Dick Dorworth Interview
City Of Rocks
Sauni Symonds: Describe what it was like when you started climbing here in the 1970s.
Dick Dorworth: I was kind of wandering around the west climbing and I was in Ketchum and some people talked about this place and I'd never even heard of it. So I came down with a friend of mine, Lance Paulson and we drove down here and came through Oakley and got here and we knew nothing about anything and so - I was told that the biggest rocks were on the southwest corner which is the Twin Sisters so we drove down to the Twin Sisters and climbed the southwest face of the south Sister and it was great and so I spent a week or so here that time, I forget. And we would just wander around. We never saw another climber. And we camped up on the pass here.
So we used to camp on the pass and the water then was a cattle trough about a hundred yards down the road and we'd go down there. There was a little spigot of water coming out and we'd camp up there. We climbed here for days and never saw another climber. We'd see some ranchers going by. And we'd just walk around and look at the rocks and say well, that looks like a route and we'd do it. There were no guide books or anything and it was great.
Symonds: How are routes different today?
Dorworth: The routes here that are being put up now but also for the last 20 years or so are much harder than what we did in the old days. A lot of them are bolted - not all of them. We very seldom put bolts in. I put some bolts in on this rock one year in the early 70s because we had to get off. We couldn't find a good anchor.
The standard of climbing is just raised enormously and so the routes here are superb for all levels of climbers and as far as the number of climbers, it is totally a different world. There was no camp site or anything here and then they had to do something because - and they've done a great job here. I have to say, with what was going to happen if they didn't do something and what they did is really cool. But it's much more crowded with climbers and with people who aren't climbers here. So it's a very different experience but we still have been coming here for 40 years so it can't be all bad.
Symonds: It's one of the premier climbing spots for thousands of miles.
Dorworth: Yeah, it's a great climbing area. We would come here and I remember when we first came here we couldn't buy beer in Almo. They didn't sell beer there so if we wanted beer we brought it or when we left we'd have to - I think we'd go to Paul or somewhere before we'd get a beer. So that has changed and having restaurants down there is nice. You can go down in the hot springs and the pool that is great. When you want to camp in fashion you go up to Smokey Mountain so it's great here.
Symonds: You were one of the first explorers as far as rock climbing here.
Dorworth: In a way. They were climbing here before I got here. The Lowes were here and some other people in the 60s. Yeah, and even in the early 60s. I think Jeff and Greg Lowe - maybe Greg Lowe more than Jeff.
Symonds: They had it to themselves.
Dorworth: They had it to themselves. Yeah, they did because I had it to myself when I was here and people already knew about it. I thoroughly took advantage of it and enjoyed it and had a great time.
Symonds: Somebody let the word out.
Dorworth: Well, I don't know. I think it was all those TV people and those guide book people. They got the word out. It's the way of life.
Symonds: Do you claim any routes?
Dorworth: The only one I know for certain is mine is called Animal Cracker. Probably a lot of others may be mine because we would come here and we'd go climb - there's one over there that I think is mine. We used to call it Coyote Corner. We would just come and go that looks cool or we'd do it and every now and then we'd be climbing something and we'd find a pin scar or a pin. We'd go well, somebody has been here.
There's one up on Bread Loaves that we used to call Dead Bird Crack because the first time we did it there was a dead bird in it and in the guide book now somebody else did it but I can't remember what year we did it. But we did it a bunch. So likely there are routes here that I might have been the first person on it but I might not have been because nobody was writing, ticking off - they just weren't doing that. We'd go that looks cool and we'd do it. So I don't answer that.
The only reason I know about Animal Cracker is - and it is in the guide book - is that Bingham, Dave Bingham was here one time and it's right up there somewhere and Dave said oh, we just did this cool new route and he started describing it to me and I went, Kelsey and I did that 20 years ago. He thought that was pretty funny because he thought he'd done a new route and he hadn't.
Symonds: It became kind of a badge of honor to put your name on a route.
Dorworth: Yeah. That came a little later. Of course it's nice to do a new route and everything but that kind of wasn't the ethic and we weren't ticking things off or keeping track and there were no guide books so who cared.
Symonds: What type of climbing were you doing in the 70s
Dorworth: Totally traditional. Yeah. Totally traditional free climbing with pitons and then we started using nuts. A lot of times we'd use a mixture and then right about the time we first came here is when we were starting to use, trying to use nuts exclusively and not use pitons and that was before cams so we did a lot of routes with just nuts - including Animal Cracker. Yeah, it was right at that changeover time.
Symonds: You started climbing after your ski racing career ended, right?
Dorworth: Oh, yeah, after ski racing. I didn't climb until I was 30 years old. That film you saw was my first real climb and I turned 30 on that trip which was - Fitzroy is a real mountain but that was really my first big climb of any kind.
Symonds: And that wasn't enough to scare you away from climbing?
Dorworth: Oh, I loved it. After I quit ski racing I went to grad school and wandered around and did all the things people were doing in the 60s and when I went climbing for the first time - I went to Yosemite and went climbing - I went this is what has been missing in my life.
Symonds: What hooked you?
Dorworth: Climbing is such a - physically and mentally, of course it is quite demanding but also you have to take charge of your emotions and the combination of having to do all of that at the same time is - it brings the best out of you. So that's what I liked. I've been an athlete all my life so that's obvious and mentally, climbing is challenging. You've got to figure out the moves and then when the moves are hard or it's not quite obvious it is very spooky so you've got to take charge of yourself and do it anyway.
Symonds: Can you think of the scariest climb you have ever done?
Dorworth: That has happened several times where you go I shouldn't be here and you need to - one time a well known climber Royal Robbins and I did a winter ascent of a place - Lover's Leap in California - and our idea was to climb this route and we were going to climb it and we started at 8 or 9 in the morning, we were going to be done and we were going to go down to South Shore and go to the casinos and have the buffet dinner and sleep and come back and climb the next day. So we started climbing at like 8 or 9 in the morning and we didn't finish until 1 in the morning and it was very spooky. It turned out to be really, really hard.
Symonds: They're good stories as long as you live to tell them.
Dorworth: And then twice in my life - I'm not any good at altitude. I have bad lungs. I've always had bad lungs so twice I've almost died at altitude. Once in China and once in Alaska and so I have to be careful about that.
Symonds: What about Fitzroy. Did that do anything to you?
Dorworth: No. Fitzroy is only 11-12 thousand feet. So that was technically way harder than say doing Denali, technically. Anything above 16-18 thousand feet is not a good place for me so I avoid those places.
Symonds: What qualities make a good climber?
Dorworth: Like in anything, in my generation for instance one of the great rock climbers is Royal Robins and he's one of the all time great climbers but Royal is not a particularly gifted athlete like say, another guy - Jim Bridwell, one of the great athletes you'll ever see. So Royal has a mental quality that is - he's a hard man. Mentally, Royal is wonderful. Bridwell is a great athlete. Chouinard is kind of creative. It is like in anything whether you're an artist or an athlete or whatever, there are different qualities and they don't run across the board.
Symonds: How did the Fitzroy trip come about?
Dorworth: After I quit ski racing I coached for a year and then I went to grad school and while I was in grad school I was hired to coach the far west ski association ski team at the national championships and one of the guys there I knew slightly. His name was Doug Tompkins and Doug was a ski racer. So Doug and I drove back from the nationals together and realized that we were friends. We liked each other.
Doug is one of the most amazing people I know. He never graduated from high school and he's a self made multi-millionaire and he's great.
Symonds: Why is he a self-made millionaire?
Dorworth: He built what is now North Face and then he got out of that and he - just as he sold North Face is when we went to Fitzroy. That's the money he used to go to Fitzroy. As he was leaving his wife Suzie, his wife at that time decided she wanted to make women's clothes and Doug humored her, gave her some money and so she went and built clothes. And just before we left she came home one day and I was there and she said what did you do today, Doug and Doug told her what he did and she said well, I made $15,000.00. She went and sold clothes to I. Magnin.
So then, she and her partner started this little company called Plain Jane. So we left for Fitzroy and that grew so that Doug had to leave our trip at one point and fly back to San Francisco and he said this thing is growing and it became Esprit and that's where Doug made his money.
But anyway, Doug and I were skiing friends and we started climbing. He had this idea - it was Doug's idea, this trip. And he and Yvonne were old friends and Yvonne said well, since we're going to do this we might as well climb Fitzroy and I hadn't climbed at that point. So he invited me on the trip because I could ski and he wanted to ski. At first I was only going to carry loads on Fitzroy and then I started climbing that spring with Jim Bridwell and some other guys in Yosemite and so on the way down there I convinced Chouinard that he had to take me up Fitzroy too. And so I got to climb Fitzroy even though I was completely without the ability to do that - but we got up it anyway. Pretty cool.
Symonds: So, your first climbing was in Yosemite?
Dorworth: I'd been to Yosemite before we left. The month before I went and spent a month climbing Yosemite just before we left for Fitzroy.
Symonds: And then you start climbing Yosemite more.
Dorworth: Oh yeah. Every year.
Symonds: Then you came here. What makes this place so special?
Dorworth: Yosemite is this valley and it's a scene and even in the 60s it was a scene. It was a great scene. Everything that was going on in the 60s was going on in spades in Yosemite and so it was very dynamic, very good. And then like all scenes, it started to be less fun, at least for me.
When I first came here like I said, there was no one here and so it was great to come here and climb and not have that scene. We would climb all day, be really tired. At night we'd eat and go to bed and get up and climb. We didn't have that stuff. So now this place is becoming more of a scene as you can tell. That's why there is all this noise. Now for instance, you know it's nice to go into the Sawtooth and climb, go into the Perch. There are a few people there but it's not like here. Climbers, at least the kind of climbing I like best is away from the scene - although it's fun. I love coming here and socializing with everyone but not regularly and not all the time.
Symonds: The geology here is pretty amazing.
Dorworth: I love it too and it is beautiful just to look and the different times of day. And one of the things that I find fascinating here - and I didn't know - I came here for 20, 30 years before I realized this - is that the Twin Sisters are two different kinds of rock, okay? And once you know that and you know how that was formed and there was this cap. This whole thing was capped and this granite came up underneath it and then it all wore away and so this is just the earth disintegrating and this is what is left. Somehow I like that.
Symonds: One of the routes you are probably going to climb is Skyline. Tell us about it.
Dorworth: Skyline is a 5.8 route. I don't know who put it up. It has been there a long time and it's a moderately easy route with a couple of little key moves and it's a crack line and then you get up top and it's a face climb. And it's on this beautiful spire that we all like. It's a great climb.
Symonds: Do you like to be scared?
Dorworth: No. No I don't. I don't like to be scared. The only thing that comes to mind at this moment is that when I ski I don't ski fast anymore and when I climb I don't climb out there where I'm in any danger of getting hurt - I hope.
Symonds: But you did.
Dorworth: I did but I think it's kind of like that athletic thing. At a certain point in your life you're interested in pushing your limits to see what is in there. And then after that you - or at least I go well, okay, I know what is in there. I don't have to do that anymore. It's just like you go to high school and you graduate. You don't have to do that but you have to do something else. I think it's something like that.
I don't think it's unusual or unnatural that I ski. I grew up skiing. Who knows if my circumstances had been different and likely maybe I'd taken up golf. I don't know.