The core of Going Up is a collection of stories about those California rock climbers in the 1950’s who took to the big walls of Yosemite Valley. We were a very small group, fewer than twenty young men who also pioneered climbs at Tahquitz Rock, the southwest desert, the Tetons, and Canada. The book is also about growing up in those times, a kind of sociology of the nascent climbing scene.
I think of Steve Roper’s Camp 4 as a landscape and Royal Robbins’ My Life as portraits. I wanted to create a tapestry, to weave together as many of the elements of that era as I could manage and, if possible, to make them vivid and memorable.
Such a mish-mash of a book did not appeal to publishers with their gimlet eyes on the bottom line. I therefore started on the adventure of self-publishing. The good people at Self-Publishing, Inc. provided a lot of help at each stage, particularly when it came to designing the book. I commissioned the cover art from Erica Lyon, an artist whose work I had long admired on Access Fund T-shirts. Perhaps I am old-fashioned (or in my second childhood), but I still like the sensual pleasures of home cooking, going barefoot, and hard cover books with some heft to them. I hope you do, too.
Tom Frost and I perch on a ledge one-hundred feet from the top of El Capitan. The jagged granite isn’t comfortable, but it seems like a throne for all the regal scenes arrayed beneath our feet. Three-thousand feet below, the Merced River meanders through meadows and trees. The sun glints like silver off a quiet bend. Some fifty or sixty cars are parked along the road leading out of Yosemite Valley, and from our aerie we can barely make out clusters of people standing by the road or lying around in the meadow. They, or people like them, have been watching us for a week. There were not many at first, when we were closer to the ground and much easier to see, but as the days strung out, so did the line of cars. Now the watchers can hardly see us. We must look like ants. There have been times when I was among those on the ground. You can’t see much, even with binoculars. Rock climbing generally proceeds at the proverbial snail’s pace. Ants, snails—what kind of men are these anyway?
From Going Up Chapter 1
“[Going Up] is indeed excellent, literary in the best sense of the word. It’s surprising, stylistically courageous, discursive, self-assured, engaging, and generous in both substance and tone. . . .It gets the “business” of describing early climbing and climbers done with competence, but it does much more, giving context, reflection, nuance, and personal dimension to the climbing world of the ’50s.”
Malcolm Margolin, Publisher, Heyday Books
“Superb writing, as expected. Erudite, as expected. Insightful and wonderfully honest, as expected.
Steve Roper, author of Camp 4 and A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley
“[Going Up] is a fine ambitious effort to make a broader than usual narrative of a climbing life: it incorporates social and cultural history in deft packages. There are some magnificent touches here and there. The smell of bayleaf as the equivalent of the madeleine, for instance.”
“Often, the projects that last, that have legs, are quietly received and trotted out on a much smaller scale, owing to timeless content (rather than flavor-of-the-month); and because they are written to a niche group rather than to an amorphous mainstream. . . All of the successful writers I know have a smattering of books they always return to. These are special books that talk directly to us.
This is such a book.”
John Long (from the Foreword)
“Going Up is the best! While I wasn’t in the California scene it mirrors my experience of the ’50 and my two years in the army. I’ll recommend it to my climbing buddies and make them buy their own copies. Thanks so much for your work.
“It is a terrific book and I enjoyed reading it very much. The book is more than a memoir; it is also a cultural history of the small climbing culture in California in the 1950s and I learned much that I didn’t already know. Living most of those years in Colorado (boarding school and college) I knew the names of the California climbers of the times, but little else about them. They were mythical warriors that intimidated us since they could do climbs that were far beyond the ability of us in Colorado & Wyoming, at least until Kor appeared on the scene. My climbing background was entirely aimed at mountaineering, but we were fascinated by tales of the desert spires and granite faces that we read about being done by the Californians.”
Thanks for writing Going Up. To me it is a real piece of writing. I enjoyed it in several ways: as a personal historical narrow-band americana perspective; as a collection of detailed images of original essential Valley climber-living (and great vignettes of the human –and superhuman sides of climber-icons); and in its power to decode and present some of the passions and experiences which drive and connect some climbers, some musicians, and some seekers who have been connected to a golden age. Well done. For me (and surely many others) it tells the tale of my growing up. From the single mother, to the social fringe peer group, to the attraction to certain realms of intellect and ideals, to the pursuit of challenge and glory through climbing, your book was talking right to me. And it was both fun and affirming.”
“I recently had an enjoyable experience vicariously traveling through the fifties reading Joe Fitschen’s long awaited book. As an impressionable teenager I wandered into a climbing scene that had just been revolutionized by a group of bold young men. Aid climbs were going free, and new climbs harder than anything done before appeared at Tahquitz and Yosemite. Magnificent untouched spires were found and climbed in the desert. Joe was one of this band who found new ways to climb and live. I am grateful that he has recalled these fascinating times, and wish him well selling his book. It is available at his website,http://www.joefitschen.com/.”
Dick Erb (from SuperTopo)
“Just finished “Going Up, Tales Told Along the Road to El Capitan” by our own Joe Fitschen. Excellent read on the other side of the actual climbing, although there is plenty of that. You know, the everyday scene some of us went through: high school, girls, cars, girls, alcohol, girls and later drugs and girls and even a little bit of dealing with the “man.” Oh, and somewhere along that road climbing became a factor. Fitschen, Robbins, Chouinard, Herbert, Frost, Powell, Dolt, Wilson, Kamps and a multitude of other key players in the late 50s and early 60s. The lives and times of our 60s Golden Era generation. Damn, they were just regular guys! I highly recommend this book.”
Guido (from SuperTopo)
“I’d like to invite all who are interested in Royal’s life and in the climbs and other climbers of that era to read Joe Fitschen’s autobiography, “Going Up.” He writes nearly as much about Royal as he does about himself, and the reader gets deep insights into the minds and hearts of both of these guys during their formative years in L.A. and through the years that they were in the army and afterward. Excellent reading! Thank you, Joe.”
BooDawg (from SuperTopo)
“Though there are many climbs in the book, that final climb, of El Capitan, pays off, not only in that it ends the book’s actions, but in that by that time I feel some familiarity with climbing and can enter into the drama of that assent without unnecessary curiosity. And of course the culture: the travels, the time in Camp 4, the variety of people –all of them it would seem in some sort of transition (confusion about the future, etc.), yet coming together in a kind of “health” in the climbing. You never do philosophize (well, just a bit), and that is good in that it lets the ascents speak for themselves. And speak they do. One hell of a book Joe! Thanks so much for the pleasure of it.”
Toby Olsen, writer, winner of the 1983 Penn/Faulkner Award