Master of Yosemite heads to Truckee
He once spent 27 days on a rock wall in Yosemite in 1970. Even when they tried to send rescue teams, he wasn’t even thinking about quitting.
The climber was Warren Harding and the climb was the Wall of Early Morning Light near El Capitan. The mission was simply to reach the top.
Harding, now in his early 70s, will speak next week in Truckee about this and several of his other famous climbs.
He will present a slide show entitled “The Rise and Fall of a Yosemite Legend” at a dinner at The Passage Thursday, Dec. 4, and at Wild Cherries Saturday, Dec. 6.
Harding, no stranger to Truckee, lived here approximately three years in the early ’70s as a construction field engineer with Teichert Aggregates, helping build roads and pipelines in Tahoe Donner.
Harding said he found plenty of climbing in Truckee.
“It’s a great place to be if you’re into climbing. The old Donner Summit and all around that area is good,” said Harding. “It’s nice to have that in your back yard.”
At one time, he had other career plans.
“I was suffering from the delusion I could be a race car driver,” Harding said from his Anderson, Calif., home. “With the Jaguars there was a lot of general maintenance. On the other cars I was mainly running around wearing out tires. I seemed to be much better at climbing.”
And it is for the climbing he is most remembered.
Harding took up the sport seriously in 1952 and went on to make many notable first climbs. Among the first ascents Harding can claim: El Capitan, the Nose; Half Dome, South Face; Half Dome, the Porcelain Wall; Mt. Watkins, South Face and, of course, El Capitan, Wall of the Early Morning Light.
The idea for the Early Morning Light climb came after Harding decided to search for the ultimate wall and conquer it.
“A friend and I were out climbing with a jug of wine and we were pompously looking for the ultimate rock climb in Yosemite,” said Harding.
They settled on the wall between the North American wall and the Nose of El Capitan, a wall Harding named the Wall of the Early Morning Light for the way the sun hit it early in the day.
In Oct. 1970, along with a climber from Oregon, Harding started the ascent. They had figured it would take approximately 12 to 15 days, but a succession of storms slowed their progress.
By day 15 they found themselves only halfway up.
“There was a great amount of concern from the park rangers, who were worried about our safety and thought we should give it up. But we said ‘no,'” Harding remembered.
On day 20 a rescue team was sent, but were turned back by an undaunted Harding.
“We were only 700 feet away from the rim and this caused quite a stir,” Harding said. “There was a media circus by the time we got to the top.”
They pushed on, painstakingly drilling holes into the wall’s face. After 27 days they were at the top. Life magazine photographers were there as Harding lifted his celebratory glass of cabernet, enjoying a feeling few would ever know.
“It worked out all right,” Harding said in typical understatement.
According to one of Harding’s friends, some in climbing circles consider him something of a maverick, unconventional in his thinking about a sport so many take seriously.
Truckee resident Perry Norris, who first met Harding when Norris was 13, said, “He has always climbed for the pure joy of climbing and never bothered himself with deeper meanings.”
Norris said Harding made light of big wall climbing, often calling it “an exercise in vertical freight handling.”
Harding said these days the sport has changed, but mostly for the better.
“The equipment has advanced so much, and the climbers take it all much more seriously now,” said Harding.
How does he feel about the word “legitimate” creeping into a sport he always practiced for pure and simple fun?
“I always thought of climbing as rather questionable,” Harding said. “But that’s all right, that’s a good thing to do. Climbing is no sillier than downhill skiing or racing cars. It doesn’t matter, as long as you do something.”
Harding collected his memories in a biography, Downward Bound. He also established the Downward Bound Rock Climbing School to teach others what he learned over the years.
In later years, he went on the slide presentation circuit, but the Truckee visit will mark his first show in years.
The Passage appearance begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, with no-host cocktails. Cost is $50 and includes dinner. He will present the show at Wild Cherries at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. Cost is $5. For information, call Norris at 582-4711.
At the shows, Harding will reminisce about a half century of climbing and promises to talk about the famous Wall of the Early Morning Light climb. These days Harding says he’s out of shape, but he pushed the climbing as long as he could. In 1989, at the age of 65, Harding led a group up the face of El Capitan. This time, he had no trouble getting to the top.
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