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John Bachar ( 1957 - 2009 )  Category ( Athletes ) [suggest a correction]

John Bachar was, without question, one of the greatest -- and certainly among the most daring -- athletes of the 20th and 21st century.

His feats, however, were performed not in packed stadiums or arenas, but largely solo. His legend was passed along by a hardy group of kindred spirits rather than broadcasters, and his opponents were made of rock. Nevertheless, he became, to steal a song title from Neil Young, "an unknown legend."

That legend ended on July 5, when Bachar fell from the 80-foot Dike Wall near Mammoth Lakes, CA. No one saw him lose his grip, and he was found "unresponsive" at the base of the cliff, later to die in a nearby hospital without regaining consciousness.

At the age of 52, Bachar was perhaps getting a bit old for his rigorous sport. Moreover, he had suffered several fractured vertebrae in a car accident returning from the Outdoor Retailer Trade Show in Salt Lake City in August of 2006.

Still, his death was a shock to the rock climbing community. Even in his sixth decade, Bachar was legendary for his devotion to physical training. In an interview with Inspring, Bachar said he routinely did pullups with 130 pounds of weight attached.

Yet there was more to Bachar than brute strength.

"He was an artist," contemporary Dean Fidelman told the New York Times. "He transcended his sport."

And the rock faces of the mountain were his canvas. When he made a solo climb, he would leave a trail for later climbers to follow -- and he felt he owed it to them not to make the path too easy.

"If you just waltz in and throw a bolt ladder up, you're not respecting the rock," he once said.

By contrast, the bolts that Bachar hammered into a face were like clues to a puzzle.

Bachar was born in Los Angeles in 1957 and attended UCLA, where his father taught mathematics.  At some point, however, he became addicted to rock climbing and dropped out of college to pursue his passion full-time.

According to the Times’ obituary: In the early 1970s, Bachar arrrived in the Yosemite Valley with a pair of boots, an alto saxophone and a stunning physique, joining a group of brash young climbers known as the Stonemasters. The big wall climbing styles of the 1960s were making way for a style known as free climbing, whose practitioners sought to minimize their gear, using ropes only for protection. Bachar took that kind of self-reliance to levels that could appear dangerous.”

That self reliance extended to Bachar's relations with other climbers, as well. He was always a purist, and not shy about speaking his mind on his favorite subject.

"I'd rather do something with good style than fudge my way up it," he said. "I'd rather leave it alone if I can't do it in a certain style."

Perhaps Bachar's most memorable climb came in 1986, when he and Peter Croft climbed El Capitan at Yosemite, ascending nearly a vertical mile in 14 grueling hours.

In 1981, he offered $10,000 to any other climber who could follow him for one full day. No one took the bait.

"Since Bachar, I don't think there was anybody youcould say was the greatest, most influential climber of his time," Colorado-based climber Pete Mortimer told the times.

That was John Bachar, who stood alone and climbed alone. And, ultimately, died alone.

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