- Tom Higgins Shares His Recollections Of A Classic
(posted: Nov 13, 2017)
We selected the streak we did climb because a side view suggested it might not be as steep at the top as other lines we examined, but the view from underneath still shocked us so much we just stopped looking and thinking about what was up there.
Tom Higgins Shares His Recollections Of A Classic
posted: November 13, 2017
FoP recently completed the rebolting of the Pinnacles ultra-classic Shake and Bake, put up by Tom Higgins and Chris Vandiver over 40 years ago in 1976. This was an historic ascent being the first route to tackle the ominously foreboding and steep water streaks of the Balconies.
FoP President, Bruce Hildenbrand, reached out to Tom and asked if he could pen a narrative of this groundbreaking climb. Tom's account is provided below. Those were the days!
Memories of Shake and Bake - Tom Higgins, 2017
I recall how ridiculous and impossible it seemed to try a free route on the main part of the Balconies wall, with the top of the wall seemingly bulging and overhanging in several places. Would it go? Could we down climb if it got too steep to put in bolts, or just run it to where there might be a bolting stance? Was the indented black streak rock good or bad, or good AND bad? We had minimal experience with water streaks at Pinnacles to know one way or another. Such thoughts made our stomachs churn as Chris Vandiver and I walked along the base of the wall scanning each water streak for its climbing potential. We selected the streak we did climb because a side view suggested it might not be as steep at the top as other lines we examined, but the view from underneath still shocked us so much we just stopped looking and thinking about what was up there.
I found the trick to drilling overhead on the steep terrain was to tap very lightly to start, arch your back while squashing your hips into the rock as much as possible, and try to hold the tipsy feeling at bay.
As for the climb itself, I recall Chris baking off the second pitch start (I mean backing off, but baking too as it was high 80s to low 90s during the climb) because he felt he couldn't drill from any stances he tried. I found the trick to drilling overhead on the steep terrain was to tap very lightly to start, arch your back while squashing your hips into the rock as much as possible, and try to hold the tipsy feeling at bay. Once the drill was in even a quarter inch, griping the holder moderated the reeling sensation and encouraged me to continue, though pulling the drill out to clean dust brought back the sickening prospect of tumbling headlong into space.
Once I got a bolt in, I felt a burst of confidence, as if I had just bought another 20 or 30 feet to try, and so the fear quelled. We hooted back and forth at such moments. Surprisingly, the moves were not as hard as I anticipated, and the rock nubs seemed pretty solid. So on we went, continuing to take the thing in sections, telling ourselves any fall wouldn't be too long and we could always rap off if it didn't go, leaving it for others to try.
The ascent took two days. As weekend climbers with busy work and school lives, I believe we didn't get back to it for a couple or three weeks. We didn't worry someone might make their own attempt as there were few climbers frequenting Pinnacles at the time. I don't recall anyone seeing us on the wall, and we didn't tell anyone about our try. As well, generally climbers of the day who discovered a work in progress left it alone for a good amount of time and then tried to fish out who was on it and if they were still trying or had quit. We climbed ground up to our previous high point (I think part way up pitch two) on the second attempt day. Ground up for all attempts was customary for first ascents at the time. We scared ourselves climbing again what we already had climbed, realizing it was tricky and run out in places. Chris joked, "Who did this?!" I used the same line with partners when repeating the route years later.
We scared ourselves climbing again what we already had climbed, realizing it was tricky and run out in places. Chris joked, "Who did this?!" I used the same line with partners when repeating the route years later.
I recall I climbed left from the streak at some point where knobs seemed better, then crossed back to the streak higher up finally reaching the second belay point, a good stance for drilling. Chris followed more directly and said it was solid 5.9. I replied to the effect the little diversion felt the same, but maybe felt a bit more secure.
Looking up at the last pitch, we thought it might not go, as the dark channel curved outward at one point where a bolt might well be needed. Turned out I could stop to drill by bridging the sides of the channel, an airy stance but secure enough. I was very motivated to get something in quickly as a fall might mean hitting Chris not far below. So, I opted for a 1/4 versus 3/8 inch bolt in a hard boulder lump embedded in the softer rock. The bolt went in fast but with decent resistance. I felt confidence again from the tense feel drilling it, typical of the winging sensation poles of the entire climb. The move above the bolt was the last of any difficulty before the channel eased back to the top. Belaying Chris, I told myself I would replace it some other day with one of the hefty 3/8" split shafts we used elsewhere on the climb, but never did.
In the article for an old Ascent, Anti-climbing at the Pinnacles I tried to describe the feeling of luck, wonder and relief which burst within us as dusk descended and we made our way across a weedy ramp, and down. Over my years climbing, I found no more satisfying time than rounding a cliff or dome or tower to look back upon a first ascent hard won. There we stood surrounding with evening sounds of insects, frogs and birds and yellowing walls going to purple, this time not with trepidation but deep and abiding joy. Strangely, in that moment, neither of us wanted to do the climb ever again, as if that way we could forever imbue its impossible feel and honor the fates or gods allowing us to leave our flat and routine world to tip toe up the strong, improbable and now somber wall before us. Of course, we both did climb Shake and Bake again, enjoying it in a different way than the first time, perhaps forgetting those gods or fates, but not what they permitted us.