1979: Mountain Magazine interviews Ray Jardine
Magazine photo caption: Ray Jardine on Hangdog Flyer, Yosemite. Photo Bill Wood.
Mountain 69September/October 1979
Who's Your Friend?
Alec Sharp interviews Ray Jardine
As a visitor to Yosemite my first glimpse of Ray Jardine was through the comments of other climbers concerning his routes. He practiced the moves I was told, he did the moves but rested on protection whenever he felt like it, he never did this route. Tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Not quite, though these were all good climbers, some of whom had repeated the odd Jardine route. The routes were hard, no doubt about it, and I heard stories of climbers bursting into tears at the top because the pain in their arms was so great; so why did they denigrate the man?
"Ray's routes were hard, no doubt about it. I heard stories of climbers bursting into tears at the top because the pain in their arms was so great"
Jardine's style of climbing is different to that of most climbers but it does have the virtue of consistency. Others may scorn it, but it is important to remember that these climbs are some of the most difficult in Yosemite. New, bold ventures have often required novel or dubious tactics; Brown and Whillans' girdle of Dinas Cromlech brought the comment that any of the old timers could have done the route given the same proliferation of ropes and slings; Livesey practiced many of the moves on Right Wall from an abseil rope before leading it; Kauk and Clevenger repeated the Gunks' Supercrack, initially pulling the rope down after every attempt but eventually leaving it in place, Erickson went back to Half Dome time after time despite his policy of leaving climbs alone once he had fallen. Maybe the tactics left something to be desired, but we're talking about vision, about new ideas of possibilities. At least the end result of Jardine's efforts is a free climb, no yoyos or rests, which is more than can be said for some of the repeats of his routes.
I was intrigued by this man, hidden from view behind a wall of rumour. Much of the condescending talk could be ignored as ego defense, the attempts of other good climbers to elevate themselves to a superior position, and there were obvious qualities that appealed to me. I'm more interested in a person's vision, his ideas and desires, than in his technical ability, and whatever his ability, Jardine obviously had vision and ideas. Gauging the importance of a climber in the microcosm of the climbing world is a matter of cause and effect; look at the effect and it will tell you about the cause.
Jardine's effect is twofold. He has firstly opened a new concept in what is possible in crack climbing. Kauk and Wunsch did that too, but with Jardine the realisation is more accessible, and he has a greater number of these "desperates" to his name. The second aspect of his effect concerns the protection he designed, the Friends. Probably the most discussed facet of rock climbing in the past year, they seem to be even more divisive than chalk. What I like about the controversy is that whereas with chalk, opponents could hide their competitive motives under the mantles of environmental preservations and the rights of others not to be forced to climb by chalk marks, with Friends the issue is totally competitive. After all they leave no trace of their passage. Naturally this leads to a slight regret sometimes, since it is now possible to protect otherwise very bold leads that were previously done unprotected, but we had this effect in the past when good nuts came onto the market, and then again when small wires were developed. Jardine professes to be totally disinterested in the entire controversy; he invented the Friends for his own use and, aside from the business aspect he doesn't care what people think.
As I said, I was intrigued by the man, and I admired his ability to continue doing as he pleased in the face of controversy and criticism, so l wrote to him in Colorado Springs to ask if I might interview him. Within three days he had phoned and offered to drive up to Boulder for the interview, but we compromised and met in Denver two days later. Jardine is quite big and gives a distinct impression of solidity. He seems almost like a bear; certainly he did the one time I saw him in Yosemite with his shaggy hair and beard. As to actual figures, he is six feet tall and weighs 175 to 180 pounds.
It seems that many of the best climbers are in their late twenties and early thirties - look at Livesey and Whillans, and Jardine joins the club with his age of thirty. [correction: 34]
Youth has its fling, but by the time a man approaches thirty he knows what he wants from life, and if it is climbing, then he can approach it with greater devotion and dedication than could many a younger man.
A friendly man, Jardine laughs a lot and is easy to get on with. He exudes a sense of security, and that is one part of him that I very much admired. He is secure enough in himself that he can continue to climb in his own style despite criticism; he can go back on climbs that seem impossible, time after time until he finally achieves success. It seemed that he had no psychological need to see his name and ideas in print through an interview, and yet he had been perhaps even keener than I was for the interview to take place. I could only think he wanted publicity for the Friends, in order to sell more, and when I asked he admitted there was some truth to this. Whether it will or not, I don't know, but at least this interview will show some more of the man behind these controversial devices.
[Note from Ray: The notion that I was keen to do this interview is nonsense. I had never heard of Alex Sharp before, and he gave me no indication which magazine he was working for. I had no idea, nor did I suspect, that this was going into the premiere magazine of climbing at the time. When Mr. Sharp initially contacted me, I agreed to a prompt appointment, not in eagerness but simply to get it done with.
A.S. Where did you start climbing?
R.J. I started in the Tetons; ended up there after high school. I was working up at Yellowstone, and went down to the Tetons climbing every weekend. I had a friend who was really keen on climbing and he wanted me to go with him. He finally dragged me down there, and I remember rappelling just scared me to death. I swore I'd never do that again, it scared me so badly.
A.S. If you decided at that point to give up, what made you change your mind and keep going?
R.J. I did give up actually. I climbed for the rest the summer in the Tetons, just mountaineering stuff, then I went away to college for four years and didn't even see a piece of rock or mountain, or anything except books, but all the time I was developing an interest in climbing somehow. It was more an athletic interest that hadn't found a medium, so then I decided I wanted to come to Colorado for the mountaineering.
A.S. What college were you at?
R.J. It was a place in California called Northrop Institute of Technology; it's an engineering school. I studied aerospace engineering.
A.S. Why didn't you pursue that as a career?
R.J. I did for a while. I worked as an aerospace engineer for three and a half years in Denver, in space flights mechanics. I was climbing an increasing amount the more I worked there, and I finally moved up to the mountains and climbed every day. At the time Eldorado Canyon was an intimidating place - you'd read in the guidebook that you had to be a superb climber to go there, but I met this friend who decided to take me climbing there, and that was really the turning point. I realised then that I could go climbing in Eldorado. This was in 1967. I remember the first climb I did in Eldorado was the Bastille Crack, and the guy who took me there led me up the thing. I sincerely thought "lf l can ever lead this I will really be good" - I couldn't even conceive of leading that thing.
A.S. Was your climbing improvement a gradual progression or was there a sudden jump in standard?
R.J. Well, I started with the Bastille Crack at 5.7, and I got up to 5.9 in about a year and a half in Eldorado, but we did a lot of direct aid. When I quit my job as an engineer with my climbing partner Kris Walker, we decided we were going to quit our jobs and just go climbing every day in Eldorado; so we took the blue guidebook and checked the routes off one after the other. We did most of the classics, I think we did all but one or two in that old blue guide, at least on Redgarden Wall.
A.S. What prompted you to go out to Yosemite?
R.J. Bigger and better things I suppose. the big move from Eldorado Canyon to Yosemite. We were into direct aid, and if you want to do bigger walls you go out to Yosemite I went out to try and do the Nose - I'd done the Diamond seven times before that and I felt fairly competent on rock, confident anyway, and I went out and took one look at EI Cap and decided, Man I'm in the wrong 'place.' (laughter) Well, we tried it, we did a couple of grade 5's and then tried the Nose, got a little way up then decided to come down. I went back the next year with Bill Forrest and we did the Nose in a five day epic, although we had a good time. After that I think I just decided it would be a good place to stay, just camping out, the valley squalor. That was 1969 I think.
A.S. So Yosemite is your main area. What about the other climbing areas?
R.J. What other places are there? (laughter) I'm basically sedate.
A.S. How did you come to think of Friends?
Magazine photo caption: Jardine on Rostrum Crack, below him some 2,500 of exposure. Photo Bill Wood.
R.J. We're getting into it now aren't we? It wasn't that easy. The question reminds me of a friend of mine, Werner Braun. He told me that the night before he actually saw a Friend for the first time, he had a dream in which he saw the thing like it really is. For me it wasn't quite that way (laughter). I wish it had been, but I had to work on that thing for quite a few years; it was pretty much just a logical engineering evolvement. The Friends on the market are eighth generation. I was lucky because Bill Forrest is a real good friend of mine and he let me use all his tools to make these things.
A.S. Were they a response to new routes, or did you start doing new routes because of the better protection you could now get?
R.J. We really wanted to do the Nose in a day, and that was a long time ago, before anyone else had really thought of doing something like that, and I wanted something that would go in really fast. The Friends initially started out for that one climb. We almost did it too - we got up to Camp 4, where it rained for three and a half hours; we made it to Camp 5 before it got dark. Then the next year Bridwell did it. Friends were used for climbing in general; at the time I wasn't thinking of doing harder routes. I was just thinking of developing some better protection.
A.S. What grade of free climbing were you doing at that time?
R.J. 5.10 I guess.
A.S. How did people accept Friends when you first started using them?
R.J. I had Friends for about six years before they came out commercially - they came out last spring. No-one saw them in those early days. My climbing partners were sworn to secrecy - I'd march my partner to the rock at gun point [figuratively speaking] and make him swear not to say a word! We used to carry the Friends under our shirts on a gear sling and we'd reach under there, pull out a sling and slap it in the crack very quickly so no-one could see it. This went on for six years so we got really good at hiding them. The Friends were for my own climbing, that was all. I had no notion of ever selling them - I didn't think anyone would buy them for one thing. I knew I liked them and they were just for my own climbing. I thought if someone else saw them they'd go rushing out and make them and sell them themselves.
A.S. A lot of people criticize Friends because they make climbing too easy.
A.S. How do you react to that criticism?
R.J. I don't really. You see, that's a hard question because I don't really care. I developed the Friends for my hobby, and I've developed them to the point where I'm happy with them, and that's all they're there for. If somebody else doesn't like them, that's okay with me.
A.S. Climbing is traditionally about the risk factor, whereas Friends reduce or even eliminate that from many crack climbs now.
R.J. I don't think you can make a statement like that. It seems to me that the Friends might enhance ones safety, if one was climbing a crack, but they're not going to make it safe. There are a million things that could happen.
A.S. You're far less likely to fall long distances.
R.J. Not necessarily. Say you had a rack of nuts and you're climbing a really parallel sided crack; you look up there and just don't see any protection possibilities so you're going to have second thoughts about the whole thing. Subconsciously it's going to hold you back, you're not going to put out your best. But with Friends you're going to get higher because your mind will let you go up there, because you're a little more certain to get something in. People certainly didn't have too much trouble climbing before the Friends came out.
A.S. Could you say something about how you actually do these hard new routes, because there's some controversy about this.
R.J. For some strange reason there's a big thing about how I do climbs. Who cares? I don't care and I don't see why anyone else should. If a person's out there doing his own climbs what should anyone care? It seems ridiculous, but I'll be glad to say how I do the climbs (laughter). Climbers aren't really together on what is right and what is wrong although I think we're getting closer, but this is the way I look at it. My first rule of thumb is that the protection cannot be weighted on a pitch. In other words if you pull on it, or put your weight on it, then it's no longer a free climb. I like to think that if l can get up the pitch without weighting any of the protection, then I've freed the thing. If I have to hang on to something, or have a little tension, or fall off, then I didn't free it. Now you have a flashed ascent and a free ascent. If - you've never tried a route before and you climb right to the top without weighting any of the pro, then that's a flashed ascent and a free ascent. For a free ascent you may have taken several falls in the past, but if on this ascent you get to the top without weighting any of the pro, then it's a free ascent. That eliminates yoyoing; if there are two guys and one of them goes up, puts a few things in then falls off, and the other guy ties into the rope, gets a little higher and so on, then in my mind that's not a free climb because you're weighting the protection each time a guy lowers off. I don't like to do routes that way. It's a problem because if you're climbing something harder than you've ever climbed before, how are you going to flash that thing? You can't. Maybe next year someone will do it, but when you're trying no-one's ever done it. You can't do it - if you could then it wouldn't be the hardest thing you'd ever done, and that's what we're talking about. Somewhere on that pitch you're going to fall off. What are you going to do when you fall off? You've weighted the pro and in my mind that piece has got to come out, and you've got to start all over again. I usually take the easiest approach, which is to stay right there when I fall off and somehow get to the top, and I cross out that particular attempt. I call it working on a route.
A.S. So you might rest on five nuts, come back another time and rest on three, then come back again and rest on one, then finally climb it free?
A.S. Yes. Now I'm not saying that that's the right way to do it, but I'm saying that all I want is a chance at the very beginning to free that pitch without weighting any pro, so when I come back the next time all the gear is gone, except for the fixed stuff, whatever that might be, and I've got a fresh chance to try and free it. That's the way I did a lot of those routes, I just kept working on them, a little better each time, and eventually the day comes when I get to top without falling off, and that's what I call a free ascent. A lot went into it, but that is the nature of difficult free climbing in this day and age.
A.S. What was your most difficult new route and how long did you work on it?
R.J. I'm going to get myself in trouble! The route was Phoenix and we worked on it for quite a while.
A.S. How many attempts?
A line of Fiends leads to Jardine. Pitch 3 Crimson Cringe, Yosemite. Photo Mark Vallance.
R.J. (laughter) I freed it on my fourteenth attempt. I found the thing with binoculars one day and went back and told John Lakey, my climbing partner. I said "John, I've finally found the climb we can't do. No-one will ever do this route, it's just too much." So that meant of course that we had to go and start working on it. We rappelled down from the top and spent a day cleaning the usual lichen off the sides. I rappelled down as far as I thought I could climb back out someday and nailed in a station right there, a hanging belay. In fact it was just below the traverse, which is the crux. I thought at the time that the lower section would never go; it just never occurred to me that it would go free, so we took a hanging belay. We worked for quite awhile and finally freed it clear to the top and said "Oh boy, 5.12, really hard 5.12!" It was supposed to be a joyous occasion, a first ascent and all that, then John came up and I said," John, we didn't do it." He said, "What do you mean, we didn't do it?" So I said, "I bet you someday someone will do the first thirty feet. We should at least try it before we say this is a route." He couldn't quite agree but I insisted so we went back next day and tried the lower section. Surprisingly enough it turned out to be at least a little bit feasible so we started all over again right from the bottom. The first thirty feet of the Phoenix is a very interesting section; it's thirty feet of 5.11 moves. There's not a move on it except the first one than is not 5.11 and there are no rests. I'm not trying to make it sound like it was a really big deal, but it was hard. By the time you got to our belay up there you were totally wiped out, and now, being totally pumped, you have to do a 5.12, and that's why the Phoenix was so hard. The Phoenix is the hardest thing I've ever done - there's one 5.10 move about two thirds of the way up the climb, and that's the easiest move on it.
A.S. You go back and repeat these hard routes don't you?
R.J. Yes except for Phoenix. I went back to that about a week later but I couldn't even do the first moves. A lot of the ability is psychological, and when you finally break through and free a route you don't have the drive you used to have. I've had a lot of difficulty in repeating routes just because of that. I've done all those routes a whole bunch of times now - I've probably done Separate Reality thirty or forty times, just because I enjoy doing it.
A.S. How many routes do you do in a day to be able to do all that?
R.J. We did three 5.12 routes in a day one time. We did Tales of Power, which I haven't done but I've followed it and Separate Reality. then we went down and did Crimson Cringe - it got dark on us on the last part. I like to do these 5.12 routes, I just like to climb 5.12, so I've done most of them several times, except Phoenix and Owl Roof. To me, if you're a gymnast - I used to be a gymnast at school and college level [R's correction: "college level" were Mr. Sharp's words. I competed in high school only] which is why l refer to that - then you strive to get as close to perfection as possible. It's not a matter of getting through a routine, or getting to the top of a climb, it's how well can you do it, how can you refine it? To me that's what it's all about - how well can you refine a free climb that's really hard? You do it many, many times, trying to maximize your performance. A first ascent is just concerned with getting to the top, but when I go back I like to just be proficient at it. I'm trying to improve my free climbing skills, and there's no better place to do it than working on those really hard climbs.
A.S. Could you say something about your other routes, such as the Rostrum Roof, Elephant's Eliminate and Owl Roof?
A.S. When we did the Phoenix I'd been climbing 5.12 for about three and a half months, almost four, doing nothing but 5.12s. At the time I was in the best shape I've ever been in, so l went and started working on the Rostrum Roof, and I think I tried it five times before I got it. That thing is hard because it's intimidating; it's about 1,500 feet up above the ground, but we rappelled down from the top. It' s the last pitch of the normal route - it sort of angles out so you're not fifteen feet from the wall, you can touch the wall with your foot when you have your hands over the lip. You're not tired by the time you get to the lip, that's not the problem, but above that is ninety feet of severely overhanging one inch finger crack. You're 1,500 feet above the ground and it becomes a mind problem.
John Bachar came up to me and he said "Jardine, you didn't do that. I was down there today and I got to the lip but I didn't do it and there's no way you could have done it." I said "John, did you decide that because it was too hard?" and he said "No, wasn't hard it was just scary." (laughter) And that's exactly the problem, it's just terrifying. There are two different cruxes on it, and one of them is just over the lip so that when you fall off you hit your shin on the lip and it hurts so badly! I did that about three times. You just don't want to push it - it's not that its hard, it's just in such a ridiculous place. It's the hardest thing I've done psychologically. I was in shape, I was in the best shape I've been in my whole life.
Elephant's Eliminate is way over to the right of Elephant Rock. It's a big roof that sticks out, not quite as big as Separate Reality, and it has a flared crack in it, really flared. I think the thing had never been done before because you can't get nuts in it. There was a bong out about as far as you can reach, which we took out. Friends barely hang in there, it's so flared. I fell off a bunch of times but the Friends held. You can get out to the lip and you invert; there's a bomber hand jam right at the lip, and a bucket, but you're really tired by the time you get out there, so you invert, put your legs in the crack above you and get heel-toes, and lock your legs. It's very flared but you can get very good heel and toe locks so you hang upside down on those to rest your arms. I attempted the route and got to this position five times before I did the route The crux is above, it's just a horribly flared nothing. You bring your feet down and draw them up by your hands and try to go for these really flared fingerjams - there's a finger crack in the back, with long reaches. It's just really hard.
Owl Roof is an upside down off width 5.12 if you can imagine that. You fist jam out as far as you can then from the last fist jam you get out as far as possible and lock in the offwidth position, then bring your foot out and slot it straight up above you and then go offwidth around the lip. Oh Gads, that was hard. I worked on that unto I was blue in the face. I worked on that more than any other route I think. I'm wide and I can't squeeze in there. Dale Bard and Ron Kauk did it on their first day although they took a lot of falls on it. All the rest of the routes I want to go back and do again, but not the Owl Roof, that's too much work.
A.S. How do you find out where all these new routes are?
R.J. You live there and you do a lot of scoping out becoming familiar with the place. I spend some time with binoculars, kicking around and looking for routes. That's half the difficulty of a new route finding the thing.
A.S. To get back to Friends, what about the ethical aspects of climbing wide cracks with a Friend that you can keep pushing above your head?
R.J. What is the ethical problem with that?
A.S. You're effectively top roping.
R.J. No, you're not. Top roping is when you have somebody above you. Suppose you're on a big mountain, and you've got a wide crack above you You're not top roping, it's just a technique one can use which works. I don't think that's top roping.
A.S. It does mean you can never fall.
R.J. That's not top roping, that's just really good protection. Top roping is when you have somebody above you, which is obviously not possible on a big mountain. A wide crack with a Friend above your head all the time is possible.
A.S. Do you climb slabs much?
R.J. Only when I have to.
A.S. Do you feel satisfied by your new routes when others criticize your style?
R.J. When I'm on a climb, trying to do a free ascent of a route, I'm not thinking of what other people will think. I'm not out doing it to get the credit for it; it's a personal thing for me. I'm out there doing it to get my body up the darned thing, and so when I finally do a free ascent of a route that somehow satiates whatever it is in me that's got the lust for maximum difficulty and that's that; I don t care even if someone else says "0h, I did the first ascent of that." Fine, go ahead. One thing did bother me one time; Mountain Magazine published a thing that said Ray Jardine has done the Phoenix and Hangdog and some other stuff, but a lot of local climbers question his ethics, saying that he used free climbing siege tactics. That bothered me for a while - somebody says something about you it doesn't matter, but when you see it printed it's different. This is a fact! I was going 'What is free siege climbing? What have I done?' (laughter) So l went around asking people "What is free siege climbing?" Whoever wrote that thought that I left my ropes on the climb at the end of the day, and left all the gear in. We clean our routes out after every attempt, except for the fixed pro. But now I don't care, I'm into climbing for climbing, I love to climb.
A.S. What sort of training do you do?
R.J. Potato chips and cookies. The important thing is your weight to strength ratio (laughter). Lewis Carrol said in Through the Looking Glass, "it's a very strange place; it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place." That's about where I'm at with training - I've got to train all the time just to stay where I am. It doesn't make me any better; if I stopped I'd drop down to about 5.10. I do pull ups,
running, and push ups, a hundred pull ups a day and thirty miles of running a week. I can usually do a one arm pull up. I don't consider myself really strong; my forte is being able to hang on a long time in difficult cracks.
A.S. How many pull ups do you do when you're fit?
R J. When I'm fit I can probably do a hundred pull ups in three sets. When I'm climbing well a typical day in Yosemite might be like this; get up, do a few stretches, have some coffee, rack up and go climbing, come back later in the afternoon, tired, go bouldering for an hour, an hour and a half, then go over and crank off a hundred pull ups, and go running after that. A little more stretching and it's way after dark by now. That goes on day after day.
A.S. How good are you at bouldering?
R.J. Very, very poor. I don't push myself on the boulders - I go bouldering for the exercise, to strengthen particular areas of the body, but I'm not into bouldering to get up certain problems, I just go for the workout. I've never really become very good at bouldering although I'd like to be.
A.S. How about solo climbing? Have you done much?
R.J The last solo that I did was the Royal Arches. I slipped off this slab at the top and almost fell down the entire route, and I started thinking that if I spend a lot of time soloing then the chances of dying are much higher and eventually it may catch up with you; so l quit soloing after that for the most part.
A.S. That brings me to my next question Have you ever come close to death apart from that?
R.J. Oh yes, many times. I've had a couple of really close calls with rockfall, but one of the more dubious experiences was when I jumped off El Cap with my hang-glider. (laughter)
A.S. I want to ask you more about that later. What other areas have you climbed in besides Yosemite and Britain?
R.J. Nowhere seriously. Eldorado, the Diamond, stuff in Colorado, the Devil's Tower. There are challenges everywhere you go. Yosemite's not the only place to climb - everywhere you go is fascinating, with good climbing.
A.S. How did you like Britain when you were over there?
R.J. I had a fantastic time, really good. I met a lot of climbers over there, did a lot of the climbs - nothing really hard, just a lot of the old classics. I was very impressed with the standard of climbing there, and the standards of the climbs. People were really hospitable, showed me around, and a lot of people spent a lot of time showing me the routes.
A.S. Hoping you'd fail!
R.J. Yes. (laughter) Oh boy, let me tell you. I was sandbagged more than once over there.
A.S. Tell me about London Wall.
R.J. (laughter) Here we go, I knew this was coming. I tried London Wall once and failed - I left the country the next day! I almost got up the thing, but it got dark and I ran out of gear and I was hanging around too much. I wasn't doing a very good ascent of it - I took a couple of falls.
A.S. You did a new route on grit didn't you?
R.J. Yes, on the Baldstones, over by Hen Cloud. You climb up a little way to this roof you reach out as far as you can and that's where the crack starts. It's flared so no-one had ever been able to get a nut in but I had the Friends (laughter) so l just stepped right and proceeded to thrash and dangle for a while. I went back eight different times, and I finally got it. It was hard.
A.S. What climbers that you've met have impressed you?
R.J. I don't know. I don't look at climbing that way. I'm not impressed by what people do; I'm not impressed by what I do or by what anyone else does. It probably sounds a little corny, but I just like to go climbing. That's about as far as it goes.
A.S. You mentioned doing the Nose. What other big walls have you done?
R.J. I went through a period of a couple of years when I did some of the easier routes, but I'm not into hard aid. You have to draw the line somewhere.
A.S. Have you done any ice climbing?
R.J. Not a lot. I did some in 1969, dabbled with it; we went down to Peru and did some climbs there and nearly got wiped off the face of the Earth by an avalanche. I decided I'd better get on rock again! I've specialized, I don't desire to do every aspect of climbing. I'm interested in mountaineering, but not enough to make it my goal.
A.S. To get on to another subject completely, I'm told you are very religious.
R.J. Yes, I'm a Christian and my faith in the Lord is the most important thing in my life. I believe the Bible is for real; it's an incredible book. My relationship with God and with Jesus Christ is absolutely responsible for everything - the Friends, the climbing. He's given me a level head to where I don't quit when I fall off for the twenty second time. I think a person can do anything better when his head is in a good place.
A.S. Spirituality is normally associated with the mountains - you read it in so much of the climbing literature, but you seem more interested in short vicious problems.
R.J. Yes, but this is a very spiritual experience also. Climbing for me is not a mystical experience in which I go to Yosemite - the big gymnasium - to seek Truth. Rather, having found Truth in the Holy Bible, I go to the short hard climbs of Yosemite to have a good time. Having found Truth in the person of Jesus Christ I can focus my energies on climbing or engineering or hang-gliding.
A.S. Why do climbers like Kor and Sorenson turn to religion?
R.J. I think it's true not only of climbing but of anything. It's not the level you get to but it's being out there, in it that brings you to a point where you've got to face reality. When a person gets old he's faced with the reality of, 'Okay, I can't put it off.' I think that if the religious urge is in somebody, when they're faced with it, it'll come out. I think climbing does that, and I think racing automobiles does it too.
[Note: I later abnegated those religious beliefs]
A.S. You think the risk factor is involved; that the reason people turn to religion is that they've going to die?
R.J. That's not the only reason by any means, but I think it's a real good one, I really do.
A.S. What is the importance of climbing in your life?
R.J. Lust for maximum difficulty, like I said. That's just what it is really. It's a personal thing for me, I want to push the limits, I want to push as hard as I possibly can somewhere, and crack climbing just happens to be it. it's not competition; it's just that if I find a crack that's hard, I want to get up it. I feel that if I can get up a climb the first time I try it then it's not hard enough. I feel satisfied if I've tangled with a thing for weeks and I finally get it; I feel good about it.
A.S. Tell me about your hang-gliding off El Cap.
R.J. Make sure the names are changed! It's really funny, it's illegal to do that, but I had always had it in my mind that someday I'd like to try hang-gliding, and someday I'd like to jump off EI Cap, just because I've climbed it a lot of times and I wanted to see it right up close. One night I put the hang-glider over my shoulder, took a flashlight in one hand, and hiked up from Tamarack Flat by myself (laughter). I had about eighty pounds over my shoulder I guess. I spent all night dragging that thing through the trees; it's a thick forest and it's not funny when the path makes a turn and your hang-glider is twenty foot long. You're all by yourself in the middle of the night and the trail's not that easy to follow anyway. An hour before I got to the top my flashlight went out (laughter); it was intense. I got to the top an hour before the sun came up, so I pulled the hang-glider apart and rolled up in it - made a sleeping bag out of it (laughter). It was pretty cold up there.
I made the mistake of putting my glider up fairly near the top because it was steep downhill and I thought I could take off there. About the time I got everything ready the wind started blowing down the slope which meant the wind was coming from behind. First thing in the morning the cool air flows down into the Valley, much the same as water flowing over an edge. I knew it was going to be there but it was really severe that day, about ten miles an hour - your take off speed is about eighteen, so in that wind you'd have to run twenty eight miles an hour. You can't do it so l looked all over the place; I went down to the edge, but the top of El Cap slopes and is rounded so there's no way I could have jumped off. I spent an hour and a half up there looking for a place and finally found a spot. It turned out to be the top of the Dawn Wall and I could get right to the edge, except there was this big boulder right behind me and I couldn't quite squeeze the kite in behind it. The wind was blowing from behind and if it had picked up the kite and I'd been strapped in, I'd have gone over the edge and that would have been the end. A three thousand foot drop to my death. So I couldn't clip in to the kite because the wind was trying to rip it over the edge. Anyway, I finally got the glider to the edge but I couldn't pick it up because the minute I picked it up it was going to blow right over the edge. If I had caught a wing tip on take off, that would have been it - the glider would have inverted and I'd have lost control.
A.S. Why didn't you wait for another day?
R.J I thought I could do it, although if s the most dangerous thing I've ever done in my whole life I can't really make a big issue of it because it's illegal and it's dangerous, but for me it was something I wanted to do. Two hours later the sun warms the valley air and stops the dangerous sink, but by then the rangers are all out and about.
The glider was right on the edge and my toes were hanging over, but I couldn't get the glider round because of the boulder behind me. I took a deep breath and clipped in and just dived off really quickly. I did a nose dive straight down; I had to pull the nose of the glider in to build up air speed. It was incredible; I'll never do it again! I dropped about a hundred feet before I pulled out of the dive, and my stomach went to my throat.
I had a nice ride after that, flying back and forth across El Cap - I couldn't believe how big it was. I got down to the level of El Cap Tower where there were some guys bivouacing, and I made a close pass - "Hey, you turkeys!" (laughter) ,then I was getting pretty low so I headed out to the meadow, where there were three people down there to help. I had them all trained beforehand how to tear it apart as fast as possible. One of the Rangers drove past when we were carrying it through the fields but he left, so we got the kite on top of the car and were just driving off when a Ranger came up flashing lights - "All right, we saw you do it." "Do what?" They hadn't seen me land, but they knew I flew. I was caught but they couldn't quite prove it so l wasn't nailed for it. It would have been a fairly serious offense I think. I certainly wouldn't advise anyone to jump off El Cap with a hang-glider.
A.S. What other similar exploits have you done?
R.J. I've done all kinds of outrageous flights - I'm known in hang-gliding circles as being a renegade pilot. When it comes to hang-gliding I'll pretty much go for it. The thing that I've wanted to do most of all is fly off Pikes Peak (in Colorado), but I was caught by the police up there setting up my kite and they threw me out of the area. It's a fairly dangerous flight so it's illegal.
A.S. Have you flown off the Diamond?
R.J. I'd never fly off there. When you get into hang-gliding you find out about air currents, and around Long's Peak there's some bad air. Besides, can you imagine carrying the glider to the top? Outside of hang-gliding I can't think of anything special. I'm real mellow. When I get clipped into a hang-glider I just go nuts, but the rest of the time I'm very docile. (laughter)
A.S. What do you think the future of rock climbing holds?
R.J. I think it's very bright; I think it's becoming more exciting all the time. I don't think we're peaking by any means; I think we're just starting as far as free climbing potential goes. Free climbing or aid climbing. We've just begun to push some of the big routes free - there's a lot of things we can't even touch now, but five or ten years down the line they'll be standard course. How many routes on the Diamond are free now? Quite a few. The same thing is going to happen on the big walls in Yosemite, and then later on everywhere else. I think we're just scratching the surface of free climbing potential. I think technology is going to bring us unto this more and more.
A.S. You can have technology like Friends in cracks, but what about on slabs and crackless walls?
R.J. Friends are not the only thing possible. There are all kinds of possibilities; in my mind they're all clear.
A.S. Would you like to say something about them?
R.J. No! (laughter) I'll get myself out on a limb. There's lots of potential for developing new climbing gear which will enhance rock climbing. I'm working on several new things. The next product I'm working on is a grappling hook - it'll be really lightweight and strong, and the arms will spring out automatically (Joke). I've got all kinds of stuff in the works.
A.S. What ideas do you have for your future?
R.J. Someday I'd like to get real good at free climbing. I'm serious! I'd like to get as good at free climbing as a really good gymnast is at gymnastics or a really good ballet dancer is at ballet, and we're a long way from that right now.
A.S. You'll have to do more than a hundred pull ups a day.
R.J. Not necessarily. Look at the free climbing that was done in England fifteen or twenty years ago. Those guys didn't have nearly the technology we have, and I'm not talking about Friends, but they were doing hard routes, they were strong. I don't think climbers are getting that much stronger; they' re getting way better than they ever used to be but l don't think it's a matter of strength. Look at gymnastics fifteen years ago; the gymnasts now aren't that much stronger than they were then, but they're way better now. Why? Who knows, it's hard to figure out why, but it's not a matter of strength. I think you need strength, but I don't think having more of it is going to be the critical factor of advancement.
A.S. What other ideas do you have outside climbing?
R.J. I don't know, I've never really thought about it. I want to go to the Valley this spring, but that's about as far ahead as I've figured.
A.S. What sort of work do you do to support yourself while you're climbing seven months a year?
R.J. I do odds and ends, just like anybody else who climbs seven months a year. You don't spend much money in the Valley.
A.S. What about money from your Friends?
R.J. Friends really caught on quickly. We're selling quite a few but we're not making any profit They're expensive to make - in one Friend there are over twenty five parts and over one hundred machining and assembly operations; they're extremely expensive to make. The first eight months they were on the market I subsidized the whole thing by selling them cheap; I didn't make anything off them. I've raised the prices just recently just so I can have a business, but we're not making money on them. Look at a jumar; a pair of jumars sells for fifty or sixty dollars. Compare the difference in how hard it is to make a Friend over how hard it is to make a jumar. Right now the Friends are a really good deal.
A.S. What sizes of Friends do you have personally?
R.J. I've got half sizes, and I've got a number seventeen - it fits a back and foot chimney! (laughter) No, I have a four, which is four inches. Otherwise it's taking a nice thing to absurd limits, really small and really big. The smallest size is a number one - I've made them smaller but I wasn't happy with them. The expansion ratio of the cam on a Friend is sixty seven percent, so when we're talking about 67 percent of two inches, that's okay, but when we're talking about 67 percent of a quarter of an inch, that's not very much, it's not really going to cam. We're handling that by other methods though.
A.S. Are they going to be cam type nuts?
R.J. We're treading on difficult ground. (laughter). I really can't say too much. There's good prospects for the new things to come.
A.S. When will they be out?
R.J. It took me six years to make the Friends, so another six years and we might have something else!
An interview with one of America's leading developers of free rock climbing, Ray Jardine, who invented and perfected the variable cam protection devices, Friends.
I do not particularly like this interview, because so much of my philosophies have since changed. But am including it with the collection for historical purposes. As such, (and this is written in 1997) I would like to comment on Mr. Sharp's question "why did they denigrate the man?"
At the time of the interview, Yosemite was essentially the domain of California climbers. Layton Kor was a notable exception, but he did not live in Yosemite, and he generally predated the free-climbing scene. The era of early 1970s free climbing was dominated by Jim Bridwell, and later in the decade by his young California followers. Bridwell was the master free climber and I had, and still have, great respect for his vision and the routes he pioneered in Yosemite and elsewhere. But during my stay in Yosemite, one was either "in" with his young minions, or one was out. And if these young climbers could not tolerate anything, it was an outsider doing hard routes.
The minions called themselves the "Stone Masters." For them the term had a double meaning, because they prided themselves on their drug use. I did not do drugs, and although I did not dislike any of these people I had little in common with them, other than through climbing. Spending time with them seemed like a waste of time to me. When meeting we always spoke in very friendly tones, and I thought of nearly all of them as friends-in-passing, based on our common climbing interests.
Even so, the groupies considered Yosemite to be their domain. And since I was from Colorado, and since I did not participate in their drug gatherings, they looked at me as an outsider, even though I lived there something like 11 years which was more than most of them. And when I started climbing with Friends, which they did not have, and when I started climbing routes that were more difficult than most of the so-called "masters" could manage - and this was about the time of Mr. Sharp's interview - and Mr. Sharp - who did not live in Yosemite and knew nothing of the scene other than by hearsay during his apparent single and brief visit - wondered "why did they denigrate the man?
Nevertheless, I would like to acknowledge my main friends of Yosemite. John Lakey was first and foremost. We climbed together steadily for 2-1/2 years, and he was absolutely the best climbing partner I could have asked for. We spent so much time climbing together that when with him I felt capable of leading nearly anything, and without him I felt like a fish out of water. We were a highly-focused team - leader and belayer, on the rock acting as one. And by the way, John did not do drugs.
Prior to Lakey I climbed a great deal with Vern Clevenger. He and I used the Friends in the early days of secrecy, and could always count on each-other on those stormy days of snowfall and freezing rain when nobody else felt like going outside, let alone go climbing. We were always eager to climb, and with Friends we could.
Two other very good friends were Dale Bard and Ron Kauk. Both were top climbers, and very good friends even though we rarely climbed together. They were not intimidated by myself because they were outstanding climbers who felt confident in their own abilities. And I don't think either of these fellows had large egos, far from it.
There were many other fine friends and climbing partners, wonderful people and far too numerous to mention here.
And of course there were a few with astronomical egos. Perhaps they felt insecure with themselves and by spreading unkind words they were only trying to make themselves feel - and appear - to have superior abilities and influence.
Nevertheless I remember all my friends warmly, and hold very dear the time I spent in Yosemite, enjoying the awesome beauty of the Valley and its many challenging routes.