John "Yabo" Yablanski
photo© Greg EppersonYabo is no longer with us, but his stories, antics, and spirit lives on. John has taken on sort of a legendary statas, and his stories are told like stories of Paul Bunyon or John Henry. Yabo was a person, definitely no saint, a complex person, and my friend.
There are many, many people who knew John way better then I did. I'm not claiming to be his best buddy, know him well, or even do him justice with a profile of him on this website. What I do feel comfortable doing is writing about the Yabo I personally knew, and recalling a few stories about Yabo that I remember.
One of my first recollections of John was in the old, old mountain bar in Yosemite in the late 1970s. It was a dark, smokey, stink-ass place, and we loved it that way. We would get so many cigarettes going in a dark corner of the bar, that if someone lit up a joint, you couldn't even tell from all the tobacco smoke. I was with my friends having beers and Yabo approached us ashing my friend where he got his cool T-shirt. The shirt was hand-silk-screened and had a Joshua Tree logo on it. Yabo wanted the shirt and started to barter with my friend for the shirt. When my friend refused to trade for anything, Yabo started to sort of go nuts like an ape in a cage at the zoo. He held onto the underside of his chain and started to hop up and down with the chain, all the time ranting and shorting he's non-stop mantra; "I want that shirt...I want that shirt...I want that shirt..." I saw him later that trip, all beat up; scrapped; and bruised from a huge whipper he took attempting a speed ascent of El Cap with Mike Lechlinski.
The stories of Yabo falling in Yosemite free soloing and being saved by a tree branch; the stories of Yabo free- soloing The Beaver; the nude ascent of N. Overhang;...all part of Yabo lore (and all , I believe, true).
I remember being at Indian Cove with the Stahl Brothers. They had with them a set of fencing swords and a pair of fencing masks. Yabo was with Lynn Hill, Mike and Mari and others, and we all took turns with the swords and the masks. Climbing has many destructions. John (and Lynn) with good with the swords too (as well all were, come to think of it....). Often times, if there was anything interesting going down, we were on it; none of us seemed to be lacking in time on the rock; there seemed to be lots of time for everything (if you didn’t have college or 40 hr. work weeks in the way).
Sometimes in a group, Yabo was loud, weird, disoriented, and somewhat of an asshole. With his friends or in small groups, he seemed to be more at ease, more relaxed, and very friendly, highly intelligent, and sincere. In the early 80s, I had a place on Rincon Rd in Joshua Tree. It was a small place, always overrun by various riff- raff climbers. Yabo was stuck there; stranded with no money for gas to get back to his home in Santa Cruz. He sold some of his belongings and climbing gear, but not enough to get home yet. He had a 9 mm rope which he kept hitting me up to buy from him, but I was very poor and saving for an approaching climbing trip to Peru anyways. Each day I would come home from work, and Yabo was still there, still trying to pawn off this 9 mm rope. Finally, after a number of days, I gave in, and just "loaned" him $60.00 straight up.....but told him I definitely need the money back before summer. He promised, took the 3 Jacksons, and split. Next time I saw Yabo, was next fall, at the parking lot of Hall of Horrors. He tipped back his sun glasses, and said, "Hey, Todd, it's me, Yabo."....which I kindly said, "Damn it, Yabo....where's my 60 bucks!"
One evening around the Sat. night campfire I had outside my house each weekend, everyone had gone to bed, except Yabo, myself and Cyndie Bransford (local hard-core climber). They started talking about jokes, and Cyndie told one or 2 jokes when Yabo started off on a string of jokes that went on for about an hour. We were totally, amazed at how many jokes he knew, remembered, and could recite. He then even told Cyndie about some poems he wrote, to his girlfriend, and they were quite good, very sincere and very touching. This was a side of Yabo that we hadn't seen before; a far cry from the wildman I had met in the mountain bar in Yosemite years before.
Yabo ended his own life, is a sad tragic moment of indulgence. I read about Yabo in Lynn Hill's book, and she seemed to touch on both his wonderful friend side, and his funky, misfit side. For the many who, knew Yabo, his death at his own hands shocked us, saddened us, but made us shake our heads and say, "Damn it, Yabo. You really screwed up this time."......Was he running away from something horrible, or just being his goof-ball, lame-ass Yabo self? Is there an easy explanation or something to complex to fathom?