BUILDING CLIMBING IN BERKELEY SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES

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BUILDING CLIMBING IN BERKELEY SIXTIES AND SEVENTIES

 

Building climbing in Berkeley was this kind of secret science.  It almost always had to be at night.  You were never sure who else was doing it, but you knew there were other worthless characters slithering around too, because their climbing shoes left definite black tracks all over and chalk marks appeared as well.  Sometimes some of the decrepit concrete castings would come off also.  Building climbing did no harm, we told ourselves, and we stood on tradition thinking that “The Night Climbers of Cambridge” was our justification and bible, even though none of us had a copy, nor had ever read it.  But we knew Al Steck and all of his group had, so we kept on going.  Nothing stands in the way of belief, obviously.  And the awesome vigor of young climbers hopefully on their way up.

 

And as for lore, there was tons of it. It had been going on since the fifties or earlier. Roper was rumored to have tried to nail the entire Campanile.  It had this granite veneer on it, with failure cracks that went up a ways, but certainly not all of the hundreds of feet it stood.  Sacherer or Pratt was supposed to have first done the long expansion joint cracks on Memorial Stadium.  And of course, Vandiver and I tried to get Royal to come with us, but he could not expose himself to the likely arrest.

 

We were good though. And really damned bold, gaining important experience in pure counterforce climbing.  Wurster Hall had a really slippery S-chimney that was around 5.9 and four stories tall….  Many “chimney-up-the-large-window-and-reach-out-over-the giant-cornice- for-the- perfect-edge” climbs were mid 5.10s and could have been fatal.  Edwards Field had all these kooky shallow heel-and-toe chimneys 3” deep and weird liebacks also.  And I guess it was Wheeler Hall that had a traverse on it just a few inches off the ground that was so tricky and nearly dynamic, that only a couple of us ever got it.  The Life Sciences Buildling had all these different animals cast in the walls, kind of providing what now seem like present-day gym holds of all shapes.  I don’t know, perhaps most of this is now lost to oblivion, indoor climbing, and generally more appropriate comportment. 

 

Out of all those weird nights on the loose, we only ran into the University Police once and were merely told to leave.  Other tales related harsher situations, though, as part of lore.  Most of the time we were unroped, but on the big stuff we would toprope.

 

I took this interest to UC Santa Cruz in 1966 as a crazed freshman and began tearing things up pretty good there too. Recessed lite fixtures were falling out of the new building soffits, long black marks adorned the huffy Modern Egyptoid Natural Sciences buildings, and I am sure walking all over all those copper roofs was just great for them too.  I don’t recall breaking any glass though.

 

It did not matter that we owned nothing, practically ate nothing, and basically lived nowhere.  It mattered what we were doing and all else was kept firmly and completely out of focus.  What we found through movement and risk, left us with nothing else on the agenda, it seemed to be the big secret.  Gullich later claimed that climbing was just a sport, trying to shut off any metaphysical and spiritual trash-talk, but we knew better. It was nothing short of True Natural Religion. And in kinder moments, we almost pitied the rest of humankind for what we saw as its poverty of spirit.  And of course could see all of this when building climbing.