About Tom Higgins
My fascination with alpine peaks of The White Tower drew me to the Sierra. Sporting crampons and knickers from the movie, I did the first ascent of the East Buttress of Agassiz Needle Temple Crag with Couch, then the North Face of Mt. Morrison with Charlie Raymond. In 1963, Couch and I decided to see the Alps as part of a bicycle tour of England and France. We packed no ropes or pitons, wanting to go light and knowing we were ill equipped for mountaineering. Still, at the last minute, we threw in our climbing shoes for God knows what. In Wales, we watched wool clad “hard men” scale dark, damp cliffs. Wanting to try, we borrowed a rope and slings threaded with machine nuts for protection as pitons were forbidden. We did a few edgy routes bearing ratings with some inexplicable combination of “hard,” “moderate” and “severe.” Then, in Chamonix, France, the beautiful tan spires of movie memory swept me away. With scolding English partners, I rashly went with light shoes and clothing onto first free ascents of the East Face of the Moin, the M Metago Route and Albert West Face. Only luck got us by bad weather. "The British Are Coming" on the site recounts the contrast of our 60’s California climbing style born of sunshine with far off ways and weather.
I moved to Berkeley in the late 1960s for graduate school at Cal and took to Yosemite for weekend flings. Here, the clean, dry, high granite stole me away from any further ventures into alpine mountaineering. Scared by its size, but drawn to the gold colored flakes and undulations of the NE Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock, Kamps and I edged our way to the first free ascent. Similar footwork rooted in Stony and Tahquitz experience won the first free of Serenity Crack (more face than crack) with Chris Jones and other first ascents of the time (Punch Bowl, The Peanut, The Void, Owl Roof, others). Then, shamed by Jim Bridwell on a flailing flop of Crack of Despair, I realized Yosemite demanded a slithering crack-climbing style I had not yet learned. I built and practiced on an adjustable, wooden crack machine nailed to the side of my house. A crack climbing binge followed. Tips on off-width crack methods and selected routes are on the site.
Climbing giants of the period influenced me almost as much as the walls themselves. From an admiration for the great German climber Hermann Buhl, I solo climbed some in Yosemite, leading with a jumar for protection. Solos included the Owl Roof and the first ascent of Thy Will Be Done in Tuolumne. My veneration of leading Yosemite climbers of the day led me to write the play "In Due Time," memorializing them against the oncoming fate of commercialism in climbing. The article is on the site.