Monday, April 1, 2013

Bob Owens on Camelback Mountain's "Suicide Cliff" and the Kachinas, Arizona's Legendary Climbing Club

Bob Owens, 1948
Following my review of Camelback Mountain's Suicide Direct climb, I received three messages correcting info I'd passed on about the route's first ascent.

One was an awesome comment by Roger Banan, who wrote that he climbed the route in 1969, with Dane Daugherty, who'd said nothing about establishing the first ascent. That would seem to contradict the word of Steward Green in Rock Climbing Arizona. Plus, Banan's description makes Dane too young in 1969 to match up with the 1949 date given for the FA by Dane and his brother in Waugh's climbing bible, Phoenix Rock.

The second and third messages were from Bob Owens, an 84-year-old from Utah and member of the legendary, post-WWII climbing arm of the Boy Scouts, the Kachinas. As many local rock climbers know from the guidebooks, the Kachinas pioneered modern rock-climbing in the Phoenix-area and other parts of the state. The group led the Phoenix Explorer program, the Arizona Mountaineering Club and the Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association, says CAMRA's website.

Kachina badge
Owens put a message on a quickie blog post I did about chuckwallas, saying he and other Kachinas climbed "Suicide Cliff" in 1947, and that he led it again with Gary Driggs (first ascender of the Praying Monk and author of the top-notch coffeetable book, Camelback: Sacred Mountain of Phoenix) in 1950.

Owens also sent me an email that was cc'd to Ben Pedrick. Yes, that Ben Pedrick - the guy whose name is immortalized in two routes at Camelback, Pedrick's Chimney and Pedrick's Split.

Here are some excerpts from Owens' letter to Pedrick:

This is just an update glimpse on status of Kachina Legacy in Arizona.

I've heard no more from Greg Opland, who was working on a history of climbing in the Superstitions, and to whom we furnished some photos and material.

I checked the web yesterday, since it's been 8 years since our last Kachina reunion, and used the search term "SUICIDE CLIFF, Head of Camelback",  which turned up some interesting stuff. An excellent book entitled "ROCK CLIMBING, ARIZONA" By Stewart M. Green was published in 1999 in the Falcon Guide Series, which I think I was not aware of at the time of our 2004 Reunion.  About half of it is online, and it seems to slight the Kachinas big time, in the portions I read.  We gave a lot of material to Karabin and Opland in 2004, but too late to find its way to Green's book, obviously.  Example:  It seems to credit  Dane and Lance Daugherty for the "first ascent of Suicide", and never mentions us.  Do you know them? Rock climbing and mountain rescue was still our default monopoly in 1948, which rapidly changed in the next few years, as Kachinas left for college and military.

This Daugherty credit has been recently picked up and repeated by Ray Stern, a reporter for the Phoenix New Times... [Note: Camelback Phoenix is my own website. -RS]
Owens & friend on top of 1st pitch of Suicide Direct
I will attach some of these purloined photos and materials for you, since I know you have a love for ancient history and fossils.
Also, the Internet has some nice, color graphics of the route itself.  Do they match our route?  My memory after 64 years says, yes.  It is called "Suicide Direct" now.  Marty Karabin also has created his own  route, to the right of ours. The labeled "start of the 5.8 pitch" is what I have always called the ledge, but I recall the overhang being closer to the top.  I don't remember any "Fun Approaches".  I think I see a cross at the skyline top.  Was that put up by the French  ASU student's family when he fell to his death here, or is it a mesquite or other shrub?  (Andre Dauvergne).

Also, I wonder who waters those yellow marigolds along the route?  I don't recall them, from 1948 or 1950.  They make a pretty border, an esthetic touch for climbers.
          And another route, left of ours, named "Spice Box" (Foreshortened view):
As for the facts on Suicide, apparently none of us wrote a report at the time.  We left a few expansion bolts in the rock we used to call Arizona crud, (it has other names now) and possibly some of my hand-forged pitons from dad's forge, since I was still too broke at 19 to acquire any store-boughts.  That may be where Karabin reclaimed those home-made relics in his museum.

Ben Pedrick
My memory is that we made several prior attempts, or rather bolt-installing trips, possibly as early as 1947, and did the actual through-climb sometime in the first half of 1948.  (I went on my two-year mission July 4, 1948).  Much later notes listed Ray Garner, myself, and Ben Pedrick, as finishing the climb, after taking turns on the iron mongering, with Garner first over the overhang portion.  There could have been one more there--Roy Gray?  

After I got home in July, 1950, I did the Suicide climb with Gary Driggs, with me leading, (there was no new hardware in the rock yet), and I climbed half the route again a few years later with some of my senior scouts from the 16th LDS Ward, with color photos this time.  (circa 1964-5?).  They were still novice belayers, so I chickened out from going all the way to the top, particularly on that cliff.  We went as high as the ledge, I took a picture of Bruce Mabb and [Dave?] Harmon,  then we prudently rappelled back down.

Does all this so far match your memory, Ben?  Shall we noise it around that you and I had been planning a trip from California and Utah to Camelback for one more nostalgia Kachina climb, (like Glen Exum did on Grand Teton)  then dawdle in actually carrying out that plan, like Abe Lincoln on peace talks in the Civil War?  It will give speakers at our funerals something positive to talk about.
At 84, I might still be able to manage the lowest "class four" segment, even though  I have a growing balance problem, but if you lead  that pitch, Ben,  I can still hang on a rope as second, without visibly staggering.  

I ordered Greens book ($13.39, Paperback, Barnes & Noble)  and will check back with you after I read it, if damage-control is needed.  When I get time, I'll make a similar online check on some of our other first ascent icons, (Agathla, Pinnacle Peak, Eagletail Peak, Mount Brussels in Canada) to see if history is tampering with them, too.


Bob Owens

[All images in this post sent to me by Bob Owens]