Review of Camp 4, Steve Roper

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Roper's account and characterizations make the era come alive. In fresh, frank prose, Roper reveals the factions and cliques and abundant stupid behavior. Northern and southern California climbers stayed in separate parts of the campground. Northerners regarded southerners as too clean, polite and square. Climbers shoplifted at the local grocery store, stole into church to sleep, overstayed camping limits. Roper himself once brought part of the skull of a dead climber into the coffee shop to shock companions.

And for every juvenile or petty tale, Roper gives us one incredible, pathetic or tragic. Roper tells us, for instance, that all the climbing deaths in the sixties came not during the bang of climbing but the whimper of rappelling. Yet at the same time, he shows us how moving and maddening were some of the whimpers. Jim Madsen rappelled from the top of El Capitan to rescue Pratt and Chris Fredericks, only to pop off the end knot and crash 2000 feet to his death. Jim Baldwin was so defeated in love he apparently lost concentration and rappelled off the end of his rope. Penny Carr asked Roper to take her up to Sickle Ledge so she could "untie and jump off." Steve refused but Penny took her life another way sometime later: sucking a hose from the tailpipe of her Plymouth. Along the way, Robbins climbed the Leaning Tower in a storm, alone with retreat impossible. By such an array and juxtaposition of feats and follies, deaths and disjoints, Roper constructs a realistic collage of the good, terrible, worthy and absurd, all of what was, and probably still is, Valley climbing.

Camp 4 reminds us nothing about climbing is new under the sun, and much in the sun's glow is not very golden. For instance, "tricksters" are not modern phenomena; nor is blatant if not ugly competition. Both were in evidence as early as 1946. In that year, Salathe, by tedious and admirable aid climbing, had worked his way to within 30 feet of the top of the Lost Arrow, and undoubtedly would have finished the climb first had not the tricksters acted. On Labor Day, Anton Nelson, Fritz Lippman, Jack Arnold and Robin Hansen tossed a weighted line over the summit of the Lost Arrow to set up the finish on the blank top. In so doing, they proudly and purposefully beat John Salathe to the finish. Salathe contemptuously dismissed the climb as a "rope trick" and said the original ascent employed the "help of the devil." Hmm, maybe not such golden days after all.

There is a sneak punch at the end of Camp 4, a haunting message not obvious until the read is done. It hovers in some of the reflections at the end of the book about the closing of the period, and especially in the captivating Glen Denny photos of Jim Bridwell, Frank Sacherer, Layton Kor, and the author with Eric Beck. It is not simply a sense of days gone by in the simple and telling black and whites. Nor is it the passion or innocence or wonder or certainty or carefree ways in those faces going to dust or gone already.