Cover Photo: Galen Rowell
By: Matt Johanson
Illustrated by: Christopher Hampson
Dreamcatcher Publishing, 210 pages
After learning more about Bachar and his free solo exploits, I realized what an inspiration he had been to some while serving as the poster child for recklessness to others. The man’s life seemed to have many layers and I had barely skimmed the surface. Naturally, when I received an email asking if I would like to review a new book that was a compilation of short stories penned by Yosemite adventurers including John Bachar, I was intrigued to read words from this sometimes controversial figure’s own pen.
Joining Bachar in “Yosemite Epics, Tales of Adventure from America’s Greatest Playground,” are more than 20 other adventurers sharing their personal accounts of near misses and close calls on the granite slabs, backcountry ski/snowboard trails, and waters in and around Yosemite. As John Moynier points out in his forward, “the list of contributors reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Yosemite … over the past 50 years.”
The stories are short and to the point, with the longest spanning about 10 pages, and each ends with the adventurer commenting on what he or she learned from the life-threatening experience. More than half of the stories are about near misses while climbing the granite monoliths in the national park. The tales have the feel of stories one would tell around the campfire, each one having the flavor of a mini epic. Their compelling nature leads one to believe that being a great adventurer naturally leads to being a great storyteller.
Helpful to readers like myself who may not rock climb is the glossary of terms as well as the explanation of climbing ratings that help one navigate the terminology used by the experienced climbers throughout the book.
Obviously each person writing the tale survived the ordeal they describe (otherwise how would they be able to tell the story?), but author Matt Johanson warns in his afterword that while all the tales in the book end well, “no one should draw false or rosy conclusions from these hand-chosen episodes.” Reminding readers that the risk that accompanies outdoor adventure should always be taken seriously.
An example of this is Bachar, who may have “got away with one” in the story in the book, but who passed away from another free solo climb just two weeks after meeting with Johanson and relating his tale. Bachar’s piece, “I Got Away with One” briefly discusses the taboo topic of climbing without a rope and describes the first experience he had with the technique many consider dangerous.
“I’m up there without a rope, and I’m thinking, ‘This is just nuts.’ I don’t belong here without a rope.” The sensation, however, passed quickly and he soon realized how freeing climbing without a rope could be, and he began to push himself in the field.
His story of near-tragedy centers around his harrowing on-sight solo of the Moratorium, a 500-foot tall, 5.11 crack. A tricky section left him shaky and disoriented when he finally reached the top.
“I felt like a hollow shell,” he penned. “I felt like I got away with one. I didn’t feel like I conquered it. I felt like it let me slip through.”
No one will ever know if Bachar felt the same distress he felt on the Moratorium on that fateful day at Dike Wall in 2009, but by the end of the story I had gleaned one more tidbit about this intriguing figure. While he would free solo all day and all night, he never recommended it to others, perhaps because of feelings like those described above.
“Yosemite Epics” is full of tantalizing tales just as gripping as Bachar’s with other authors such as Scott Cosgrove, Peter Croft, and Royal Robbins. Pick up your copy locally at The Booky Joint in Mammoth or Spellbinder Books in Bishop.