Yosemite in the Fifties: New Book From Patagonia

Yosemite in the Fifties
John Salathé and Ax Nelson on the north rim following their ascent of Lost Arrow Chimney, Labor Day, 1947.
Photo: Yosemite Climbing Association Collection

A forthcoming book from Patagonia looks at Yosemite long before the likes of Tommy Caldwell, Kevin Jorgeson and Dean Potter were making national news from the park.

Yosemite in the Fifties (on sale 10/13/15) features restored photos and original source material that transport readers to climbing’s “Iron Age.” Compiled by John Long and Dean Fidelman with designer Tom Adler, it chronicles the historic first ascents of Yosemite’s granite walls, the legendary personalities who risked their lives to climb them, and how their endeavors initiated the birth of adventure sports.

Yosemite in the Fifties
Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point, a favorite locale for “I was there” photographs. Photo: Jerry Gallwas Collection

“Generations of climbers have since shown us that the Yosemite pioneers caused a sea shift in a sport now regularly practiced by over 20 million people worldwide,” says Long, a veteran climbing writer. “Yosemite in the Fifties is not so much a book as a wormhole back to a charmed moment in the history of exploration, and a classic era of America now lost in time.”

The book, which was designed by Tom Adler, is a companion to the classic Yosemite in the Sixties (by Glen Denny, Patagonia, 2007) and uses the words of the climbers of the time and artfully restored photographs to chronicle the historic first ascents of Yosemite’s “mile-high” granite walls, the legendary personalities who risked their lives to climb them, and how their endeavors initiated the birth of adventure sports.

article continues below
Yosemite in the Fifties
Warren Harding (circa 1961) on Leaning Tower.
Four years later Harding’s rival, Royal Robbins, made the second ascent in a historic solo effort. Photo: George Whitmore

More than half a century after the first ascent of El Capitan, the deeds of Yosemite’s 1950s-era “Iron Age” are no longer viewed as climbs or mere adventures—they were assaults on the human barrier, pushing that much higher. The Iron Age marked a period of innovation where pioneers of the sport invented new hardware and techniques as needed.

The book features original source material, first-person narratives, rare archive photos, and memorabilia from the most influential climbers of the time.

Yosemite in the Fifties

Fidelman, co-author and and a longtime climbing photographer, calls the compilation a collective telling of the Yosemite climber’s story—a chance to bring the campfire stories of their legends forward. “I want readers to take away the concept that less is more, that true adventure is about the unknown.”

Yosemite in the Fifties
Bob Swift, stoked to be climbing in the valley of giants, on the summit of Yosemite Point Buttress. Photo: Allen Steck

 

Yosemite in the Fifties
George Whitmore, Wayne Merry, and Warren Harding toast on the summit of El Capitan. Photo: Ellen Searby Jori

 

Yosemite in the Fifties
Mark Powell, Dolt, and Warren Harding (circa 1957) hitting the cheap jug after a rainy
exploratory on El Capitan. Photo: Beverly Powell Woolsey

 

Yosemite in the Fifties
John Salathé and Yvon Chouinard, Camp 4, circa 1961. Photo: Tom Frost

 

Yosemite in the Fifties
The Valley is long and girded by rocks. The river is deep and moves silently. Photo: Dean Fidelman

Comments