Bouldering Companions

Yvon in 1958 Young YvonYvon ChouinardYvon needs no general introduction from me.On the left is a photo of him taken on an early trip to Bobquiviri.  Superb rock climber and alpinist, innovative ice climber, surfer, world class fisherman, founder & CEO of a major company, tennis partner of Harrison Ford, business leader recognized by Bill Clinton. The list is endless.

Photo Bonnie Kamps

He was, however, just an impecunious young California climber when he and I met in the Tetons in the 1950s and camped, bouldered, and climbed together. He was existing on fifty cents a day, and I was much better off, at seventy five cents a day.

Yvon 1950s I recall driving around Jackson Hole with Yvon in his ancient car, searching the dumps for abandoned stovepipe he could use in his forge. I remember when he first introduced his famous chromolly pitons. And I lost one of his Rurp prototypes when I neglected to attach a piton keeper while leading a pitch on a climb we were doing. (He just smiled and said, that's OK. A few minutes later Glenn Exum passed our climb on the Garnet Canyon Trail, below - I remember he shouted up "Yvon, you're as smooth as a ballet dancer!". Yvon later tried to become a guide for Exum, but Glenn was intimidated by Chouinard's stunning climbing ability and wouldn't hire him at that time.

Years later, Exum admitted that not hiring Yvon then was the most serious error in judgment he ever made - they become close friends as the years passed). Yvon was my first regular bouldering companion, and the person who told me the kind of climbing I was doing was, indeed, called "bouldering". We spent hours at the Jenny Lake boulders and Blacktail Butte– usually on off days when he wasn't on some peak making a first ascent - one of us taller than average, the other shorter than average, so that Yvon referred to us as "Mutt and Jeff" (a cartoon pair from old newspapers).

                                                Stoney Point in the late 1950s
Photo  Roger Brown

After those early years Yvon spent part of his summers guiding and teaching in the Tetons. One of his enthusiastic pupils was Tom Brokaw, the NBC News anchor. They became fast friends. I recall reading an article in Outside Magazine about a very primitive ascent of Mt. Moran the two of them made. Chouinard insisted they didn't need sleeping bags or a buffet of food. So they huddled around a small campfire, chewing on the only edible Yvon had brought: a hard sausage. Ditto for breakfast and lunch. Yvon knows where to find the roots of adventure.

Somewhere locked away in a Park Service safe is the handwritten "Bouldering Guide to the Jenny Lake Boulders" we produced in about 1958 (this is not the version available on-line). A parody of Ortenberger's "Climbers Guide to the Teton Range", it included a section on geology by Yvon ( "These boulders are composed of stone. . .") and a section on weather ("These are large boulders and can produce their own weather conditions. . . "). I could tell you a number of tales about Yvon at that time, but lack the space here. Suffice it to say he was an excellent boulderer and climbing companion, witty, smart, and bold, and very popular with both the Rangers and his fellow climbers. And even then he was catching huge fish! Those were the golden days of our sport, and I was fortunate to know this great climber!