The Song Remains The Same

Andrew Burr  /  3 Min Read  /  Climbing

Andy Knight picks his spot on pitch 4 of Provo Canyon's Stairway to Heaven; this was the last pitch of the FA in 1975. Nowadays, the route can go on for several more pitches if the ice is right.

On a winter’s morning in 1975, Burgie, the Land Cruiser, rumbled up the highway at the bottom of Provo Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Ice dripped from the steep rock walls and a warm southern wind blew softly. Jim Knight and Mark Ward approached the first pitch, known as the Apron. Dressed in blue jeans and wool sweaters, they climbed with confidence—authoring one of Utah’s finest and most sought-after ice routes.

Nearly a half-century later, 44 years to be exact, Jim and his son, Andy, repeated the route, using mostly Jim’s old gear. I ended up joining them after an unscripted call to Andy, inquiring if he was climbing the next day. The reply: a simple “Yup, climbing with my dad, you wanna join?”

Andy wanted to repeat his father’s route in the original style to experience what it felt like to climb in a bygone era. Resurrected from a bedroom closet, the shafts of the tools were rewaxed, the rusty points of crampons sharpened, ovals were gathered, ice screws racked, and musty sweaters and jackets donned. For this somewhat historical reenactment, Jim would belay Andy.

The weather wasn’t an exact replica. Rather, quite the opposite. Snow blew sideways and the cold was bone-chilling. The straight shafts were pumpy and the mittens cumbersome. Using ice tools to twist the outdated screws was time-consuming. Andy smiled the whole time, loving every minute of it. I felt similarly. Watching Jim and Andy, a generation apart yet together on this historic route, was by far one of the most significant climbing experiences I’d ever photographed. On the drive home, I half expected the climb’s namesake song to come on the radio. It didn’t, but in my mind I inserted an eight-track tape of Led Zeppelin into the dash of Burgie.

The Song Remains The Same

Full of stoke on Andy’s part, with Jim a bit concerned about the conditions.

The Song Remains The Same

The Chouinard-Frost and the Chouinard Zero (hidden from view) with their straight wooden shafts, swinging again in Andy’s hands.

The Song Remains The Same

Jim, always attentive at the belay, tells stories about the first ascent. Andy climbing in the original gear conjured up dozens of memories from 1975—his dark, curly hair reminiscent of Mark Ward on the FA, bringing Jim back to this very same belay.

The Song Remains The Same

Racked with Salewa Warthogs, Lowe Snargs (which weren’t used on the FA) and the original wide-thread Chouinard Tubular Ice Screws, Andy climbs the steep and committing second pitch in full-on conditions. Don’t forget he’s wearing blue jeans and a sweet old Great Pacific Iron Works parka.

The Song Remains The Same

Original crampons with new leather straps.

The Song Remains The Same

In the parking lot after the climb: Andy is amazed with the difficulty, both physically and mentally, of climbing with his dad’s old gear.

Related Stories

Perched On A Wild Border
Sometimes when I look at the Fitz Roy Range, I see a silhouetted jawline of mountainous teeth that gnash the sky. Other times, the teeth transform to fingers that don’t crush aspirations but cradle them, like a hand cupping something precious. The distinction really depends on whether I’m looking at the mountains from the relative…
Sometimes when I look at the Fitz Roy Range, I see a silhouetted jawline of mountainous teeth that gnash the sky. Other times, the teeth transform to fingers that don’t crush aspirations but cradle them, like a hand cupping something precious. The distinction really depends on whether I’m looking at the mountains from the relative…
Timmy O’Neill
3 min Read
Finding Granite and New Limits in Madagascar
I wake early to the dazzling heat of the African sun. Perched 400 meters high on a huge granite face in central Madagascar, all I can see is black and blue, the color of the Malagasy granite meeting the sky and, coincidentally, the same color as large areas of my body from the constant abuse…
I wake early to the dazzling heat of the African sun. Perched 400 meters high on a huge granite face in central Madagascar, all I can see is black and blue, the color of the Malagasy granite meeting the sky and, coincidentally, the same color as large areas of my body from the constant abuse…
Robbie Phillips
13 min Read
Lessons from Yosemite’s First Climbing Guidebook
Lessons from Yosemite’s first climbing guidebook “I have this idea,” Mikey texted last October. “Let’s climb all of the suggested routes from the Yosemite red-cover guidebook.” I agreed immediately. The tattered copy of A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley arrived in the mail less than a week later. First published in 1964 by the Sierra Club,…
Lessons from Yosemite’s first climbing guidebook “I have this idea,” Mikey texted last October. “Let’s climb all of the suggested routes from the Yosemite red-cover guidebook.” I agreed immediately. The tattered copy of A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley arrived in the mail less than a week later. First published in 1964 by the Sierra Club,…
Timmy O’Neill
5 min Read
How Roy, New Mexico Became a World-Class Bouldering Area
The patchwork history of public lands that transformed the area around a small New Mexico town into a world-class bouldering area We left the Mills Canyon Rim Campground, where we’d been living for three cold January weeks, just before dawn on our last morning in New Mexico. I pulled over to the north side of…
The patchwork history of public lands that transformed the area around a small New Mexico town into a world-class bouldering area We left the Mills Canyon Rim Campground, where we’d been living for three cold January weeks, just before dawn on our last morning in New Mexico. I pulled over to the north side of…
Eric Bissell
8 min Read
There Is Only Send or Fail. Just Ask Alex Megos.
Alex Megos is driving his aging Volkswagen down the curvy roads that thread the valleys of the Frankenjura. It’s June in rural Bavaria, where rolling green meets broad blue. The pavement reveals an occasional storybook village arrayed around a church steeple. Alex has made this hour-long trip, from his parents’ house to the crag, more…
Alex Megos is driving his aging Volkswagen down the curvy roads that thread the valleys of the Frankenjura. It’s June in rural Bavaria, where rolling green meets broad blue. The pavement reveals an occasional storybook village arrayed around a church steeple. Alex has made this hour-long trip, from his parents’ house to the crag, more…
Alex Lowther
18 min Read
Kitty Calhoun on Paradox Sports
As I labored under the weight of a heavy pack and took my turn breaking trail in the soft snow in the quest to establish a new route on a Himalayan peak, I was also mired in self-doubt. I was with three men who were much stronger than me, and who had offered to carry…
As I labored under the weight of a heavy pack and took my turn breaking trail in the soft snow in the quest to establish a new route on a Himalayan peak, I was also mired in self-doubt. I was with three men who were much stronger than me, and who had offered to carry…
Kitty Calhoun
6 min Read
Finding Refuge in Iran’s Climbing Culture
Fog from the distant Caspian Sea swirled around us as we left the road, crossed a narrow mountain stream on a rickety footbridge of wornwooden planks, passed a pungent corral full of dank, scruffy sheep, and started the steep climb to Alam Kuh base camp in the Alborz mountain range of Iran. Brittany Griffith, Kate…
Fog from the distant Caspian Sea swirled around us as we left the road, crossed a narrow mountain stream on a rickety footbridge of wornwooden planks, passed a pungent corral full of dank, scruffy sheep, and started the steep climb to Alam Kuh base camp in the Alborz mountain range of Iran. Brittany Griffith, Kate…
Beth Wald
6 min Read
Robbie Phillips on Establishing a Maybe-Impossible Route in Cochamó Valley
On establishing a route in Cochamó Valley that might be too hard—but might not. It often blows me away, the apparent randomness that sets the paths leading us through life. Just over a year ago, a friend of mine met Crispin Waddie while working on an oil rig in the North Sea. A member of…
On establishing a route in Cochamó Valley that might be too hard—but might not. It often blows me away, the apparent randomness that sets the paths leading us through life. Just over a year ago, a friend of mine met Crispin Waddie while working on an oil rig in the North Sea. A member of…
Robbie Phillips
7 min Read
Popular searches