in⋅de⋅fat⋅i⋅ga⋅ble – \in-di-fat-i-guh-buhl\
incapable of being tired out; not yielding to fatigue; untiring.
The first time I met Dave Bingham he had just lowered himself off a new route at the Fins that he had just barely equipped. The wall had sat untouched up to a couple of weeks prior to that – it now had 4 new routes on it. All put in by Dave. And all of high quality. A testament to Dave’s energy and penchant for new routing that hasn’t diminished.
Dave on Slug Bait, Big Cave, Shoshone. (photo courtesy Dean Lords)
Dave’s first climbing experiences were at the age of 16 in 1972 in Vermont while attending The Stowe School, a private boarding school with several Outward Bound instructor teachers. During a “class” called Mountaincraft, he made his first lead, an ice climb in Smugglers Notch. Soon afterward he purchased a rack that included pitons, first generation British “Peck” chocks, and large machine nuts threaded with 1″ tubular webbing.
His first rock lead was a first ascent on a very obscure crag in the sticks of Vermont. Having no car, he hitchhiked to North Conway, NH for his first lead of an established route “Thin Air 5.4″ on Cathedral Ledge. Dave also hitched to the Gunks a few times, climbing easy classics in stiff soled mountain boots, which were common – climbing shoes were just starting to be available.
Working as a janitor at the Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, Dave fell in with the XC ski school crew, a group of Yosemite Guides headed by the late Ned Gillete a former Olympic skier and adventurer. Ned’s crew included climbing notables like Dale and Alan Bard, Tom Carter, Walter Rosenthal, and an early proponent of “short hard and free” Gene Drake. Alan and Tom invited Dave to hang with the rescue crew in Camp 4, so …
In the Spring of ‘77 he hitched a ride to the Sierras, and made his first entry to Yosemite Valley by skiing over Tioga Pass via Touloumne Meadows. Living in Camp 4, Dave climbed with an international cast of characters, and hung with some now legends like Ron Kauk, John Yablonsky and Dave Yerian. His first Yosemite route was a multi-pitch 5.10 route on Rixon’s Pinnacle, which “kicked my butt and scarred my hands.” Later he climbed several walls including Leaning Tower, NW Face of Half Dome, Washington Column, etc. “One of the more memorable climbs was a multi pitch aid route we did after taking LSD, which was something of a rite of passage in those days.”
Dave first visited Idaho in ’78, while competing in the XC Spring Series. After the race circuit, he did a backcountry tour of the Sawtooths (Iron Cr. to Redfish via Sawtooth and Baron lakes). On the way out they skied past the Elephant’s Perch and the spires of Lower Redfish Canyon. He loved Idaho from the start, and returned from Yosemite that summer to climb on the Perch with Sawtooth icon Reid Dowdle and friends. Dave also hooked up with Kevin Swigert for several athletic climbing adventures, including Mt. Edith Cavell in the Canadian Rockies.
Dave and friends checked out City of Rocks, “which at the time was generally dismissed as a chossy backwater.”
He worked as a guide in the Sawtooth and Tetons from 1980 to 1990, spending the winters coaching the SV Junior Nordic Team.
In ‘79 Dave was invited to compete in NBC TV’s “Survival of the Fittest” competition, in Australia. Needing a climbing partner for after the comp, he recommended Peter Croft. Dave won the comp (and about 10K) and spend two weeks climbing with Peter at Mt. Arapilies and the Grampians. The next several years he competed in many ski and running races, 2 more “Survival” comps (Switzerland and Canada) and 3 more TV comps called “Conquer the Arctic”, held in northern Norway. After the comps he traveled for climbing, spending over a month in the Verdon Gorge, and another month around Buoux, France.
Tony Yaniro moved to Ketchum in the late ’80′s, and they became good friends and partners, (“though I was by far the weaker climber”). Tony was a big influence, mainly in his super-intense determination and willingness to go beyond conventional approaches.
Dave climbed with Tony at his old haunt in CA – The Needles, which inspired him both to climb harder and take an approach to new routes.
He returned to the City and did several rap-bolted routes including his favorites, Spuds in the Gym, Strategic Defence and Bombs over Tripoli (his first 5.12)
He made the first City of Rocks guide in 1985, and estimates to have done 100+ first ascents there.
In 1991 Dave was issued a citation by ranger Maura Longdon (who initiated the bolting ban at the City) for his route “Mauratorium” on the north side of Elephant Rock. The route featured several glue-reinforced holds, and although it was labled as “manufactured” the route has no drilled or chipped holds. He was ordered to remove the bolts and pay a fine for “destruction of public property”. He also received some damning press in the climbing rags for his supposedly “manufactured” route.
Since then, Dave’s put his new route energy into making new routes at Dierkes’ Lake, Leslie Gulch, and other regional crags.
SEIC: So what’s an average day like for Dave Bingham?
DB: I don’t really have an average day since being self employed I am at many different job sites during the summer, then shift to nordic ski coaching (elementary age kids) for the winter. I run a small business chinking log homes (Chinking: is what goes between the logs to seal up the building. It is messy, tedious work that requires a lot of ladder time!) in the summer and have returned to coaching junior skiers for the SVSEF.
I’m usually working on high-end log homes in the SV area, and try to sneak in a bike ride, some climbing at the Caves, Trail Creek, Wolftone or the Fins. In winter, it’s backcountry snowboarding or skiing, nordic skate skiing or riding the lifts on Baldy (I’m lucky to get a pass thru my XC coaching job). I am married (15 yrs) with two kids who both climb.
SEIC: Being married with kids and a business owner – what’s your secret to balancing that with your outdoor pursuits?
DB: Good luck on that one. I try, but there’s just not enough time to attend to everything in a satisfactory way. Something has to give.
SEIC: Having climbed at so many areas do you have a favorite area to climb? What about favorite local area?
DB: Red River gorge in KY is for sure my favorite place to climb. Beautiful rock, inspiring lines, long and pumpy. Perfect.
SEIC: Most memorable ascent(s)?
DB: My most memorable climbs have not always been new routes or hard flashes but interesting traveling or life experiences. People are always more interesting, for better or worse. Of course I really cherish memories of making new routes, which is very labor intensive, dirty, and dangerous. I’m more motivated by a cool line than hard moves, although it seems a lot of the best lines are hard too!
SEIC: How many routes have you established? Any plans for future crag development?
Dave on his route Chapstick at The Fins. (photo courtesy Dean Lords)
DB: I never kept track of the number of first ascents. Must be over 300 I suppose. City of Rocks, Dierkies, Leslie Gulch, Rifle, The Caves, Trail Cr., Box Canyon, The Fins, etc.
I see new route potential everywhere I go and hope to keep making fun routes in the future. This year I developed a new crag near Hailey with seven routes so far.
SEIC: What was the COR like when you were just starting to climb there? How has it changed? How do you feel the Park is being managed nowadays?
DB: My favorite memories of the City was probably when I was a volunteer ranger, driving around in a BLM truck in my cut-off pink leopard print tights and 80′s wrap-around sunglasses. When rednecks refused to quit trashing the area, I’d fake making a radio backup call – that usually did the trick.
People used to just go wild there… dumping trash, cutting trees, burning piles of cactus, ripping off coolers, just nutty, lame stuff. I’m glad to have been part of getting the area recognized and protected.
SEIC: Rumors abound that you were banned from the City for a period of time – do you have any other stories to share regarding COR?
DB: I was never banned from the city, but hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
SEIC: What’s your take on climbing “ethics” – live and let live or be vocal about ones beliefs?
DB: Climbing is the least of our worries in that dept. That said, I don’t like making my impacts too visible to other people who are just enjoying nature. Most climbing “ethics” are about rules of the game. Since most human impact happens at ground level, and I think it’s a waste to bicker over “climber issues” that really have no effect outside our little bubble. My FA rules: if its loose, break it off. If it cuts your skin, smooth it out. If there’s no bomber crack pro, bolt it. If it gets easy, space out the bolts to add a little thrill.
SEIC: Do you train for climbing?
DB: I used to train for everything – now I don’t have time so I just enjoy getting out and letting the chips fall.
SEIC: What’s in your Tape/CD/MP3 player right now?
DB: Tons of stuff most folks seem to hate. My fav’s of late are “Poet – A tribute to Townes Vansant” and Levon Helm’s “Dirt Farmer”.
SEIClimbing.com would like to thank Dave for taking the time for this interview and to say the next time you’re at the City of Rocks, Dierkes Lake or the Fins enjoying one of Dave’s routes, take a minute to consider what it took to make said route/crag happen.
And if you happen to see Dave out there, thank him for his contributions and hard work.