|NATIONAL PARKS QUICKLINKS|
Backpacker Magazine – February 1998
He rocked the world of climbing, challenged the accepted wisdom in sea kayaking, and now Ray Jardine turned his renegade way of thinking to backpacking.
Traveling light is only one component of The Ray Way, though. Good nutrition, safety, and an understanding of the psychological factors that come into play on a long hike are also part of the package. The key, Jardine stresses, is to choose what suits you. "The ideas in my book are like fruit on a produce stand. Even though each component fits into an overall system, people can take what they want from my ideas, and integrate that into their own style. Put what you want in your shopping basket, and leave the rest."
Despite his take-it-or-leave-it attitude, some of Jardine's suggestions were interpreted by others as radical, even dangerous. From more traditional backpackers came an angry backlash that frankly surprised him. Jardine recognized the landscape, though, because being in the crossfire of controversy was familiar ground. In some ways it was inevitable that he would end up there. When an intellect as big and unencumbered by conventional thinking as Jardine's is focused on a problem, the solution is going to be original, possibly even spectacular, and probably socially unacceptable.
In 1977 Jardine sent a shock wave through the climbing world by putting up the hardest climbing route ever done to that point in time. It was the culmination of nearly a decade spent in the Yosemite Valley climbing progressively harder routes, pushing the limits of what was technically possible. Those were years, remembered fondly now, spent in the company of a close circle of climbing buddies. "We'd meet each morning at the cafeteria to decide what we'd climb that day. It sure beat going to work."
Jardine's stint in the 9-to-5 world had ended, and his odyssey through the various disciplines of the outdoor world had begun, in 1969. Fresh off a climbing vacation in South America, he returned to his cubicle at Southern California's Martin Marietta where he was a space-flight mechanics systems analyst. He took one look at the piles of computer print-outs and realized the life he wanted was to be found elsewhere.
"The whole world is out there," he remembers thinking, "and here I am in my sterile cubicle. I'm going to have to do the unthinkable." He knew he had no choice. To the enduring shock of his employer and family, he got up, followed his heart, and walked away from a secure and lucrative career.
He wandered around the Cascades and Rockies, working as an Outward Bound instructor for a while before winding up in Yosemite Valley, where he discovered rock climbing and started designing equipment for the sport (when he wasn't hang gliding off the local precipices or sea kayaking in Mexico). He'd been drawn to Yosemite, the crucible of climbing, by the long, smooth cracks that abound in its sheer walls. One route in particular caught his eye, a line above Cascade Falls no one had climbed. Jardine made dozens of attempts on the seemingly impossible crack and in 1977 finally succeeded. The Phoenix, as he dubbed it, was the world's first 5.13 climb, and what had made it possible was a radical new mechanical contraption of Jardine's own invention.
During the Yosemite years, Jardine had experimented with various devices to protect a climber from falling, particularly out of cracks. Existing protection, such as pitons, bongs, and hexcentrics, had a nasty way of working free, leaving the climber dangerously exposed. After tedious trial-and-error he eventually perfected a spring-loaded cam design that could fit cracks of varying widths yet still withstand the force generated by a falling climber. He called the devices "friends."