by John Long
In the early 1970s, a rock and a lightning bolt had a crazy romance and a slew of wayward kids they named Stonemasters. Our lullaby was Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced? Our thrill was to jump into the unknown as far as we could. Those who jumped first hit a geyser of inspiration that swept us far from home and into the wild places of the world. Of course, the romance between the rock and the lightning bolt is mythology. The rest I’ll try to explain.
We started in Southern California as a handful of high school kids who got together most winter weekends to climb at Joshua Tree and Tahquitz. Summers we spent in Yosemite, on the granite walls – El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel, Mount Watkins – first climbed in the 1950s and ’60s, during Yosemite’s “golden age.” It took us a few seasons to climb past our fears. Then the Stonemasters busted some moves.
Some Stonemasters flashed in a single day rock faces that once took a week to ascend. Others freed the classic big-wall routes, using hands and feet, with ropes only to safeguard a fall. A few souls – bold or crazy, we could never decide – ditched the ropes altogether. After a few short seasons, the impossible became routine. The Stonemasters embraced all comers, sweeping along climbers of every age, gender and ability in an avalanche of exuberance that California could no longer contain. As big-wall pioneer Yvon Chouinard foretold, Yosemite became a springboard to the Alps, Baffin Island, the Karakoram, Patagonia and beyond.