How I Met The Vulgarians

(by John Stannard)

Quite frankly, my first exposure to vulgarians was not good. Not good at all. I observed three or four climbing up a corner one handed. This was necessary, not optional, as each was carrying a bottle of beer. Most revealingly. the beer was in the left hand, suggesting they valued life above inebriation. Once a ledge sixty feet up had 

been reached they muscled a slab perhaps eight feet long and one or two square feet in cross sectional area to the edge. Then one worthy bellowed, "If you can hear me, you are too fucking close!" A nearly 

mature tree barely survived what followed.

Two later incidents softened my opinion slightly.

1. There was the famous three man front lever incident whose creativity outstripped even the difficulty of the athletics.

2. At the only V gathering I attended I saw more evidence for the underlying creativity all were at such pains to cover up. I saw the generally accepted head vulgarian, after inhaling certain legally prohibited vapors, casually tipped his glass until their contents had spilled out onto (his) floor. He then mused in pure wonderment, " It does that every time!"

The vulgarians taught me the single most important fact of life.

No one is either all good or all bad.


(by Richard Goldstone)

I was a teenager just getting into climbing as the Vulgarians were coalescing and only became a part of the group four or five years later at a point when the Vulgarians had already evolved from their original core. My first encounter with the Eastern Wild Ones occurred in the climber's camp in the Tetons, a place that used to be at the epicenter of American climbing.

Except for what one would nowadays call minimal instruction from a few Exum-guided climbs, I learned about climbing on my own, primarily from books. My impressionable adolescent psyche had been deeply influenced by the purple pro---uh, the lyrical writing---of Gaston Rebuffat. From his books I learned about the beauty of the mountaineering experience, the brotherhood of the rope, the necessity of being fashionably attired at all times, and that under no circumstances was the leader to allow the perfect vertical line of his rope to be broken by pictorially distracting protection points.

After a suitable period of marination in matching-patterned-sweater-and-knicker-socks idealism, I made my way to the Teton climbers' camp. Oh, the horror! The place was infested with badly dressed, apparently unwashed, and thoroughly unkempt vermin, drinking, copulating, disrupting Teton Tea parties, roaring around the loop road in their Triumphs, sounding the Vulgaraphone, and indulging in all manner of activities impossible to carry out in woolen knickers. I feverishly consulted my copies of [i]Neige et Roc[/i] and [i]Etoiles et Tempetes[/i] for protective incantations against these alpine demons, no doubt the same ones feared by the early peasants venturing into the heights for the first time. Now these dybbuks had somehow been transplanted from Chamonix to Jackson, screaming like the hounds of hell in the throes of a feverish blood lust stimulated, no doubt, by the tell-tale scent of my dry-cleaned climbing outfits.

As I cowered behind Orrin Bonney's teepee, watching the End of Days in progress before me, I realized that the apocalypse had arrived, probably during my AP Calculus class, and that from now on Fire and Brimstone would be replacing Starlight and Storm. Still, I managed to cling to one eternal verity: these were not Real Climbers. No way.


(by Joe Kelsey)

Fall 1962: Inspired by the valorous writings of Ghastly Rubberface, I signed up for an Appie Beginners’ Weekend. The Appies looked like I expected mountaineers to look—sweaters with snowflakes, knickers, wool knee socks, 10# Limmer boots. There were also college outing club kids, unsurprisingly attired in baggy fatigue pants, cartridge belts festooned with inexplicable metallurgy, 10# Limmer boots, crew cuts and beards. But while we beginners milled around the Uberfall, praying for the Appie hierarchy to enter our names on the totemic clipboard, two young men appeared, overly shaggy, wearing black t-shirts, jeans, and some sort of suede clown shoes, and cavorted on that 15-foot block at the Uberfall, he on the ground grabbing the feet of him on the rock and both cackling. At our beginners’ orientation, our mentor had emphasized the need to take climbing seriously at all times. Didn’t these cackling fools realize the doom awaiting them if they ventured farther off the ground?

The Appie leaders were quick to point out that these two and their ilk were mere pests, like black flies, not to be taken seriously as climbers--though an Appie leader had earlier used that block as an example of unclimbable rock. I identified the two as beatniks, even though I may have never before seen a real live beatnik. Later, at the Appie table at Emile’s, I heard the term Vulgarian used and surmised that the two boulderers must be of the genre being referred to.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from frivolous Vulgarians, there was a fourth element in the Uberfall menagerie: a few souls wearing terswaries (citation needed, as they say on Wikipedia). The Appies gave names to the terswary people—Kraus, McCarthy, Gran—because these were the heroes venturing where mankind had heretofore feared to trod and bravely advancing the standards. You could tell by the scowls under their terswaries as they strode purposefully through the Uberfall that they were off to deeds of derring-do. No surprise to a reader of Rubberfat that the rock had its grim pioneers, but it made no sense when I saw terswaries and les Beatniks des Montaignes heading down the Carriage Road together, as if they were going to climb as a team. Wtf?

Spring 1965: By then I knew the names of the beatniks to be Claude and Raivo and had become a 5.7 rope gun for a small group of friends. (Chuck Loucks was a better climber than I but was happy to lead or not lead.) My one venture beyond 5.7 was 5.8 Pas-de-Deux, which I found myself on because a nubile wench I lusted for put me up to it, and she had another suitor who wouldn’t dare. (And they ask why men climb mountains.)

Anyway, one hot Sunday afternoon I was crankin a 7 way down the cliffs and pounding a pin overhead when my trusty Stubai instantly lightened. I had time to clutch a hold and brace myself before the hammer found its mark. With a lumpy head and done for the weekend, I headed for my car, but a mob on the Carriage Road was watching Art Gran finish leading Apoplexy. As I passed through, someone handed me a beer, so I joined the mob. First Art’s belayer failed to get very far, then a string of other aspirants (truth to tell, they weren’t doing much aspiring) —despite plentiful unhelpful advice—“Left foot where your right foot is,” “There’s a good hold just out of reach.” After each loser was unceremoniously lowered to the ground, guffawed at by the advisors, Art would recruit another from the onlookers.

I felt safe because Art didn’t know who I was and I didn’t sport a terswary, but a magisterial voice came down from the belay tree, “Joe Kelsey, you should give it a try.” I tried various excuses, of which I had plenty, but someone took my beer, someone else draped a hammer on me, and they even tied the rope to me. The only reason I didn’t fall was fear—of the jeering that awaited me.

When I reached Art, he heartily shook my hand and explained he’d seen me on Pas-de-Deux. At Emile’s afterward, he invited me to the Vulgarian table, where someone quickly filled my glass from the communal pitcher. I soon realized I needn’t have waited to be invited, let alone having gotten up Apoplexy. In all seriousness, thanks guys for handing me that beer as I walked by and welcoming me to your table. The haphazard events of that day turned my life in a new direction, one I believe it was meant to head in.

When I returned to the Gunks two falls ago, after 27 years away, I had to see if I could still get up Apoplexy. I did, but no one poured me a beer afterward.


( by Joe Kelsey)

It was I who suggested the How I Met the Vulgarians category, and it was because of a gathering some years ago at which people took turns recalling how they met the Vulgarians. I don’t remember where we were or everyone who was there, but I remember everyone, vulgar and non-vulgar, having a worthy tale. For some reason I remember Dorothy being there, and Sterling Neale because of his tale. When Sterling was a climbing ranger at Jenny Lake, an aggrieved tourist came to the ranger station with an implausible report of VW bugs, bread trucks, VW buses, TR3s, motorcycles, and Dodge rust-buckets rumbling endlessly around the dusty loop road of Climbers’ Camp. Since this made no sense and since the tourist was mightily distressed, Sterling went to investigate.

But wait—I’ll let Roman tell the story, since he was there. You tune in to the VC because of its commitment to journalistic integrity, and you’ll prefer a first-hand account to a third-hand one, even if none of us can remember what we had for breakfast this morning. This is Roman’s reply to my recollection of Sterling’s story:

Yes, yes I was in that Vulgarian Grand Prix around a dirt traffic circle in the Climbers' Camp. There was also a Jaguar sedan but I think that I had them all beat. Of course, since it was a small circle everyone probably thought they were at the head of the pack. We raised a dirt cloud at least a 100 feet high. Anyway, we were having a great time until some straight guy with his family who had run out of time in the tourist camp at Jenny Lake called the Rangers. Then a little scene ensued where this guy was acting like a pompous ass defending "Truth, Justice & the American Way" & the rights of righteous citizens to live in peace, untainted by the RiffRaff whose community he had just joined. Dave Craft was so impressed by this guy that he got down on his hands & knees in front of him & the ranger (might have been Sterling Neale Or Pete Sinclair) who was trying to mediate the situation & kept salaaming while saying "Oh, what a wonderful person you are, I wish that we could all be like you, etc., etc." The ranger finally told Dave to get up off his knees, when Bob Larson intervened & said "Wait a minute, we have freedom of religion in this country & this good fellow can worship anyone that he pleases."
The upshot of all this negotiating ended up with the ranger telling the straight guy that it would probably be better if he moved out of the Climbers' Camp. All in all we got along pretty well with the climbing rangers.

Sterling finished his reminiscence by explaining that while for the tourist’s sake he kept a straight face, he was silently giggling and vowing to get to know the RiffRaff and maybe become one of them.


(by Anka Katan)

I had been warned about the Vulgarians -- "a group you CERTAINLY will not want anything to do with" -- while on a first/last climbing date with an individual who also described climbers as those with infinite grace and style.  While breakfasting at the "Open" on the corner of 32/208, he pointed to an approaching figure and said he was one of the outstanding examples.  Next, John Hudson entered, tripped, and sent platters of bacon and eggs sailing like frisbees.  I was truly impressed! 


( by Anka Angrist)

Many years later, after I had been accepted into the Vulgarian clan, (it doesn't take much, their standards are very low) my neighbors first met the Vulgarians. It happened after the first Vulgathon (Vulgarian Marathon) there was a roast held here at the Angrist emporium. Geiser et al roasted a suckling pig and we all roasted each other. The subsequent heat led to a rapid stripping of clothing and plunging into the Coxing Kill. Our portly neighbor, an ex-city fireman, and his sons and in-laws suffered extreme stress, popping eyes and fighting over binoculars while trying to fan the flames.  Our neighbor later suffered a coronary riding his mower and did not survive long.