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A Climber We Lost: Harry Daley

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.

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You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Editor’s Note: Though not as widely known as his contemporaries from the 1960s California scene—the likes of Royal Robbins, Bob Kamps, Tom Frost, and Yvon Chouinard—Harry Daley was nonetheless a key figure in American rock climbing. In 1960, he established a new route on Monday Morning Slab in Yosemite; the two-pitch jam crack that came to bear his name remains a trade route to this day, and marks a rite of passage for Yosemite climbers. Daley was also a regular on the sandstone boulders of Stoney Point outside Los Angeles, where he and TM Herbert quickly fell in with Royal Robbins—America’s leading climber—and Robbins’s crew.

Recalls Yvon Chouinard, “There was a group of Southern California climbers that came out of the Sierra Club Rock Climbing Chapter: Royal Robbins, TM Herbert, Bob Kamps, Dave Rearick, and I were part of that group”—as was Daly. “We all climbed at Stoney Point in the winter. Bouldered there and learned to climb there, then we’d pretty much go to Tahquitz and then to the Valley. [Harry] was part of that whole group. He climbed a bunch in the Valley; he liked friction climbing a lot.”

In 1961, Daley, Robbins, and Janie Taylor (now Taylor Levy) established El Camino Real (5.10a) on Tahquitz Rock, an early 5.10 and a cutting-edge route, still prized for its clean, aesthetic third-pitch layback. That same year, also at Tahquitz, Robbins and Daley put up the 5.9 Lizard’s Leap. Says Taylor Levy, “I remember Harry as engaging, funny, and kind. Fun to be around, for sure.” Daley’s best-known first ascent is surely the Northeast Face of Pingora (IV 5.8) in the Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming, a route he and Jim Yensan scooped Fred Beckey on by just a few days. Climbing endless clean cracks and corners on the spire-like, 11,884-foot peak, the climb, established in August 1962, is one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, and sees countless ascents during the busy summer months.

What follows is a tribute to Daley written by his younger son, Eric. Daley was 85 at the time of his passing, in January 2022.

Harry Daley, 85, January 5

In 2022 the climbing community lost an original member of the Yosemite Climbing Club, one whose first ascent was immortalized in the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.

Harry Daley was born in 1936 in Southern California but was raised in and around Texas and Oklahoma. He attended over 12 schools by the time he was a senior in high school. Post-graduation, he served in the Navy for two years; upon his honorable discharge, he returned to Southern California, where he and a high school friend, TM Herbert, spent their free time stargazing and, during the daylight hours, bouldering in the high-desert area of Lancaster.

The two budding climbers took a knot-tying course taught by Joe Fitschen; then, in search of objectives beyond the local boulders, they contacted the Sierra Club and were referred to Chuck Wilts, who told them about Tahquitz and Stoney Point. TM and Harry bought a 200-foot half-inch-diameter hemp rope, some soft pitons, a few steel carabineers, and a guidebook to Tahquitz. On Sundays, they’d head to Idyllwild and other nearby climbing hotspots, teaching themselves to climb. At Tahquitz, they worked out a method of belaying, which they used on The Trough, at 5.0 the easiest climb in the guide. They finished the climb, scared about the exposure but thrilled by their accomplishment. By the end of summer 1957, they were climbing 5.7s, having advanced step-by-step through the grades.

It was while climbing at Stoney Point that they met Bob Kamps, Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, and Royal Robbins. Soon, Harry and TM ventured to Yosemite to try more challenging objectives.

Harry Daley on the Southwest Face of Half Dome (July 1, 1961).
Harry Daley on the Southwest Face of Half Dome (July 1, 1961). (Photo: Tom Frost)

In Yosemite, Harry did many climbs, including the first ascents of Monday Morning Slab, a route that still bears his name and is a frequent destination for students and aspiring climbers; the center route on Little John; and Slab Happy Pinnacle. During a September 1999 climbers’ reunion in Yosemite, Harry was discussing a climb he’d established. Suddenly, a climber stepped forward and objected, claiming that he—not Harry—had made the route’s first ascent. The climber demanded that Harry describe the climb, but then cut him off after three sentences, flatly stating that Harry had obviously done the climb and had beaten him to the first ascent by almost a decade. Harry also climbed in the Tetons, the Wind River Range, Colorado, and the Gunks.

Harry’s most famous climb was the first ascent of the Northeast Face of Pingora in the Winds. In August 1962, Harry and the newcomer Jim Yensan hiked to the base of Pingora. The first pitches went smoothly, Jim and Harry switching leads. Harry made some brilliant moves over a small ceiling, executing a difficult layback by using tension. When Jim was leading again, he negotiated a series of grassy hummocks by repeating successive mantelshelf moves.

Later, the two climbers came to the base of a steep face split by two difficult cracks; Jim fell twice, while Harry held the belay. Harry convinced Jim to keep going, as the only way off the mountain was over the top. They climbed steadily, Harry leading as the wall steepened, depositing them on a small ledge below an ominous ceiling. Harry studied the problem, which required a horizontal layback, and after few quick moves was past the difficulties. Higher, Harry let out a yodel as they neared the top. The two climbers summited at dark, elated at having climbed one of the most beautiful peaks in the Winds.

Back at the trailhead, they were dismayed to find that their car battery had died; they were pushing the car out when none other than Fred Beckey approached, asking if they’d been fishing. Jim, who did not recognize Beckey, responded by recounting their accomplishment on Pingora. Beckey bemoaned the fact that Harry and Jim had beaten him to the climb by mere days.

Bouldering at Stoney Point, California, in 1961.
Bouldering at Stoney Point, California, in 1961. From left: Harry Daley, Tom Frost, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard. (Photo: Roger Brown)

Harry was nominated for the American Alpine Club by Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, and his membership was accepted without challenge. Harry did his last climb with Frost in the month before my birth, as thereafter he chose to dedicate his time and energy to providing for and raising a family in the mountains outside Boulder, Colorado. He worked as an electrician and photography hobbyist while living in Colorado for 53 years. Harry Daley died at his home in Southern Colorado of natural causes on January 5, 2022, his health having declined precipitously in the preceding three weeks. He was 85 years old, and is survived by his wife of 54 years, two sons, one grandson, and five granddaughters.

Eric Daley