Before sticky rubber, bolts, and chalk—heck, before harnesses—Norman Clyde, wearing army boots, was bagging summits throughout the Sierra Nevadas, leading vertical rock on hip belay. The original dirtbag climber, Clyde made the Sierras his home for more than 60 years, beginning in 1910. Dubbed “the pack that walks like a man,” he would carry 95-pound loads, including accessories like a Colt handgun, iron cooking pot, and even an anvil for boot repair. Nevertheless, in 1923, he summited 36 peaks in 36 days, solo, in Glacier National Park.
“I sort of went off on a tangent from civilization and never came back,” explains Clyde in Robert Pavlik’s Norman Clyde: Legendary Mountaineer of California’s Sierra Nevada ($14.95, heydaybooks.com). The stories bring to life Clyde’s passionate personality, with anecdotes of everything from Clyde shooting at student vandals on Halloween while working as a high-school principal, to Clyde pitching in during scores of successful search-and-rescue operations throughout the Northwest. With his unparalleled knowledge of the Sierras, Clyde forged the path, in his own words, “between the pioneers and the real rock climbers.”