by Creative Director, Jim Aikman

Over the last five years, Bedrock's Jim Aikman has been working with the American Alpine Club and former club president Jim McCarthy to document the oral history of American climbing.

McCarthy and legendary Everest pioneer Tom Hornbein got together and decided it was imperative to put the legacy of our community's elders on the record, to be preserved in the American Alpine Club's library for future generations to turn to with curiosity and admiration. Since then, we've recorded interviews with 29 of climbing's most illustrious personalities who have experienced our sport through periods that can only be imagined today. Yvon Chouinard established some of the world's most sought after climbs as well as the evolution of gear and techniques. Glen Denny documented much of the Golden Era of Yosemite climbing with his 35mm black and white camera, and keeps an immaculate collection of his images at his home in San Francisco. Irene Beardsley led the first American expedition to Annapurna, and summited with a team of all women. Some climbers, like Glen Dawson who did the first ascent of the East Face of Mt Whitney in 1931 and was 103 years old when we interviewed him in California, have since passed away. We captured other legends like Bob Craig, Nick Clinch, Dick Pownall, Fred Beckey and more, not long before they passed away, making our mission that much more important. We've also captured climbers who have many years left to climb - we just look for folks that have a unique perspective on a period of American climbing which other climbers, young and old, might not be familiar with.

In March, Bedrock was down in Bishop, California, to shoot four new interviews for the VIP.

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We began with Vern Clevenger.

Vern is an incredibly talented professional photographer with a studio in downtown Mammoth. He invited us into his studio for the interview, where we talked about his many notable ascents in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in the seventies, where he opened the area's potential into the realm of 5.12 and participated in the now infamous antics of the scene there at the time. He also made the first ascent of Cholatse Peak in Nepal's Khumbu Valley. Vern was party to the drug-smuggling plane crash in Lake Merced, where he and his friends recovered mass quantities of marijuana and sold it for massive profits. Vern bought his first Nikon camera with his profits and the rest is history.

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Next was Russ McLean,

an American rock climber who cut his teeth in Tahquitz Rock in California and played an integral role in the early days of Yvon Chouinard's Patagonia, working in the tin shed and developing many of the cutting edge tools that paved the way for modern climbing. His climbing took him all over the world, with notable ascents such as Triple Peak in the Kichatna Spires with Charlie Porter and an early attempt on the east face of Cerro Fortaleza in the Torres del Paine. His interview went on hours longer than expected as he regaled us with tale after tale from the glory days of climbing.

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Next up was Joe Kelsey.

Joe comes from the east coast where he learned to climb at the famous Gunks in New York State and was a member of Vulgarians, a crew that prided itself on being uncouth and politically incorrect. In other words, they had a great time and lived the lifestyle of the "dirtbag climber" three thousand miles from the towering cliffs of Yosemite. Moving west, Joe brought his talents to Wyoming's Wind River Range, where he did many important first ascents and went on to write the definitive guide book for the area.

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Our final stop was with Eric Beck,

a key player in Yosemite's Golden Era. In Eric's mind, his most notable ascent in the Valley was the first one-day ascent of the West Face of Sentinel, but he also soloed the Regular NW Face of Half Dome shortly after the first ascent by Steve Roper and Jeff Foote. He shared fond recollections of all of the mythic characters of that period in history and left our mouths agape with stories from those soaring cliffs during a time when protection was scant, attitudes were fierce and anything was possible.

 

It was another memorable journey for the Vision Inspiration Project and we're proud to be a part of such an important mission. As our collection of interviews continues to grow, there will surely be an opportunity to make some sort of encyclopedic documentary about the entire history of American climbing, and we look forward to that not-so-distant future. 

Finally, a huge special thanks to Ellen Lapham, who has managed the project for many years.