Jeff Jardine: Riverbank man zeroing in on 100th Half Dome ascent

10/01/2013 12:32 AM

10/01/2013 1:00 AM

From the emails and voice mails:

UPS AND DOWNS – During the summer of 2005, a friend invited Riverbank resident Steve Hutton to climb Yosemite’s Half Dome. He accepted and went along, but couldn’t make it to the top.

“I was too out of shape,” Hutton said.

The failure bothered him, so he began training. A second try that same summer met the same result. But he reached the summit on his third, on Sept. 17 of that year.

“When I got back down, I called my wife and told her it was the dumbest thing I’d ever done and that I’d never do it again,” Hutton said. “I woke up the next morning and I was really sore, but I’d decided by Monday I was going to go up again the next weekend.”

That was nine years, 50 pounds and 92 climbs ago. Yes, he’s climbed Half Dome 92 times, and is mapping out the schedule for his 100th ascent.

“I’ll make seven of the climbs next summer, and then the 100th on Sept. 14,” Hutton said. In fact, he’s already scoping out lodging reservations for numerous friends who plan to be there on his big day. And he’s hoping to secure the climbing permits ahead of time as well, if National Park officials will allow it.

What began as a personal challenge has morphed into an obsession that has benefited him physically. At 55, he’s in better cardiovascular shape than he was a decade ago, as his doctor would attest. The training forced him to focus on better nutrition. He’s dropped 50 pounds – weight he no longer packs up and down the mountain.

“He tells me, ‘Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it,’” Hutton said of his doctor.

After making several climbs, he focused on completing 50 of them. Once he reached that milestone during an Aug. 9, 2009, night climb, “my wife (Gail), said, ‘Why not go for 100?’”

So he reset the bar to scale Half Dome 100 times within 10 years of his first one.

He’s done climbs on consecutive days, but mostly one per weekend. He planned to make No. 90 on Sept. 1, but smoke from the Rim fire forced him to postpone. A day later, though, the wind shifted and he ascended the rock, adding two more climbs before shutting down for the season.

No. 100 will be his last.

“I’m a competitive racquetball player and a (cyclist),” he said. “I’m also 55.”

Being on the rock when it was wet and slick convinced him it should be a younger person’s adventure or obsession.

“I’m at the chiropractor’s office,” he said as we chatted Monday.

Even so, eight more ascents beckon.

ALIAS McHENRY – My column Sunday on how McHenry Museum researcher Janet Lancaster discovered that McHenry family patriarch Robert McHenry, born Robert Henry Brewster in Vermont in 1827, had deserted the Army in the late 1840s and resurfaced in the valley as Robert McHenry by 1850, drew some interesting emails and calls.

McHenry, Lancaster found, was a direct descendant of Mayflower Compact co-author William Brewster.

Bruce Jones of Modesto wrote, “... since I was a kid, my family told me I was related to elder William Brewster, he of Mayflower fame, but I have no more info – I never did trace my lineage backwards – I was more interested in the forward – but if true, I presume I am also related to the now notorious Robert McHenry Brewster.”

Livingston resident Lowell Paulsen called to say that McHenry would have been kinfolk to Kingman Brewster, who served as Yale University’s president from 1963 until 1977 and then four years as the U.S. ambassador to England. He knew some Brewster kin when he lived back East.

“They were all upper class,” he said.

CIRCLE GAME – Hang around long enough, and things seem to come full circle, or at least semicircle. The Red Caboose restaurant once was a favorite in Oakdale at what became the corner of F Street (aka Highway 120/108) and Maag Road. It consisted of a main restaurant building flanked by a couple of old railroad cars converted into dining rooms. When my wife and I moved to Oakdale in 1988, the Red Caboose was a busy place. You parked either on a dirt/gravel lot or on the concrete foundation left behind after they flattened the old Williams Hatchery next door. Inside, the train theme dominated even though the Sierra Railroad tracks are about a mile to the south and nowhere near the old eatery site.

Sometime around 1989 or 1990, the Red Caboose moved to an old Brawley’s restaurant a few blocks west and then closed altogether a couple of years later. A brand-new Pizza Hut replaced the original Red Caboose. But after only a few years, the pizza parlor also met the bulldozer’s blade, leveled and replaced by a Del Taco as a shopping center developed around it.

Last month, the Del Taco unceremoniously closed. Meanwhile, Pizza Hut returned recently, albeit in a different building a few doors down from Raley’s. Alas, the arc to the past ends there. No plans to bring back the Red Caboose. Darn.

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