USA 1983

If it’s hard all your life, you get used to it. But it can go the other way. At least for two months. It was Mira Pořádek’s vision that Jarda Uher managed to achieve. The article is a reminder that if you want to, anything is possible…

| MAY 2023

Yosemite in 1983! In the middle of the communist era a group of climbers from Děčín (the Czech Republic) went there in the form of Jarda Uher, Zdeněk Weingartl and Jindra Hudeček. Many people already know the story of this trip. However, the older this expedition is, the more facsinating it is.

When one talks to someone about the journey of the three climbers to America, the first reaction is usually: “How on earth did they get there?” Thanks to Jarda Uher, who is now 82 years old, although he doesn’t look it — he still climbs, travels, rides on the water… He was 41 at the time, so he already had enough experience for the challenge: The only way to travel to the West was on a currency pledge, a humiliating procedure that allowed you to exchange some money. Many people waited ten years for one, or never got one at all. Also, an exit clause and a lot of other stamps were needed. Getting from socialism to capitalism was a big struggle.

But Jarda took it on with great determination. The vision of big granite walls and climbing adventures drove him to an incredible organizational feat. At the moment when others would have given up, he did not hesitate to buy more candies and set off again and again to the airport or the embassy — to persuade, to strike…

As you will read — the third expedition of Czechoslovak climbers to the USA took place. Before them, we know only about Yosemite of Karel Schubert and Karel Procházka in 1974 and the second climbers in America were Míra Šmíd and Jarýk Stejskal (1979). Compared to these predecessors, however, in 1983 the Děčín climbers managed to bring top climbing sends — for example on El Capitan: the feared The Shield or the solo ascent of the legendary route of The Nose. They also thrived on the sport routes, where the hardest routes of the time fell in the Eldorado Canyon area.



Does the name Míra Pořádek mean anything to you? He was a crazy active guy, a very nice person and an able organizer. He could play the guitar well, he sang… And most of all, he spoke English. One day he came up with the idea: “Hey, I’d like to organize an expedition to America.” Everybody said, “Are you crazy?!” I’d been on a couple of trips to the West by then and I knew what a problem it was. And that was just the Alps — Mt Blanc and the Dolomites. “If you can organize it, I’ll go for it,” I said to Mira. The Weingartl brothers were still on board, so there were four of us — the perfect group for climbing and in the car.

Only, it changed one weekend in the early 80s, when we were in Labak, sleeping under Vojtěch tower… It rained all day, so it was impossible to climb. We spent time in the bivouac: “What are we going to do? We should go and get a guitar and some beer.” So Míra packed up and with another girl we went to get some supplies. When they were coming back, they skidded on the road right below Vojtěch, where the Cold Creek flows. The car flipped over the roof twice, Míra fell out of it onto the concrete and was dead on the spot. The girl survived — she was probably strapped in. It was a big mess, of course, but that was the end of our America together.

Zdeněk Weingartl started to hum to me: “You fool, Jardo, if it was so promising, we should finish it…” Finally I nodded and started to organize it myself. Only, at that moment his brother Pavel gave up — he was quite ill. So it was just the two of us. Zdeněk kept saying, “We have to find someone!” So I got Hudy, but it wasn’t easy to persuade him. He wasn’t yet 19 years old, he was working as a mechanic for the road administration, taking a few peelings… He had to sell his bike before he left… It was actually his first trip abroad. Pepík Hozák, former head of the Děčín climbing club, discouraged me: “Do you have any sense, you want to take the savage Hudeček?” Sometimes he ate somebody’s sausages or something in the bivouac… Anyway, at that time Hudy was already a climbing star. He knew how to climb, and eventually he nodded. We couldn’t get another one.

Zdenek and I had already tapped out the foreign currency by then, but Hudy still didn’t have it. We asked for him, so we had to go to the headquarters in Prague, we wrote letters “that he was a top climber and that he would represent Czechoslovakia”. The request was finally approved. So, thanks to the promise, we were able to exchange crowns worth one hundred dollars per person.

Getting out was a struggle… Congress of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1981 (photo: Wiki, creative commons)

Another problem was with the tickets. A normal return ticket from Prague to New York cost 28 000 CSK. If you wanted, you could get half off, provided you booked a month in advance and with a clear return date. We paid 14,700 CSK at the time. That was an insane amount of money! (In 1983, people were charging an average of 2822 CSK per month, ed.) But they could only sell you the ticket when you had already completed your paperwork. And we had nothing. (laughs)

So I personally went to the airline office — at first they fired me right away. The second time I went there with chocolates, but nobody wanted them… “Take that back.” “But we are the national team and we need tickets.” Nobody wanted to talk to me. Finally I talked them into it — I brought some more certificates from the Central Committee, papers from Prague… I managed to persuade them and they sold us the tickets.

The next problem was to get exit endorsements from the Passport and Visa Administration — that is, a stamp that you can travel. This was also finally done, but before that there was a lot of persuasion…

And the worst thing in the end: the fact that the American side wouldn’t let us in. Now imagine: you’ve paid for your tickets, you’ve cleared your foreign exchange, you’ve got a valid exit clause, but it’s useless. I’ve been to the American Embassy in Prague three times in a row. I didn’t speak English, but fortunately you could speak Czech: “We are the representatives, the best climber in the country is coming with us…” They: “What are you going to live for?” “We have 100 dollars.” “That’s for ice cream, but what are you going to live on?” “Well, of course, we have black money, but we can’t admit that to our authorities.” “But that’s not enough anyway. There’s only one last chance we can give you a visa: get an invitation and someone to vouch for you in the US.“

Zdenek Weingartl already had friends in Saxony by this time — the good climbers with whom he had climbed Falkenstein tower and so on. A lot of those good Easterners had fled to America and built up a solid base there. Those guys said, “Yeah, that’s no problem. Franta over there from Nebraska can take care of that.” Finally, the invitation came and I went to the embassy for the fourth time. “An invitation like that? You can put that in your vinegar. You need an official invitation from the U.S. authorities, including stamps, and it must specifically state that ‘the inviting entity is liable for all illness, injury, and potential damage you may cause in the U.S.’ ”

Like I said — we had already bought our tickets and time was running out. So another chance for an invitation: originally Saxon climber Fritz Wiessner, who emigrated to America at age 30. He was 83 at the time, by then a millionaire. We got in touch with him about a week or two before he left, the stuff already slowly packed in the backpack… He wrote us a rather long letter along the lines of, “I’m rooting for you, I’m glad you want to go to Yosemite… However, the Czechs have disappointed me in the past. It happened during a trip to Alaska, where I had to pay for their rescue by helicopter… Fingers crossed and I will definitely invite you next year.”

Fritz Wiessner (photo: Wiki, creative commons)

That was a big blow, but it started again. “Hey, Marus, we need to make a phone call.” At that time they were one of the first to have a wired phone at home. “Yeah, that’s no problem. Where to?” “To Munich.” “Jesus Christ!” Mrs. Spankova got all teary-eyed and almost fainted. If you called somewhere abroad, there was a chance they’d start following you, making trouble…

“Well, yes,” she allowed us. We grabbed the phone and called — Zdeněk in German again, through those friends from Saxony, to try to persuade Fritz Wiessner. Dude, and he sent the invitation — directly to the embassy in Prague. About two days before he left.

“How did you manage to get there in that time? You must have been agents or informers,” people often asked me afterwards. We just didn’t give up. We kept telling them that we were going to represent there — that’s what we were playing for.



We took the Zig to the airport and planned for my wife to drive the car back home. At that time we had the option of taking 20 kilos per person in the hold and seven kilos directly into the cabin… “Could you please reserve the seats above the wing for us?” “Like why?” asked the lady at the airline. “We’re mountaineers and we have a lot of stuff.” The main backpacks weighed a combined 58.5 kilos. However, we each carried about 15 kilos on board instead of the allowed seven.

We flew out on May 9, it was hot and we had all our clothes on — because of the weight of the backpacks. We were walking through a frame that was shaking. “Get it all out.” Airport security came running and everybody was staring. We pocketed the staples, the carabiners. We were being economical, you see. “Jesus Christ, the world has never seen this!” “So how do we do it?” we asked. “Jesus, you better go! Go!” We walked into the check-in hall and everything fell off us…

That’s when it dawned on me: our folding wall bed that I had made stayed in the car! So I made a huge scene: “Oh my God! We can’t leave, we still have our main luggage outside, without which we can’t go to America!” The security guy walked with me up to the car in the parking lot, where fortunately my wife was still waiting, and I carried the package, past all the checks, right into the check-in hall. Then we stuffed the stuff into the space above the wing.


Hudy didn’t know a word. I knew how to count and the alphabet. I couldn’t string a sentence together. Zdenek was the best at school, but he was lousy. The problem was, he was so shy. “Go ask that one over there.” “That’s stupid, that’s not appropriate.” We had to push him a lot. We were deprived of a lot of things because we didn’t know the language. You drive past different attractions and you don’t even know there’s anything there — you don’t translate the signs, nothing…

By not knowing the language, we were deprived of many things. (photo: JU)


I was 41 years old at the time, Zdeněk was about 29 years old, Hudy was about 19 years old. Although everyone discouraged me from taking Hudy, he turned out to be the best partner I ever had during my time in America. He’s a fair guy. I never saw him show any sign of selfishness or anything… And we were often in trouble — no money, no food. So we got a job right at the beginning so we could buy a car and go out west. He went over there with the blacks to Harlem, he went to build a wall, he was remodeling with drywall. One was sick for three days, the other worked harder… Anyway, we put the money in one pile and didn’t worry about who worked how many hours. In the first two weeks, we basically made enough money for the whole of America.

“What’s that gonna buy us to eat?” Eggs, offal — some liver, kidneys, and meat that nobody there ate and was the cheapest… Then we subsisted a lot on two-pound packs of ice cream.


We had a tiny one-person tent, the smallest tent that existed, and we slept two. At the Sunnyside campground in Yosemite, it was about two dollars per person per tent, so it was an awful lot. “We’re going to the wall, so we wouldn’t pay that?” We tried to check. “Well, someone has to watch your stuff and your car.” So I stayed there.

Then the boys slept in the tent and I lay down next to it, half a meter away. Between the tent and the car we had a cardboard box with food — rice, soups, chum… Nothing special. Suddenly, in the night, I hear a rumble. I started squinting out of the sleeping bag. A bear is tearing open our cardboard box — 30 centimeters away from me. It was a pretty big one, 150 kilos for sure. Oh, man! So I started gathering my courage: “Go! Shoo!” and I chased him off. Then we took the box to the car, where you’re not allowed to keep it.


The boys wanted to show off and make a dent in the world. “Either we’re going to make some noise or I’m going home,” said Jindra. There was no way I was going to slow both of them down, so they went alone fot the El Cap. I just helped them with logistics, occasionally cooking something, carrying things, that sort of thing.

In four and a half days, which was a very fast time at that time, they managed to climb the Shield route (5.8, A3, 30 pitches, 880 m, ed.). This was a huge success. The Americans and the newspapers wrote about it. Zdenek Weingartl climbed it in slippers, from which his toes were sticking out at the end. From the top of El Cap, there was a 15-kilometre descent through the mud. When he reached the campsite in the same boots, it was a great glory. All the climbers were gathered, looking at his slippers in disbelief and passing them among themselves.

Jindra then climbed solo the Nose, enjoying an eight-meter whipper during the climb. We hardly had any friends, we only found a few under the wall. About two. I still have one of them hidden in the closet (he takes it out and the friend is still running smoothly, ed.). We also had the pitons and the hammer with us. On the sport routes, he climbed the hardest route of the trip, Hudy: Fire and Ice (5.12b, 7b/7b+ fr., ed. note) in Eldorado Canyon. He tried it several times to get it completely clear without falling.

Zdeněk Weingartl climbs Kloeberdanz (5.11c, 7a), Eldorado Canyon (photo: JU)


By the way, we met Lynn Hill at this hard sportclimb Kloeberdanz (5.11c, 7a). By then she was already known and climbing some side route. We even had a little chat with her: “Hello, how are you?” Then we didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t interested in some Czechs in sweatpants.

On the way we also got to Monument Valley. We wanted to climb there and brought back a great experience — it’s an Indian reservation and you can’t go anywhere off the path. Let alone climb. We surveyed the situation: there was no one around, so we, all excited, ran to one rock to try something… Look, it took a few minutes and suddenly I had a rifle between my shoulder blades. The Navajo Indians rode up on horseback and we ran down so fast you couldn’t see it. We had no chance, they were watching.

We wanted to climb a sandstone tower, but it didn’t work out. (p: Jarda Uher)


It was a Ford Combi and it was over six metres long. Eight cylinders, one of which didn’t go in at all… The steering wheel worked so that the first half-turn was empty… The car was as wide as crazy — first bench for three, second bench for three and a big boot in the back.

We slept on it because we were afraid of snakes. Especially in Joshua Tree, there were too many rattlesnakes. And we cooked while we drove to save time — normally on a Juwel gas station. You could hardly see in front of you while you were driving, as you were perched so low. It got 18 litres per 100 kilometres. And we were always driving behind trucks to get “sucked in”. And we’d go, “Dude, you’re going fast again! Save money!” Otherwise, we talked the car down from the original price of $1,000 to $750. At the end of the trip, we got rid of it at a big loss.



When I got back, a lot of people asked me: “What is America like?” I always said, “Which America?” Because you’ve got half the world — from deserts to super national parks… From rich people to beggars on the street with nothing to eat. It’s a huge country and it’s all kinds of things.

We’ve seen some nice things and some ugly things. I loved it and I was thrilled. It was a new world for us and we spent two months there. So even though we didn’t speak English, we still picked up and saw a lot.

And the return to normality? I’d describe it like this: my wife came to pick us up again at the airport by Zigil. I got in the car to drive, and I said to her, “Hey, the steering wheel is stuck.” I went out, I looked under the car, what was going on, the steering wheel wasn’t turning at all. “Nah, that’s normal,” she said. “It’s not!” Then I found out that in America, I had gotten so used to power steering that our Ziggy felt like it was broken. It was jerky and hard to turn. But when you’ve driven it all your life, you get used to it…


Standa Mitáč

Editor in chief

“Climbing is not about the grades and life is not about the money.” He loves to write about inspiring people. Addicted to situations when he does not care about date and time – in the mountains or home Elbe Sandstones. Not being treated.

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