Friday, April 26, 2013

Yosemite Bolt Wars

White powder flew from the granite. I brushed more, cleaning the rock.  Soon, a third of the drawing disappeared.  I stepped back and stared at the remaining chalk. A few minutes later, Midnight Lightning’s bolt vanished.

In 1978, Ron Kauk jumped to a jagged edge on the Columbia Boulder, in the middle of Camp 4.  He matched, swung his feet through and threw his body into a committing mantel, high above a slab.  When Kauk pressed out the granite, he made the first ascent of Midnight Lightning.   Fellow Yosemite climber and Kauk’s contemporary, John Bachar made the second ascent.  The two had been vying for the coveted ascent of the line.
John Bachar climbing Midnight Lightning- the bolt  lacks the bursts

“I drew the original bolt on Midnight Lightning....,” said John Bachar.  “It was Yabo who actually "found" Midnight Lightning. He was sitting in front of it one day and came over to me and Ron Kauk and said he found a new boulder problem. He said it would go...we laughed and said it was impossible….we thought there was about as much chance of doing it as there was the chance that a lightning bolt could strike at midnight (like in the Hendrix song 'Midnight Lightning") - so I drew a bolt on it in chalk....That's it - pretty stupid huh?”

When a hold broke, Bachar made the third ascent. Sometime later, Kauk reinforced the lightning bolt hold in the middle of the problem.  The problem saw its first female ascent by Lynn Hill.  At one point Scot Cosgrove climbed the problem twelve times in a row.  Skip Guerin climbed the problem barefoot and prior to Lynn’s ascent, the problem was down-climbed.  Dave Schultz climbed the problem at midnight.  Yabo made the tenth ascent.

Boulders regularly climb the problem and every climber in Camp 4 paws the first few holds. giving the starting holds classic Yosemite boot polish.  Through it all, the chalk outline remains despite “lightning striking at midnight” on hundreds of occasions. 
The bolt stays even in the deepest snow storms.
Erasing the bolt took two different trips.  The first night, I removed the majority of the chalk.  To help rinse my brush, I stole a water bottle from a climber bivied underneath the problem. 
“Erasing the bolt?” he asked from his sleeping bag.  I nodded.
“Cool,” he responded and went back to sleep. 
The Lightning Bolt before it was erased
The morning after first brushing the hold, a smear of chalk marred Columbia. Thirty years of the lightning bolt outlined proved difficult to remove.  The next evening I returned with a finer brush and a little spray bottle of water. I spent another few hours cleaning the formation.  The next morning, Columbia boulder resembled every other rock in Yosemite. 
The empty space lasted a week and half before someone redrew the lightning bolt. I don’t know who put it back.  It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Ron Kauk.  It wasn’t John Bachar coming from his grave.
Nik Berry on an unknown problem in Camp 4

“It was probably some Euro,” said Dean Fidelman, one of the original Stonemasters and one of the few who still hangs in Yosemite.  “They want the picture.”

Over thirty years, with every passing ascent, the lightning bolt became less of a testament to a remarkable ascent, of lightning striking at midnight.  The chalk transformed into a trademark, another tourist attraction for passing climbers. The magic left the bolt years ago. 

The new bolt remains slightly duller than the last incarnation.  How long will it remain that way?  Does climbing need these trademarks?  


Justin said...

"Over thirty years, with every passing ascent, the lightning bolt became less of a testament to a remarkable ascent, of lightning striking at midnight." Couldn't disagree with this more.

A testament is a tangible proof or tribute. When John Bachar first drew the bolt, wether he intended it or not, he was issuing a challenge. After the first ascent the bolt transformed into a testament to a paradigm shift in climbing. A shift away from the gentle slabs, techy vert faces, cracks and obvious features.

Images of Midnight lightning have inspired climbers around the world, and the the bolt has been a part of that inspiration the whole time. Dean Fidelman may not think much of it because he was a part of the scene when the chalk (and the climb) went up. To him, the personalities, people, and the climbs are probably and rightfully more important. To climbers that weren't around Camp 4 at the time, the chalk may be their only reminder or connection to what came before them.

The climbing culture that fostered yours and my own interests in climbing is not one that is easily spread to newer climbers, come visit my gym and poll the people there and see how many of them know who Ron Kauk is. Climbing is so accessible now that new climbers no longer rely on experienced veterans to teach them how to climb, about ethics, and about climbing history. If nothing else the Bolt can spark a conversation that can lead to some of our history and traditions being passed on. Hell, when I first saw it I thought the bolt was horrendous, but the more I've learned the more I've grown to appreciate it. Ultimately, without the bolt the Columbia boulder is just another big rock in Yosemite and it will be forgotten.

Has "the chalk transformed into a trademark, another tourist attraction for passing climbers"? Yeah, maybe a little bit, but unless you're really jaded by the whole climbing scene or caught up trying to be cool in Camp 4 the 'Bolt' still has a lot of magic left in it.

So to answer your question, "does climbing need these trademarks?" "Climbing" doesn't need anything, but I sure think a lot of climbers do.

Thanks for posting this James. I hope you're enjoying some splitter weather in the Valley.

Matt Owen said...

It's not many lifestyle climbers that have removed bolts placed by both Bard and Bachar

Ed Hartouni said...

An interesting statement, sometimes we forget what a symbol means.

That image of the bolt on Columbia Boulder I took wondering around Camp 4 waiting for the mist to clear after a major winter storm ten years ago 2002-2003. The same idea, except there doesn't look like there is any route there... and there wasn't give the time of year.

Congratulations on your iconoclastic act. It will be interesting to watch the followup.

Unknown said...

You were totally out of your element in removing such a historical symbol that has endured over 30 years in Camp 4. Undoubtedly, chalk markings on boulders, from tick marks to lightning bolts, can be an eyesore and should generally not be accepted in a natural setting. However, the historical significance of the lightning bolt far outweighs it's perceived unsightliness (by some). By removing the bolt you have removed a small part of Yosemite's climbing history. Why not remove 'Starry Eyed Man' in Hueco? Is it also no more than graffiti in a natural setting? Time is what distinguishes graffiti from history and the lightning bolt has endured enough time to achieve a symbolic reverence not unlike the petroglyphs Hueco, albeit on much shorter scale. If I drew a chalk shoe on the Blue Suede Shoes slab, it would be erased in a day and gone forever, as would any chalk drawing on a newly developed boulder. But the bolt was different, and you erased a valuable part of climbing history that would have endured another 30+ years and will surely appear again, expressing the vanity of its removal.
Additionally, I find removing the bolt and sharing this post more than a tad egocentric and rabble-rousy on your part, especially considering that you've never climbed the thing (cite: Now, I know it shouldn't make a difference on an ethical basis whether you have or haven't done it, but when you put the time into the Lightning you develop a personal connection with its symbolism as the catalyst of modern bouldering. You removing the lightning bolt would be like a hiker attempting to remove bolt hangers from a route because their sight detracts from his/her natural experience. Totally out of your element. Anyway, It'll surely return, and unfortunately all you have done is marred its history. This blog post came off to me as snooty and pompous and if you had true wilderness ethics and public service in mind, you wouldn't made a spectacle of it. Statement noted.

JLB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jim H said...

Total goofball. I've been part of Yosemite's climbing scene since 1979. I remember seeing that lightning bolt as a 16 year old kid hefting a 50 lb. military duffel bag into Camp Four for the first time, realizing I had just walked into the temple. There was no reason to erase the historical lightning bolt. If you want to pick up some trash on the side of the road, it would have been more productive. If you want to really change the climbing scene, make a statement, be a man, and do something like take all of the bolts off of the Salathe except for the original 13. That would be a statement, but you probably aren't capable of climbing the Captain with a chisel. Luckily, you are bold enough to erase some chalk marks at night.

Dee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Your a f**ing idiot. That image is a defining idol in the climbing community. For me it has been a lifelong pursuit. Be a climber for 20-30 years, poll your peer group, be committed to your position before taking it upon yourself to decide for the rest of us, whether that bolt should remain or not.

Otherwise, I might decide, without the agreement of my peers, to remove your front teeth, if I ever run into you in the Valley.

Ian said...

After reading this detailed post on how you erased the bolt, I still can not gather why you actually did it. You knew it was seen as significant by a lot of people. Not cool man!

Joseph Crotty said...

When I was in Camp 4 it always warmed my heart to see the "Bolt." It reminded one of a value system based on challenge and merit. That's why the "Bolt" stood the test of time for a generation - 30 yrs. "The magic left the bolt years ago." If it had no "magic" left then you wouldn't have been erasing it in the dark!

JPace said...

You were wrong to assume that it is your right to remove such a beloved visual artifact from the climbing community. If the bolt should be removed, then it is a matter for the community or park service to decide, not yours alone. I suggest that when (not if) it gets redrawn that you back off and not concern yourself with things that do not pertain to you.

Unknown said...

I love chaos and irreverence...
Nice work!!

The Commentarium said...

Why did you do this under the dark of night?

Probably because you knew that virtually every person in the camp would scream at you and tell you to stop, if they saw what you were doing.

But I guess everyone except you is just a worthless "Euro" tourist, and their opinions don't matter.

Unknown said...

Well said. At least give us a reason for erasing it. Instead he asks us a question about trademarks in climbing. Sorry dude, this became less of a trademark and more of a historical symbol a long time ago.

Luke said...

Also after reading this post, I see no explanation for why you removed the bolt. Because it was a trademark? because the "magic has left". Says you! Not me. I remember reading about that bolt since I first started climbing, and while I've never been to yosemite, on arrival, I would surely rush to see it, have my picture taken with it even. And what is wrong with that? To me it is an iconic time in climbings history, and erasing it seems like senseless destruction, like drawing a moustache on the mona lisa, just cause.

I'm glad someone redrew the bolt, and it makes me happy to know someone always will.

toothbrush said...

Strange to do something in secret and then have an article on in a short while after. I get it though, I guess, I understand it meant something to you. However, it bugs me when boulderers apply that surfing mentality of "my turf and my wave man, efing tourists just here because I already was", and that's the type of sentiment this oozes of. There was a lot of talk in here about Ron Kauk, how this has become just another tourist attraction. Considering that I've seen advertising at Yosemite for "Ron Kauk: A Climbers Journey", I highly doubt he shares the same opinion that tourist attraction for Yosemite's amazing climbing experience is a bad thing.

Unknown said...

And who gave you the authority to do so?

Why is your opinion of the "bolt" seemingly better than others?

Thank you for assuming and making a decision for all of us based upon your personal views.

Unknown said...

I agree with most of the comments. This is an individual that took it upon himself to do something that he thought was a good idea, but not a good enough of an idea to do it in broad daylight so that others could approve of his actions.
The chalk on the holds of every boulder problem and route are much more of an eyesore and have no real sentimental or historical significance. The lightning bolt did. Every time I have gone to the Valley, Midnight Lightning was the problem to aspire to, to obsess over, my drive to get stronger so that someday, I may be able to complete the problem that basically sparked the bouldering movement. Every time I've been there I've added a little chalk to reinforce the bolt, a small act to retain and be a part of the history of that place, that time.
The next time I go to the Valley, if the lightning bolt is still gone (which I doubt), I will put it back. In the broad daylight, for all to see.
If no one liked the lightning bolt, it wouldn't have lasted three decades. What a self-righteous tool.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth said...

You say, "The empty space lasted a week and half before someone redrew the lightning bolt. I don’t know who put it back. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Ron Kauk. It wasn’t John Bachar coming from his grave."

This implies that you believe only Ron Kauk or John Bachar should be allowed to redraw the bolt. But somehow they are not the only ones who should be allowed to remove it? There seems to be a striking disconnect here.

I could imagine another blog post from someone else's blog:

“The lightning bolt lasted for thirty years before someone erased it. I don’t know who took it away. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Ron Kauk. It wasn’t John Bachar coming from his grave.”

jasin said...

You are a pretentious prick.

Unknown said...

The eraser is not a tool or a pretentious prick. He is no one. He is just another insignificant bloke with a need for attention.

I'm glad that you enjoyed your deed, because the bolt will be back soon enough, and with a little time, you and your insignificant deed will have been forgotten.

The history of that boulder is too big to be marred by someone like you.

sherbert said...

Wait a minute... this person provides a history of how the lightening bolt got there, complete with quotations from climbing legends to take us back in time, and then proceeds to make it "look like every other rock in Yosemite???"

devlin said...

I'm just dumbfounded and saddened by your selfishness, ignorance, and total inability to comprehend symbolism, constructs, or archetypes. I feel like you must spend a lot of time not finding any real meaning in your own life.

Brian Martin said...

Harry Potter would be very disappointed with you.

MJH said...

What the shit people, we are talking about climbing rocks here. This isn't a mecca, dome on the rock, mt zion, or rick james's grave site.... This is some stupid graffiti placed on a rock back from a time when people were assholes and carved their names all over trees, painted rocks, littered, and certainly didn't follow the rule 'leave to trace'.

Is the problem still hard? Is there still a waterfall nearby? Is the valley still beautiful? Do climbers still smell bad?

If the answer is yes, THEN IT'S STILL FUCK'N YOSEMITE.

Now get off the Internet and pretend you actually give a shit about something actually important.

sherbert said...

I've decided this blog post is just a joke and he never erased it.

Obviously this guy thinks the bolt is important to know the history behind it. Further the bolt was "replaced" it was probably never erased. said...

Hank Hill needs to go over to you and kick your ass!

Dylan Lucas said...

Not your right nor your responsibility. I have watched video of people climbing Midnight Lightning since I was 12 years old and everyone has had the trademark chalk outline of the lightning bolt. It has become a part of the problem and a symbol of what was at one time the hardest boulder problem in the world. The bolt does not belong to you, it belongs to everyone in the climbing community and therefore it is not up to you to remove it. Next time why don't you just break off the starting hold so no one can enjoy the problem in it's entirety?

joshua said...

You're just a stupid donkey.

Unknown said...

I think it's funny how many losers got all uptight about a chalk mark. Who fucking cares!

Unknown said...

You are an arrogant moron. You have absolutely no right removing a piece of Yosemite climbing history. My 13 year old son and his friend try to climb Midnight Lightning every time we visit - he'll be devastated that the icon of this climb has been removed.

Robb said...

You obviously erased the bolt just so you could spray and insight rage in the community. You give no reason for your actions nor do you respond to anyone's comment on your own blog. I can just imagine you sitting back at your computer in your underwear reading the responses with a big shit eating grin on your face. Obvious troll is obvious.

Ling said...

pretty awesome that you are so badass and saved us all. There is a bunch of litter and drawings on the sides of caves in new mexico maybe you could go clean those up too. Oh and there is trash on the side of the road here at the gunk could you pick that up at night by headlamp too.



ps I understand if you are late as its really hard to drive that red saturn wagon when you find it with two flat tires

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Wow! What a horrible move on your part. Very selfish. I'm actually a little in rage.

Anonymous said...

The more I think about this, the more I realize that the removal of the lightning bolt was all about getting attention. Its sad really, and a bit pathetic.

To some, it was just chalk on the side of a boulder. To some, they could care less if it was there or not. But to others, it was actually an iconic image that inspired climbers everywhere.

I love your reasoning behind removing this. YOU felt that it was time for it to go. So based on that logic, I think I'm going to go pry off petroglyphs in Hueco because I cant stand the fact that pictures of the art make the area touristy. God you're ridiculous.

Want to know who put it back up? ME! Its funny because i was just in the Valley a few weeks ago. Why? The sole purpose to climb Midnight Lightning. I happened upon the boulder like I do every year and couldn't believe someone would bother to spend the time washing it off. It was sad really. I did the only thing that just about any other climber would do who had been inspired by this boulder for years...i put it right back up. Is it a bit faded like you mentioned? Yeah. Was it as perfect as the one you washed off? No. Did everyone else in Camp 4 comment about the douchy nature of washing it off. Yes. Will you resort to more attention seeking endeavors and go wash it off again..maybe. But guess what, every time you wash it off, there will be someone like me who comes along at the right time and puts it back.

Its part of climbing history. Unfortunately for you, you have too big of an ego and cant find any other way to make a name for yourself. So you resort to a blog to say "Hey, look at me!!! I washed it off!!! Im awesome everyone, right?!"

Here is a picture of the day I put it back up!

James said...

Hey Chasing Midnight-
Glad you got to draw the lightning bolt back on. Did you send the problem?

Excellent English said...

Mate, the Bolt will live on. You may get your 15 nano-seconds on the internet, but you'll be forgotten. Mean while the Bolt stays in our memory and is reborn by true believers.

Anonymous said...

Hey James,

After years of dreaming and countless trips to the Valley, I finally sent Midnight Lightning. Its sad really that the clown who decided to go out of his way and wash it off (in the middle of the night no less...only someone who realized their actions were stupid would do it at night while everyone else slept) has never understood the magic that still exists with this boulder.

The way I see it, HE's the one who lost the magic and grandeur of climbing. It wasnt the boulder that lost touch with the climbing world. He was the one who lost touch. See, that boulder inspired me for years. Countless trips to the Valley and the fortunate luck to become friends with Ron Kauk during the way are directly linked to a single boulder with dare I say it, yes a chalked image on the side!

Funny thing is that the group of climbers in Camp 4 during my stay all unanimously thought it was ridiculous to wash it off. countless stories circulated about why someone would be dumb enough to do that. The consensus was that some little kids were running around with water guns and nothing better to do. NO ONE thought a climber would do it. Well, turns out it wasn't done by a climber but some little kid. We were all right after all.

Let this serve as a reminder. For those who feel like going through the trouble to sneak out in the middle of the night and wash off some chalk on the side of a boulder, just remember that people will keep rechalking it. Grow up and move on kid.

Kimber said...

As I said to my buddy, talking about this, I think you have the right to wash it off James, as a personal statement, but you're not gonna' kill the bolt. That thing is legendary, and will (as it did) always rise again.

Took courage to do it, and write about it though. I get why you did it at night, you didn't want a spectacle. This was more for you, in my opinion, than it was for anyone else. Your reasons are your own.

But you can't kill rock n' roll, and you can't kill that bolt. It's immortal dude.

jake slaney said...

The Snyd? I know you like chaos, but this guys a moron.... Seriously?

Sparkplug said...

douche bag

ZZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It's interesting that this debate shows how much some people are wrapped up in their identity as climbers. Even the original climbers Bachar\Kauk. It's a microcosm of our society and i think it's a shame. Leave no trace. Go climbing, fuck being a climber. We'll done James.

Cam said...

How does time make history less relevant? Are you insane?

I'm joining the vast majority of these climbers in hoping you get smacked in the mouth.

Peter said...

I have climbed in the Valley since I was a teenager in the early 70's and fortunate to have climbed and befriended by It's Legends. wanna clean some excessive chalk on a wall? Knock yourself out. Wanna destroy a part of history? then please allow me.

popeantonio said...

Testa di cazzo! (Ask some Italian to translate it for you, asshole)

Eric O'Rafferty said...

Anaïs Nin said, "We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Discuss amongst yourselves!

Brad L. said...

you are a self centered arrogant asshole, you should be ashamed! Watch you back back in camp 4, people hate you! It is still history and not your right to erase. Im inspired every time i look at that bolt.

crux said...

that was selfish man. and lame. i climbed midnight for the first time recently and if i ever see that bolt missing i will draw it back. another rock climbing attention whore.

Unknown said...

SO wait he did this in the middle of the night on march 31st, April 1st. Hmmm.

Unknown said...

Am i missing something here, or is everyone else?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
heretic said...

Funny I just caught up on this story tonite. The removal of the bolt was a great sign of disrespect to Kauk, Bachar (rest is soul) and the countless generations of climbers past who have sent and future ones that will send Midnight Lightning. There's a great shame in your action that I cannot fathom nor find any ounce of justification for. We pay our respects to history, to Kauk and Bachar, by maintaining the bolt. We pay homage to them by ensuring the bolt is always visible, always there.

I'm heading back up this fall and when I do, I will once again follow in the path of climbers before me and add my chalk to the bolt, just as I did last year on my very first trip to the valley.

heretic said...

Some food for thought should you ever choose to make such a selfish and shameful decision again.

Unknown said...

Years later, I'm still like "who the fuck did that guy think he was?" I was in the valley yesterday, guess what? There's a lightning bolt drawn in chalk on the Columbia Boulder.

Unknown said...

Also, I doubt that someone who made a video about not being able to do a v6 on a Moonboard could ever even do the first couple moves of ML, leaving me to again wonder who the fuck did that guy think he was.

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