Tom Frost + Camp 4 National Historic Site

Contributed by Evan Mikula

Tucked away amongst the boulders of Yosemite Valley lies a small and unimpressive camp site known as Camp 4. Any decent person might regard the camp site as dirty, lacking in the essentials of modern civilized life, but to a number of rock climbers Camp 4 is home. Tom Frost is one such climber who grew up here in the late 1950s and throughout the 60s. He, along with other famous climbers such as Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, and Yvon Chouinard, tested themselves on the nearby boulders before they embarked on the high adventure of pioneering some of the most impressive and notable climbs in North America. Tom Frost himself was a part of a number of notable first ascents including the Salathe Wall in 1961, the North American Wall in 1964, and the second ascent of the Nose of El Capitan in 1960.

He was also a preservationist, one in a long tradition of Yosemite’s guardians.

In 1997 there was a flood in Yosemite National Park that destroyed the main bulk of employee housing in the park. The Park Service proposed to build a new dormitory complex on the site of Camp 4. When Tom Frost heard of this, he put his foot down. It had been more than thirty years since his time in Camp 4, but Frost recalled, “I spent some of the best times of my life in Camp 4.” Frost spearheaded the fight to save his home and the home of so many other climbing dirtbags. He filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service and gained the help of the American Alpine Club to support him. Frost fought the law of the land and he won, the plans were dropped and he even was able to convince the Park Service to place Camp 4 on the National Register of Historic Places for “its significant association with the growth and development of rock climbing in the Yosemite Valley during the golden years of pioneer mountaineering.”

In a 2009 retrospective interview Frost spoke to the historical gravity of Camp 4:

When we had the fight to save Camp 4, Bruce Babbit made an analogy in his speech that the original Camp 4 climbers were like the Founding Fathers and Independence Hall. At the time, I thought it was overstated, but then realized he understood Camp 4 better than I did. The Founding Fathers had tried to set a standard we could live by, and the pioneers of the Yosemite had a similar vision for the climbing community.

In our Camp 4 days we felt humbled, and also empowered, by the walls. Climbing was so big for us. We wondered how much of what we gained from it was, or would be, transferable to “real life”. Over the years our experience faded but who we were, who we had become, continued with us. Looking back, I realize that traditional climbing, and the whole Camp 4 way, is a very good model for life.

Tom Frost knew the importance of having a sense of place and the important lessons we can learn from Mother Nature. In today’s day and age, nature as a whole is threatened— bills to destroy the EPA, actions being made to revoke National Monument designations, and politicians who do not believe that humans are somewhat responsible for climate change. There may be a lot to despair about, but there should be even more to fire us up! To stand up like Tom and fight for the places we care about. To quote the sage himself: “Nature nurtures, shows the way, and is always there.” Now it is our turn, we must nurture, we must show the way, and we must always be there to stand up for our lands!

Image courtesy of Frost Works Climbing

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