Rock n Roll at Vertical Club – 1989

Posted by on January 2, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments


Rock n Roll at the V-Club

A story from the VW Archives, written by founder Rich Johnston. Circa 1989, just two years after the birth of the first climbing gym in America.


I was working the counter at the Vertical Club back in 1989 one day, and not much was going on.  It was a beautiful spring day and I was working on filing one of the few membership forms into an expanding folder that we kept under the desk.  This was the desk that was actually the workbench that Dan [Cauthorn] and the gang used while building the gym in ’87.  We just slopped some blue and white paint on it and that was our front counter.  That’s all we could afford, and it worked.

So, while I was watching the tumbleweed float past the front door on that boring morning, a couple of guys walked through the front door.  One of them was a bearded chubby guy who looked like he had never seen a treadmill in his life, let alone anything to do with climbing.  The other customer was a shorter guy with long hair, baseball cap, scruffy clothes and very expensive Ray-Bans.  You know, the kind with the purple tint mirror finish?  They were big back then.  The shorter guy already had his harness and rock shoes on.  I was thinking to myself that this is a very odd combo, and very strange way to come into the gym.

I looked at the shorter customer and I couldn’t help but think I knew who he was.  I kept looking at him while I was talking with the Cheetos dude, trying to explain about the waiver form and so on.  The big fella was doing all the talking and explained that he was there to assist his Ray-Ban friend.  I put the waiver down for a signature and looked at the shorter guy and it dawned on me who he really was.  I wasn’t 100% sure, but when he put his signature on the form I got a big grin on my face and said “you’re David Lee Roth” He smiled and said yes.


I got a big grin on my face and said “you’re David Lee Roth.” He smiled and said yes.


I was pretty psyched about that and of course I starting acting like a giddy teenage rock n roll fan.  The other guy turned out the be his manager, there to make sure that nothing happened to him, since the contract and insurance terms would not cover an activity such as rock climbing.  I had been a Van Halen fan from the beginning and new all the music.  I only knew the David Lee Roth persona from videos and television.  I was surprised with how he was while climbing and hanging out in the V-Club.  He was a real gentleman and was very quiet and laid back.  He must save the good stuff for when the camera is turned on.  We hung out for quite a while.  We sat on the famous coach that the health department had not gotten wind of yet and chatted for a long time.

He was very interested in climbing walls and asked me if we could build him a wall at his place in Southern Cal.  This actually led to an arrangement where I sent someone down to his place.  That’s another story for another time. I found out that he was in town for a concert and he was playing at the Arena at the Seattle Center.  After he got his climbing in and we visited for a while he asked me if I would be interested in seeing the concert.  I couldn’t refuse.  He said that there would be some tickets at the will call.  We shook hands and I wished him a good concert.

I thought to myself  “there is no way he will remember to leave those tickets in my name at the will-call, but I was willing to give it a run.  I went home that night and told Diane about what happened and asked her about checking it out.  The idea of going to a concert like that seemed a bit odd, since neither us wore tight leopard patterned lycra and we could probably pass as parents to most of the kids in the crowd. What the heck.  We went down and to my amazement there were tickets at the will call with my name on them.  I couldn’t believe it. So, there we were listening to the show, surrounded by teenage fans with hair down to their butts and wild looking David Lee Roth like out-fits.  We got a kick out the show and I put this one the book as a good Rock-n-Roll moment at the V-Club.

Keep pulling.



David Lee Roth had actually spent enough time on the rock that he released the album Skyscraper with him aiding up Half Dome the year after Rich opened his first gym. The following is a story and background album at


David Lee Roth, the frontman and singer from past and present for Van Halen, a heavy metal California band, has also done a bit of rock climbing. Any rocker who’s a metal freak has listened to Roth’s classic second album Skyscraper, a solo disc that came out in 1988 and features the hit single “Just Like Paradise.”

The album’s cover features Roth aid climbing on Half Dome, an iconic Yosemite Valley formation. If you look on-line you’ll find all kinds of stuff about David Lee Roth and rock climbing. But for the real story about the cover photo you have to go to the Forum on SuperTopo and read the tale by Werner Braun.

Werner Braun Tells Story of Cover Shoot

Werner Braun, a long-time Yosemite climber and member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), tells the story about the album cover on Supertopo in 2005. The cover was shot by the great adventure photographer Galen Rowell.

Braun and Ron Kauk, another Yosemite climbing legend, were hired to work as riggers for the photo shoot on the top of Half Dome.

Ron Kauk and Braun Ride Roth’s Horse

The production group, including Roth, Rowell, Braun, and Kauk, went up the day before and camped at the saddle behind Half Dome. Werner Braun recalls, “His (Roth) production people got him a horse to ride to Half Dome along with all of the other equipment for this shoot. David decided he wanted to walk…so I asked if I could ride it. ‘Sure, go ahead,” he says. “I want to walk.” Kauk, running late, passed the group slogging up the trail and asked where Werner was. He’s riding David’s horse they said. So Kauk jogs up and jumps on the horse too. “As we approach towards the saddle, the horse became more and more tired, somehow it made it.”

Photographer Galen Rowell Finds Photo Location

The next day they all scrambled up to the summit for the album cover photo shoot. Werner recalls, “Galen is running around with his camera trying to figure out the best location. He spots his ace in the hole and tells Ron and me to set up David at the spot you see on that cover.” The site turns out to be “no-man’s land with very little features for anything that’ll hold. “I go, ‘WTF Galen, there’s nothing out there’ and he tells us to do the best we can. Ok man, whatever.”

Roth Scared by Bad Aid Placements

Ron Kauk lowers down and places a bunch of A4 pitons with the final piton a long medium Lost Arrow piton that sticks out about three-quarters of its length. “Ron tells me he hopes it holds David’s ass. Ha ha ha ha.” They get David Lee Roth on a rope and have him rappel down to the last piton. “He takes one look at that thing and says F*@%! I’m not hanging off that thing. It’ll pull out and I’ll die. He is now visibly shaking real bad and scared s—less.” Roth doesn’t know what to think since he has virtually no experience aid climbing.

Braun Tells Roth to “Have Faith”

Werner tells Roth that he has to have “faith in the rigger and the rigger will never lie to you.” He then tells Roth that the piton is one foot long and that seven inches of the Lost Arrow “he’s looking at is buried in that horizontal crack to his total disbelief.” Ron, listening to the dialogue, rolled his eyes while Galen waited impatiently to start burning film. Finally David Lee Roth “gets on that thing shaking like s—.”

Roth Gives Braun and Kauk Gold-Plated Carabiners

Werner Braun remembers, “The shoot is on! David does his Hollywood mode. Smiles and all in between bouts of shakes and deep breaths. Galen shoots off his 20 or so rolls in record time and David gets his rope back from above and jugs out. I clean the piton he was on with one jerk of my hand. Kauk’s eyes roll again and we’re out of there.” After the shoot, Roth gave Kauk and Braun a gold-plated carabiner engraved with “Diamond Dave.”

Crazy and funny story. You just can’t make that stuff up! Thanks for sharing Werner Braun. – Stewart Green/