Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Plusing the show": Matterhorn Climbers

Picture this: a huge man-made mountain visible from the freeway; the world’s first tubular steel roller coast; add in a few waterfalls; what else could you possibly need to make this thing a hit? How about some real live mountain climbers?!? This early May 1959 photo shows one of the young gents testing out the Matterhorn.

Jim Crarey, one of the first climbers, recalls that time period:

“Dick Erb and I were climbing at Tahquitz Rock late spring of 1959, and both 15 at the time. Chuck Wilks, the Sierra Club member who was hired by Disney to place the “pitons” in the side of the mountain, was climbing that morning too. He asked if we wanted a summer job on the Matterhorn. Well duh...”

“ The next issue to overcome was doing it. Our soon to be boss, Chuck Corson, told us “Boys, if you can climb it, the job is yours.” On a warm June afternoon, Dick and I reconnoitered for a route. We climbed over the fence erected to keep all out and were about 20' off the ground when accosted by the Disneyland police. We found out that no one told them what we were doing and that we were supposed to take the ride’s elevator to the inside platform and begin from there. Nice start to a summer job...”

“The purpose for us was to provide something to see for the folks waiting hours in line for the ride (sometimes the sign read 4 hours from this point). So 9 times a day, 6 days a week, all summer long and on the weekends between summer 1959 and summer 1960, we climbed the Matterhorn. Dick quit before the 1960 summer and was replaced by Jeff Winslow. I worked that summer and then retired too.”

“The only things I can remember of interest that I can put in print are the 4 hours hanging by rope waiting to repel for Nikita Khrushchev and a time I sprained my ankle and was carried to the infirmary by the Chip and Dale characters.”

Jim is in this photo; he’s the climber on top:

See more Matterhorn photos at my regular website.

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TokyoMagic! said...

Hey, do they ever have mountain climbers anymore? Remember in the nineties when they had costumed characters climbing the Matterhorn and there was an announcer that used to call everyone's attention to the fact that Mickey was "almost to the top?" I think I have video of that somewhere.

Connie Moreno said...

What a cool claim to fame! I too, was wondering if they still have climbers. It's been quite a while since I've seen them. I know I took pictures...I'll have to rummage through and find them.

Chris Jepsen said...

"The only things I can remember of interest that I can put in print are the 4 hours hanging by rope waiting to repel for Nikita Khrushchev..."

Two things jump out at me:

1) Nikita Khrushchev got a firm "nyet" to his wish to visit Disneyland. Why would they make the climbers wait for someone who was definitely not going to arrive?

2) What exactly happened on the Matterhorn that can't be "put in print?!?" Inquiring minds want to know!

Daveland said...

Chris - I remember reading somewhere that Walt himself was ready to go with Kruschev but that it was the U.S. Government that put the kabosh on the visit; this would ring true with what Jim remembers. The "nyet" may not have come until the last minute. As for #2...I would like to know as much as you, but Jim was not forthcoming with those stories!