Politics & Government

House honors first climbers to scale El Capitan

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers who blanched at a $700 billion financial rescue package have found time to honor the brave men who climbed Yosemite National Park's El Capitan peak a half-century ago.

Kicking off a round of commemorations, the House this week approved a resolution saluting three climbers who were the first to scale North America's tallest free-standing granite monolith. The resolution sets the stage for a 50th anniversary ceremony to be held in Yosemite next month.

"It's a landmark," Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, said Wednesday of the climb. "It was a really big deal."

The House resolution honors Wayne Merry, Fresno resident George Whitmore and Warren J. Harding, who took 47 days in 1957 and 1958 to climb El Capitan's so-called "Nose Route." Theirs was a full-blown siege, complete with sizable support crew, fixed ropes and established camps along the vertical way.

Today, climbers can race up the same route in two or three days. Some daredevils have done it in one; in July, two climbers did the Nose Route in two hours and 43 minutes.

The House resolution, too, moved speedily through what can be an obstacle-ridden path. Radanovich's office prepared the resolution at the behest of the National Park Service. The park service is now getting ready for its own commemoration of the event, scheduled for Nov. 8.

That was the date, 50 years ago, that the three-man climbing team made their final push toward the El Capitan summit.

"What they did 50 years ago is really significant in the history of the park," park spokesman Scott Gediman said, adding that "climbing really turned into a sport here in Yosemite."

The Nov. 8 event in Yosemite Valley will include auditorium presentations by Whitmore and Merry. Separately, Gediman noted, park officials are working with El Portal resident Ken Yager on the possibility of establishing a permanent rock climbing museum that would display some of the gear used in the park.

Radanovich, whose congressional district includes Yosemite, began soliciting congressional co-sponsors via e-mail Sept. 19. Three days later, with seven House co-sponsors signing on, it was formally introduced.

By Monday, even as most House members were consumed with the pending $700 billion bailout package, the Yosemite resolution was partnered up with a number of other non-controversial measures. These ranged from a resolution honoring the Coast Guard to a measure naming some Rappahannock River rapids after retiring Republican Virginia Sen. John Warner.

"Everyone wants to get their suspension items on the floor before Congress adjourns," Radanovich's press secretary, Spencer Pederson, said Wednesday.

The assorted resolutions zipped through the House by voice vote in the tumultuous aftermath of lawmakers rejecting the $700 billion financial bailout. The lighthearted mood that often accompanies the consideration of non-controversial, feel-good measures was noticeably absent. The resolution was passed literally in a matter of seconds, with no one -- including Radanovich -- taking time to speak about it.

By contrast, several San Joaquin Valley lawmakers took to the House floor several months ago to rave about the championship Fresno State Bulldogs baseball team as the House approved a similar slap-on-the-back resolution.

Harding, known as a hard-living soul, went on to author an entertaining memoir titled "Downward Bound" and passed away in February 2002. Merry went on to head the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Whitmore has been active in the local Sierra Club chapter, which has had a hot-and-cold relationship with Yosemite park management.