Camp 4, Celebration. This gathering was one of the finest occasions ever held in Yosemite. After several years of rumors and heated discussions about nearby construction changes that would have altered our walk-in climbers’ camp beyond recognition, the NPS announced Camp 4 was eligible to become a national historic register site. As a result, a unique celebration happened on September 25 to recognize Yosemite climbing, climbers and this sacred campground.
We assembled from around the world on a few weeks’ notice—easily 650 people in all. Tom Frost and Dick Duane, who organized this event with the help of the AAC, were so overwhelmed with the response, last-minute appeals were made to discourage more from coming. No way. “We’re coming!” was the unanimous response.
The initial festivities took place next to Big Columbia Boulder in Camp 4. Old friends gathered. Pictures were taken. Chuck Pratt, Steve Roper, George Whitmore, Yvon Chouinard, Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Chris Jones, Sibylle Hechtel and on and on were there. Lots of hugs and handshakes all around. Climbers active in every decade since the Forties posed in front of the shutter. Allen Steck could have stood in all of the decade records but chose not to, as his grandson wanted to play.
Then to the Camp 6 amphitheater, for a free catered dinner, thanks to Tom Frost and the AAC. Next, the main event. It was standing room only. As I looked around, I noticed NPS and NFS employees and concessionaires joining in. Something really special was happening here. Groups from around the world were represented. This first-and-last-time-in-this-millennium event was not to be missed.
AAC President Alison Osius presided as the Mistress of Ceremony. She started by introducing Tom Frost, who explained why we were there. This was to be a form of climbers’ “coming out” party. Tom thanked the NPS officials prominently in attendance, and told them we were joining up to preserve Camp 4. But he also asked everyone in attendance, whatever our differences in the past, to go legit. Out-of-bounds camping: OUT. Breaking the rules: OUT. There is simply too much at stake. This was a celebration of the traditions of climbing in Yosemite, and due to our growing numbers, climbers desperately need the NPS (and vice versa) to preserve, protect and manage future climbing activities. Camp 4 is to be the symbolic centerpiece of the new relationship.
Next followed attorney and climber Dick Duane. Dick was largely responsible for our NPS discussions and he described what had transpired to bring us all together. Eloquent responses were given by Chip Jenkins and Russ Gallipeau on behalf of the NPS. The presentations were inspirational. The NPS and the audience were one.
Some of our heroes were introduced. There was Steck about Harding, Harding about Robbins, Robbins about Harding, Herbert and Chouinard about Frost. Frost’s leadership was recognized by his climbing partners. One person can make a difference.
Others joined in: Galen Rowell, Doug Robinson, Sibylle Hechtel, Jim Bridwell represented by his son Layton, John Bacher, Mark Chapman, Kevin Worrall, Hans Florine, John Yerrian, Steph Davis, Mike Corbett…. So many moving appreciations were shared. And it just kept getting better, until long after nightfall, Jules Eichorn, one of the pioneers with Norman Clyde when roped climbing was introduced to climbers in the West, read a letter describing his fond memories of climbing in Yosemite and the High Sierra from early in the century.
Our last speaker was worth the wait. David Brower, at age 87 an honorary member of the AAC and the climbing archdruid, described his first visits to the Valley and his early Yosemite climbing days, and then brought his history of preservation and environmental advocacy into the present. His appeal for activism by future generations could not have been received by a more favorable audience.
The legacy of the efforts behind this event are far reaching. The old Sunnyside Campground is no more. Camp 4 is the sign, and it will remain. In the new Yosemite Valley masterplanning process, the NPS preferred alternative will expand Camp 4; add more walk- in and walk-to sites in the Valley; emphasize public transportation, day use and recreational uses in the Park to accommodate the summer and holiday visitation bulges; and convert the North Park Highway from Camp 4 to El Cap into a walking/bicycling path. All worthy improvements for preserving the quality of the Yosemite climbing experience.
There is a granite bench next to Big Columbia. It is there in memory of Raffi Bedayn, who in 1976 was the first recipient of the AAC Angelo Heilprin Award. It was Raffi and others like him who, working with the Yosemite NPS in their day, did so much to enable the climbing traditions of ours. There is continuity here. The climber John Muir created national parks. After Raffi Bedayn, David Brower and Tom Frost, new chapters will be written, and new heroes will be needed. But on this one occasion, we became joined in a wide-open, unabashed climbers’ sharing of appreciation for the past, present and future of Yosemite climbing and Camp 4. And as the next day dawned under clear skies and the crisp fall fragrance of pine and bay blowing gently across a sea of vertical granite, a chorus of “on belays” rang throughout Yosemite Park.