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DAN OSMAN – To go beyond


Материалът на български виж ТУК.

Written by: IVO KALUSHEV
Translation: Neil Scarth

‘Dan Osman – the Indian? I used to watch his performances, his jumps. He is a very interesting person, a very colourful character – apart from being so handsome and also apart from being a nice chap. He is one of a special breed, one that lives on the other side of the edge!’
(Daniel Manov, ‘Vertical World’ Club – Bulgaria)


I was sent a link by a like-minded person: he sent me an interesting article from the web for me to read. The publication had a 10 minute video attached so of course I lost no time in downloading and watching it. And after that, again and again, with unflagging enthusiasm. It was soundtracked by Metallica. What I had read and seen captivated me to the degree that I couldn’t wait to share with others my joy at encountering such a spiritual feat in the person of Dan Osman, the American climber with the Indian (long-haired) look who until recently (2005) I had known nothing about. The current feature commemorates the 7th anniversary of his tragic loss. The 23rd of November 1998 is the date which marks his meeting with (im)mortality. It is with gratitude for the goodwill and cooperation shown by the author that we present this slightly updated article, which originally appeared on the site www.extremno.com.

– the Editor (Raliе Blag)

Published in  ‘Enthusiast’ magazine 1/2005

Even today, years after his death, the life of Dan Osman is the subject of heated debates in world climbing circles. Many accuse him of lack of judgement and utter irresponsibility towards his family; others see in him an idol, a person who has pushed right up against the limits of the possible and even crossed them.
Born on 11 February 1963 in Tahoe, Dan is a distant descendant of a Samurai family. His father, of Japanese origin and a former SWAT team policeman, had brought him up from the very beginning in the spirit of Bushido and Japanese martial traditions. The boy trained in Aikido and later Kung Fu. At the age of 12 his mother, Sharon Burks (a horse-trainer and twice world champion in the barrel race), encouraged him to get into climbing. Dan proved talented but, in his own words, he was a slow-developer[1] and it took him 8 years to pass the 5.12 limit. Climbing transformed his life, though. He was to spend endless hours, with friends or alone, climbing the cliffs of Cave Rock, an outcrop in the vicinity of the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe.
Little by little, Dan Osman turned into an extremely serious climber. The routes he set up became well-known amongst climbers for being really beautiful and well-crafted. Wolfgang Gullich says this about his route Slayer (5.13d / 5.14a): ‘It is the most elegantly-crafted route he has ever climbed.’ Along with classical climbing, Osman found great exhilaration in solo climbs. He climbed incredibly difficult routes solo, of which his most notable feats on record are: Space Walk (5.11c, 8UIAA), Atlantis (5.11c, 8UIAA onsight), Insomnia Crack (5.11d, 8 UIAA onsight!), Gun Club (5.12c, 9UIAA)… This last solo climb earned him fame in American climbing circles. He climbed most of his own Slayer route (10+ UIAA) in front of fellow climbers ‘just for the sake of variety’, as he puts it.
Dan spent most of his life in the region of Lake Tahoe, in a small apartment in which little was to be found other than climbing equipment, heavy metal music (with Metallica notably present), books on the Samurai tradition and a decent collection of climbing films. His life was like that of most obsessive climbers: he did just enough construction work to survive and to be able to climb. He was briefly married and his daughter Emma was born of this marriage. As he himself admits, part of the reason for the subsequent break-up was his passion for climbing and the risks he exposed himself to. Despite this, however, he maintained close ties to his family and his love for his daughter was massive. The thought of her was something that gave him no little cause for concern in the course of his high-risk ventures.
The greatest turning point for Dan came in 1989 when, during the setting up of his Phantom Lord route, he fell more than 50 times whilst attempting to put in the last bolt over a crucial section. It was at that moment that he realised that falling constituted a greater challenge for him than the climbing itself.
In the years that followed, Dan developed his own system of ‘free falling’ (‘free-rope jumping’), using his familiar climbing gear. Many of his rigs for jumping were built up from large trolleys with the jump-line fixed at a particular point along the length of the trolley.
But he jumped from bridges and all kinds of other places too.
He thought up extremely complex systems of support to absorb the ever greater strains from the jumps, using various sets of pulleys and friction devices and a precisely calculated spatial distribution of the points of attachment. His friends maintain that the complex designs of his systems are like works of art. He consciously avoided using double safety systems and, despite the complexity of the support system, in the final analysis he was jumping with only one dynamic rope along with a full-body harness. As his confidence in the capabilities of the gear grew, Dan jumped from greater and greater heights, gradually attaining and then exceeding the 100 metre mark, then 200 m, then 300 m… Although to an onlooker what he was doing might have appeared inconceivable and horribly dangerous, everyone who knew him insisted that Dano knew more about ropes and gear than anyone else. Not one of his close friends regarded him as reckless.


Photo from the Facebook page Dan Osman’s daughter Emma,
now grown up, has created in his honour.

After a while, Osman started to be filmed in commercials, driven by the need for funds, partly for his daughter’s upkeep, which he gave great importance to. Contrary to popular belief, though, he didn’t seek mere publicity. His true battle was internal. When asked why he did all this, he answered: ‘I’m really scared. I do it in order to learn how to overcome this fear, to bathe in it and to go beyond it.

The battle that Dano waged with himself was profound and genuine: some of those who knew him understood this. In 1994 his father happened to come into possession of an old Samurai sword in exchange for a rifle. Considering himself unworthy of it, he passed it on to his son. Dan at first tried to turn down this honour too, but in the end he accepted the will of his father. When asked later about the significance of this act, Osman Sr declares: ‘He had truly earned his right to possess a sword. In the course of my own work, I’ve come face to face with death many, many times. When it’s all over, you celebrate the fact that you’re alive, you celebrate the fact that you have a family, you celebrate that fact that you’re breathing. For the space of a few seconds, everything seems sweeter, clearer, more real…. I think that this young man has reached the point at which his consciousness of life and living are far beyond that which I myself could ever achieve.
Dan is well-known in climbing circles for being a blithe spirit. His nearest and dearest greatly value their friendship with him and he repays the debt, trying to show each and every one the wonders he’s come into contact with. Over 300 climbers have jumped from his rigs under his supervision without a single incident. Osman himself chalked up over 1000 jumps during the last ten years of his life. The level of risk in this enterprise as well as the level of his own competence can be clearly seen, however, in one tragic accident. In 1994 a 25-year-old climber Osman knew, Bobby Tarver, decided to do a 75 m jump from a bridge in Utah using Dan’s rig. In his haste to get his name up amongst the ranks of extreme sportsmen, however, Tarver neglected part of his instructions and didn’t pre-stretch his new ropes with short drops as Dano always did. As a result, he failed to calculate the elongation of the rope correctly and he was splattered against the canyon wall.
Although he was in no way to blame for this, Dano experienced terrible pangs of conscience and he went to that bridge three times to do the jump himself and to reassure himself that he hadn’t got his instructions mixed up. He backed out twice but the third time, after spending a while at the bottom of the cliffs and a ‘conversation with Bobby’, as he puts it, he climbed to the top, re-adjusted the rig, got rid of any extra elements which had been added for safety considerations after the tragic incident, tightened everything up according to his original plan, drawn up with Tarver at the time, and jumped…
As time went on, the conflict between his inner quest and the worries that he could end up leaving his daughter an orphan only deepened. On more than one occasion he shared these concerns with his friends and mentioned that it was time to stop these risky activities.
‘By dying, ‘Osman said, ‘I would be letting everybody down – my family, my friends… My daughter will manage, she’ll be okay… but I’d be robbing her.’
He continued to climb, however, and even to take part in several films in the series ‘Masters of Stone’. What he demonstrated in the fourth film curdled the blood of many veteran climbers and gave rise to heated discussions in climbing circles, with highly extreme opinions being expressed.
This film includes his jumps and rapid solo climbs on uniquely difficult routes, including onsight ones. In the words of a famous climber, Dan ‘flips a middle finger at American climbing circles for the second time’ via this film. Those who know him, however, claim that he was already such a good climber at this stage, that things that would seem to be madness for others just weren’t that dangerous for him.
At around this time his jumps had started to seriously irritate the administration and rangers of the parks where he carried them out. Despite the fact that he wasn’t doing anything forbidden, the park authorities saw in these undertakings of his an open invitation to each and every mixed-up kid with climbing equipment, ropes and a lack of sense in his head. There were, however, more extreme feelings floating around and Dan acquired some genuine enemies.
In October 1998, together with some friends, Osman arrived in Yosemite ready to set a new record. They strung up a 365 m trolley between Leaning Tower and Fifi Buttress with the jump-rope attached to the trolley once more. Osman’s first jump was on a 180 m rope. After that he increased the length to 200, 240, 255 and 270 metres. When, on the 26th of October, Dan was getting ready for a new jump, his daughter Emma called him on his phone in tears: she was worried about him. He immediately left everything, got in his pick-up and headed towards her.
When he returned to the valley two days later, he was arrested by the park administration and taken into Yosemite police custody. His arrest had nothing to do with his jumps – the unofficial charge was connected to unpaid parking tickets and other minor offences. The rangers did everything in their power to make his life hell. At first, he was put in a cell with another climber for a while. They made the mistake of cooking up an improvised concert on a small drum to kill the boredom. Dano was straightaway accused of incitement to riot in a federal prison and placed in a solitary cell without windows. He spent another 12 days there as a punitary measure. His cell-mate recalls that he often heard Dan shouting that it was hellishly cold, that he was hungry and on the verge of going crazy. His wardens only brought him food once a day and that was only after he’d gone to sleep. On the fourteenth day his friends managed to collect the sum of $25000 and pay his bail, as a result of which he was released without ever in fact being officially charged with any kind of offence. At the same time the park authorities set him an ultimatum of 5 days to dismantle his jumping rigs, threatening to cut his ropes and confiscate all his equipment if this didn’t happen.


Dan Osman and his daughter Emma.
Photo from the Facebook page Emma, now grown up, has created in his honour.

Dan didn’t head for his rigs. Instead he set off straightaway for Reno to see his daughter Emma, who was 12 years old by then. There he also spent quite a bit of time with his friend Eric Perlman who had mortgaged his house to be able to help out with the bail payment. Perlman, who shot the series ‘Master of Stones’ as well as several other films, recalls:
‘I said to him: ‘You went too far, maybe further than you should have. For a long time nobody will dare to do the things that you have done. Take down the rig, show the judge you’re serious and that you’re now playing by the rules…’
And he totally agreed with me. He said:
‘You know, you’re right. It’s what I should do. And my guardian angels need a break anyway. They’ve been working overtime for me.’
Eric had even recorded this conversation. Despite this, he also points out that: ‘Dano was terribly depressed by all that time spent in prison. And when he got back to Yosemite and saw the enormous labour and creative effort that had been put into setting up the rig..’ – here his voice trails off.
On the 18th of November Dan called up his friend Miles Daisher, with a request to drive him to Yosemite to take down the rig. The two of them set off on the evening of the 20th, arriving the next day. That evening they climbed up to the tower. On the 22nd Dan and Miles did a jump of almost 300 m. Dasher remembers how Dan joked around, pleased about the beautifully fine-tuned rig:
‘You see that golden glow lighting up El Cap? That’s the future!’ – He dreamed of setting up a rig on The Nose and jumping 720 m.
The 23rd of November dawned – a cold, grey day. Dan wanted to do his record jump before taking down the ropes, but the two of them decided to wait ‘til dusk to avoid the risk of the rangers getting in their way. At 16.15 in the afternoon Miles jumped, rappelling down on the end of the rope and climbing back up to the tower on foot. Around 17.30 he caught Dan letting out the rope, adding another 22 metres to the length of the jump instead of the usual 7. To increase the length of the fall, Dan decided to jump from a different spot and at a different angle from before.
‘I had a bad feeling about it,’ says Miles. ‘He was jumping from a different angle… which meant that he had to jump over the retrieval line which he wasn’t even going to be able to see, as dark as it was by then. And he’d added 75 feet (22 m) of rope, which was about three times more than he usually added from one jump to the next. So he was jumping on a thousand feet (more than 300 m) of line which meant he was going to be only about 150 feet (45 m) from the ground when he stopped. I was really sceptical. I kept saying: ‘I don’t think so, Dano, I don’t like this.’
Osman assured him that everything was alright and then rang his friends Fritsch and Gambalie who were snowed up in the Squaw valley.
‘This is it’ he told them. ‘I’m going to do something big!’
He placed the telephone in his jacket pocket without turning it off and started his pre-jump countdown. Then he stopped.
‘Are you in place?’ he asked Daisher who was squatting on the edge of the cliff, ready to throw the coiled up rope the moment Dan jumped.
‘Everything’s in order’ replied Dasher.
Osman started a second countdown, but once again he stopped, took out his telephone and asked:
‘Did you guys say anything?’
Not, they hadn’t. And they told him to go ahead and jump. He counted down for the third time and jumped. Just before he jumped the wind direction changed and it started to blow from the west. Dan smiled and counted down at the top of his voice:
‘Three-two-one: yahooOOO!’
His friends heard the wind whistling through the telephone and counted the seconds. The ten seconds during which they knew the rope should have stopped him passed. After that – silence. They decided that his phone had fallen out of his pocket during the abrupt coming to a halt.
‘I watched his headlamp disappearing into the dark going and going and in about 10 seconds I saw the rope straighten, heard it start to whip – what Dan called ‘flossing the sky’, but it didn’t make the full whipping sound. Then I heard him yell ‘Ahhhhhhh!’ and a crash like a tree had broken in half, and I thought: ‘Holy shit! He’s swung into one of them.’ I pictured him down there hanging from a limb, injured and bloody. I yelled to him, got on the radio. Nothing. Quiet. Then I started freaking.’
Daisher rappelled down to the base at lightning speed and then set off to search for Dan between the rocks and trees until, finally, he saw the torn end of the rope hanging from a branch. Then he saw Osman, lying quietly on one side, without any visible injuries. He checked for a pulse and when he didn’t discover one, hurtled through the boulder field to the nearest car-park and dialled Fritsch in a panic.
‘Dano’s dead’ he said, choking up. ‘He’s on the ground. I just saw him. He’s dead…’
The park authorities launched an investigation which dragged on for an inexplicably long time. The rig continued to hang there between the cliffs and, finally, contrary to federal law, his climber friends took it down in secret and sent off the ropes for tests in Black Diamond laboratories, where Chris Harmston examined them. The prevailing opinion was that the rope had actually melted when, because of the altered angle of the jump, an excessive strain was put on one of the knots causing them to slip loose. There was also speculation that the rangers had actually deliberately damaged his rope as well as the possibility that Dano himself had done all this quite intentionally. The theory that the ropes had been too worn out by three weeks of sun and rain was not borne out by the laboratory analysis.
Over the years that followed, the life and death of Dan Osman were to become the subject of incessant debate. Those who had never known him accused him of sheer recklessness towards his daughter and his family and of infantile foolhardiness. Those, though, who had been close to him, saw in him a person who had the courage to look fear in the eyes, to reach out his hand to it and to embrace it; an incredible climber and a wonderful friend who had reached the end of what he strived for and then gone beyond…
Do we have the courage to pursue our dreams like this? Not likely. Maybe that’s why it is not to us to judge.

* This article was written using materials by
Andrew Todhunter, Kevin Worrall and Craig Vetter as well as
information from the correspondence of Dan Osman’s close friends.


[1] This is a frequent sign of a degree of profundity when someone is acquiring any kind of skill, when this is done with interest, dedication and love from inside, without any intention to compete or compare with others (editor’s note).

A video compilation from ‘Enthusiast’ magazine in honour of Dan Osman:

Comments about Dan and the poster: ‘NoFear’
from the American climbing forums www.planetfear.com and www.rockclimbing.com
(2003, 2004)

From Shane
Dan Osman Crucifix poster?
Do you remember this poster? Dan Osman holding a perfect crucifix position a long, long way off the ground?

From Super
Dan Osman was a legend. He did all the things all us climbers wanted to do, but just don’t have the guts to carry out. Like Jesus, he died for us.

From D uni
Dan Osman was a tool. He had a wife and kids. He killed himself.

From Hal
He often called his friends whilst doing these roped free falls – it was a bit of a trade mark.

From Dano was my hero =)
The ropes weren’t fucked because of the weather. He changed his jumping position, which made the ropes go over eachohter. And nylon against nylon kills.

From Flamer
Dan Osman was a MASTER rigger. His miscalculation on his final jump has been blamed on the park service’s handling of the incident. He was not in the right frame of mind to make the judgement call he made after spending several days (weeks??) in the Valley jail – and he was never charged with a crime. Upon release the park demanded that he go up and remove his rig right then, thus thrusting him into a situation that he was clearly not ready to be in.
None of that matters now, the climbing community lost a very good source of knowledge and inspiration with his death. For anyone Questioning his motive’s and risk taking… COME ON!!! You can die sitting on the couch eating potato chips!!!

From Grant
So-and-so just died.  How can you justify participating in such a dangerous sport? – How can you climb if you have children? I find it so pathetically predictable that every time some big name (Alison Hargraves, Hall/Fisher, Dan Osman, Alex Lowe, etc) dies while pursuing the sport, a bunch of people will chime in and lament how senseless the loss is. People die everyday, doing everything imaginable (and otherwise…).  Better in my mind to focus on what the person brought to the sport and what new frontiers were opened. People like Alex Lowe and Dan Osman couldn’t give up or tone down their pursuits any easier than any of us mortals could do without a lung. It’s what makes up the core of their existence and passion for life. I’d rather be one left behind by someone who made a real impact with their life rather than one who had potential but never used it, living a life of dull mediocrity. “What’s your dad/mom do?” “Uh, I don’t know – something that makes them come home in a bad mood all the time…” Gee, that’s certainly better than dying pushing the limits. I feel a debt of gratitude to those who continue to define the cutting edge of the sport, taking the risks to live the moments some can only dream.

From Team_tcoc
Dan Osman was not an idiot for what he did. I find it pretty dang disrespectful to say he was, because he was a respectful and well respected climber. Someone may ask him, “Dan, why did you go up there to die?” But if the truth be known, he didn’t go up there to die, he went up there to LIVE! If I were to die in any way, I would hope that it would be in a similar way as Dan, because he died doing what he loved.


Dan did this during his solo climb in front of a camera. The route was Atlantis – 8- UIAA.


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