“He was known as the king of the Yosemite lifers, that proud band of rock climbers, tightrope walkers and seekers who made camp on the margins of the law, sleeping under the black oaks and sequoias and California stars. On his shoulders he carried an 80-pound constellation of canvas stowage, books and sweatpants, bottled water and mushy food, a sleeping bag and a reserve sleeping bag meant for some encountered companion of the road. To the government, he was Charles Victor Tucker III, scourge of Yosemite National Park, fixture of the lodge cafeteria. To acquaintances, he was Chuck, harmless and stoned jester of the mountains. And to climbers the world over he remains Chongo, the Monkey Man, named for the sticky soles he had once fashioned from Mexican rubber. ‘I learned a lot from Chongo,’ said Ivo Ninov, 32, an accomplished guide from Bulgaria, ‘because he was the father of big wall climbing.’
But the fullness of Chongo’s legacy would appear only through his disappearance from rock climbing, a passage from sylvan to urban wilds that has made him a stranger to his sport and an outcast from his home, now reduced to sleeping under a tractor-trailer. Along the way, he would find a new kind of homelessness, and a new sense of mission. Even among outliers, Chongo, 57, had always diverged. In a time of corporate sponsorships, he lived on charity, scavenging and bartering handmade wares. In a time of brand-name gear, he rigged worthy contraptions from found parts. In a time of speed-climbing records, he gained renown for his comically deliberate ascents. Once, he stretched an assault on El Capitan across two weeks, including three days spent pausing to consider some half-forgotten existential puzzle.
Dumb jokes congealed around his legend, for he projected a familiar and comforting sort of weirdness. Around a campfire or a cafeteria table, tourists and weekend warriors could find in Chongo a certain box to cross off, the obligatory aging hippie recounting unintentionally hilarious misadventures, denouncing the prison-industrial complex and rhapsodizing on junk science.”
(via The New York Times)