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Ron Kauk

Ron Kauk is a groundbreaking American rock climber, famous for his impact and accomplishments in the Stonemaster Era of American rock climbing. Throughout his career, which spanned from the ’70s into the late ’90s, he was responsible for numerous first ascents and helped take climbing to the next level.


United States

Date Of Birth



Trad Climbing

Hardest Sport


Hardest Boulder


Hardest Trad


Ron Kauk

Ascent Log

ClimbTypeSuggested GradeDate of AscentNotes
Magic LineTrad5.14b (E10)6th Dec 1996FA. Ron climbed this trad route on pre-placed gear. Photo and Video
AstromanTrad5.11c (E5)May 1975FA. Ron sited that the enduro corner was the most memorable lead climb of his life.
Separate RealityTrad5.12a (E5)1978Ron made the First Ascent before cams were invented! Instagram Post
The RostrumTrad5.11 (E5)1975FA. Almost did the route free until the last pitch.
FreeblastTrad5.11 (E5)1975Ron climbed the route with alternate leads
HeavenTrad5.12d/5.13a (E6)90sFA
To Bolt or Not To BeSport Route8b+July 1988Second ascent.
Midnight LightningBoulderV81987FA of the most iconic boulder in the world. The lightning bolt is still refreshed by climbers who visit this iconic route.
Kauk’s CornerBoulderV5

Climbing Career

Learning the Ropes

Ron got his start with climbing on a 20-day backpacking course he took when he was 14. One of the instructors made a bet (with a milkshake as the ante) for anyone who could complete a challenging rock climb they had set up. Ron won the milkshake, and the rest is history.

rock climber Ron Kauk young
©Dave Sessions

At the age of 17, he decided against the standard path of formal education and moved to Yosemite Valley to pursue his climbing dreams. He met a plethora of inspirational climbers and quickly progressed to become a leading figure in the sport. From here he spent a good chunk of his life living what would become known as the idyllic dirt-bag dream– putting up climbs with Camp 4 as home base.

Ron has a unique spiritual approach to rock climbing, viewing it as a way to connect to nature and his roots. These days, Ron puts most of his time and effort into running his non-profit organization, Sacred Rok, which helps introduce youth to the outdoors and invoke an appreciation and understanding of nature.

Noteworthy Ascents

Astroman (5.11c)

Astroman is one of the most renowned and sought-after multipitch-free climbs in the world. It is situated on the east face of the Washington Column in Yosemite Valley. Kauk claimed the first free ascent of this masterpiece in May of 1975 alongside legends of equal caliber, John Long and John Bachar. Ron was only seventeen at the time but was quickly cementing his place in Yosemite climbing history.

Ron Kauk climbing Astroman

This route is named after a Jimi Hendrix song. As Long tells the story, John Bachar pulled out his cassette player as they were gearing up for the last pitch and put on this song. John Long then proceeded to make a bold and barely protected ascent of the last pitch while being hip-belayed by Ron Kauk. When he topped it out, full of relief, the group declared the name Astroman.

To Bolt or Not to Be (5.14a)

Ron was introduced to To Bolt or Not to Be by Alan Watts, an American climber famous for pioneering sport climbing. It was one of his first experiences with the practice of hang dogging – the method of hanging on the rope and repeatedly trying crux sections of routes without lowering off. Though this is a common practice today, it was controversial and frowned upon at the time. 

Ron however, always had an open mind and welcomed any new experience that could help him grow as a climber. He did To Bolt or Not to Be rather quickly with the help of Jerry Moffat, and he thereby claimed the second American ascent in July of 1988. He was able to take the lessons in tactics he learned from working this sport route and apply them to the rest of his climbing.

Ron Kauk climbing with rainbow in background

Magic Line (5.14c)

Magic Line is most likely the pinnacle of Ron’s climbing career in terms of sheer difficulty. He saw it as the culmination of all of his previous experiences and inspirations in climbing. The route climbs a pencil-thin crack, beautifully situated next to the roaring Vernal Falls of Yosemite. Insecure foot placements, tight jams, smeary lie-backs, and tricky gear placements all make this route one of the most challenging single-pitch trad lines in the world to this day. Ron sent the route after multiple years of effort in 1996. 

Ron Kauk on Magic Line climbing
Ron Kauk on Magic Line (5.14b), Vernal Falls, Yosemite in 1996 ©Jim Thornburg

Despite this difficulty, when Ron looks back on Magic Line he doesn’t think of the grade or any of the hype surrounding it. He describes the biggest lesson he took from the experience as simply enjoying climbing for the sake of climbing – the intrinsic value of being out in nature trying moves and connecting to the environment. The moves are so insecure that if Ron was anything less than completely present, he was spit off the wall. 

Years later he went back to belay his son, Lonnie Kauk (who is also a professional climber), and found this connection had not weakened. As he walked down the trail at the end of the day, he looked at Vernal Falls and thought to himself “I am that waterfall”.

Midnight Lightning (V8)

Midnight Lightning is one of the most famous boulder problems in the world, named after one of Jimi Hendrix’s lesser-known songs. Ron speaks of Hendrix with high regard and he sees his commitment to music as a parallel to his and the other Stonemaster’s commitment to climbing.

Ron Kauk On Midnight Lighting V8

Midnight Lightning ascends a boulder dead in the center of Camp 4 with technical insecure moves leading to a committing top-out. It is characterized by the iconic lightning bolt painted on the boulder’s base. While the problem is not all that hard by modern standards, at the time it was only the second V8 in the world, making it a groundbreaking achievement.

Kauk sent the line after working on it for about two months alongside John Bachar in 1978. This is made especially impressive when you take into account, that these guys weren’t using crashpads, and this block is huge.

Hollywood Days

One of the more surprising and out-of-character points of Ron’s life was his brief stint in Hollywood. Ron worked, alongside legendary German climber Wolfgang Güllich, as a stunt double for Sylvester Stalone in Cliffhanger. Ron described the majority of this contract as getting paid a couple of thousand dollars a week to workout and eat – any dirtbag’s dream job. He and Wolfgang were supposedly urged to take performance-enhancing drugs to bulk up like Stalone but promptly turned down the offer. 

Later Ron worked alongside Tom Cruise to help with the famous opening climbing scenes of Mission Impossible II. He and Cruise forged a close friendship during this period. Ron lived frugally and worked a variety of odd jobs in order to fund his climbing during the earlier years of his life. “We would do anything to make one thousand dollars”, Ron said in an interview with Steven Dimmet of the Nugget Climbing Podcast. Hollywood is just one example of this. 

Sacred Rok

Ron still lives in Yosemite Valley, where he runs a non-profit organization called Sacred Rok. Their mission is to “support youth in nature, helping youth learn to respect nature and through that, to respect themselves.” They work with kids in foster care, those wrapped up in the criminal justice system, and in under-resourced communities. The organization takes these kids on outdoor trips involving rock climbing, hiking, and camping. If you wish, you can support Sacred Rok here.


Video Library


Born and bred in Atlanta, Georgia, Landon cut his teeth on the rocks around Chattanooga and the Red River Gorge. These days, you'll find him splitting his time between guiding fellow adventurers in Moab, Utah, and living out his nomadic dreams on the open road.

Toby Roberts
Peter Croft

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