The Song Remains The Same

Andrew Burr  /  3 Min Read  /  Climbing

How a father and son found a way to climb one of Utah's most sought-after ice routes in a bygone era.

Andy Knight picks his spot on pitch 4 of Provo Canyon's Stairway to Heaven; this was the last pitch of the FA in 1975. Nowadays, the route can go on for several more pitches if the ice is right.

On a winter’s morning in 1975, Burgie, the Land Cruiser, rumbled up the highway at the bottom of Provo Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Ice dripped from the steep rock walls and a warm southern wind blew softly. Jim Knight and Mark Ward approached the first pitch, known as the Apron. Dressed in blue jeans and wool sweaters, they climbed with confidence—authoring one of Utah’s finest and most sought-after ice routes.

Nearly a half-century later, 44 years to be exact, Jim and his son, Andy, repeated the route, using mostly Jim’s old gear. I ended up joining them after an unscripted call to Andy, inquiring if he was climbing the next day. The reply: a simple “Yup, climbing with my dad, you wanna join?”

Andy wanted to repeat his father’s route in the original style to experience what it felt like to climb in a bygone era. Resurrected from a bedroom closet, the shafts of the tools were rewaxed, the rusty points of crampons sharpened, ovals were gathered, ice screws racked, and musty sweaters and jackets donned. For this somewhat historical reenactment, Jim would belay Andy.

The weather wasn’t an exact replica. Rather, quite the opposite. Snow blew sideways and the cold was bone-chilling. The straight shafts were pumpy and the mittens cumbersome. Using ice tools to twist the outdated screws was time-consuming. Andy smiled the whole time, loving every minute of it. I felt similarly. Watching Jim and Andy, a generation apart yet together on this historic route, was by far one of the most significant climbing experiences I’d ever photographed. On the drive home, I half expected the climb’s namesake song to come on the radio. It didn’t, but in my mind I inserted an eight-track tape of Led Zeppelin into the dash of Burgie.

The Song Remains The Same

Full of stoke on Andy’s part, with Jim a bit concerned about the conditions.

The Song Remains The Same

The Chouinard-Frost and the Chouinard Zero (hidden from view) with their straight wooden shafts, swinging again in Andy’s hands.

The Song Remains The Same

Jim, always attentive at the belay, tells stories about the first ascent. Andy climbing in the original gear conjured up dozens of memories from 1975—his dark, curly hair reminiscent of Mark Ward on the FA, bringing Jim back to this very same belay.

The Song Remains The Same

Racked with Salewa Warthogs, Lowe Snargs (which weren’t used on the FA) and the original wide-thread Chouinard Tubular Ice Screws, Andy climbs the steep and committing second pitch in full-on conditions. Don’t forget he’s wearing blue jeans and a sweet old Great Pacific Iron Works parka.

The Song Remains The Same

Original crampons with new leather straps.

The Song Remains The Same

In the parking lot after the climb: Andy is amazed with the difficulty, both physically and mentally, of climbing with his dad’s old gear.

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