Beginning with a profile of Alex Honnold featuring him soloing in Yosemite on the popular television show 60 Minutes, and followed a few years later by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson’s dramatic ascent of the Dawn Wall on El Cap, climbing in Yosemite has increased its appeal to an audience outside of core climbers. An audience that is sure to grow with the release of the films FreeSolo (a movie about Honnold’s ropeless ascent of El Cap) and The Dawn Wall (documenting Caldwell and Jorgenson’s Dawn Wall attempts and completion).
However, long before climbing was mainstream and Tommy and Alex were making their names in Yosemite a group of young climbers was putting Yosemite on the map as a world-class climbing destination. That moment is wonderfully captured in Glen Denny’s Valley Walls: A Memoir of Climbing & Living in Yosemite.
Detailing Yosemite climbing in the 1960s, Valley Walls: A Memoir of Climbing & Living in Yosemite, not only features iconic Yosemite climbers like Warren Harding, Royal Robbins, and Chuck Pratt, to name a few, but it shares numerous first-person stories of Denny climbing with these legends. A favorite of mine from the book is how Denny picked up Warren Harding (the leader of the first team to climb Yosemite’s El Cap) hitchhiking one day and how Harding almost killed Denny the first time they climbed together.
Denny’s book delivers a beautiful contrast to the Yosemite we see in the movies today. Unlike professional climbers like Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, Denny and the other climbers in Camp 4 in the 60s, live in leaky tents, climb on primitive equipment (they use hemp ropes and pitons to protect climbs), take days to climb routes instead of hours, and work real jobs to support their climbing.
Although, for all the differences between the generation of climbers in the 60s and the climbers of today, there are a striking number of similarities. Occasional run-ins with the National Park service, scrounging food in the lodge, misunderstandings with non-climbers, and the establishing of Camp 4 as ground zero for the climbing world began with Denny and his peers and continue with climbers today. Even the spirit of opening up new routes and venturing into the unknown that was so common in Denny’s day echoes today with Tommy and Kevin’s ascent of the Dawn Wall.
Valley Walls: A Memoir of Climbing & Living in Yosemite is more of a collection of short stories than it is a single narrative, which makes it an easy to pick up and put down. It also makes it a quick read. So if you’re looking to learn more about the roots of Yosemite climbing give Glen Denny’s Valley Walls: A Memoir of Climbing & Living in Yosemite a read.