“ When it’s too tough for everyone else, it’s just right for us”
I woke up at 4:30 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, I was thinking about my old friend Chuck Ashbaugh who passed away last week. So I got up, made some coffee and sat down to write this tribute.
I met Chuck right out of high school in 1980. We both grew up in “Surf City” Huntington Beach California. My friend Chuck Johnson introduced me to Ashbaugh and we quickly became friends and started playing music together. I had only been playing bass for a year, but Ashbaugh was already a fully formed musician. I remember him playing and singing Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude” solo at high school talent contest. That took balls.
At the time I was working at Wherehouse Records and obsessed with surfing, skateboarding and music. I taught Chuck to surf and he taught me to ski. On the night John Lennon was killed we drove all night to Mammoth Mountain, slept a few hours in the parking lot, and then skied all day. Even though I had only skied three times, it was on this trip that I decided to move to the Sierra the following season to ski. Thanks Chuck!
So with two full seasons at Alpine Meadows under my belt, Chuck came up for a visit and immediately humbled us with his radical yet very, very smooth skiing style. At least by then I could almost keep up. But there are a lot of good skiers in Tahoe. You can’t go out for coffee without running into at least a few Olympians and “pros.” But Chuck was such a gifted skier that he stood out even in this rough crowd. A few years later in 1984 Chuck joined me on the Squaw Valley Ski Patrol. Chuck got the job on my recommendation and I remember my fellow patrollers being a little skeptical of the dude from Orange County. But on his very first day of avalanche control, the ski patrol director Mark Mueller and I watched in awe and horror as he stuck a double daffy, with a pack full of bombs, on 205s, off the Granite Chief cornice kicking off a two foot crown and curving smoothly to safety. Mark could only flash me grin that said he appreciated the “ski-cut”, but also said he better not kill himself. Chuck absolutely mastered ski patrolling (he was a eagle scout after all) in about a month. He ripped on skis and driving sleds (he really didn’t get what the tail rope was for) he was also the toughest fucker on the mountain and charmed the shit out of everyone he met. We worked at Squaw that summer building the massive deck on top of the Siberia chair and blasting holes for the future Silverado lift. During a fierce afternoon thunder storm I remember hearing the mountain manager yelling over the radio “...I..NEED..ASHBAUGH!!…” because everyone else was running for cover and there was still work to do. i.e. welding overhead forty feet off the deck on an exposed ridge.
Chuck was the first real rock climber I ever met. Hearing his tales of climbing in Joshua Tree and Yosemite on our many long drives together inspired me to start climbing my first summer in Tahoe. Thanks again Chuck! We climbed locally together for a few years and then I moved to Yosemite to climb big walls and be part of the rescue team. In 1986 Chuck was newly married and I was newly divorced when he showed up at my tent in Camp 4 early one morning wanting to climb El Cap. I thought this was odd because his wife had just given birth to the first of their two daughters. We climbed the Salathe wall in four days spending 36 hours bivouacked in a storm behind El Cap Spire (see photo). Chuck went on to ski patrol at Alpine Meadows and I continued to climb obsessively before moving to Santa Cruz in 1989. We still climbed, surfed and skied together, but it was getting more difficult as time went on. Chuck, along with his family responsibilities became partners a steel fabrication business in Tahoe City that further limited his free time. Some of our climbing highlights from that era include the Regular Northwest face of Half Dome in a day. Car-to-car ascents of the North Arete of Bear Creek Spire, Dark Star on Temple Crag, the Southeast face of Clyde Minaret and Keller Needle. Chuck also climbed the Nose and Zodiac on El Cap with our friend Mike Neal. Chuck was a talented and bold ice climber. Several of Tahoe’s most badass ice climbers told me that they had to beg Chuck to put in more protection.
The last ten years of Chuck’s life were difficult and complicated. We were out of touch for years at a time. When I started playing music again I called him at his shop to ask him if he would like to get together and jam “I’ve been waiting for this call for twenty years” he said.
We briefly formed a band and played a gig in my living room. We climbed Basin Mountain and did some mountain bike rides and I was hopeful that we would get to do more. But we lost contact again and then a few years ago Chuck moved to the Northwest. On his way out of town he stopped by my house. He wanted me to have his record collection and turntable. I thought this was odd but he insisted that he wouldn’t need them. He wasn’t the same. We stood there in my driveway for a few awkward moments and talked about going climbing or skiing the way old climbers and skiers do, but I think we both knew it would never happen again. I think I’ll get those records out today.