This commentary is published with the permission of the blog site owner John F. Gregory, and I thank him for allowing it.
At first I enjoyed looking at John's pictures of messed up anchors at Carderock, now I feel sad and disconcerted. It saddens me because what was the great climbing community of Carderock, the community that I came up in, seems dead. John's posting on his website and his Facebook page has made me think a lot about Carderock lately and what it meant to develop as a climber there. So on this the one anniversary of Geoff Farrar's tragic and untimely death I though it would be good time to pay tribute to those climbers that influenced and guided me as I learned to climb--and this certainly includes Geoff. I am going to name a lot of people, most would not remember me as I have was never a good enough climber to make an impression on the scene--none the less I would like to thank them. I want to thank them because I am still alive today after some harrowing and epic climbing trips. I am still alive because of what I learned from those who came before me and that they took the time to mentor me. (Forgive me if I spell you name wrong or forgot your last name.)
I started climbing at age 15, so that would have been 1979/80. The events I am recalling start in 1980 and go to 1982/83 when I left DC to attend university in Colorado. I had EB's like everyone else and the best climbers at Carderock at that time--at least in my eyes--were Greg Collins, Jack Beatty, Hunt Prothro and John Bercaw, who I had a great climbing partnership with for years. Around these guys were, George Flam, Hernando Vera, Alex Karr, John Bremmer, Matt Lavender, Larry Geib, and John McKigney. I would go to Carderock everyday after high school, which was Gonzaga. I would drive my 1972 Dodge Dart "Swinger" to Carderock and everyday I was fortunate enough to find people willing to mentor me in ways of climbing. Principle among those were Bob Burger, John Gregory, and Geoff Farrar. They were always willing to check my knots and anchor--at that time 1 inch tubular webbing was the anchor of choice. If something was wrong with my set-up they would correct it and explain why it was unsafe. Now a word about Geoff, his style was to berate you and insult you until you did it correctly. Geoff loved to harass and belittle people but let there be no doubt, Geoff cared deeply that you did not hurt. That said Gregory was certainly the better teacher and I learned the most from him in those early days. Let me digress for a moment to Merv's Nerve--a Carderock classic--it was Geoff that showed me how to crack the lower moves and the strange step through to set yourself up for the middle section. The day I soloed Merv's was a great accomplishment--encouraged by Collins and Flam to push it through. I climbed it in the style that Geoff had shown me. In fact I still climb Merv's that way to this day--just not solo. The only thing Geoff,for got from sharing his climbing know-how was the satisfaction that Carderock was a safer place and you were a safer climber.
I was in awe of Collins, Beatty, and Bercaw. Their execution of all the Carderock test-pieces were smooth, flawless and always with a degree of flair. No hang-dogging, always coming down to the ground to start the climb again if they fell--good style was everything. Seeing Collins or Bercaw soloing the Dream was always amazing. If there guy took the time to help you, you certainly paid attention. I recall setting an anchor on Elsie's with webbing and Jack Betty telling me that webbing was not the best anchor and it might cut. He recommended I start using static caving rope, which I started using promptly. I will forgive Beatty for almost killing me when he pulled a rock of Psycho-Killer (Qu'est-ce que c'est) and pitched it off. The rock landed about a foot away from me. I work myself silly trying to climb Monkey Fingers because it was a Beatty route. I have some points here somewhere--it is although these guys were the best they were cool enough to take the time to teach, they seemed to want to see people become better climbers. I respected these guys as climber, and I wanted to climb like them so I appreciated and learned from what they had to say. It was a real community of climbers. Not what I see now, groups of clique-ly climbers, arrogant and self-absorbed and usually from the gym.
The skills I learned from the Carderock community translated into leading. I climbed a Seneca a lot with Bob Burger (he had a red Maverick--how cool is that!). Bob was certainly the intellectual of the community, he is a great reader. I broke into the harder leads of Seneca with him which took patience on his part because I was a slow climber back then. My biggest Seneca achievement was a memorable lead of Nip and Tuck. I did not start leading 11 Trad until I moved to Colorado--where I found Eldo to be over-rated compared to Seneca. Again the point being that the Carderock community was a group of climbers willing to share adventure, teach and encourage you to push your limits from top-roping to leading.
Back to Carderock… and back in the day everyone seemed to know how to set an anchor. They knew how to rig an anchor because we had all read the same books--Royal Robbin's Basic Rock Craft and Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills, being the Bibles. You could walk up to pretty much anyone at Carderock and bum a belay and you could trust the anchor they had set--something I would most certainly never do today. Does anyone read these books anymore? (Anyway the internet has all the basic info a climber needs so there is no excuse). What was also different back in my day was that there did not seem to be an air of arrogance. No matter how good a climber was he would always be willing to help and share his knowledge. (I say "he" because there were few women climbing at that time, except for red-headed Melissa) I really respected those guys who climbed hard, and if they took the time to mentor/teach I certainly would take the time to listen and learn. I was willing to listen and learn. I am 50 now and recently I was climbing in Austria, where I live now, when my Austrian buddy asked if I want to learn something new, my reply was, "Yes, of course! Show me". He showed me a fast way to set up a hanging belay. Listen! No one seems to wants to listen, and I cannot figure out why.
I have now climbed big in the Himalayas, the Alps, and Canada. I have cragged all over Europe and US and it is those basic skills I learned at Carderock that have kept me alive and well. So Thanks again to all that helped me become a solid climber.
So what has happened? Why is there no community anymore? Why are climbers at Carderock completely ignorant of basic safety? Why is are so many climber so flipping arrogant? Is it too easy to blame the advent of Gym Climbing? Or is there a larger societal problem. Why is the climbing gym such a breeding ground for contempt towards older experienced climbers? Because you can do super hard moves in the gym means nothing on a mutli-pitch trad climb or even at Carderock. Why do these folks tell John Gregory to F-off instead of learning from him? (something I have witnessed) Lastly, what god's name was Geoff tragic death--murder--all about? and how will it affect Carderock? I will need to think upon these things…..