Below I have included Bachar’s most well known ascents, but of course, he has climbed a lot more routes than that!
|Climb||Type||Suggested Grade||Date of Ascent||Notes|
|Astroman||Trad||5.11c (E5)||May 1975||First free ascent of Astroman. Climbed with Ron Kauk and John Long.|
|Freeblast||Trad||5.11 (E5)||1975||John climbed the route alternating leads with Ron Kauk|
|Half Dome & El Cap link up||Trad||1986||John and Peter Croft made the link up in 14 hours.|
|The Nose (NIAD)||Speed Climbing||8b+ (Aid)||1978||John Bachar and Mike Lechlinski went up the Nose in 15 hours.|
|The Nose (NIAD)||Speed Climbing||8b+ (Aid)||1986||John went up again, this time with Peter Croft and climbed the NIAD in 10 hours.|
|The Gift||Free Solo||The Gift||1986|
|Up 40||Free Solo||E4||1978|
|New Dimensions||Free Solo||5.11a|
|Midnight Lightning||Boulder||V8||1987||Second ascent of the most iconic boulder in the world. John is responsible for the lightning bolt that is still there to this day.|
Learning The Ropes
Bachar grew up in Los Angeles, CA, which might help to explain the surfer bro demeanor that he carried through the golden years. Without an abundance of rock to play on, Stoney Point in the Santa Susana Mountains was the preferred spot for local climbers. It was here, among the boulders, that Bachar got his start as a teenager.
After high school, he attended college at UCLA briefly before dropping out to pursue rock-climbing full time. At the tender age of seventeen, he arrived in Yosemite Valley. Once there, it didn’t take long before he rose to the station of king among the valley dirtbags; committed climbers who saw no reason to spend their lives doing anything else.
Bachar’s Impact On Yosemite Climbing
Bachar showed up on the scene right around the time that the climbing community was pivoting toward free climbing – that is, young climbers were less interested in the then-standard aid mountaineering; they wanted to use their hands!
Nevertheless, Bachar was grandfathered into some of the core values belonging to the Masters of Stone – the generation of innovators who were the first to climb Yosemite’s big walls. He was a fierce proponent of traditional climbing ethics, which meant that anything but a ground-up ascent – with all gear or hangers placed on lead – was antithetical to the very spirit of climbing. Anyone who even thought about subverting these principles was ostracized. All well and good, John, but not all of us can solo 5.13.
While the rest of the Stonemaster went off to take part in movies and climbing competitions, Bachar continued to climb in the purest form he knew, free solo. After some arguments with the rest of the Stonemaster, they all parted ways and Bachar free soloed until the day he died.
He Took His Training Seriously…
John Bachar was one of if not THE first climber to approach the sport as a full-time job. At a time when there was no such thing as “professional climbing,” the ferocity of his training regimen indicated that he believed otherwise.
His space in Camp 4, infamously the climber’s campground, was littered with weights and other tools used for strength training. Bachar pioneered early prototypes of many implements commonly seen in climbing gyms today, such as the hangboard and the campus board (back then, they just called them Bachar ladders).
Bachar also championed other forms of training. Alongside friend and fellow dirtbag, Ron Kauk, he would routinely visit the harder crags in the lower Merced River Canyon, west of Yosemite Valley. After putting up a route on lead, he and Kauk would run laps on it. Apart from the obvious benefit of becoming stronger, this practice also taught them to use their bodies more efficiently and become more fluid in their movements. Friends and standers-by have often commented on the impact his practice had on their style and grace.
The intensity with which Bachar pursued his passion led him to a point where he was breaking trail for everyone else. In 1975, a team made up of John Bachar, Ron Kauk and John Long completed the first free ascent of Astroman on Washington Column. With a high concentration of sustained and difficult pitches, it was the first significant big wall to be free climbed.
After Ron Kauk, Bachar bagged the second-ascent of the now-famous Camp 4 boulder problem Midnight Lightning (V8).
Fun fact: he was also the one who used a chalk pebble to draw a lightning bolt on the face of the boulder – a piece of graffiti that is still there to this day.
In 1981, he and Dave Yerian established the notoriously runout test piece, The Bacher-Yerian (5.11c R/X). The route is 300’ up a vertical face in Tuolumne Meadows and contains a total of 13 bolts, including anchors, which average out to about 3 per pitch. True to Bachar ethics, they were all placed on lead.
John Bachar’s career was essentially one big ante-up to the rest of the climbing world. As the 1980’s rolled along and he continued getting stronger, he began to put more time into his ultimate joy: free soloing. Among some of his more notable free-solos are New Dimensions, (5.11a) Butterballs (5.11c), both in Yosemite Valley, and Leave it to Beaver (5.12) in Joshua Tree. At the peak of his abilities, he was approaching a 5.13 solo. The closest he ever got was Enterprise (5.12b) in the Owen’s River Gorge and The Gift (5.12c) in Red Rocks.
John was one of the best free soloist of his time.
Death & Legacy
John Bachar passed away on July 5, 2009 near his home in Mammoth Lakes, CA. He was 52 years old. He was free-soloing a moderate route on the Dike Wall above Lake George when he fell.
Bachar lived his life with one foot in the future. Not only was he a distinctly talented climber, but he dwelt at the frontier of progression in the sport for many years. The milestones that he set with his career, even by today’s standards, are hardy prospects, even for the strongest of climbers.
If there is any proof required for the legacy he left behind, all one needs to do is look at the big hitters in the modern era. Free solo superstars like Alex Honnold, Lonnie Kauk, Renan Ozturk have all commented on the inspiration they received from John Bachar. In their deeds, his countenance is reflected.
Header image by Phil Bard