John Bachar and the Bachar-Yerian First Ascent

Recounting the first ascent of the Bachar-Yerian.

By Rock and Ice | February 27th, 2012

In the summer of 1981 John Bachar cast off onto the uncharted expanse of Mendlicott Dome, a steep 500-foot, knob-spackled granite face in Tuolumne Meadows, California, with nothing but a hand drill and bolts, some slings, hooks and cams. Belayed by Dave Yerian, he established, onsight, the famous Bachar-Yerian (5.11c R).

Summers passed like days and suddenly it was 1981 and we were 24 years old. We had been patient, waiting for something that would change our lives.  Meanwhile, friends and family questioned what we were doing in Tuolumne, always climbing. They wondered if we were wasting our time.

John said, “Ah, don’t worry about all that stuff, Dave. If you only do one thing right, do it your best and give it your all, that’s all that matters.”

So I did give my life and my loyalty to climbing with John. Pretty soon, we were constantly together, living on the Search and Rescue site in the Meadows and still waiting for something to happen. We really didn’t know what it was, but there was a definite sense of expectancy.

Then early one morning as I was sipping coffee in the Tuolumne parking lot, John pulled up in his bus and said, “Hey, dude, wanna go climbing?”

I hesitated before I got in and asked, “Is this gonna be worth it?”

He said, “Get in,” and I did. We just drove on in silence. Bachar pulled over in the Mendlicott parking lot and I asked him why we stopped there.  He said he had something in mind on the big dome ahead.

At the time, Mendlicott only had seven routes that summitted, and an opportunity to set up a new climb to the top sounded good to me. John pointed out a black streak on the wall that looked hopelessly monolithic. When he started climbing up the wall it hit home that we were doing something no one had done before, something revolutionary. At that time, most of the climbs were just slabby walls close to the road and nobody was looking at steeper rock yet, much less using sky hooks. When we rappelled off the first day, having climbed a pitch, I thought about how lucky I was to be with John and that our friendship meant more than climbing.

Days went by as we worked on the climb together, taking rest days before completing the route. On the last day, watching John climb was like listening to Coltrane. I realized that Bachar was so far ahead of his time that no one could understand what he was doing. His expression of how he felt about himself as a human being showed on the rock. He never asked for much in life and I realized that this climb, the Bachar-Yerian, was the gold in the pot. It represented everything that John stood for. I knew that what he was doing was risky, but I also understood that this route was a gift and I was willing to take a chance to make sure he got it. What I didn’t understand at the time was that my willingness to totally commit—to a climb, to a style and to my friend—was a defining moment of my life as well.

A few weeks before his accident, Bachar told me that he was giving a slide show at Los Altos High School and that he would be talking about the Bachar-Yerian.  He wanted to know how I felt about the notoriety. I wasn’t sure how to answer. That climb changed our lives so completely that it was impossible to express what it had meant to me.

A few days later, I was on my rooftop when Susanna, my wife, came up with a pale face and said, “Did you hear the news?  It’s about Bachar.”

I immediately asked, “Is he alive?”

The look on her face told me.  It was like skipping a rock. For a moment in time the water was moving. We were completely committed. When the ripples went away it was real. John was gone.

Read more about John Bachar.

Read John Bachar’s last interview, by Duane Raleigh

View John Bachar photo gallery

Read more about John Bachar, by Doug Robinson

Read about Michael Readron by John Bachar 

Dave Yerian lives in Berkeley, California where he works as a carpenter.

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