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The Rich History of Rock Climbers in the Sierra Nevada Preserved in New Book

Rites of Passage was written by Californian E.C Joe and collects stories of unique and thrilling climbs in mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
Posted at 12:02 PM, Jan 29, 2024

KERNVILLE, Calif. — “Our story had never been told.”

That’s E.C Joe, a Californian native with Bakersfield roots that started rock climbing in the seventies, traversing the Sierra Nevada mountains and completing first ascents.

“Where no person has been there prior to that, so you’re exploring and going into the unknown.”

On Thursday the Kern Valley Historical Society hosted Joe, where he spoke about the fear, exhaustion, and triumphs while rock climbing in California.

“It’s like going to the moon. You’re going someplace that no man has ever been before. It’s purely exhilarating,” said John Newman, President of the Kern River Valley Historical Society, who used to rock climb himself.

“Zen. It’s teaching you where you fit into the world. It’s a responsibility, there’s no room for any kind of misinterpretation,” Newman said.

E.C Joe discussed his new book, Rites of Passage, which compiles stories the experiences of climbers Sierra Nevada, many written by him, but some written by others - recalling grueling but ultimately rewarding trips.

“We had to commit ourselves to more than a week in the back country with just ourselves to climb a route just as steep as El Capitan also, where we couldn’t retreat," said Joe, talking about a climbing experience he had traveling to a rock face that had never been ascended.

The experiences recalled are visceral, pleasure coming from pain

“That is one of my most treasured experiences, even though it’s quite a bit of suffering and probably life threatening,” said Joe.

"You're responsible for yourself and you’re responsible for the other person on the end of that rope. Otherwise, you don’t go home," Newman said.

Featuring photos, illustrations, and diagrams, the book gives you an intimate look at the experiences of climbers during a time when the Sierra Nevada was a little more wild.

Rote of Passage is now available at the Kern Valley History Museum for purchase.

“I want to encourage others to write their own stories, there are a lot of stories out there from similar people that were out there back in the day, or even today, to catalog their adventures and share them,” said Joe.

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