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Stewart Green

Rocker David Lee Roth and the Real Skyscraper Story

By November 25, 2013

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David Lee Roth, the frontman and singer from past and present for Van Halen, a heavy metal California band, has also done a bit of rock climbing. Any rocker who's a metal freak has listened to Roth's classic second album Skyscraper, a solo disc that came out in 1988 and features the hit single "Just Like Paradise." 

The album's cover features Roth aid climbing on Half Dome, an iconic Yosemite Valley formation. If you look on-line you'll find all kinds of stuff about David Lee Roth and rock climbing. But for the real story about the cover photo you have to go to the Forum on SuperTopo and read the tale by Werner Braun.

Werner Braun, a long-time Yosemite climber and member of the Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR), tells the story about the album cover on Supertopo in 2005. The cover was shot by the great adventure photographer Galen Rowell. Braun and Ron Kauk, another Yosemite climbing legend, were hired to work as riggers for the photo shoot on the top of Half Dome.

The production group, including Roth, Rowell, Braun, and Kauk, went up the day before and camped at the saddle behind Half Dome. Werner Braun recalls, "His (Roth) production people got him a horse to ride to Half Dome along with all of the other equipment for this shoot. David decided he wanted to walk...so I asked if I could ride it. 'Sure, go ahead," he says. "I want to walk." Kauk, running late, passed the group slogging up the trail and asked where Werner was.  He's riding David's horse they said. So Kauk jogs up and jumps on the horse too. "As we approach towards the saddle, the horse became more and more tired, somehow it made it."

The next day they all scrambled up to the summit for the album cover photo shoot. Werner recalls, "Galen is running around with his camera trying to figure out the best location. He spots his ace in the hole and tells Ron and me to set up David at the spot you see on that cover." The site turns out to be "no-man's land with very little features for anything that'll hold. "I go, 'WTF Galen, there's nothing out there' and he tells us to do the best we can. Ok man, whatever."

Ron Kauk lowers down and places a bunch of A4 pitons with the final piton a long medium Lost Arrow piton that sticks out about three-quarters of its length. "Ron tells me he hopes it holds David's ass. Ha ha ha ha." They get David Lee Roth on a rope and have him rappel down to the last piton. "He takes one look at that thing and says F*@%! I'm not hanging off that thing. It'll pull out and I'll die. He is now visibly shaking real bad and scared s---less." Roth doesn't know what to think since he has virtually no experience aid climbing.

Werner tells Roth that he has to have "faith in the rigger and the rigger will never lie to you." He then tells Roth that the piton is one foot long and that seven inches of the Lost Arrow "he's looking at is buried in that horizontal crack to his total disbelief." Ron, listening to the dialogue, rolled his eyes while Galen waited impatiently to start burning film. Finally David Lee Roth "gets on that thing shaking like s---."

Werner Braun remembers, "The shoot is on! David does his Hollywood mode. Smiles and all in between bouts of shakes and deep breaths. Galen shoots off his 20 or so rolls in record time and David gets his rope back from above and jugs out. I clean the piton he was on with one jerk of my hand. Kauk's eyes roll again and we're out of there." After the shoot, Roth gave Kauk and Braun a gold-plated carabiner engraved with "Diamond Dave."

Crazy and funny story. You just can't make that stuff up! Thanks for sharing Werner Braun.

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