Greg “Grug” Cameron

A Life of Trad Climb­ing

Gripped - - NOTES FROM THE TOP - Story by Chris Van Leu­ven The Out­siders, Con­tin­ued on p.70…

He tells me it’s hard for him to get off route or fall out an of­fwidth, which is his jus­tif ica­tion for on­sight free-solo­ing the f irst free as­cent of the of­fwidth Pipe­line, in Squamish, in 1979. And though he never learned to stack his hands in the wide – “I must’ve been ab­sent from class the day that was taught” – he has com­plete trust i n arm-bars and chicken wings. And just as he re­lies on them for up­ward progress, he feels equally com­fort­able down-climb­ing with them.

How­ever, i n 1995, when Greg “Grug” Cameron at­tempted to free-solo Yosemite’s (short) 5.10c of­fwidth Gen­er­a­tor Crack, af­ter not climb­ing for a year, he slipped out, al­most l anded on his girl­friend and slammed into the ground, break­ing his back and re­quir­ing a he­li­copter res­cue out of the park.

Back to Pipe­line on Sl­haney in Squamish. The phys­i­cal­ity of as­cend­ing 60 me­tres of (sand­bagged) 5.10+ of­fwidth aside, the crux of the route was get­ting his knees out and back into the crack, past the alu­minum pipes that were banged i nto the seven-inch gap­ing maw. Seven were left in place from an aid as­cent in 1969 but when he ven­tured up there 10 years later af­ter lo­cal crusher Perry Beck­ham showed him the line, only four re­mained. Re­ly­ing on them for up­ward progress meant they could pop out and send him f ly­ing to his death. But he couldn’t ig­nore them. These were hur­dles, ob­jec­tive haz­ards that added to the chal­lenge of his his­toric free-solo.

To reach the left-side-in crack, he had to solo 100 me­tres of ter­rain up to 5.10b on the route Birds of Prey. Once in the meat of Pipe­line, “It was phys­i­cal but just what I ex­pected: pure of­fwidth climb­ing. I did it re­ally fast, which made it un­event­ful.” With the route com­plete, he walked back to camp and con­nected with his friends Tom Gib­son and Rob Rohn in what he re­calls as “typ­i­cal Squamish squalor,” i.e., a dis­ar­ray of faded tents dis­play­ing poverty and ne­glect.

He shows me his gi­nor­mous mitts and puts them next to his enor­mous knees. He says his body is built for wide cracks and that three-inch Ca­malots are hands for him. He’s stacked like a wrestler. “It’s not like I spe­cial­ized in of­fwidths,” he says be­tween bites of sausage and pasta and sips of beer, fu­elling his mus­cu­lar 61- year-old body at my place in the hills above Boul­der, Colo. “I was just the of­fwidth gun in our group. I didn’t ex­cel at them un­til 1975. In those days it was all about all-around climb­ing.”

Like any­one who’s ex­celled at some­thing, as Grug has, I wanted to know what mo­ti­vates him, where he came from and why he does what he does. This in­cludes a 20- year climb­ing part­ner­ship with leg­endary alpin­ist Ge­orge Lowe and his fas­ci­na­tion with climb­ing long free routes i n Colorado’s 650- me­tre Black Canyon of the Gun­ni­son. He’s also es­tab­lished a hand­ful of mul­ti­p­itch 5.11 crack routes on Mount Evans, also in Colorado, at 14,000 feet.

Born i n Detroit and one of 11 kids, Grug’s fam­ily moved to Cal­i­for­nia when he was five. He grew up i n Poway, i n San Diego County, known as “the city in the coun­try.” He started climb­ing right around the time the f amous Cal­i­for­nia Stone­mas­ters did, which be­gan with Rick Ac­co­mazzo, John Long, Richard Har­ri­son, John Bachar, Gibb Lewis, Mike Gra­ham and Rob Muir. But Grug wasn’t a Stone­mas­ter, he was a Poway Moun­taineer, “a dif­fer­ent group of climbers through the ’ 70s,” he says. If these groups were gangs, as in S.E. Hin­ton’s novel the Stone­mas­ters would be socs and the Poway Moun­taineers would be the Greasers.

“I knew of the Stone­mas­ters but I never felt com­pet­i­tive with them,” he says. “I was fine with hav­ing these guys do­ing these in­cred­i­ble things. We were just do­ing them af­ter­wards.” Grug, like many leg­ends of climb­ing from that era, got turned onto the sport/life­style from his high school teacher. For ex­am­ple, at Carl­mont High School in Bel­mont, Calif., the school’s moun­taineer­ing pro­gram churned out Ron Kauk and the late Scott Cos­grove. Even Jim Brid­well vis­ited the school. It was Poway’s high school teacher, the late Gary He­pler, who hooked Grug onto climb­ing.

A year af­ter get­ting the ba­sics down and train­ing hard, Grug’s older brother Ji m dropped Grug and his friend Kin­ley Adams off at Mid­dle Cathe­dral, a 650- me­tre wall across from El Cap. Over two days the duo, with the rope tied around their waist and equipped with heavy chro­moly pitons, ven­tured up the North Face route, a 5.9 A2. The leader banged in and tied off pitons and the fol­lower cleaned the pitches by clip­ping into each piece, with a hip be­lay from above, whack­ing away at the one be­low with his ham­mer un­til the steel dropped out onto his hand.

“When Kin­ley and I got off Mid­dle Cathe­dral late,” he says, “we didn’t know where ev­ery­body was and ended up sleep­ing some­where in the sticks. That night a mos­quito nailed me over one eye and it swelled up rather grotesquely. When my friends looked at me they all laughed like crazy and it be­came a leg­endary mo­ment in our group.” Grug’s brother Jim climbed The Nose i n 1972. And i n 1975, Grug climbed Val­halla 5.11a at Sui­cide Rocks – the route to do if you wanted to be a Stone­mas­ter – the most dif­fi­cult climb in the area at the time.

Af­ter cut­ting his teeth on Cal­i­for­nia’s some­times slick, some­times rough gran­ite, he be­gan spend­ing three weeks a year in Squamish climb­ing with the likes of Tami Knight and Peter Croft. Some­times, as a joke, he’d make dog food cook­ies for long routes and share them with his un­sus­pect­ing climb­ing part­ners. It was a trick he picked up from the Poways.

By the mid to late ’ 70s, Grug be­came an

Greg Cameron on Black Wall at Mount Evans, Colo.

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