"I first met John Bachar via Jim Bridwell, when he brought Steve McKinney and I to Yosemite for our first climbing trip in the valley. There was a whole crew of guys there that were pushing the free climbing limits like Ron Kauk, Werner Braun, Kevin Worral, Mark Chapman, Dale Bard, Mike Graham, Bachar, etc. all of which were under Bridwell’s wing at the time. I wound up getting along with all of these guys right away and they’d take us out climbing with them even though we were new comers, which was great because these guys were the best at the time, and it was the best introduction to climbing you could ever ask for.
I’ll never forget this one day when Kauk and I were climbing on Cathedral Spires, and Bachar decided to join us, but instead of tying in, he was free soloing along side us. This climbing thing was new to me and I have to tell you, having a friend next to you on one of your hardest climbs and cruising it with out a rope blew me away. To say it left a lasting impression is putting it lightly. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of a long list of free solos Bachar would wind up doing, and much harder at that.
Just when you’d think, OK, that’s it, he won’t try anything harder, he’d go off and do something that most in their wildest dreams couldn’t top rope. To say he set the bar pretty high when it came to free soloing is putting it lightly. Perhaps the most difficult thing to understand was how easy he made it look, it looked like he was climbing on some low angle face with giant holds, but in reality, the holds were micro sized and the climbs were vertical and overhanging faces.
Add to the fact that they were some of the hardest rated climbs at the time and you have very unique and special situation and person. The mental and physical level he managed to achieve was and still is one of the most impressive in the history of climbing. It’s clear he was made for free soloing, he had an effortless style and technique like no other…
Here’s to you John.
You were the best.
“John Bachar was the best climber I ever knew. He defined free soloing and hard, high ball bouldering. Peter Croft, Michael Reardon, and ultimately, Alex Honnold, would push the highest limits, but Bachar set the standard. John's free solos out in Joshua Tree and Yosemite were a long way from his first climb ever, "Mikes Books," a Joshua Tree 5.6, but they were all a part of a progression, an evolution of what is possible. John once told me his climbing hero was Colorado boulderer and gymnast, John Gill. Bachar said, Gill "really defined the limits of modern bouldering and therefore modern climbing. I don’t think people realize that free climbing would not be anywhere near what it is today, if it were not for his efforts and amazing artistry. All ideas about difficult, gymnastic free climbing movement on stone comes from him and his mastery." John emulated his hero and pushed the boundaries. I am not sure if John was ever fully aware of the magnitude of his gift.
Bachar's abilities and self-confidence were so abundant, he often came off as egotistical, and he struggled with this. Much has been written about John Bachar, the climber and free soloist. The John I knew best was in later years. He had mellowed a bit, eased onto middle age and was seemingly, a bit more at peace. We both had a spinal fusion done at the C6-C7 level of the cervical spine. John coined us "Team Fusion". His care and reassurance, that I would indeed climb again, helped me greatly during my recovery and PT. I am saddened that John's life was cut short, at a time when he seemed to be finding himself and relaxing, enjoying life and his family. John Bachar was my hero. He used to say, you can fool others, but never fool yourself. I learned much about climbing and more importantly, much about my own potential from our friendship. I miss him greatly.”
"On a magical, sunny, Yosemite afternoon, over 30 years ago, I struggled as I attempted to unlock the sequence of moves I needed to turn the corner on a boulder traverse that I was working on. The issue that I was having had to do with my having contracted Paralytic Polio in 1953, leaving my right leg severely atrophied, and a less than certain appendage. After an hour or so of trying to unlock the sequence of moves that would allow me passage, John Bachar comes riding up on his BMX bike. He lays it down in the dirt, jumps on the problem, and starts the traverse at the beginning, doing the double dyno, the cross over, and turns the corner with a grace that made my efforts seem clumsy, at best.
He traverses around the boulder, comes back across, and is doing this using only his left leg, like myself. He rides off, only to reappear a few minutes later with his EB's and a chalk bag. Not a word was spoken between us as he laced up his boots. He gets back to work doing the traverse with better friction, all the while using only his left foot. After he eventually leaves I attempt to replicate his sequence to the best of my ability, and by the third or fourth try finally make it around the corner!
The next time that I see John he greets me with a handshake and warm smile. We became fast friends, and his focus, dedication, and optimism about what he sees as being possible has a profound affect on me. Our conversations over the years were about so much more than climbing, though our shared passion for the sport was a constant thread that helped make the tapestry of our friendship so rich. I had plans to climb El Capitan in the Spring of 1983, but before I could realize the attainment of that goal was hit by a car while riding my bicycle. This devastating turn of events had more than a few of my friends wondering if I would finally make it to the summit, but not JB.
He was always incredibly encouraging, and when still further challenges were laid on my plate, his unfailing support and encouragement meant so much. By the Fall of 1990 I finally found myself on top of El Cap, and the experience only solidified my desire to continue to participate in this arena. Most unfortunately, the following Spring I was assaulted, and the ensuing injuries left me barely able to walk. John was a voice of positivity and reassurance during this incredibly difficult time, and in the Fall of 93 we made plans to do a one day ascent of the Salathe, with him freeing much of it.
Unfortunately one of his other passions at the time, skateboarding, led to a sprained wrist, and we were unable to follow through with our plan. Over the years I managed to make my way up quite a few more walls, including improbable one day El Cap ascents. John had his own well known physical challenges to overcome, yet he too continued to pursue this shared passion that was such an integral part of our lives. We met up in the Valley where we first met, for the last time in the Fall of 2007. We climbed a bit on El Cap that day, bouldered where we had first met, and he was excited to hear all about my then recent ascent of the Diamond, another stone that we shared a great love for. John and Richard Harrison did the first free ascent of D7 on the Diamond in 1977, and he and Billy Westbay did the first free ascent of D1 in 78. No one was more excited for me than John when I climbed D1 in 94, or whenever I broke through another barrier. Many others told me I'd never manage a one day ascent of El Cap, John was the first to volunteer to do an attempt. His friendship and unfailing belief in me were precious gifts that continue to inspire, and that I will always treasure."
Climber Bio: "I have climbed over 30 walls to date, including 17 ascents of El Cap, 6 of those in a day and two others in a push, On my first, Bad Seed, which was the first adaptive one day ascent of the Captain in 1998, with my partners Brian McCray and Hans Florine, we set a new record for the route; 19 hours and 12 minutes. 7 ascents of the Chief in Squamish, 4 ascents of the Diamond in RMNP, and various others. Notable only because I contracted paralytic Polio when I was 9 months, have been dealing with Post Polio Syndrome since I was about 9, and have incurred many other serious injuries as a result of being hit on my motorcycles and bicycle by cars, and multiple physical assaults. Last year I had my best season ever, three ascents of the Chief, and January and Dec pushes of El Cap. I fell on a hike and sprained my knee this Spring, but it is healing nicely, and I am training diligently, and look forward to many adventures to come."
"A lot of people didn't like his philosophy about his climbing at that time. I did, he was great. I was from a generation before his, but to me he was very friendly and I enjoyed climbing with him the few times I did. When I would see him he was the first to come up to me to say hi Kim. A great thing for me."
"To this day, the loss of my friend John Bachar has weighed heavily on my mind. About six months before his accident, he stayed at my house for about a month. We climbed during the day, and every evening he cooked up a nice dinner for us to have with a couple of glasses of wine.
In some ways, John's passing was like losing a brother. Not only did we share a common climbing vision, but John was like that proverbial older brother, one which I did not have growing up. He felt like family to me.
He was not only, I submit, the greatest climber in the world when he was at the height of his powers, but he was also a great guy -- and not the person a lot of people who didn't really know him thought he was. I think the fact that he was so good at climbing -- free soloing in particular -- that it generated a lot of envy, jealousy and animosity in many people who, I guess, wished they were capable of doing what he could do. Like the old saying goes ... "it's lonely at the top."
"John Bachar was a great and gifted man. That is a complicated thing to be. Your vision of what is possible is expanded by the fact that current limits of possibility are well within your reach, and you know you have more in you. When you are great, people treat you differently. Your opinion carries extra weight. You have to find yourself while subjected to a self-reinforcing feedback loop of respect and more.
The evolution of John Bachar is not only a story of a gifted man using those gifts for greatness, but also of a great man coming down to earth to care for his community and family. When somebody dies, it’s a natural tendency to extol the fine qualities they had and ignore the difficult ones. When somebody great dies, we often take a step further and idolize them. Great people are still humans with a spectrum of challenges, weaknesses and unique perspectives.
John Bachar was one of the greatest climbers and he knew it. People wanted his attention and time, and he had to manage that. He had the vision to climb outside of other’s patterns and thrive on the edge of perfection when any error could be his last. He had the courage to defend his risks without denying them, and also to question the veracity and integrity of the government running the country, and particularly it’s monetary system. He wasn’t just a rock jock, he was a thinking man. He wanted things to have integrity, on the stone and in the halls of power.
John had stepped out of climbing for a number of years due to some health limitations but I did a photo shoot with him for a couple days in 2006 after he was able to return to the sport. Everyone marveled at how easily it seemed to come back to him. In between photographing some classic solos, we talked about everything from climbing, to relationships, to politics.
I was struck by the deep concern and love he conveyed toward his son Tyrus. Those who imagine John disrespected Tyrus by continuing to solo would be mistaken. Everything on John’s radar considered the welfare of Tyrus: falling just wasn’t on his radar. I was struck by the sincerity with which he spoke of relationships. A handsome, single, famous guy could enjoy a playboy lifestyle but John was interested in having a committed and enduring partner.
We spoke of his family, his father, and it was easy to see he held them in high regard.
I was impressed when John, who in his youth had a certain reputation for aloofness or arrogance toward the masses, began posting on Supertopo in a helpful and generous egalitarian style. He gave a way a lot of shoes, a lot of advice, and weighed in on many issues without blatantly pulling rank.
Some might have said that was only good for his shoe company but his views regarding Bush, 9-11, and the Monetary system were upfront and not compatible with schmoozing clients and customers. He was just being himself. Walking around JTree. He was no longer aloof. All kinds of folks greeted and approached him and he was gracious with everybody.
Mike Reardon, Anastasia, John and I were at a climb in Echo Cove (Anastasia was climbing). Some folks came around the corner and asked about “The Big Moe” an overhanging 5.11 nearby. I got to tell them that crazy John Bachar soloed that thing back in the day. They ooohed and ahhed but never knew he was standing right there.
I think there is a rhyme and reason to everything. I don’t expect everyone to agree. But I think John must have done what he needed to do here and had other business beyond this world that we can’t begin to know about. History is full of great men who make an exit before fading away. I wish him Godspeed on the great solo we all must do alone.
For those who are left behind. I hope it helps to be reminded that grief is very close to Love. We grieve because we Love. If you focus on the Love when feeling the grief, there is a bittersweet beauty in it.
Peace, Karl Baba."
"I only met John a handful of times, but he was always super nice and his climbing inspired me. He climbed things well ahead of his time in a style that is still ground breaking today."
"I never go the chance to meet John, but the impact on the sport I love by him is still felt to this day. With Alex Honnold getting a lot of attention for his free solos, much deserved I might add, it also should be stated that the this path was travelled by a guy, years ago, who did things no one thought possible at the time. John soloed things, at a high level, way before those standards were pushed, and his training was legendary. His dedication to the lifestyle of climbing from Yosemite to Joshua Tree was a standard that was set and lived by if you wanted to embrace the dirtbag culture. Without guys like John, our sport would not be where it is today."
"The summer of 1975 was magic, school was out, imagination fertile and eager to do something new. A set of world book encyclopedias became a place to let my imagination wander. Combing through the pages of “M” I stumbled upon Mountains and marveled at all the highest points of the world, the Empire State Building being used as a gauge. Upon turning the next page, there was mountaineering. There was a photo of a lone climber rappelling from an exposed cliff, high above Lake Louise in Canada. The image seared through me and I knew “This is it!”
I grabbed a phone book and started looking through, to find a mountain shop, not finding anything. Finally I saw a backpacking supply store and called them. “Where is there a place to go mountain climbing in the San Fernando Valley?” I asked the man one the other side of the phone. He told me about a place called Stoney Point and I thanked him after he gave me directions to what would become my new playground. My babysitter, from across the street took my best friend and I to Stoney Point and patiently waited in the car as my friend and I went to look at the closest rocks. To our surprise our elementary school teacher was there bouldering and climbing very well! We had no idea that this man was already a climbing legend, Bob Kamps.
Stoney point was filled with people who are legends and people who would one day become legendary. My friend did not share the excitement I had for climbing and decided not to go again, so I found myself riding my bike to Stoney as often as possible. As time went on, I became familiar with some of the people frequenting the boulders.
One day I saw a man with blond hair and the build of a world-class athlete. Climbing more graceful than anyone I had seen there before, his footwork impeccable and pulling on the thinnest holds, in total control, eyes focused. He threw dyno’s and would do problems way off the ground, sort of hard not to turn my head away, knowing if he fell, he would be seriously hurt, or worse. We didn’t have crash pads back in this day. At 12 years old, I was impressed and in awe, telling myself “I want to climb like this guy one day!”
This was John Bachar, already making a name for him self in the climbing world and changing the way climbing would go, forever. I began training like him and trying to do his boulder problems and attempting to gain the kind of control on the rock that he demonstrated. I ran into him several times there and then later on my first trips to Joshua Tree. I was around 14 years old then then. At Joshua Tree, he was soloing hard routes and doing crazy boulder problems, again, I was in shock and admiration!
Bachar and some of his close friends would let me jump on a top rope on some of these trips to “Josh” and encourage me to try hard on them and talked a lot of shit if they saw me cowering off the climbs, teaching me a big dose of humility. In retrospect, these were some of the most fun days of my life!
One day I saw John limping around Hidden Valley campground, having fallen of the top of “Central Scrutinizer” a highball terror show boulder problem, YIKES!
He said “Hey Loomis, got any vitamins? I’m trying to heal up.”
I was so proud to run to my pack and procure the vitamins for him, knowing I am helping my hero out. He had no idea how much of an influence he had on me. I would cross paths with Bachar many more times over the years, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Josh and the East Side of the Sierra, always catching up and hearing of his new routes and solos. And the list was long. After putting up hundreds of my own routes and boulder problems, I look back and thank him for all the inspiration, I miss him. There is so much more to say about this human we call Bachar, but that is for another time…"
Steve Crusher Bartlett
"Are you still looking for stories about John Bacher? Here's one: At the start of the 1980s, photos of a warm, sunny, midwinter paradise called Joshua made their way to the UK climbing magazines. I flew over for a visit in November 1982. A month later, two more UK climbers, Jerry Moffatt and Chris Gore showed up. Jerry had quite suddenly blossomed into one of the world’s best climbers.
John Bachar used to love to hang with us at our site. Except that it became apparent that, because I did not climb 5.12, he would not speak to me--he’d actually treat me as if I were not there. Jerry and Chris noticed this, found this weird, rude, awkward. Which it was, really; but it did not bother me much. Eventually Jerry and Chris left, Bachar stopped coming by, and eventually I left, too.
Many years later, with all this long in the past, water under a forgotten bridge, my girlfriend and I rolled into Tuolumne Meadows after a long, hot drive from Colorado. We stopped at the store, I sat at a table, she went inside to buy beer. While she was gone, a familiar red VW van rumbled in and parked. Out stepped Bachar. He immediately walked over to me, greeted me with a smile, sat down, straightaway apologized for his rudeness years earlier. Evidently, he never had forgotten, and wanted to make amends. Which was really big of him, I thought. We spoke for a minute or so, left with a handshake and a smile."
"I met John in JT in 1975. Though we ran in very different crowds, he was always cordial and respectful to me over the years.
When his home in Foresta burned down, he asked me to re-build it. (I had moved to Mammoth by then) When that whole bitter fight with the NPS went down regarding re-building, it was a terribly sad time for him. (Lots of other stuff going on then in his life as well)
Not long thereafter, John moved to Mammoth. I was recently married and starting a family, when I bumped into John one day in the Gorge. I told him about my new son, and how being a Dad was the best thing ever....even better than climbing.
He kinda scoffed at the idea....as if I had completely lost my mind.
Years later, I ran into John in the coffee shop in Mammoth.....in his arms was a tiny Tyrus. As I walked up to him with a huge smile on my face, John stood, looked me right in the eye, and said, "You were right, Dean........you were right."
So happy that John reached that stage in his life.
His loss will forever remain.....profound. He continues to inspire...."
June Lake, CA.
"I climbed with John Bachar at the Tennessee Wall shortly before his death. He was among the most technically fluid climbers I have ever seen. John influenced the sport of rock climbing perhaps as much as anyone, and strikes me as the embodiment of the mind-body coordination and discipline at the essence of the art."
"I never became close friends of John, I was around him in the valley back in the 80's and bumped into him a few times in JT. He was always approachable with me ...I always liked John. It was quite a sight to watch him free solo, never seen anyone climb like John to this day...so impressive. After his car accident I wish he would have quit soloing...such a terrible loss and sad to think about. There was no climber like John Bacher."
"My thoughts about John Bachar occur not so much from his legendary status (which as a novice climber back in the day I followed quite religiously) but rather as I saw and heard him do a presentation at TBA Gym in Chattanooga I guess around 2008. The small and intimate setting of TBA was perfect and was filled with the young guns of the modern era nestled together on the cushy bouldering mats, anxious to see and meet this climbing icon they might or might not have heard about.
Flash back many moons to my first encounter when I was at Joshua Tree with Tim Toula and we were venturing into the world of 11’s and easy 12’s. Tim and I were finishing off a day of Leave it to Beaver and company and decided to do some training at Gunsmoke Traverse. We had it to ourselves when the man himself John Bachar appeared with a session in mind for his own serious cool down training. He attached his (this was the really cool part cause of the irony) very own Bachar Ladder to some bolts up top and invited us to do laps with him. Toula and I both had really good lock off strength and Bachar paid us some great compliments “damn you guys are way strong”!!! Of course his ability on his own training device left us shaking our heads at his amazing lockoff and one arm strength and control. We then commenced with running laps on Gunsmoke: rather Tim and I did a lap rested then so on, while JB stayed on the rock and kept continuing back and forth.
Following the traverse it was sets of fingertip pullups on the wooden board that was a permanent fixture in this training area. Bachar then proceeded on a solo (as in free) up High Noon. Tim and I were instantly transfixed upon JB’s precision footwork, like that of performing a vertical ballet. His supreme concentration on every single foot edge and smear was readily apparent. (To this day, I still recall him having some of the best foot technique I have ever seen).
Once he entered that all important do not fall zone as he was waltzing up the rock, suddenly and without warning his perfectly placed right toe peeled and his foot went airborne. His balanced being instantly off he had to change up his hands a bit searching for other minuteness to grasp. It seemed an eternity that he was there, in an on again off again, surreal limbo of keeping it together and finding harmony on the rock once again. Tim and I spoke up, “we’ll spot you as best we can!” Of course there were no five feet of stacked pads beneath him. There was only a very hard very cruel slab of broken granite just anxious to feel his impact. Then we witnessed the nerves of steel, the composure, the placement, the precision, and there he was again, the Legend, cruising upwards towards the heavens. Instead of seeing the legend fall, we saw him CLIMB! He topped it and down climbed, grinning at us and saying sorry for the scare, but fuck those holds were greasy.
Later that evening we met up and talked ethics and respect for local rules and he informed us that he chopped Goodwin’s “Apollo”, with accompanying justifications for doing so. Toula and I were inspired for a lifetime and still talk about our meeting with the Man.
Fast forward to TBA and the genuineness of the climber in front of us, telling a tale. A tale of climbing. His slides were so historical in nature. He seemed very honored that this crowd showed up to hear him talk about history. When asked the questions about rap bolting and dogging on routes he was so very honest and simply said he could never really understand why. He pronounced his respect for how far climbing had come and for the impossible seeming grades being put up. He just said he enjoyed doing things in his own personal style. His voice was very quiet and he spoke easily.
When he described the ascent of Bachar-Yerian, with accompanying photos of this legendary and frightening climb, you could hear a pin drop. He talked about how he felt he did not do it in the best of style because he hung on hooks to hand drill the bolts. That got the crowd to seriously thinking; about the purity of the route, about the style in which it was put up. No rap bolting or even rap inspection performed on this stellar masterpiece. Just a ballsy ground up horror show of maybe what climbing can really be about. You could read a lot of young minds at that moment thinking “that’s the kind of climbing I want!” Bold adventure to the max.
There was a lot of humility in John Bachar that night. Like I said, he was very genuine and I saw a calmness which I never really associated with him after reading about him for so many years. Everyone stuck around to hang with him after the show and get some personal words from him. He signed mucho photos for the crowd.
We all knew we had been in the presence, of climbing greatness.
Myself, I am forever grateful to Rob Robinson for convincing Bachar to come to the South and do a series of presentations.
And I am very thankful to the one and only John Bachar for defining to me this activity we call climbing."
"He was floating up on the rock like a phantom…it couldn't be real what my eyes witnessed out in the Joshua Tree Desert outback in 1980. But it was. it was a climber way up off the deck without a rope..and that climber was John Bachar.
We had heard about him. But it was a whole nutha' thing to actually see it in real time, real life from a distance. Something about it grabbed me like nothing else I'd ever seen up to that moment. It was the first time I had ever witnessed someone rock climbing way off the deck without a rope. And It made a direct impression in my mind, and even to my soul. Rather eerie and scary on one hand, but at the same time my mind recognized a freedom, a beautiful freedom about it. Looking back thru time, I am so glad I had the random chance to witness Bachar free and in the moment, not off a film or on the internet. The impression that it made has lasted 35 years.
I remember seeing John Bachar next off in the distance again near the Camp 4 Boulders in Yosemite being followed by an entourage of climbers that summer. I didn't really know him but it was obvious he was a talented climber surrounded by climbers on every side. I started reading and hearing little bits about him. He was kind of like a Larry Bird, you know, a fundamentally sound player who took the sport to another level, by his ever-growing mastery of the art of free-soloing.
Another time, we had just rappelled down from the climb Catchy in Yosemite and he just ambled up, and asked if it was wet. When he got the nod from us that conditions were good, away he arose with a very precise style.
It would be a few years later, that I was out again in Joshua Tree with my friend Rob on a climbing trip. We found the Gunsmoke Traverse empty one afternoon. After a round of warming up on the traverse, we had found a highball problem, High Noon as we would find out later. Rob and I tried mightily but got stilted just below the top out by a thought-provoking, off-balanced power layback.
It was the kind of crux move that exposed a climber's weakness of technique or strength to the point of tail-between-legs retreat. Indeed, it was disconcerting enough that neither one of us could commit to the rough landing of skull-cracking rocks below without a toprope. Shortly thereafter, who shows up but John Bachar and a giant gunny sack with a Bachar Ladder in it. Rob and I had thought we had died and went to heaven. For, we had read and were shown Bachar's ladder for developing upper body one arm strength. Both of us had glommed onto it back in our Arizona training grounds and had developed quite a bit of prowess at it.
Now, we had the honor of actually meeting John and really getting to know the name behind the device. Bachar was kind with his praise for our strengths with his ladder but it was obvious we had a lot to learn about the subtler points of actual climbing technique, as he showed us his beautiful style on the Gunsmoke Traverse. We would kid around later and call it 'Bachar Micro Technique" and emulate his precise style and control that was John's climbing trademark as it served him well for many decades of soloing.
At one point during that session, Bachar headed over to climb High Noon. So, Rob and I gathered underneath the problem to watch what we figured would be a walk in the park for John. We watched with focus as Bachar flowed with solid style to the place of both our safe retreats. We gave each other a quick glance both thinking this'll be cool to see him do this crux.
However, in an instant, Bachar started to waiver, and in a quarter-second more, all style and "mirco-technique' had gone out the window. John had found himself in a do or die moment. Rob and I gave each other another quick glance like, Holy Sh..t! The King is coming off, and we better man up and grab him when he comes flying off backwards from his angled pose. It was a moment neither of us would forget.
Just then, Bachar, dipped down into an area of his strength reserves that probably even surprised him. For literally, we could hear a smack to the rock with his left hand that thoroughly engrained every Joshua Tree crystal into his pores. As his body teetered back and forth once, then twice, we both got into long range spotting catch positions. Both of us instantaneously thought this was it. We were about to see history.
Then, just at the last nano-second, Bachar stuck. He pulled his body up and over. Bachar retuned to the ground looking rather white and shaken. With good reason, it would have been an ugly fall. Still, he had made it! We had only to wonder whose eyes were wider.
There were some fun moments with John at a trade show in Salt Lake in the late 90s. I saw him at his booth and asked him to sign my Rock ‘N Road book. He did graciously writing the following, “Tim - Always climb without a rope!” - John Bachar. Fair enough, I thought from the man who still walked after thousands of solos. Several hours later, I was walking by and there was John up on the overhanging plastic climbing wall...hangdoggin’ on the rope... sittin’ in his harness! Of course, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without pokin’ a little fun at his highness, “Hey, I thought you told me to always climb without a rope?" I jested as he returned the smile with a “What can I say?” grin.
I remember another time in the 90s we met up at the cliffs in Hueco Tanks. I was working on a new steep, tasty toprope face left of Stardust that hadn’t been lead. Bachar and Mike Lechlinski, another California cranker, were checking out the place. So, I offered them a ride on this route which I figured was quite a bit harder than Stardust or Tarts next door. It was so neat to see both Bachar and Lechlinski “flash” a classic testpiece. They offered it was probably in the 12d/13a range as they sauntered off to find other Hueco gems.
It was a bummer to hear about John Bachar’s passing. I had always pondered when it would happen after witnessing High Noon. I think John was an honest person and an incredible action taker in the climbing craft of free soloing that he loved. In so doing, he changed the face of the sport for myself and many of our generation. It was interesting how many of my local climbing peers began soloing after returning from witnessing Bachar in solo action. In the end, he went out true to his autographed motto…the way it was meant to be?
To me personally, while people may comment however they wish about his climbing legacy, I only think of one thing when I think of John Bachar. I watched the man. I watched him do his craft...what he was born to do. And anyone who ever saw John Bachar climb, always came away a better climber for the moment, whether they realized it or not."
"Inspirational, legendary, visionary, enigmatic, these and a few not so kind words were all used to described John Bachar. I met John in Joshua Tree at a Mexican restaurant in 1987. Over the next 20 years we would run into each other in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. Sometimes in parking lots, but more often on some obscure rock. I would do some long approach to an obscure crag to get away from crowds and strangely several times over the years I would find John on the same obscure rock soloing a route many grades harder than what I was planning to do.
He was always friendly and kind, carrying on conversations while he floated up crux moves as I struggled to get the harness knot tied. I wouldn’t say we were friends but we were good acquaintances. He always recognized me and always remembered my name and always remembered what we had talked about the last time we had met. As a young climber I had the Fire poster of John soloing On The Lamb, I wore the same Boral shoes (and still do) and had my picture taken in the same spot his was when I did the route.
But as much of a hero John was to me as a climber during the last few years of his life he was something more. We became pen pals of sort. We exchanged emails several times a month that were often continuous conversations. Our conversations over the last few years were about health, aging, (we are close to the same age) and baseball.
His son Tyrus was playing youth baseball at the time and I had been coaching baseball and teaching pitching to young players for many years. I knew John was a good baseball player as a young guy but true to form, when John wanted to learn something he went all in and wanted to know the latest ideas and techniques of the current training for players. We talked baseball and pitching week after week, email after email, month after month and year after year. I sent him DVD’s, training regiments and strategies on how to mentally prepare to play the game as a pitcher. This was right in John’s wheelhouse. He was going to bring that mental toughness he had as a climber to Tyrus as a baseball mentor.
Our kids were exactly the same age and my oldest was playing Sax in Jazz bands and that too gave us a common theme. Finally we agreed that I would give a few pitching lessons to Tyrus and he would give a few climbing lessons to my boys. A month later John was gone. Our “friendship” was in many ways virtual, but our connection was real. He was a kind, thoughtful and evolved human spirit. I think of him often, while in the mountains or walking a baseball field. His email and phone number remain in my contact list, as I don’t feel I have lost contact with all that he gave me in inspiration and wisdom."
Dan Goodwin (Skyscraperman Dan)
"We first met in 1980 at Joshua Tree. Despite what some may say, John was an incredibly gifted athlete that had a profound impact on the sport of climbing. Over the years, John and I became quite close, often times debating the ethics of climbing (bolting on lead vs. rappel), and free soloing.
I’ll never forget my interaction with John at the Outdoor Retail Show in Las Vegas, before it moved to Salt Lake City. It was late in the afternoon. I just finished having a mind blowing conversation with Jeff Lowe about creating the First International Sport Climbing Competition in Snowbird, Utah. Little did we know, this competition would forever change the direction of the sport. See video… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WesviDhxKw
“I thought you should know,” John said, “But I chopped Apollo.”
Apollo was an overhanging 5.12d /13.a I established after sending Equinox on the opposite side of the dirt road in Joshua Tree. At the crux, where the thin seams ends, I decided to place a bolt because I deemed the route unsafe after nearly hitting the deck when my wire stopper ripped while lunging for the flake.
“Why did you do that?” I asked.
“I chopped it because you placed the bolt on rappel.”
“But it was impossible to place the bolt on lead,” I responded in my defense.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You know the rules. No bolting on rappel.”
“So how do you expect someone to lead it?”
“They can’t lead it now.”
“So you just rip the bolt out?” I remembered how difficult it was to place on rappel.
I was hoping his actions didn’t scar the rock. “Did you do the route?”
John nodded. “On top rope.”
“What did you think?”
“It was a killer route. Thought it was closer to 5.12d than 5.13a.”
“That’s because you did it on top rope,” I replied. “You can’t compare the two.” Even with the bolt, the crux move was pretty intimidating.
“True. But you know the rules.”
That was my relationship with John. We agreed to disagree without letting our differences destroy our friendship. Over the years our friendship grew closer. The last time I hung with John was New Year’s Eve (2001) at Mammoth Lakes. I just finished my cancer treatments (I was Stage Four), and I couldn’t be more grateful to be alive.
Now that John is gone, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if he was still alive. Would he have made it his mission to be the first to free solo El Cap? We’ll never know, but one thing is for sure, I will always miss his free spirit and his desire to live a fulfilling life. May his life inspire you to do the same."
Founder of TripleBlack TV
"I knew John as an outwardly proud but inwardly humble person who always had kind words for me. It was an honor to know him and spend time with him. I wish I could say that I climbed with him but unfortunately never got the chance."
"When I remember my friend John, it is with the greatest respect, and the deepest compassion. We shared many experiences together, which experience stands alone to honor him is very hard to convey, so I will start with the beginning. I can tell you in later years, I was fortunate to know his deeper intellect: it was impossible not to note his confident demeanor or experience his wry, willful actualized self. John was a force as fantastic as he was beautiful, he was attractive with golden hair, sculpted stature and when he smiled it was a glorious smile both warm and courageous.
In my humble opinion I believe John was very comfortable in his extraordinary skin. I am certain he quite enjoyed what he had manifested in his world, a world he had created with his bare hands and feet; it was truth to be around John, he was pure unto himself.
John and I met in 1979, it was in the Tuolumne Meadows store parking lot. I was 19 years old and John is walking around in all his glory! I had heard about him all right, he was the amazing guy who free soloed climbs that most of us would not even contemplate free climbing (or aide climb for that matter.)
He was legend, and the legend had not even begun to unfold. There he was, stunningly blonde, lean, handsome...you name it, it was John. He exuded a glowing, radiant light, a sphere of energy.
It was bright to look at him and that brightness was also bold. I couldn’t believe it, that guy I had heard about was swinging gear around on a sling in his hand on and proclaiming his prize!
Oval carabiners, hexes, stoppers, the lot; (what little I owned as a rack) a fine trophy mind you (but it was once mine, and I wanted it back!).
You see, John being him, had that very morning free soled The West Crack route on Daff Dome long before any of us were out of bed, he had walked up to the 5 pitch 5.8 route on Daft Dome wearing his typical short shorts, put his climbing boots on, chalked up his hands and off he went. He had the time of his life not only climbing but also scoring a small load of gear/booty. I can just see his smiling face and hear his mind (ha, ha, they got it stuck, and I’ve got it now) I say this with absolute love, and respect. There was not a soul around with John's aptitude for this free form of climbing, he was it, he earned it, and he owned it. (In the late 70’s it was unheard of.) At that time, it was all about the swami belt, we would tie two inch webbing around our waists a couple of times tied a water knot and called it good. Hexes, and stoppers were tied onto very fat cord, placed into the cracks with delicate precision; we prayed they would hold us in case of a fall, in our world there was no fall, there was only hold on place the feet well, then go upward towards the summit! Our signature chalk bag was worn over the left or right shoulder, it was Yosemite style it functional, pragmatic.
John was so absolutely beyond us, it was dreamlike, and you wanted to part of that dream forever.
I am in quite a state elated because I am alive! West Crack had not gone so wonderfully for my friend Sue F. and I. I’m alive yes, but frustrated because I do not have much of a rack to go climbing with, it is currently the hands of John Bachar. I hope this legend John would give it back to me. We, Sue and I had a full epic up there, the expected 3 hour route had turned into a 10 hour day with a dark descent, and almost all of my gear left up on the route. Sue had great difficulty removing my stoppers, and hexes, as I too had the same difficulty removing hers (we were that inexperienced) I wanted off before nightfall so I yelled down to her continually “just leave them”. If we didn’t get off the route soon we’re going to getting knighted (Night-ted) was the term for getting stuck up on the wall over night. YIKES, I didn’t want any part of that!
The very next day in the parking lot it, all unveiled itself.
I walked straight up to him and tell him that is my gear, may I please have it back? Probably more like hey “that’s mine give it back” but you’d have to know me, Jo Whitford, to understand the moment or my particular confidence.
He is so happy that he has it and righteously so. No, I scored it and it is mine.
I kind blurt out, …ugh! I know he is right, I know the code I had climbed enough to know we had flailed up there. Really, your going to keep it I asked again?
Yes, says John. That is the rule, I find it, I keep it!
I fell in love with him instantly, and completely respected his ability, and honesty. He was John Bachar, and I learned the hard way a Yosemite climbing ethic. Once indoctrinated you understand. It was code, he was right, I was out half a rack, but beginning to be part of something.
When I remember my friend John, it is with the greatest respect, and deepest compassion. He was my friend, I honor him, I miss him, and I wish we had more time.
Love you so much, John."
"It was the springtime before the summer after the Yellowstone fire. I had escaped the Teton corn skiing for J Tree. I saw John early mornings and also Peter Croft both cruising so softly up high on the stone. With sore hands and tips I headed to Owens River Gorge, a new place with route names I liked. At the parking lot on top I heard a saxophone playing. There was John doing his thing. Music and a table of demo shoes set up in front of a van. And climbers milling around. Nowadays I would call the scene “really chill”. I was with Scott Cole a friend of John’s.
Those two said hello and then John looked me in the eye and smiled. His presence was so huge. He was just vibrating with energy. He asked me how I was doing like we had met 7 lifetimes ago. There are many humans that carry that gift. None of them can do everything right as the public seems to demand. But for god sakes can they get it on in their own direction of choice. Now in my next phase of life I see this quality in the young ones. At first I do not even want to meet them because I know it will hurt when they are gone. But I cannot help but surround myself with these people of our tribe. Games when you lose you live to fight another day. Sports when you lose you die. I will never forget my heroes of Sport. These are my people."
James Burwick Climber/Sailor/Father Puerto Williams, Region XII Chile
"John Bachar’s biggest influence was surely his actual climbing. Soloing hard routes all over the place. Climbing Midnight Lightning. Climbing the Nose/Half Dome link up. He was a legend for a whole generation.
He was also a great shoe designer and did amazing things with Boreal (and later importing Acopa). And of course his impact on training with things like the Bachar Ladder.
But those impacts are nothing compared to the generation of climbers he inspired. He pushed the sport forward for over a decade."
"John Bachar was not just one of the greatest and most compelling climbers in the history of our sport, I consider him to transcend climbing and be a true American Legend. Bachar was ahead of his time and for pure difficulty in soloing in the US, the bar has only been pushed a letter grade or two in the 20 plus years since he revolutionized free solo climbing!
It wasn't just the difficulty of the solos that he accomplished in the late 70s and 80s such as The Gift 12d in Red Rocks, Father Figure 13a in Joshua Tree, and the first solo of the committing multi-pitch Nabisco Wall that set him apart, it was the purity of his ethics and approach to the sport. At times Bachar bordered on zealous and unreasonable, and perhaps a bit arrogant. He was vehemently opposed to rap bolting and some punches were even thrown over a route that he had allegedly chopped that was established top down.
Bachar once offered a 10,000 dollar reward for anyone who could keep up for a day of soloing with him... there were no takers!! There was no doubt he was a divisive character, but in an age where we are becoming more risk averse, and where bolts are getting added to run-outs, and climbers are becoming for lack of a better description.... kind of light-duty, Bachar remains a beacon of a true and pure commitment to what can be a bold and adventurous sport if we embrace it, and routes like the Bachar-Yerian still stand proud waiting to test our skill and bravery!
I'm not sure if there will be a climber quite like Bachar ever again. He was a product of a time and place that now lives only in the history books, but I think that in the age of Sport Climbing, and Bouldering where the big risks are usually a blown tendon, or a sprained ankle, we all could stand to embrace a little piece of the ethos that Bachar embodied with his body and soul. Bachar's greatness transcended climbing and I would call him one of the greatest American Anti-Heros of all time!"
Special thanks to Phil Bard: http://philbard.com/
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Administrator of the Facebook Page 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
“When Great Trees Fall"
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”
― Maya Angelou
Yosemite’s sacred ground has been the foundation for many men and women who went on to achieve legendary climbing status. Their efforts were ground-breaking, their style and charisma were unmatched, and they were and are still able to leave their mark in a powerful, indelible way.
We have tried to gather some of John’s closest friends who have been kind enough to share the impact he had, and is still having on their lives.
They speak of John with much love and the utmost respect. John Bachar and his iconic climbs will live on forever, but so will the man who took many under his wing and gently lit the path ahead of them.
Inventor of the famous Bachar Ladder and later the owner of a climbing shoe company, John was the creator of the world famous chalk marking Midnight Lightning in Yosemite.
You are about to read some beautiful, and original words celebrating this magnetic man’s incredible life and incomparable contributions to climbing.
John Bachar…wherever you are today, thank you for lighting the candle. To every friend of his and every admirer who took the time and made the effort to honor this iconic man on this page, thank you for making this star shine brighter than ever.
I'm going to start this special tribute to John Bachar by thanking the following gentlemen. Craig Calonica, Tony Yeary and Wayne Willoughby have gone above and beyond what is called for in helping me put this tribute together. I thank them for their kindness and unfailing dedication to John. These tributes are presented in the order they came in, let us begin. - Editor.
On the Cover:
A Tribute Honoring The
Winner of the Robert and Miriam Underhill Award for Outstanding Mountaineering Achievement - Awarded in 1983.
Climbing’s Legends and Icons
(March 23rd, 1957 – July 5th, 2009)
Cover Date: August 10th, 2015