Thomas John Higgins (November 7, 1944 – March 21, 2018)was an American rock climber with many first and first free ascents primarily in the western United States. He was noted for pushing standards using a purist, free climbing style.
He began climbing in the early 1960s with partners Bud (later Ivan) Couch and Russ McLean on the sandstone boulders and short cliffs of Stony Point near Los Angeles. He soon teamed up with lifelong climbing partner Bob Kamps. Together they did the 1963 first free ascent of Blanketty Blank at Tahquitz Rock (5.10c) in Southern California.On this and other routes to follow, they employed ground up climbing without previewing or rehearsing the route or resting on the rope. They also placed protection (including bolts) on lead, all elements of a climbing style now termed Traditional climbing in contrast to Sport climbing. Another notable first ascent at Tahquitz was 1964's Jonah with Mike Cohen and Roy Coats. Near Tahquitz at Joshua Tree, he did the first free ascent of Left Ski Track on Intersection Rock. Done in 1968, the climb is significant for its difficulty rating of 5.11, unusual for the time.
Higgins began climbing in the High Sierra in California with the first ascent of the East Buttress of Agassiz Needle, Temple Crag with Couch; and the North Face of Mt. Morrison with Charlie Raymond. In 1964, Higgins and Couch visited Wales, U.K., and climbed on a borrowed rope and slings threaded with machine nuts as protection with pitons was forbidden in the cliffs. They also climbed in Chamonix, France, where Higgins teamed with English partners to do the first free ascents of the East Face of the Moin, the M Metago Route and Albert West Face.
In the late 60s, Higgins began climbing in Yosemite Valley. With Kamps, he did the first free ascent of the NE Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock. With Chris Jones, he did the first free of Serenity Crack and other first ascents (Punch Bowl, The Peanut, Owl Roof, The Void among others). He developed his Yosemite crack climbing skills by building and practicing on a wooden, adjustable crack machine.
In Tuolumne Meadows above Yosemite Valley, Higgins teamed with Kamps, Vern Clevenger, Pat Ament, Chris Vandiver, Tom Gerughty and other partners to create new routes. He and others of the period stood on small edges and undulations, hammered with Rawl Drive drills to place quarter-inch bolts where necessary. Resulting now popular routes include Lucky Streaks, Nerve Wrack Point, The Vision, Fairest of All,Curve Like Her, Thy Will Be Done and Piece de Resistance.Higgins authored an introduction to Don Reid's 1983 Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows guidebook ("A Climbing Commentary") on Tuolumne new route development and changing climbing styles. Outside the Meadows during the same period, Higgins climbed Hair Raiser Buttress with Clevenger at Granite Basin and first free of The Line with Frank Sarnquist at Lover's Leap, California.
As the 70s closed, climbing styles in Tuolumne and elsewhere changed. Climbers began placing protection from hooks and rappel. Rope rests and hangs for progress came into play. Higgins wrote a critique on changing climbing styles, "Tricksters and Traditionalists" for the Sierra Club publication, Ascent. The article was selected for a compilation, The Best of Ascent, Twenty-five Years of Mountaineering ExperienceThe term traditional climbing coined in the article describes the prevailing style up to the mid 70s and now denotes a camp and philosophy of climbing – "Traditional climbing" as opposed to "Sport climbing."
In the 1980s, Higgins created first ascents and first free ascents at Pinnacles National Monument (now Pinnacles National Park) and in the Southern High Sierra mountains, California. On the Balconies at Pinnacles National Monument, Higgins climbed Shake and Bake with Chris Vandiver, and did the first free ascent of the Sacherer, Bradley & Roper route. With Frank Sarnquist, he did the first free ascent of Resurrection Wall.In the Southern Sierra with Ruprecht Von Kammerlander, Higgins did new routes on Fresno Dome; with Kamps, new routes in The Balls. On crackless Chiquito Dome, he did Elegance and Sahib with Chris Vandiver.
Higgins maintained a web site of articles and pictures about climb histories, as well as a collection of fiction, climber obituaries and style commentaries. Higgins was vice president and co-owner of the transportation consulting company K.T. Analytics, Inc. founded in 1984. He died on March 21, 2018, at the age of 73.
Tahquitz Peak is a granite, 8,846-foot-tall (2,696 m) rock formation located on the high western slope of the San Jacinto mountain range in Riverside County, Southern California, United States, above the mountain town of Idyllwild. Tahquitz has a steep approach hike, leading to a roughly 1000-foot face. Tahquitz, which can refer to both the rock outcrop and the outcrop's parent peak, is a popular hiking destination to the fire lookout station and the rock climbing area.
The Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) is a three-part system used for rating the difficulty of walks, hikes, and climbs, primarily used by mountaineers in the United States and Canada. It was first devised by members of the Sierra Club in Southern California in the 1950s as a refinement of earlier systems, particularly those developed in Yosemite Valley, and quickly spread throughout North America.
El Capitan is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is a popular objective for rock climbers.
Steve Roper is a noted climber and historian of the Sierra Nevada in the United States. He along with Allen Steck are the founding editors of the Sierra Club journal Ascent.
Royal Robbins was one of the pioneers of American rock climbing. After learning to climb at Tahquitz Rock, he went on to make first ascents of many big wall routes in Yosemite. As an early proponent of boltless, pitonless clean climbing, he, along with Yvon Chouinard, was instrumental in changing the climbing culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s by encouraging the use and preservation of the natural features of the rock. He went on to become a well-known kayaker.
Warren Harding was one of the most accomplished and influential American rock climbers of the 1950s to 1970s. He was the leader of the first team to climb El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, in 1958. The route they climbed, known as The Nose, ascends 2,900 feet (880 m) up the central buttress of what is one of the largest granite monoliths in the world. Harding climbed many other first ascents in Yosemite, some 28 in all, as well as making the first true big-wall ascents in the Sierra Nevada range of California.
Mount Lyell is the highest point in Yosemite National Park, at 13,114 feet (3,997 m). It is located at the southeast end of the Cathedral Range, 1+1⁄4 miles northwest of Rodgers Peak. The peak as well as nearby Lyell Canyon is named after Charles Lyell, a well-known 19th century geologist. The peak had one of the last remaining glaciers in Yosemite, Lyell Glacier. The Lyell Glacier is currently considered to be a permanent ice field, not a living glacier. Mount Lyell divides the Tuolumne River watershed to the north, the Merced to the west, and the Rush Creek drainage in the Mono Lake Basin to the southeast.
The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome was the first Grade VI climb in the United States. It was first climbed in 1957 by a team consisting of Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick, and Jerry Gallwas. Its current aid climbing rating is VI 5.9 A1 or 5.12 for the free climbing variation. It is recognized in the historic climbing text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America and considered a classic around the world.
Bob Kamps was an American rock climber whose climbing career spanned five decades. Born in Wisconsin, he began climbing in California in 1955, and was a member of that cadre of Yosemite pioneers who first ascended many of its great walls in the 1950s and 1960s. He was particularly adept on steep rock faces, and was among the first to shift attention from aid climbing to free climbing. Over the years he made more than 3,100 climbs. Many were first ascents or first free ascents.
Dave Rearick is an American rock climber and mathematician. A pioneer of Yosemite's golden age of climbing, Rearick – frequently climbing with Bob Kamps – was instrumental in shifting the focus from aid climbing to free climbing in the 1950s.
Fairview Dome is a prominent granite dome in Yosemite National Park, located 1.8 miles (2.9 km) north of Cathedral Peak and 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Tuolumne Meadows. Near Fairview Dome is Marmot Dome, linked by an area called Razor Back. Northwest is Hammer Dome.
Jules Marquard Eichorn was an American mountaineer, environmentalist, and music teacher.
Allen Parker Steck was an American mountaineer and rock climber.
Robert Lindley Murray Underhill was an American mountaineer best known for introducing modern Alpine style rope and belaying techniques to the U.S. climbing community in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Glen Dawson was an American rock climber, mountaineer, antiquarian bookseller, publisher and environmentalist.
Thomas "Tom" M. Frost was an American rock climber known for big wall climbing first ascents in Yosemite Valley. He was also a photographer and climbing equipment manufacturer. Frost was born in Hollywood, California, and died in Oakdale, California.
Charles Marshall Pratt was an American rock climber known for big wall climbing first ascents in Yosemite Valley. He was also a long-time climbing instructor and mountain guide with Exum Mountain Guides in the Grand Tetons.
Richard Manning Leonard was an American rock climber, environmentalist and attorney. He served as president of the Sierra Club and the Save the Redwoods League, and was active in the Wilderness Society and the American Alpine Club. Leonard was born in Elyria, Ohio and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and also received his law degree from the University of California.
Jerry Gallwas is an American rock climber active in the 1950s during the dawn of the Golden Age of Yosemite Rock Climbing. He achieved a number of pioneering first ascents including sandstone spires in the American Southwest, and the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome with Royal Robbins and Mike Sherrick in 1957. Gallwas made his own heat-treated chrome-molybdenum steel alloy pitons, which contributed to the success of the climb.
Robert K. Brinton was a pioneer American rock climber and ski mountaineer. Along with his frequent climbing partner, Glen Dawson, he made numerous first ascents in California, British Columbia, and Utah in the 1930s and named a number of well-known routes.