenance crew at Camp Tawonga, which is west of Yosemite by the Tuolumne River. Randy was my direct supervisor. After work he took me to nearby bouldering and climbing areas like Inspiration Point and Rainbow Pool.
On a day off from camp duties, I followed Randy up the Regular Route on Fairview Dome (5.9, 11 pitches) in Tuolumne Meadows and I thought to myself “This is the best day of my life!” Little did I realize Randy and I would go on to have many more of these best-day-of-my-life moments as our friendship continued, like the one pictured below that fall in Yosemite Valley.
Randy was the perfect mentor. He was a skilled trad climber who never seemed to fall. He took a few times. Backed off a couple routes. But whipping was not his way. He climbed with careful, precise, small movements, often on the tiniest of holds. He always climbed static.
I’m not sure we even knew what a dyno was at that point.
We pored over Climbing and Rock and Ice magazines for clues on how to climb steep, overhanging rock, but the photos didn’t portray dynos very well. The only video I remember seeing during that era was of John Bachar free soloing the Cookie Cliff in Yosemite and More Monkey than Funky in Joshua Tree on the TV show That’s Incredible.
John Bachar’s technique was so smooth and precise, so naturally we wanted to climb like that too. We were climbing easier versions of the same kinds of smooth granite cracks that Bachar had mastered. But with one big difference–we always used a rope and a trad rack because the thought of free soloing was terrifying to both of us.
We had seen sport climbing in the magazines but didn’t witness it in person until Randy and I went to Smith Rock OR a couple years later. It was a revelation seeing climbers dyno and whip.
One of our early climbing trips together was to Calaveras Dome in march of 1988. I was 18 and taking classes at City College of San Francisco. We had read about a classic route called War of the Walls (aka Wall of the Worlds) in John Harlin’s West Coast Rock Climbs book, and Randy was up for giving it a go. We didn’t even come close to making it to the top of this 11 pitch 5.10c.
The first two pitches thrashed us physically and mentally due to the steepness, exposure, and difficulty of climbing. I had done hand jams before but couldn’t get my hands deep enough in the crack for the jams to feel secure. This was my introduction to climbing tight hand cracks, in the 1″ to 1.5″ range. aka green and red camalot size. Randy declared he was done, and I barely knew how to lead climb at that point. There was no way I was going to lead the pitches, so we rappelled down and called it a day.
The next 5 years were sprinkled with adventures with Randy. Lover’s Leap. Phantom Spires. Joshua Tree. Yosemite Valley. Donner Summit. The Pie Shop. Cosumnes River. Smith Rock. So many epic trips we lost count..
Thank you Randy for your patience, and encouragement, and stoke, and most of all your humility. You never were afraid to admit you were scared. You said things like “that was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life!” I heard you say those words on a number of occasions after you led serious climbs with potential for bad consequences.
I was an accident waiting to happen (more on that on a future blog) but Randy showed me that fear can help motivate you to be safe. And that bad things are always waiting happen if you aren’t making a plan to avoid them.
There was no showboating with Randy. Just a joy of living enhanced by a healthy fear of dying. I will be eternally grateful to him for taking me on the most outlandish adventures we could dream up. And for teaching me that the most important thing is to come home safely, even if that means retreating. It was a lesson I needed to learn.
Who was your climbing mentor? Were you lucky like me?