In climbing’s storied history, there are a number of vehicles that have reached legendary status. The RV that Chris Sharma and Obe Carrion drove around the country in the late 1990s while bouldering and filming Rampage comes to mind. The white Ford Econoline van that Alex Honnold customized a few years ago comes to mind too, particularly because Honnold was living in it as he became world-famous.
But, particularly for homewallers, there is one legendary climber’s vehicle that perhaps came before all others. In the early 1990s, Tony Yaniro—one of the best climbers in the world and also one of the pioneers of American routesetting—sold his house and bought a Winnebago in hopes of driving around the country for a year and just climbing wherever and whenever he could. Such cross-country ambitions alone would not make Yaniro’s motorhoming particularly noteworthy among climbers. Yet, Yaniro embraced a DIY ethic to outfit his Winnebago with its own foldable climbing wall on the back.
The result was, quite literally, a climbing wall that could travel everywhere with Yaniro; and when the motorhome parked, the wall could be unfolded so that the hard sessioning could begin.
“It was twelve feet tall, and the top four-feet hinged down and folded back behind it, and then it would—it was on a spinning axle—so it would lift up,” Yaniro explains about the wall’s design. “It had a little rope, like a drawbridge. You’d pull it and it would draw down. And as it went down, these two little legs on the sides would swing out and post on the ground.”
This Winnebago climbing structure was innovative for the early 1990s—an era when climbing gyms were still relatively scarce outside of cities steeped in mountain culture. Even in the present day, there is yet to be a prominent company that we know of that has embraced the installation of motorhome climbing walls. (To us, climbing walls seem like motorhome amenities that could catch on with the masses.)
For Yaniro, the whole Winnebago setup was created out of necessity at the time. “I needed a place to train,” he says. “I had always had a climbing wall in my bedroom, or in the garage, or wherever it was—I’d always have a little climbing wall. But now I didn’t have one, so I had to have a climbing wall somewhere to train on.”
In essence, Yaniro was embodying “van life” before it was a hashtag (#vanlife), and before the idea of living out of a van or motorhome would get glamorized and romanticized by innumerable social media posts from climbers in all corners of the country.
Yaniro admits that he did not end up crisscrossing the country in the Winnebago as much as he had hoped; he was shaping holds for companies at the time, and those duties often necessitated staying put in headquarter spots like Boulder, Colorado, for extended periods. Nonetheless, Yaniro does recall traveling “here and there” in the vehicle.
Eventually, Yaniro’s year with the homewall on wheels came to an end. He settled in Las Vegas to start a gym, at which time he removed the fold-out climbing wall and sold the Winnebago. Whether or not the Winnebago is still cruising around the country somewhere, escorting other diehard climbers to gyms and crags, is unknown.
Adding to the intrigue is that photographic evidence of Yaniro’s old Homewalling Winnebago is hard to find these days. Yaniro was so busy climbing and shaping holds back then that snapping photos of the vehicle would not have been a priority. So far all efforts—including those by Yaniro—to track down old images have come up short. “I tried finding some [photos] for a while because someone wanted to see it—I can’t find them anywhere,” Yaniro says. “I know there are some photos, I’ve seen them.”
As much as we’d love to see photos of this legendary homewall-on-wheels too (and definitely let us know if you find any), we are also fine with the vehicle continuing to be shrouded in mystery, forever a fascinating anomaly in homewall history and lore.
John Burgman is Senior Editor at Climbing Business Journal, as well as the author of High Drama, a book that chronicles the history of American competition climbing. He is a Fulbright journalism grant recipient and a former magazine editor. He holds a master’s degree from New York University and bachelor’s degree from Miami University. In addition to writing, he coaches a youth bouldering team. Follow him on Twitter @John_Burgman and Instagram @jbclimbs