It's about life - not "lifestyle"
Warren J. Harding passed away on February 27, 2002. He was 77 years old.

His name is probably not well known outside climbing circles, and to be sure his major accomplishments within climbing had all taken place before 1980.

But what accomplishments they were: the first ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley - both The Nose and The Wall Of Early Morning Light. In all he participated in about 30 first ascents in Yosemite during what his obit in the Los Angeles Times rightly called the Golden Age of climbing - the 50's through the 70's.

Does that sound a bit familar? It should. Despite the surfing competition model being so silimar to competitive tennis, golf, and car racing, mountain climbing is the sport activity which has most closely parallelled surfing. Nothing else comes close except perhaps hang gliding and paragliding. Snowboarding had surfing and skating to pattern off and rather quickly bypassed the cultural development stage.

Cultural development comes primarily from one source: the people who populate that culture. For big wall climbing, Yosemite Valley in the 50's and 60's was the absolute equivilent of surfing at that time in California and Hawaii. Camp 4 was their Malibu Pit. A small handful of men were turning their backs on contemporary society to chase their dreams in nature. Equipment was rudimentary and often created to meet needs. The ethics of the sports were being created every day as problems and solutions presented themselves. Risk of personal injury and death was high. In the end, some got rich, some died, and some lived lives of adventure without compromise.

If Miki Dora had a counterpart in any sport on earth, it was Warren Harding in climbing. His commitment was total, he provoked controversy with glee, he ignored the ascetic philosophies of others when necessary, and generally seemed to have the best time of any of his generation - no mean feat there, either.

On one of his most famous climbs Harding drilled so many bolts into the rock that fellow Yosemite legend Royal Robbins and some others, adhereing to the newly forming doctrine of climbing with minimal use of aid,  reportedly started up the route a couple of weeks later and began cutting the bolts off, only to abandon the endeavour when they realized how hard the route actually was.

From the Los Angeles Times obituary by Dennis McLellan:

"Handsome, with jet black hair in his prime, Harding was known for driving fancy sports cars, often having a good-looking woman on his arm, and drinking red wine from gallon jugs. At one point he took to wearing Army fatigues, which he dyed black and wore with a black turtleneck, a look some of the younger climbers emulated.

Harding wrote a whimsical autobiography in 1975, "Downward Bound," and created a climbing tent and other equipment for his own climbs produced by what he called BAT (Basically Absurd Technology).

'To him, climbing was for fun, and he didn't like people to take themselves too seriously about climbing," said Alice Flomp, Harding's companion since 1985.'"

The Times also ran an editorial called "A Life Of Peaks" about Harding, something which may be unprecedented in this major urban newspaper. In it was retold one of Hardings great lines. After reaching the top of El Capitan after 27 straight days on the Wall Of Early Morning Light, he was asked why he climbed it.

"Because we're insane," he told reporters. But I think not.

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Copyright (C) 2002. All rights reserved.