Renaming of Camp 4

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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

 

century.

 

 

    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

 

designations.

 

 

    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

 

back:

 

     Armando:

 

 

    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,

 

    Gary

 

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

 

and reminding  us to be content with small victories.

 

END

 

 

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  www.CubaClimbing.com, 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.

 

 

 

Comments

Details

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.