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Weekend Whipper: Groundfall at Frog Buttress
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Moving Over Stone

25-Jun-2010
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BY DOUG ROBINSON

MIKE STRASSMAN, prolific first ascentionist, writer and videographer, passed away at home in Lone Pine, California, July 1.  

Mike had first ascents on every one of Mount Whitney’s Needles, a project that took him decades to complete and facetiously spawned the “East Face Club.” He counted nine Needles marching southward from Whitney, gave some of them trademark goofy names, and eventually put FAs on each, like the proud Aiguille Junior (5.10a).  

Mike’s greatest hits in Arizona include Ides of Middlemarch (5.9+) and Magnas Coloradas (5.11a) at Cochise Stronghold, and discovering the Wall of the Trundling Trolls on Mount Lemmon. In the Sierra, there’s Malletosis (5.10b) in Tuolumne, and Switch Hitter (5.10d) and He She (5.10b) in Rock Creek. Mike was a pioneer in the Owens River Gorge—try Nucko, Pride of the North (5.11b) and Steel Monkey (5.12c). The Alabama Hills hold too many Strassman originals to mention.

Mike was best known for directing the 1988 video Moving Over Stone. When I met Mike in 1986 he was fresh out of UCLA film school and inspired me with the dream of making a climbing video. We had no idea what we were getting into. Over the next year, with support from Patagonia and Austin Hearst (of Hearst publishing fame), we ran around shooting the best climbers and areas in the West.

Leasing a shoulder-top TV camera, we discovered that its old-school tube technology was delicate, not built for dangling shots hundreds of feet up. One time it quit on us in Indian Creek, which led to the novel scene of Mike in a desert phone booth with a technician on the line, trying desperately to repair the camera with a Swiss Army knife. Half-shot sequences were adroitly salvaged by fine editing on Mike’s part. Months of post-production led to Moving Over Stone, the second-ever climbing video to hit the market. It went on to become the best-selling “rock video” of all time.

Mike formed Range of Light Productions, which became well-known for snowboard and mountain-bike videos. Mike also wrote The Basic Essentials of Rock Climbing and Climbing Big Walls, two classics that launched hundreds of climbing careers, as well as the first-ever guidebook to the Alabama Hills.

The sardonic way Mike treated his own life was sometimes abrasive, even leading to eruptions between friends. But then he would turn generous, even surprisingly civic-minded, like the weekend in the Alabama Hills when he organized top climbers to teach disadvantaged kids to climb.

Mike battled for years with crystal meth, and last spring he wrote a song about it, “Sorry Ass Tweaker,” which Peter Mayfield used in his powerful, poignant video warning to teenagers.

See www.chromadynamics.com/lifeormeth.html.

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