Jerry Gallwas

Jerry Gallwas (born 1936) is an American rock climber active in the 1950s during the dawn of the Golden Age of Yosemite Rock Climbing.[1][2] He achieved a number of notable first ascents in California and the American Southwest. Gallwas, a native of California, first showed an interest in climbing in junior high school. Using a Sierra Club publication drawing as a guide, he practiced rappelling on a hemp rope.[3]

Jerry Gallwas
Jerry Gallwas in 1950s, climbing near Yosemite Base Camp.
Born (1936-09-23) September 23, 1936
OccupationBusiness executive
Known forBig wall climbing
Spouse(s)Margaret Ann Rogers 1960-1994
Sundari "Sandy" Krishnamurthy 1996-
ChildrenRoger Ernst Gallwas, Heather Marie Cooney

Early life

Gerald Ernst (Jerry) Gallwas was born in Whittier, California, the only child of Ernst and Lois Gallwas. Gallwas' father held many jobs, including farmer, iron worker, and commercial fisherman. His mother was a school teacher. Both parents were outdoor enthusiasts.

In 1950, Gallwas and his family vacationed in Yosemite National Park. On the front of Best Studio, now the Ansel Adams Gallery, Gallwas spied a picture of John Salathé standing on the tip of the Lost Arrow taking a photograph of his climbing partner, Anton Nelson, as Nelson was rappelling. Gallwas imagined one day taking a photo of himself standing where Salathé stood. In 1954, Gallwas fulfilled that dream by completing the 5th ascent of the spire with Wayne Merry.[4]

Climbing experiences

In 1951, Gallwas began climbing with members of the Sierra Club, including Royal Robbins and Don Wilson. The group was known as "The Southern Californians", and Gallwas described his relationship with Robbins and Wilson as teenage amateurs in tennis shoes at Tahquitz (Lily Rock) for their vision of big climbs to come.[5][6] The vision started to become a reality when, in 1953, the three made the second ascent of the North Wall of Sentinel Rock.[7][8] Robbins showed little interest in desert climbing, so Gallwas teamed with Wilson and Mark Powell to make a series of pioneering first ascents of sandstone spires in the American Southwest. These included Spider Rock, Cleopatra's Needle, and the Totem Pole.[9][10][11][12] Bill Feuerer joined Gallwas, Wilson, and Powell on the Totem Pole ascent. Gallwas' final major ascent was the Northwest Face of Half Dome in the summer of 1957. On this climb, he teamed with Royal Robbins and Mike Sherrick.[13][14] The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome ascent was the first Grade VI climb in the United States.

Acquiring and manufacturing climbing gear

In the early 1950s, most American climbers imported climbing equipment from Europe or acquired it from US Army surplus. Pitons from these sources were made of mild steel that twisted and became unusable after only a few placements. Gallwas recognized the problem and was among the first to make and use heat-treated alloy-steal pitons. He patterned his pitons after John Salathé's so they could be placed hundreds of times without twisting. These improved pitons proved instrumental to the success of the first ascent of the Northwest Face of Half Dome in 1957. That same year, Yvon Chouinard began to produce and sell alloy-steel pitons. Chouinard's success with his pitons led him to establish Chouinard Equipment, Ltd, which later became Black Diamond Equipment, Ltd.

Notable ascents

  • 1953 2nd ascent Yosemite Point Buttress. (With Royal Robbins)
  • 1953 2nd ascent North Face Sentinel Rock. (With Royal Robbins and Don Wilson)
  • 1953 Palisades Traverse Thunderbolt Peak to Mount Sill via North Palisade. (With Gary Hemming)
  • 1954 5th ascent Lost Arrow Spire. (With Wayne Merry)
  • 1955 3rd ascent Lost Arrow Chimney. (With Charles Wilts and Don Wilson)
  • 1956 1st ascent Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ, USA, March 30. (With Mark Powell and Don Wilson)[15][16]
  • 1956 1st ascent East Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA, June 16. (With Mark Powell and Don Wilson)[17][18]
  • 1956 5th ascent Castle Rock Spire. (With Charles Wilts)
  • 1956 1st ascent Cleopatra's Needle, Valley of the Thundering Water, NM, USA, September 6. (With Mark Powell and Don Wilson)[19][20]
  • 1957 1st ascent The Step, Tahquitz Idylwild, CA, USA, May 18. (With Royal Robbins)[21]
  • 1957 1st ascent Totem Pole, Monument Valley, AZ, USA. June 13. (With Bill Feuerer, Mark Powell, and Don Wilson)[22][23]
  • 1957 1st ascent Northwest Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, CA, USA, June 23-27. First grade VI climb in America. (With Mike Sherrick and Royal Robbins)[24][25][26][27][28]

Business career

Gallwas studied chemistry at San Diego State University and later ran a laboratory while serving in the Army Chemical Corps. He went on to work in diagnostics for scientific instrument maker Beckman Instruments, Inc. in 1964. He served on the board of directors and as president of the National Committee for Clinical Laboratory Standards. Gallwas served as a spokesperson for the adoption of voluntary consensus standards for laboratory medicine at the Food and Drug Administration.


Gallwas met Beckman Instruments founder Dr. Arnold Beckman and his wife, Mabel, within a few weeks of joining the company. Their friendship led to Gallwas' 40-year affiliation with the Arnold and Mable Beckman Foundation. Gallwas is credited with collecting and displaying Arnold Beckman's earliest inventions that helped launch the electronic revolution in the chemical and biological sciences. The inventions are displayed at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Science and Engineering in Irvine, CA. Additional exhibits that Gallwas collected are housed at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia and at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.[29]


  1. Denny, Glen, Yosemite in the Sixties, Patagonia and T. Adler Books, 2007 ISBN 9780979065903
  2. Rober, Steve, Ed., Ordeal by Piton Writings From the Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing, Stanford University Libraries, 2003, ISBN 0-911221-26-3.
  3. Brower, David R., Ed.,p. 164, Manual of Ski Mountaineering, Brower, Second Edition, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1947.
  4. Schutt, Art, Yosemite Climbs, The Mugelnoos* No.258, p.1, June 10, 1954.
  5. Jones, Chris, Climbing in North America, pp.197-211, University of California Press, Berkeley, Lost Angeles, London, 1976, ISBN 0-520-02976-3.
  6. Wilts, Charles, Ed.,Climber's Guide to Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks, The American Alpine Club, Inc., New York, 1979, ISBN 0-930410-07-6.
  7. Robbins, Royal, Fail Falling, My Life, Vol. II, pp. 79-91, Pink Moment Press, California 2010, ISBN 978-0-9825000-2-6.
  8. Roper, Steve, Camp 4 Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p.58, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2004, ISBN 0-89886-587-5.
  9. Wilson, Don M., The First Ascent of Spider Rock, Vol. 42, No.6, Sierra Club Bulletin, June 1957.
  10. Wilson, Don, Cleopatra's Needle, Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 42, No.6, pp. 63-64, June 1957.
  11. Wilson, Don, The Totem Pole, Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 9, p. 72, November 1958.
  12. Bartlett, Setve "Crusher" (2010), Desert Towers: Fat Cat Summits and Kittle Litter Rock, pp. 37-50, Boulder, CO, USA, Sharp Edge Publishing LLC, 2010, ISBN 978-1-892540-70-6.
  13. Sherrick, Michael P., The Northwest Face of Half Dome, Vol. 43, No. 9, 1958, pp. 19-23, Sierra Club Bulletin.
  14. Fidelman, Dean and Long, John, Eds. Yosemite in the Fifties, The Iron Age, pp. 47-50, Patagonia, Ventura, 2015, ISBN 978-1-938340-48-2.
  15. The Mugelnoos, No. 280, p. 2, April 12, 1956
  16. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 6, pp.45-49, June 1957
  17. The Mugelnoos, No.283, p. 4, July 12, 1956
  18. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 6, p. 59, June 1957
  19. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 6, pp. 63-64, June, 1957
  20. The Mugelnoos, No. 286, p. 3, October 11, 1956
  21. The Mugelnoos, No. 294, p. 3, June 13, 1957
  22. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 9, p. 72, November 1958
  23. Summit Magazine, April, pp. 8-11, 1958
  24. The Mugglenoos, No. 295, July 11, 1957
  25. The Mugglenoos, No. 297, p.4, September 12, 1957
  26. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 10, pp. 12-13, December 1957
  27. Sierra Club Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 9, pp. 19-23, November 1958
  28. T. Adler Books (2013), California Surfing and Climbing in the Fifties,, Distributed Art Publishers, p.67, ISBN 978-1-938922-26-8
  29. Thackray, Arnold and Meyers, Jr., Minor, Arnold O. Beckman One Hundred Years of Excellence, Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia 2000, ISBN 0-941901-23-8.
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