Letters

Posted on: December 1, 2005


The Trouble with Chongo

Editor's Note: The following is a US Department of the Interior National Park Service Supplemental Criminal Incident Record. The case in question has been built, and Chongo awaits trial.

Prior to my arrival in Yosemite I had heard of ["Chongo"]. This information came to me from the climbing community. As an active climber for the past 15 years I have visited many climbing areas and have met a great many other climbers. "Chongo" was described to me as a "weird guy that just sort of lives in Camp 4" and "scarfs food from people's plates in the Lodge Cafe" ("scarfs food" refers to the act of waiting for a person to leave after their meal and then taking whatever food is left on their plate and eating "the leftovers"). I had also heard that he had written some sort of physics book and was trying to self-publish it. I had heard that he was making "the slowest recorded ascent" of El Capitan... [his] assault of the route Sea of Dreams... had become sort of a joke amongst climbers. [He] had established multiple fixed ropes and buckets and bags full of personal items and was claiming to be climbing the route.

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I began working in Yosemite National Park in the fall of 1999. At that time I remember seeing [Chongo] for the first time in the southwest corner of the Lodge Cafeteria. This area became known as "Chongo's Table." While I was not working in the valley at the time I do recall that nearly every time I went to the cafeteria I remember seeing [Chongo] at that table, usually with his laptop computer and various other personal items spread around. It seemed to be common knowledge amongst the staff that [Chongo] lived in Yosemite full time and while no one knew exactly where he slept every night most people believed he camped illegally somewhere around Camp 4.

The opinion amongst the Ranger staff in the Valley was that [Chongo] had been living in Yosemite Valley on and off for years. [Chongo] had been cited and warned over the years for various petty offenses, but the problem was that the amount of effort needed to build a solid case against [Chongo] seemed to outweigh the severity of the crime. The case load for the Ranger staff would increase every summer and [Chongo] was "put on the back burner." In the winter when the case load was lighter [Chongo] would leave and then the whole cycle would repeat the next spring.

I believe that [Chongo] decided to stay in Yosemite "year round" in 1999.... In the summer of 2001 [a] Valley Ranger... began a case against [Chongo] regarding "unattended property." [Chongo] was still claiming to be "climbing El Capitan"; however, his equipment cache on the wall had not moved in months. As climbers are not required to register for climbs [Chongo] was using this "loophole" as his "overnight accommodations," which are required by all visitors. When asked by Rangers where he would be spending the night [Chongo] would claim that he was "going up on the wall." The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. It was impossible to prove that [Chongo] had actually left the equipment unattended for more than twenty-four hours without posting a Ranger on scene permanently.

It is assumed that [Chongo] has lived most of his life this way: looking for "loopholes" in society to allow him to exist without a job or a home as we know them. [Chongo] had become a master of countersurveillance and would go through incredible routines to insure that he was not being followed. Thus he was extremely difficult to catch in violation. The amount of man hours needed to "track" all of [Chongo]'s movements became overwhelming and [Chongo] continued to live in Yosemite Valley. By the winter of 2002-2003 I was working in the Valley and I began formulating a plan to build a case against [Chongo]. I realized that it would take a great deal of effort and would consist of "the totality" of the evidence as all of the offenses were considered minor; however, grouped together I felt there was enough to prove that [Chongo] was living in Yosemite illegally. I began surveillance on [Chongo] as time would allow.

[Chongo] could be found at the Lodge Cafe almost every day. He was befriended by many of the employees there. These employees would leave his personal belongings out on "Chongo's table" even if [Chongo] was not in the Cafe at the time. These same employees would allow [Chongo] to stay in the Cafe after hours while they cleaned up. On multiple occasions I witnessed [Chongo] "scarf" food from other people's plates and take items like coffee and tea without paying for them.... The management of the Lodge Cafeteria was approached about these offenses on several occasions[;] management felt he was "not hurting anyone" and that they did not want to pursue the case. Once again it seemed that [Chongo] was very aware of how far he could go with his lifestyle and was careful not to "cross the line."... On multiple occasions I attempted to follow [Chongo] from the Lodge to see where he was spending the night. [Chongo] would take various routes around the Lodge and Camp 4, often doubling back in an apparent attempt to see if he was being followed. Often if [Chongo] felt he was being followed or spotted [by] a Ranger he would immediately go back to the Lodge or just wait for the Ranger to leave. I would often "lose" [Chongo] in or around Camp 4. It became difficult to follow [Chongo] closely enough to see where he was going and also avoid detection. Ultimately, I was unable to dedicate enough time to build a sufficient case.....

—[Name Withheld], Yosemite, California

House Lessons

Like a former junkie avoiding High Times, I've abstained from subscribing to Alpinist to prevent myself from caring about big mountains and who was doing what. Last week I found Issue X lying around and couldn't help myself. I was surprised to read in Steve House's K7 article ("The Way," Pages 50-59) that there hadn't been a serious non-British attempt on the mountain since its first ascent. Weathering a five-day storm in a portaledge just under 20,000 feet on K7's southeast face certainly felt serious, though perhaps to the outside observer Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and I seemed merely to be puttering about in our aiders. But after reflecting on the many funny moments Jimmy and I shared, on the tender absurdity of listening to the man I was snuggled up against speak to his new wife and family via satellite phone, I realized that even though success had been a real possibility, we hadn't been that serious after all. I have to thank House for reminding me that there is more than one way to be light in the mountains.

—Brady Robinson, Asheville, North Carolina

Kicking Turtles

Your Turtle-loving friend in New Paltz might want to check his spelling on Tyco ("Rule Number 1," Issue 11, Page 16). If he is referring to the lunar crater, it was named after a Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe. He seems to have been a colorful character, rumored to have kept a fortune-telling dwarf in his closet. Tyco, on the other hand, is a large company based out of Bermuda. But spelling and fact-checking, like climbing, can be real hard, and not all of us are good at it.

—Charles Evans, Farmington, Connecticut

No Cumbre, No Ruta

The recent spate of "new" routes that don't reach the summits of peaks, but whose climbers still name and claim them as first ascents, is creating an ethical problem. At Rifle and other sport-climbing areas, this modified definition of an ascent is understandable. However, in Patagonia, Alaska and the Karakoram, it obviously isn't. You get up or you don't. When Bean Bowers fell only a move or two from the summit of Torre Egger because of collapsing ice ("Climbing Notes," Issue 11, Page 94) he did not claim an ascent. That was dignity. Let's see more of it.

—John Wharton, Glen, New Hampshire

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