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This feature first appeared in Climbing’s 120th issue (summer 1990) under the title “A Turn of the Cards.” We’ve migrated it from the archive to the internet in order to celebrate the life of Yosemite legend Mike Corbett, who passed away on May 8th at the age of 68. During Corbett’s long career as a Yosemite climber, he helped dozens of climbers—including Mark Wellman during his first paraplegic ascent, and Jim Bridwell on his final jaunt up the Big Stone—achieve their dream of climbing El Cap.
But Corbett was also, as John Middendorf’s iconic story relates, a participant in one of the most miserable-sounding big wall epics in Yosemite history.
We suggest you read on.
Mike Corbett, Yosemite Legend, Has Passed Away
It was early spring 1986, Camp Four parking lot, Yosemite Valley.
“So what have you got in mind, Bob?” I asked my friend, who’d just showed up in the Valley.
In his usual soft voice—his sentences tend to trail off at their ends—Bob said, “I want to try soloing The Prow.”
Fresh in my mind was the memory of a recent rescue on The Prow (V 5.10a A3), a classic aid line on the east face of Washington Column. During it I had been given the honor of lowering down to the climbers, one of whom happened to be a good friend, then jumaring back up with them.
I gave Bob a sideways look. In my two-and-a-half-year tenure as a member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue team, I had been involved with dozens of lift-offs, and I was both smug and quick to dole out patronizing advice. “Just don’t get rescued,” I said flatly.
Bob looked nonplussed, but before he had time to think, asked, “Why?” Because, I thought, rescues are serious undertakings, and getting rescued doesn’t do a thing for your reputation with the Valley denizens, much of whose inner language centers around such events. “Rescue bait,” they call certain less-promising big wall climbers. All I said was, “I don’t know, that’s just the way it is around here.”
Several weeks later, two of my rescue-team friends and I would …….