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Item #: BK182B-274
ON EDGE: THE LIFE AND CLIMBS OF HENRY BARBER. Chip Lee 1982 1st ed Hardcover No DJ Near Fine
By Lee, Chip, with David Roberts and Kenneth Andrasko
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Boston, 1982, 1st edition. 291 pp, photos. Hardcover, No DJ, Near Fine.

The story of Hot Henry Barber, who in the 1970s may have been the greatest rock climber in the world. 

Nicknamed "Hot Henry," Barber was an advocate of clean climbing, a prolific first ascentionist and free soloist. He was one of the first American rock climbers to travel widely to climb in different countries. Barber was also one of the first 'professional' American rock climbers, supporting himself as a 'gear rep' for outdoor equipment companies, and by giving lectures and slide shows. He was an integral member of the 'Leading Four' quartet of the 1970s: Henry, John Stannard, Steve Wunsch, and John Bragg

At age 17, Barber started climbing with the Boston chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club Although initially not athletically gifted, he became obsessed with the sport, and persevered, climbing as much as possible. By his own account, Henry climbed approximately 270 days in 1972; 325 in 1973. Around 1980 he told me he was still climbing about 300 days a year.

In 1973, Henry did the second ascent of Foops, an intimidating 5.11 route in the Gunks; this was five years after John Stannard had done the pioneering first ascent. This demonstrates the climbs difficulty as at popular crags like the Gunks once a first ascent is put up, the second ascent usually follows within days or at the most a few weeks.

Barber was known for always climbing in his trademark white golfers' cap and white painters' pants, as well as his abrasive and arrogant demeanor. Henry was one of the few climbers of his era to actively seek and use media attention. His repertoire of moves, creativity, and problem solving abilities, and his tremendous self confidence and mental control, set him apart from his contemporaries.

Henry Barber was also one of the first advocates of clean climbing, climbing with only nuts for protection. Henry was an active climber before the era of spring loaded camming devices that made protecting cracks without pitons feasible. One of Barber’s specialties was doing the first free ascent of established aid climbs.

Barber was a prolific soloist. He did a number of on-sight solo first ascents. In 1973, Barber soloed the Steck-Salathe route on Sentinel Rock in Yosemite National Park. The solo ascent, done on-sight in 2 1/2 hours, first brought Barber to prominence as a leading rock climber.

In 1976 Henry (along with Steve Wunsch, who later made a fortune on Wall Street) traveled to Dresden East Germany along with Fritz Wiessner, to be the first Americans to climb there. Wiessner had learned rock climbing around Dresden early in the century. Tradition (and soft, fragile sandstone) demanded that rock climbers use no metal for protection; relying instead only on knotted nylon slings jammed into cracks to hold a leaders' fall. Climbers were expected to climb barefoot, and to abstain from the use of gymnasts' chalk. Barber was impressed with the rigors and difficulty of climbing around Dresden; the Dresden climbers were impressed with Henry's ability, although they also thought him too reckless, especially in the area of free soloing.

Barber was well traveled, at a time when rock climbers generally didn't stray far from their home crags. His style was to show up at an area and blow the local standards out of the water. In one trip he single-handedly jumped technical standards in Australia by more than a number grade. Other accomplishments include first ascent of the often tried Butterballs in Yosemite with an almost mystical on-sight; blazing a trail of desperate first ascents in the Gunks; onsight free-soloing dozens of routes on many different rock types in many different countries, up to hard 5.10, at a time when the 5.11 grade was only starting to solidify.

Barber climbed at Mount Arapiles in Australia; Dresden; Great Britain; Scotland; Russia; Mexico; as well as climbing all over the United States, from the crags of New England to Yosemite in California, and (seemingly) most crags in between.

In 1978, Henry and partner Rob Taylor attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania by a new route. Taylor fell while leading steep ice, and broke his ankle very badly. The exact details of what happened following the accident vary according to which of the two parties is telling the story. What is known is that Barber helped Taylor descend; got him to a hospital; and then left to fly back to the United States to keep a speaking commitment. Taylor nearly lost his leg at the hospital, and felt abandoned by his partner. After he recovered, he wrote articles and a book called The Breach, painting Barber in a very unflattering light.


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