Wednesday, July 08, 2009
John Bachar passed away over the weekend. He died doing what he loved, and ironically did better than perhaps anyone in history, soloing. He was 52.
Though I’ve known John for over 20 years he was never more than an acquaintance. I wasn’t sure whether to post something about him or not but it just seems wrong not to. There’s a thread at Super Topo with comments from many of his closest friends. If you knew him or are interested in his life, it’s the place to pay your respects:
Oddly enough, I had a small group of friends in town the night he died. As climbing is a small world, most of us knew him. We raised our glasses and told Bachar stories all night.
John was a hero of mine when I started climbing, as he probably was for everyone who began climbing in the 80s. This pic adorned my wall for most of my formative years in the sport. When I first met him it was like meeting a rock star for me. Coming from LA, I’d met a lot of celebs. He was, by far, the one that meant the most. But climbing celebrity is different. We sat in front of the Mountain Shop in Yosemite, alone, talking for an hour or so about the world of climbing. He didn’t know me at all.
He was, without a doubt, the best climber in the world for a period of time in the late 70s and early 80s. He was an odd dude, a bit of an enigma, but I also found him honest and straightforward. I always liked him.
People say that he mellowed with age, but I’m not sure that’s correct. My last few conversations with him centered on government conspiracies that, the more I learn, the more I’m likely to believe. He had a “Bush Knew” sticker on his truck, which is probably at the edge of that spectrum, but it’s pure Bachar. Opinionated and controversial; a position he’d defend with passion.
I think my favorite Bachar story is one I just read in Jerry Moffat’s biography Revelations. Moffat, too, found Bachar confusing; “capable of some of the most frustrating and incomprehensible behavior I have come across. At the same time, …also capable of the most amazing displays of generosity.” He could be cold, aloof, and downright unfriendly if you were crossing his personal line of ethics (which many did in the climbing world). Moffat wasn’t sure if Bachar liked him or not, until he got injured and couldn’t climb. Unable to heal his injury, he got a call from Bachar who recommended he see a specialist in LA, who treated pro athletes. John paid for his treatments.
Bachar was a soul climber; someone who doesn’t just climb for fun, but to live. Like an artist who paints or a writer who writes, whether they’re being paid or not, Bachar went climbing. I think it’s fitting he died this way. Too early, too gruesome; but fitting. He will be missed.
“Every day I go out and climb, like a dancer who works on his dance. He probably has some goals, some pieces he would like to perform, but his main goal is to work on his dance. This is how he expresses himself. Both he and I are interested in the same thing. It’s the dance that counts.” – John Bachar 1957 – 2009