About Tom Higgins

Article Index


There is a moment when every devoted climber knows mountains are about to rule life. My moment came as a teenager at home in Los Angeles, watching on TV the grainy 1950 movie, The White Tower. In an early scene, a train emerges from a tunnel into the Alps. Dark turns to light. Bright, sharp peaks and glaciers cut across the sky. Suddenly, I knew I had to climb.

But how? There were no climbing schools, magazines or gyms, though rumor hinted at sandstone hunks at the far end of San Fernando Valley where a few Sierra Club nuts practiced the trade. And so, in the early 1960s, amidst blowing dust and abandoned car bodies at Stony Point, with soft pitons and hemp rope from an army surplus store, I scampered naively over boulders and cliffs with equally possessed friends Bud (later Ivan) Couch and Russ McLean. We soon met Bob Kamps at Stony who modeled the technique and safety we needed. Good, long days of climbing to come with Kamps were sparked by our trips to Tahquitz Rock and the first free ascent of Blanketty Blank where a touchy mantel Stony style got us over the crux. With Kamps and others at Tahquitz, I went on to several first ascents employing the techniques of my mentor: light hiking shoes with Vibrum soles, ground up climbing, and protection (including bolts) placed on lead. With Mike Cohen and Roy Coats on the first ascent of Jonah, climbing into unknown, blank terrain proved costly. A broken drill made protection impossible on the final pitch.

Struggling With Jonah