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Rowell's Revenge

Submitted by floridaputz on 2005-09-28 | Last Modified on 2008-01-23

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 3 | Comments: 3 | Views: 7237

by Tim Shea

10:30 PM. Time to go home. Let me see, the tanks are dipped, the inventory done, and I have counted my bank. As I grab the deposit bag and my keys, like déjà vu, a car’s head lights appear on the wall. Like a ghost in movement, it circles the room. The car pulls in slowly, shining its lights directly into the office. The creeping was that kind of driving that was full of hope. Hope that the gas station might still be open. Even with all the lights off, they always come. You see, I’m the late shift gas attendant at the Grand Canyon Chevron -- the only gas station for 70 miles in either direction. Soon, I hear that dreaded “rap, rap, rap” on the door. I pause, lest I give them hope, and then stubbornly crack open the door. “I need gas,” he says

"Sorry," I reply. "I'm closed."

When you work nights at the only gas station on the South Rim of Grand Canyon Nat'l Park, the nearest other one more than seventy miles away, this happens all the time. Sometimes I give them gas, sometimes I don't. It isn’t to be mean spirited or anything. It’s just when you close for the night, it’s not easy to reopen.

I have a rule: If I'm still only wrapping things up, I give them gas. But if I've already finished the inventory and dipped the tanks, no way. That would take another half hour of work.

Outside, beckoning me now is a man, short and stocky, his unkempt hair parted greatly to one side. I notice his boots. Obviously, he's been hiking. He looks tired and dirty. "I just hiked out from the Canyon, twelve-miles, man. Come on, give me some gas!"

I knew how he felt; I hike the Canyon regularly. But still... “It’s too late man, wer'e closed.” I can tell he's attempting to be charming, sizing me up to see if I'll relent. But then suddenly he abandons diplomacy and asks again, except this time it sounds more like a demand. If he just plays it cool he can get to me. “No! I closed half an hour ago.” I shout.

The man looks at me, realizing that he lost his cool too soon. He considers his remaining options and says, “Asshole!”

Not amused, I’m thinking to myself, “For $2.00/hr I’m not going to stand here and take that crap." The conversation goes from bad to worse. We square off nose to nose. Fists clencthed we are near blows when he finally thinks better of it and stomps off. But as he approaches his car, he turns, points his finger at me and shouts, “My name is Galen Rowell and you will be sorry!”

I know who he is, but it went too far. A legend of Yosemite and the High Sierra, Rowell is a hero, even to me, but there's no retreating from my stance now. “I’ll get even with you if it’s the last thing I ever do!” he rages.


More than twenty years passed since I lived at the Grand Canyon. The chip on my shoulder fell off. In my mid forties, I gained focus on what is important in life. I became not so quick to challenge and fight.

My Wife Debra and I were very excited; we were going climbing in California for two weeks. She had never been climbing in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, or King’s Canyon. Our goal was to climb a bunch of long easier routes starting with Snake Dike on Half Dome, followed by Cathedral Peak, West Crack on Daff Dome and the 50 crowed classic, “The Regular Route,” on Fairview. The last climb we had planned was “Charlotte Dome” in King’s Canyon National Park.

Once in Yosemite I couldn't help but remember my angry confrontation with Galen Rowell. I had not thought of this for years. He wrote a letter to my boss at the Grand Canyon and tried to get me fired. I never forgot and I told Debra the story about our confrontation at the gas station.

It had been a long time since I had been to the Valley to climb and on that day everytime I looked at a guide book or went into a book store, I saw Galen Rowell’s name. Of course I had read many stories of his first ascents in Yosemite and the Sierra’s. I tried my best to put that night out of my mind, but it was impossible.

We climbed Snake Dike on Half Dome, then headed up to Tuolumne Meadows to climb Catherdal Peak. We clicked off West Crack on DAFF Dome then spent our last day on The Regular route on Fairview Dome. After a day of sport climbing we arrived in Bishop, Galen Rowell’s stomping grounds. His real life impact became obvious the moment we arrived. I had read of the tragic accident claiming the lives of he and his wife. Legacies of Rowell were everywhere. His name was in the guidebooks and on the Mountain Light Gallery. References to Rowell and his Sierra exploits were in all the reading material. I read that my final goal of the trip, Charlotte Dome was one of his first ascents.

This again drew up our angry confrontation in my mind. After all, he was an ass, right? Instead, I tried to ignore his impact. I tried again to distance him from my mind, but no luck. Those thoughts weighed heavily on my mind as we headed to Onion Valley and the trailhead to Charlotte Dome.

Charlotte Dome was at the end of a twelve-mile hike. Our packs were brutally heavy. The route traveled over Kearsarge Pass, past Charlotte Lake, and to a campsite somewhere near the Dome. We arrived at a creek before the Dome and made our campsite. We were very excited to climb such a beautiful, majestic rock. I thought to myself, "How did he ever find this? Just to discover this outrageous rock, let alone be the first to climb it is incredible!"

I mentioned my esteem of Mr. Rowell’s climb to Debra and felt my pride drift away. It was now replaced with admiration for Galen Rowell. “I guess I was wrong not to give him gas,” I said. After all, we had just hiked twelve miles and we were tired. He must have been tired too. I decided then and there to finally to let it go. He was a great man.

Anticipation building, we rose early and were ready to start our climb of the SW Face of Charlotte Dome. I started racking up and stopped in disbelief. “Oh no!” I blurted. I could not believe it -- I had forgotten to pack the rope! Everything was ready... but no rope! I could swear I had packed it!

Debra looked at me as if I were crazy. “You have to be kidding me,” she said. “We hiked twelve miles and no rope? "We can’t climb Charlotte Dome!” All that work for nothing. I sat down and looked up at Charlotte Dome. With arms outstretched, I turned to Debra. “Honey, I can’t believe it, this is Rowell’s Revenge! He’s getting even with me for not giving him gas twenty years ago!” We looked at each other and started laughing. “Rowell’s Revenge...” We kept repeating it and laughing. Galen Rowell finally got back at me, just as he said he would. I knew for sure he was smiling down from heaven; thinking, “I told you I would get even with you – and I did!”


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5 out of 5 stars GREAT STORY,of a greatman of climbing,but he was human too!
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great story! thanks for sharing - wish there were more of these around
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5 out of 5 stars so, did you forget the rope at home? in your car? and did you get to do any climbing after?

good story!!!

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