Tribute to Bev Johnson: Climbing Astroman Together

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Higher, the other remaining challenge for us was the Harding Slot. Beverly wanted a go at leading saying something like, “I want this sucker.” Looking up at it, I was happy to let her give it a go. I had never been on the route and was horrified by the slanting bomb bay look of it. She fired off the lower layback but had trouble getting into the slot.  I told her to come down and try it again, though getting down from such an overhanging thing was not easy. She came back some rope shenanigans, looked out at the waning light and told me to give it a go. Now we were comrades again, trying to get up the wall and get off with whatever combination of climbing worked. Perhaps it was because I was pretty skinny in those years but I found I could get into the slot as it widened without too much effort. The only problem was the minimal protection. In current parlance, I think one needs about a #6 to adequately protect the slot and we had nothing close.

A strange thing happened as Beverley followed: she turned the tables. She tried the chimney part twice without luck, but insisted on down climbing each time to start over. Down climbing the Harding Slot from almost anywhere beyond the beginning probably is harder than climbing up it. I couldn’t tell if she didn’t want to weight the rope or take a big swing. It was getting late. Now I was the one concerned about getting up before dark versus style issues. “Beverley, we’ve got to get going.” Or words to that affect. “Shut up Higgins. We’re doing it your way.” And those words are exactly hers.  Even in my frustrated state I thought, What a woman. Third try she got it.

Above, there are a couple of strenuous laybacking pitches. I remember Beverley zoomed up one of them in waning light (I think it’s called Changing Corners). I got the last pitch in near dark, for me the toughest on the climb. While it’s face climbing, right up my alley, it was hard to see and protect and the rock seemed crumbly. Unlike me, Beverley didn’t whimper about the oncoming dark and try to hurry me. She followed with no problem or comment.

We had lights and got down the descent gully gingerly, feeling wasted and not talking much. The minimal dialog I remember with her, and the last we spoke to one another due to her untimely death, went something like:

“Not the best climb,” I said.
Unfazed, “It was OK.”
More skittering down the gully.
“Sorry I got pissed,” I said.
“OK, fucker.”

Farewell again, Beverly, good and brave soul you were.

 

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 Supertopo Post May 20, 2013