Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mountaineer Charlie Porter

Fellow beret enthusiast Jolyon from the UK sent me a link to a climbers forum; it's about this mythical climber Charlie Porter. Most interesting, he not only climbs in white clothing, he also dons a white beret (and strangely, not many people do - it's probably my favorite Tolosa Tupida, actually).
Unfortunately, I couldn't find relevant pictures of Charlie with beret, but the beret being the standard headgear for many climbers for generations, I post some other good shots, along with part of the named thread:

On a pleasantly cool morning, early in the Summer of 1973 (or was it 1974?) my climbing buddy (and high school classmate) Randy and I were perched on a belay ledge, mid-way up an obscure route, on an obscure crag, in what had to be backest of the backwaters of the climbing world at that time. We were on one of the granite crack 'n slab climbs found in Little Cottonwood Canyon, a few miles east of Salt Lake City. As we re-racked gear in preparation for the next pitch, we noticed the head of a climber appear over a bulge in the rock below us. It was a hat, actually -- a white beret, which we then observed was worn by a man with curly white hair, white eyebrows, and blonde-white beard. The rest of his clothing was white as well, including shirt, pants, and socks. He had smudges of white powder on his face, and his hands were powdery white. For a couple of provincial schmucks like Randy and I, the appearance of this climber was nothing less than other-worldly.

We were also amazed by how quickly he was moving; Randy commented that his belayer must be literally throwing the rope up the rock to keep pace. The Man wasn't carrying much gear -- a couple of nylon runners and a few 'biners. And a mysterious, powder-covered bag clipped to the back of his swami. He was coming up the same route we were on, which begins with a 5.8 straight-in hand crack and finishes with a couple of pitches of 5.8 smears, knobs and crystals. 

But our sense of amazement wasn't limited to his climbing speed, or his somewhat freakish appearance. He deviated a little to the left as he passed our belay, acknowledged our presence with a slight nod, and continued upward. Then, the end of his rope appeared over the bulge below us, while he kept climbing. We were dumbfounded. What the hell happened to his belayer? A major communication fowl-up? Poorly-tied knots? WTF????

The modern reader will no doubt get a good chuckle out of our naivete. In just a few moments, Randy and I -- the quintessential country bumpkins -- were exposed to previously unimaginable concepts, like using gymnastic chalk for climbing, and free-soloing. After we finished our climb, we could hardly wait to head to our local climbing shop to report what we'd seen. "Oh, yeah" one of the guys in the shop said, "that would have been Charlie Porter. I hear he's got a construction job in town for the Summer, and that he's been seen scoping out some of the local crags." Randy and I knew who Charlie Porter was -- he was one of the climbing heroes that snot-nosed high-schoolers like Randy and I absolutely worshiped. We kicked ourselves for not having recognized him, and for having missed a chance to perhaps even chat with him for a few moments.

Thanks, Jolyon

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