Imagine doing an enormous first ascent in the middle of a state's capital city. For some, this is just a dream. For others, it's a bold and symbolic adventure.The Sacramento City smoke stack rests at the corner of 7th Street and North B, a mere nine blocks from Pipeworks. A few years ago, gym manager Vaughn Medford walked the base of and saw an obvious line of bolts up the formation.
“I assumed the bolts were to be used in case they ever needed to maintenance the structure but apparently not,” said Medford.
A few weeks ago, a fit seventy year old nearly crushed Medford’s hand when he shook it and introduced himself as Bill Smale, the man who made the first ascent of the Sacramento Smoke Stack.
Quarter inch bolts still line the 170 foot stack and they’d doubtfully hold much more than body weight. It’d be an exciting ascent. Below is Smale's tale of his ascent:
The Sacramento City Incinerator was built in 1928 and stands as a testament of strength and endurance dating back to the “industrial revolution” of our country and to the Sacramento landscape. Hopefully, it will become a treasured city landmark for all future Sacramentans to enjoy.
At the time the Smoke Stack was climbed it was part of the property leased/owned by SAWDCO (Sacramento Waste and Disposal Company, whom I worked for as a fabrication welder). Being a rock climber and seeing the “Stack” everyday was too much of a temptation for me, so in December of 1980 I initiated the climb (on weekends), dedicating it to the US servicemen being held hostage by the Iranian Government under then President Jimmy Carter.
The story unfolds when the owner discovered me at the half way point (hearing the sound of hammering and placing the bolts) while hanging from etriers. I was told to discontinue due to the liabilities involved. I suggested signing a release of liability which would relieve SAWDCO and the owner of any wrongful suit, which the owner declined. I then suggested the benefit of placing a company banner at the top, which the owner accepted. Upon reaching the top, I placed and American flag and somehow forgot about the banner.
The “Stack” was bolted with 22-27 3/8 x 2 ¼ bolts with hangers. Due to the consistency of the concrete and hanging in vertical etriers, it took 30 minutes per bolt, using hammer and percussion drills, with each miss being very painful. The “Stack” remains and after 32 years the line of bolts remains intact. It is not known if the “Stack” has ever been re-climbed.
I was introduced to rock climbing after my discharge from the Marine Corps in 1968 by my best friend and fellow Marine. Together we shared sky diving, scuba diving and many other risk adventures. I started climbing at Big Rock (Lake Perris-Riverside, Ca) continued on to Tahquitz (lily Rock) out of Idyllwild, which at the time was a jumping off spot to Yosemite for all the big name climbers of the 50’s and 60’s- Chouinard, Frost, Robbins and Harding just to name a few. After Tahquitz, I went to the Valley and climbed El Capitan, Sentinel West Face, Royal Arches, Washington Column, Middle Cathedral, Lost Arrow Spire, Grand Tetons, Zion, Devils Tower, Lower’s Leap, which I was the witness to The Line being free climbed in 1984, so free climbing is really nothing new to rock climbers.
At 71, I still climb on occasion. In 2012 I climbed The Line once again and free climbed many of the East Wall routes. Due to the popularity of climbing and having to “wait” in line to climb a route and giving consideration of my two total hip replacements, two total shoulder replacements and a total knee replacement, the consequences of a fall dictate toning things down a notch with a less hazardous life style and spending time with my grandkids on the trampoline rather than risk permanent injury from a fall.Got a great story? Be sure to share it with the Touchstone Climbing Blog. Email us at
Tags: Sacramento Smoke Stack, Bill Smale, Sacramento City Incinerator