It was a Wednesday morning in early October when I first met Rick Accomazzo in Boulder Canyon to go climbing.
That day he was wearing an Access Fund shirt, and in big letters it said “25 years of protecting America’s climbing.” He was one of the founding members of the organization.
Accomazzo was also core member of Yosemite Stone Masters from the 1973-1980.
We climbed several times over the next few weeks, sometimes revisiting his old favorites, including boulder problems at Flagstaff Mountain, and on lines he frequented decades earlier with legendary ‘60s climber Pat Ament. And at Castle Rock, which he hadn’t revisited since the ‘70s. At age 61, he climbed smoothly and powerfully, with 45 years of experience under his belt.
We conducted the following interview over a bottle of wine at his home in South Boulder.
How was the Access Fund started?
In 1985 it started out as the Access Committee for the American Alpine Club (AAC). Founding members were Armando Menical, Randy Vogel, David Rossenstein Michael Jimmerson, Stewart Pregnall, Jim Angell and others. It started because climbing areas were being closed for liability reasons.
Landowners were concerned that climbers who got hurt on their property would sue them. Those worries were greatly exaggerated; some of our first successes in opening closed climbing areas were accomplished by reassuring landowners and land managers that climbers weren’t going to sue them for millions of dollars and there was little risk.
What are some of the highlights?
The Access Fund has taken action at every climbing area in the country. Whether it be opening a previously closed area to climbers or reducing environmental impacts such as building trails to prevent erosion or eliminating impacts on wildlife. That’s what we do.
I saw the GQ Style Fall 2016 issue that called out the Stone Masters for their excellent taste in fashion (“They weren’t the first to climb mountains. They were just the first to make it look this cool”). Can you expand on that?
It turns out that headbands and painter’s pants were ahead of their time! There were reasons for both: the headbands kept your hair our of your eyes when you were making a hard move, and the white painter’s pants were literally cool, as they reflected the hot summer sun of Yosemite.
When did your group start going by the Stone Masters?
Around 1972, a year after we started climbing. I was 17. Our original group consisted of John Long, Mike “Gramicci” Graham, Gib Lewis, John Bachar, and Rob Muir. You had to have climbed Valhalla, a 5.11 climb at Suicide Rock, to call yourself a Stone Master. That was the hardest climb at our local crags in Southern California.
We competed and tried to out do one another but we were all good friends. Johnny [Long] was the catalyst of the group—early on he was the best climber and was, and still is, tremendous fun to be around.
What happened after the Stone Masters era?
As the group migrated to Yosemite, the term Stone Masters broadened to include a whole cast of characters that hung out in the Park: Dale Bard, Jim Bridwell, Kevin Worrall, Mark Chapman and host of others. It basically meant anyone who was a good climber, who hung out in Camp 4, or anyone who was an expert at getting high—it was broad. ‘That guy’s a real Stone Master,’ could apply to a great climber, or a great stoner, so that was a real double entendre.
Sport climbing changed the cohesion of the group and created strife because some people embraced sport climbing (top-down bolting) and Bachar was a zealot about climbing routes from the ground up. He thought sport climbing was cheating.
What happened next?
I spent two seasons in Chamonix, ’76 and ’77, and after the second trip I started law school in San Diego and dialed down the climbing in that time. In 1980 I passed the bar, got married and moved to Boulder, Colorado. From then on I was not involved in the Yosemite scene and missed a lot of the drama of sport climbing versus traditional climbing.
What kind of law do you practice?
I do real estate and commercial litigation. Around 1985 I started getting involved with the AAC Access Committee, which was an opportunity to combine my lawyering skills with my love of climbing and be an advocate for keeping climbing areas open. We wanted to preserve access to all climbing crags.
How can people help protect crags today?
The first thing to do is to become a member of the Access Fund, because it’s working to keep you climbing. Go to accessfund.org and learn how you can get involved in local projects such as trail building and trash clean ups. If you use the crags, you should help preserve them.