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Yosemite: Half a Century of Dynamic Rock Climbing

Yosemite: Haifa Century of Dynamic Rock Climbing. Alexander Huber (author) and Heinz Zak (photographer). Birmingham, Alabama: Menasha Ridge Press, 2003. 176 pages. Hardcover. $45.00.

Heinz Zak’s photos caught me first. He is quite simply the best climbing photographer out there. Part of his magic comes from a superhuman energy level, along with world-class climbing ability. He seems to have pictures of every possible facet of Yosemite, and they are all spectacular. But what makes Zak’s photos so brilliant is the emotion that flows through from both sides of the camera. I got choked up looking at some of these photos.

Once I pulled myself together and actually started reading, I was even more impressed. The fact that this engaging and impeccably researched book was written by two Europeans is testimony to the Yosemite climbing scene’s unique international spirit. They may live in Austria and Germany, but Heinz and Alex are virtual Yosemite locals. The essays—with contributions by such Yosemite notables as Allen Steck, Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, Mark Chapman, Jim Bridwell, Dean Potter, and Lynn Hill—cover every aspect of climbing life in the Valley. From bouldering to aid climbing to slacklining, to just plain living in Camp 4, nothing is left out. Even the activities of the Ahwahneechee natives in the Valley’s “prehistory” are represented. Its comprehensive scope is one of the things that will earn this book a place among its classic predecessors.

Alex’s greatest passion is free climbing on El Capitan, and this is where he sees the future of Yosemite climbing. The later essays and photos illustrate many of his free routes on the Big Stone. These feats represent lofty dreams for many who visit Yosemite, and Mark Chapman’s final paragraph is an affecting reminder of the magic that the Valley holds for every climber.

History has progressed even in the short period since Yosemite was finished. Whether intentionally or not, Heinz Zak and Alex Huber have given themselves a lifelong task, and I look forward to future editions. But even if there are none, this book, like its namesake, is a place you’ll visit again and again, always finding something new.

Steph Davis