Climbing The Owl

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Climbing The Owl

(In Response to Speculation About my Ascent of Owl Roof, Post to Supertopo Website, 2006)

Posts from around December, 2004 (e.g. Sewellymon, Scary Larry) speculate about my first ascent of the Owl roof. Jim Bridwell described the climb in the January, 1974 issue of Mountain, saying, "a 13ft. hand-and-fist crack in a horizontal ceiling was soloed, with jumars for belay, by Tom Higgins."

Jim may not know he is responsible in two ways for my ascent. First, after he dragged me (and Tom Gerughty) up the off-width burner, Crack of Despair, my embarrassment caused me to make and incessantly use an adjustable, wooden/rubber practice crack nailed to the outside of my home in LA. The crack machine helped me develop technique for Yosemite slots, including the wide part of the Owl. Second, Jim reportedly placed a chock stone in the off-width part of the Owl as part of an aborted attempt. The stone made my ascent feasible though very hard. I didn't know the stone was there or how it arrived as I came upon it in my second attempt in 1973. I also didn't know if the route already had been done. As I said in Summit Magazine, December 1973, the stone "magically appearing since last year ... when Peter Haan and I tried but failed on the route."

My climb went like so: using jumars for self belay, climbed first pitch to base of roof, set up belay and back rope, jammed out to the lip, unexpectedly found chock stone, clipped it, fell, lost glasses (just as in my attempt with Hahn), pulled into wall, lowered to get glasses and dislodged lens on ledge, tensioned back to rest point below the roof, taped glasses together and onto head. Set up again, climbed to the lip, got crux, flopped exhaustedly on top, undid cursed rope jumble but didn't remove stone not knowing if man or nature put it there. Chris Vandiver greeted me on the road and asked, aptly, "What the hell?"