Renaming of Camp 4

Renaming of Camp 4

John Salathe and John Thune Sr. in Camp 4 during a snowstorm.


The Untold Story of the Renaming of Camp 4.



     For half a century Camp 4 has been the climbers’ base camp in


Yosemite.  Yet for most of that time, the National Park Services


insisted in calling it “Sunnyside.”  That difference came to symbolize


the conflicts between climbers, the NPS, and the Curry Company.  In


1999, the NPS acknowledged the end of decades of feuding by


announcing the site’s name would once again be Camp 4.  Now, an


exchange of e mails between Gary Colliver of the NPS and Armando


Menocal, Founder of the Access Fund, reveals how the historic


change came about. 


The Untold Story of the Renaming of Camp 4



By Armando Menocal



    At the September, 1999, Celebration at Camp 4, the National Park


Service announced that Camp 4 would be officially re-named “Camp


4”.  Of course, its always been Camp 4 to climbers, but that name for


the climber’s camp had stuck in the Park Service’s craw for half a





    With the end of the first “Golden Era” of Yosemite climbing about


1970, and attempting to attract other than climbers, the Park


redesignated Camp 4 as “Sunnyside”, even though all of the other


campgrounds in the Valley retained their historic numerical





    Camp 4’s place as one of the centers of American and even


international climbing culture has been documented in legend and


literature.  In 1969, Doug Robinson, wrote in Mountain that, “Camp 4


is the physical and spiritual home of the Yosemite climbers.”  In a


description that rings true almost 40 years later, Robinson said of


Camp 4,



    “In spite of the spectacular setting, it has become the most trampled


and dusty, probably the noisiest, and certainly the least habitable of all


Yosemite’s campgrounds. . . .  Yet the Yosemite climber will stay


nowhere else.”



    The Park and Curry Company, Yosemite’s sole concessionaire,


tried repeatedly to get rid of Camp 4.  Of course, at first it was


climbers that they wanted to constrain or remove by closing their


refuge.  Eventually, even Camp 4 became an anachronism to the


authorities.  Camp 4 remained small and cheap as Yosemite


developed large campground suitable for behemoth Winabagos; a


walk-in campground with irregular, often crowded, well lived-in sites


was impossible to police or to cruise from a patrol car.



    Preserving Camp 4 may have been one of the earliest climbing


access causes, first championed by Raffi Bedayn, a Yosemite


climber in the 1930s and 1940s and manufacturer of one of the first


aluminum carabiners.  For the next 30 years, Raffi took up the


unpopular cause of defending Valley climbers.  If they were climbers,


it didn’t matter to Raffi that the Park Service or Curry Company saw


them as low-life, scavengers, and petty thieves, which sometimes,


some of them were.  Whenever animosities were high between


climbers and rangers, Raffi would show up at the Valley to ease


tensions with his unassuming, irrepressible diplomacy.  Raffi’s years


of personal, hands-on service to the climbing community were


recognized, and he was the first recipient of the American Alpine


Club’s Angelo Heilprin Citation.  After Raffi’s death, grateful climbers


placed a memorial for Raffi at the base of Midnight Lighting on


Columbia Boulder.



    On the surface, the names Camp 4 or Sunnyside may not seem


very important, but in fact the renaming represented a huge shift of


official attitude.  Refusing to acknowledge the climbers’ name for the


most famous campsite in the climbing world was emblematic of the


demeaning status of climbers in the Valley.



    It is hard today to recall that at one time, climbers were regularly run


from Yosemite Lodge (curiously, in the 80s Lodge employees were


instructed not to give apparent climbers coffee refills), swept from


Camp 4 and its parking lot (one Yosemite Superintendent told a


group of climbers that their interests were as important to him “as a


dumptruck load of dirt”), and its closure was threatened throughout the


70s, 80s, and 90s.



    Even in the massive Climbing Management Plan that the Park,


climbers, and other conservationists developed in the 1990s, the NPS


would not yield on the epithet, Sunnyside.  The name had become the


symbol of contention.



    The struggle to save Camp 4 from “re-development” after the 1997


floods forced the Park Service to acknowledge and respect the role


and history of climbers in the Valley.  The final acknowledgement that


the decades of feuding were over was when for the first time the Park


Service announced that the site would thereafter be officially called


Camp 4.  The change was announced  at the September 1999


Celebration, and it brought grateful cheers from the hundreds of Valley


climbers from the 60s, 70s, 80, and 90s.



    The “back story” of how the change came about has never been


disclosed.  This is how it came about.  It is revealed in the exchange


of emails between Gary Colliver, a well-known Yosemite climber who


had become one of the Park’s planners, and Armando Menocal, who


had been a Yosemite activists since 1980 and a protégé of Raffi


Bedayn, showing up everytime that Camp 4 was threaten with


closure.  Although often antagonists over climber issues, the two


longtime Valley climbers had become friends, even arguing over the


climbing plan, when they climbed together.



    Two weeks before the celebration, Armando wrote to Gary:



    Hi there Gary.  



    I will not be at Camp 4 celebration this month. . . .  I assume that the


Park will have someone there speaking at the celebration, and I


wanted to repeat (at least to you, and perhaps you'll pass along) that


there's almost nothing that the NPS can do which will signal to


climbers that the NPS gets the importance of Camp 4, than to rename


it, "Camp 4."  Think of what a great thing it would be to announce that


at the celebration!



     The day after the announcement at the Celebration, Gary wrote







    Talk of renaming has been going on for several years. I think you or


Paul Minault [Access Fund Regional Coordinator] may have begun the discussion


during our work on the Climbing Management Plan


back in the early '90's.  Hal Grovert, the previous Deputy


Superintendent said we should do it over a year ago. Often the way


things work here is that something is talked about on and on, but an 


actual decision is not made, recorded, or acted upon. As it happens,


your mentioning it, caused me to once again mention it to Chip, who


thought it a good idea and took it to the Superintendent the next


morning, and the decision was made.  So, if you and I (and others)


had not been persistent and not lost hope in the process, and kept


gently pushing the idea forward, it may have eventually occurred, but


not at this auspicious moment. In fact, it may have been waiting and


watching for the right time to mention it again that did the trick.


Thanks!  Best wishes,




    I think Raffi is looking up at Midnight Lightning with a small smile


and reminding  us to be content with small victories.





Armando Menocal climbed in Yosemite for 25 years with first


ascents in the Valley and Sierra Nevada, including the first ascent of


the West Face of Mt. Watkins.   Now a rock and alpine climbing guide


with Exum Mountain Guides, Armando lives in Wilson, Wyoming, and


is spearheading introduction of climbing and guiding in Cuba.  He is


the creator of, a complete guide to Cuba for


climbers and other adventure travelers.  Armando has been a human


rights and environmental activist and is Founder of the Access Fund,


the largest organization of climbers in America.






Not sure how long the Park Services [sic] "called" it Sunnyside, but the Sunnyside signage was only in place for 15 years or so.

I'm surprised no mention was made of Tom Frost's successful effort to secure Camp 4 as a place of historical significance. AFAIK that effort is what clinched the Camp 4 moniker.