Jim Bridwell, goodbye to legendary rock climber The Bird
Jim Bridwell has left us. Yesterday, February 16th 2018, one of the absolute legends of rock climbing and mountaineering, died aged 73.
The Bird has left us. One of the symbols and immortal legends of rock climbing in Yosemite Valley, or rather, of climbing as a whole. Of that climbing that also became a way of life and that takes over entire lives. That climbing born in the '60s on the granite rock faces in Yosemite and lived to the full by vertical vagabonds. An era that was in some ways mythical, which echoed the rebellious and "hippie" world that dreamt of freedom and began to challenge the world order. Jim Bridwell was not only one of the prophets of that climbing, of that mountaineering and that way of interpreting the world as "rebels". Bridwell was also someone who carried out those ideas and ideals to the end, demonstrating courage and ethics high up on the walls that were unique, like those of a true warrior.
Born in San Antonio, USA, on July 29, 1944, in the ‘60s Bridwell embarked upon his journey into the world of climbing and mountaineering from the immense walls of Yosemite Valley where he immediately became a part of that group of climbers who, from legendary Camp 4, forever changed the way of interpreting climbing. Ever since those early days he climbed ceaselessly throughout the world, in particular in Patagonia and Alaska where his important ascents added memorable chapters to the history of mountaineering.
In mythical Yosemite Valley Bridwell established more than 100 new climbs, some of which have become true icons and milestones. HIs 1974 first one-day ascent of The Nose on El Capitan was unforgettable, carried out with Billy Westbay and John Long. The climb took a mere 15 hours and the ascent heralded a sort of revolution, it’s approach proved groundbreaking. It is no coincidence that the photo taken of the three, with the immense El Cap in the background, is absolutely iconic. Moreover: those three young "hippies", with their waistcoats, floral shirts and bandanas represent the spirit and symbol of an unforgettable era. And all of Bridwell’s routes are unforgettable. Some of the best include The integral (1969), Aquarian wall (1971), Pacific ocean wall (1975), Mirage (1976), Sea of dreams (1978), Zenyatta Mondatta (1981) and Shadows (1989) on El Capitan. While those on Half Dome that need to be remembered are Snake dike (1966), Bushido (1977), Zenith (1978) and Big chill (1987). In the Valley he will also be remembered for having helped establish Yosemite National Park’s Search and Rescue Team – YOSAR.
In Patagonia, another one of his preferred lands, Bridwell left his mark indelibly with the historic first repeat, and also first complete ascent and first in alpine style of the Maestri Compressor Route on Cerro Torre, carried out with Steve Brewer in 1979. In reference to the bolt chopping of that climb, Bridwell expressed his opinion on planetmountain.com in an article full of passion and visions that go well beyond climbing. In Patagonia Bridwell also scored the first ascent of the Exocet Route up Cerro Standhardt in 1988 and the first complete ascent of Desmochada that same year. Ascents absolutely worth remembering in Alaska include the amazing line up the East face of Moose's Tooth (1981), climbed in winter past difficulties up to A4. An incredible undertaking that resulted in a true mountaineering masterpiece! Also worth mentioning, in the Himalayas, is the new route up Pumori (7145m), climbed in winter 1982.
Jim Bridwell, the unmistakable Jim, with his moustache, with that face marked by a thousand battles and rock climbs, is no longer with us. Another piece of history has departed. He had been ill for a while. On these pages we had published an appeal launched by his friend and climbing partner Giovanni Groaz. Yet Bridwell has resisted, he battled as he had always done on the world’s most difficult big walls. Perhaps because, as he had told us in an interview a long time ago, the perfect climb, like life itself, "Doesn’t need to demonstrate the skills of a specialist, but the completeness of the climber."
by Vinicio Stefanello
Jim Bridwell - a selection of ascents and first ascents
1963 Northeast Buttress, Higher Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, CA, USA
1964 North Buttress 5.10a, Middle Cathedral Rock, first free ascent
1965 Entrance Exam, Arch Rock, Yosemite, CA, USA con Chuck Pratt, Chris Fredericks and Larry Marshik
1967 East Face, Higher Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, CA, USA with Chris Fredericks
1967 South Central, Washington Column, Yosemite, CA, USA with Joe Faint
1968 T-riple Direct, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA with Kim Schmitz
1970 New Dimensions, Arch Rock, Yosemite, CA, USA with Mark Klemens
1970 Vain Hope, Ribbon Falls, Yosemite, CA, USA with Royal Robbins and Kim Schmitz
1971 Aquarian Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA with Kim Schmitz
1972 Nabisco Wall, The Cookie, Yosemite, CA, USA
1973 Straight Error, Elephant Rock
1974 Freestone, Geek Towers, Yosemite Falls, Yosemite, CA, USA
1975 Wailing Wall, Tuolumne Meadows, CA, USA (2nd 5.12 in the USA) with Dale Bard and Rick Accomozo
1975 Pacific Ocean Wall, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA with Bill Westbay, Jay Fiske and Fred East
1976 Gold Ribbon, Ribbon Falls, Yosemite, CA, USA with Mike Graham
1977 Bushido, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA with Dale Bard
1978 Sea of Dreams, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA with Dale Bard and Dave Diegelman
1978 Zenith, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA with Kim Schmitz
1979 Southeast Ridge del Cerro Torre (Compressor route), Patagonia, Argentina with Steven Brewer (first ascent in Alpine style of Cerro Torre)
1979 Northwest Face, Kichatna Spire, Alaska Range, USA with Andrew Embick
1981 Zenyatta Mondatta, El Capitan, Yosemite, CA, USA with Peter Mayfield and Charlie Row
1981 Dance of the Woo Li Masters, East Face di The Moose's Tooth, Ruth Gorge, Alaska, USA with Mugs Stump
1982 South Face, Pumori, Nepal with Jan Reynolds and Ned Gilette (winter)
1987 The Big Chill, Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA with Peter Mayfield, Sean Plunkett and Steve Bosque
1988 Exocet VI 5.9 WI6, East Face Cerro Stanhardt, Patagonia with Greg Smith, Jay Smith
1989 Shadows VI 5.10 A5, Half Dome, with Cito Kirkpatrick, Charles Row, William Westby
1989 West Face (VI 5.11b), El Capitan (free ascent)
1999 Oddysey, Gran Capucin, Mont Blanc, Fnech Alps with Giovani Groaz
1999 The Useless Emotion (VII 5.9 WI4 A4), The Bear's Tooth, Ruth Glacier, Alaska, USA with Terry Christensen, Glenn Dunmire, Brian Jonas and Brian McCray May 3-21, 1999
2001 The Beast Pillar, The Moose's Tooth, Ruth Gorge, Alaska, USA with Spencer Pfinsten