“He always called me James instead of Jimmie.”
Jimmie Dunn told me these words each time I’ve had a conversation with him about his dear friend, the late Ed Webster, over these last few months. Jimmie has thousands of climbing stories and has climbed with hundreds of people, but it’s not hard to tell that Jimmie and Ed had a special bond.
Words by Luke Mehall, published in Volume 23 of The Climbing Zine, now available
(banner photo of James and Ed by Stewart Green)
The two were tied in, literally and figuratively, through this life, but the more I talked to Jimmie, the more I realized that their bond was unique in many ways.
“James: the first time I met you, I remembered thinking, this is the guy who soloed the first ascent of Cosmos on El Cap,” Ed wrote to Jimmie near the end of his life. “I was in awe then, when we met in 1975, and still in awe today.”
When Jimmie Dunn rope soloed Cosmos on El Capitan, he became the first person to ever solo a new route on the formation. As if that weren’t enough pressure, he faced death threats from a mob of California climbers who were upset about a Colorado climber on the line. (You can listen to Jimmie tell the story on Season 3 of our Dirtbag State of Mind podcast.)
Ed also had a penchant for rope soloing and first ascents, and Jimmie would often tell him about a new line he’d seen.
“I was psyched to turn Ed on to some wicked-cool things,” Jimmie said. “I told him about these climbs because I liked him. I didn’t want to keep climbs for myself.”
Two of those climbs were the Lightning Bolt Cracks on the North Six-Shooter in Indian Creek and the Primrose Dihedrals on Moses in Canyonlands.
“Ed was on fire; he lived for climbing,” Jimmie said of his late friend.
Both Ed and Jimmie were a part of the first ascent of Supercrack in Indian Creek. (The climb was originally named Luxury Liner by Earl Wiggins.) Jimmie had originally spotted the climb, and by a twist of fate, he lost a coin toss to Earl who led the historic first ascent. After losing the coin toss, Jimmie dropped some psychedelics, only adding to the lore and mystery of that historical day, surely setting the vibe for generations of Creek climbers to come.
Jimmie remembered thinking, “These climbs are better than the towers we’ve been doing. Someday this area is going to be great for training.”
Decades later, the first-ascent team reunited, and it was Ed who took the sharp end, in honor of Earl Wiggins, who died in 2003. They created a short film, Luxury Liner: The First Ascent of Supercrack, with Chris Alstrin.
Jimmie was invited for the reunion, but he didn’t make it, something he now regrets. He’s quick to turn that experience into a lesson to pass on to other climbers. “If you have a chance to reunite with your old climbing friends, it’s good to take advantage of that. You may never be with that group of people again for the rest of your life.”
Ed was inspired by Jimmie and vice versa. Today countless climbers enjoy Jimmie and Ed’s first ascents; we all have this opportunity to climb on the holds that they first touched. Jimmie noted that Ed really loved the history of climbing and the significance of a first ascent.
Above all, Jimmie loved and respected Ed’s humanity. One story that Jimmie remembers fondly is when Ed was giving a presentation to a group of school kids about his first ascent on Mt. Everest, an experience that left him with severe frostbite on his fingers.
“A kid raised his hand and said, ‘I got frostbite on my toes. Will I be okay?’ ” Dunn said. “He went and found the kid in the crowd there, got down on both knees, and got face-to-face with this kid. He put his hand on his shoulder. And he said, ‘Yes, you will be okay. You will be okay.’ ”
Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine. For years he followed in Jimmie Dunn’s and Ed Webster’s footsteps on the cliffs of The Creek, The Black, and beyond.
Luke is grateful for his friendship with Jimmie and hopes to continue to collaborate with him for many years to come. While working on this article, Jimmie shared with him that Ed would always sign off by writing, “Cheers, Ed.”
The campaign will preserve Ed’s extensive climbing archives and will also benefit his daughter.