Ken Adam R.I.P.– and a few thoughts on Yosemite

Ken Adam, my father- in- law, died yesterday at 87, at home, surrounded by his loving family. He had a long and adventurous life. Among his achievements were many pioneering climbs in Yosemite.

To quote from Steve Roper’s A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite: ” Although as long ago as 1886 Hutchings, in reporting the relatively easy ascent of Grizzly Peak, claimed that the last `unclimbed summit’ of Yosemite had been ascended, nevertheless the Cathedral Spires, the Church Spires, the Church Tower, the Arrowhead, Split Pinnacle, Pulpit Rock, Watkins Pinnacles, and the Lost Arrow still stood forth without even an attempt ever having been recorded against them. In addition to these summits, there was a field, practically unexplored, of route finding on faces, aretes, gullies, and chimneys. Among these may be mentioned Washington Column, Royal Arches, Panorama Cliff, Glacier Point, Yosemite Point Couloir, Cathedral Chimney, and the arete of the Lower Brother. Ropes, pitons, and trained experience in their use were the keys to these ascents, which were later to become so popular. Climbers, profiting by the achievements of their predecessors, added still more ascents to the growing list of Yosemite Routes . . . ”

Roper continues:

“During the eight years between the 1933 trip and the entry of this country into World War II, about forty first ascents were made. The most active climbers of this period were Kenneth Adam, David Brower, Jules Eichorn, Morgan Harris Richard Leonard, L. Bruce Meyer, and Harvey Voge.

Now the climbers of Yosemite, Ken’s heirs, are under seige. In the crowded park, they receive no special privileges, and cannot spend more than seven days there in the summer. But they have some excellent arguments against the park’s one- size- fits- all rules.

“Seven nights are barely enough for climbers to get their bearings in Yosemite, much less to climb the big routes that draw them here in the first place. Although climbing conditions can be good in April and in the early fall, the weather is less predictable than in the summer; witness the deaths of two climbers — and the rescue of five others — on El Capitan last October. So playing by the seven-night rule is a little like an Olympic athlete agreeing to experiment with his chosen event only seven times a year. So nobody does, which makes things difficult for the rangers”.

Aaron Young, a climber, staes the wishes of the climbers succinctly: “We’re trying to say we should be grandfathered in,” Young says. “We’ve been here this many years; we should be allowed to stay all summer. Even people in the Ahwahnee Hotel have a one-week limit, but what is a tourist going to do for more than a week? There’s only so many waterfalls, so many stores to go in, but climbers have a 7-mile stretch on either side of just solid rock.”

We have strange ideas of privilege in this society. Too often we grant it to those who haven’t earned it, and deny it to those who have. I think I know whose side Ken would be on.

1 thought on “Ken Adam R.I.P.– and a few thoughts on Yosemite”

Leave a Comment