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Some of Bachar's climbs had hitherto been deemed impossible, even with the aid of ropes. But while no one questioned his courage, viewing him as the torchbearer for a simpler, more cavalier, age, there were those who accused him of arrogance, seeing his purism when it came to climbing without safety equipment as a form of priggishness. When, in 1981, he offered $10, 000 to anyone who could keep up with him for a day, the challenge irritated his fellow climbers, none of whom took it up.

In an interview last year Bachar enunciated his basic creed, which was to "respect the rock". "From an environmentally ethical standpoint I always try not to hurt the rock, " he said. "Even just putting bolts in, you are changing the rock forever – that's probably not too cool. It's not just your rock, other people are going to want to enjoy this thing. If there's a bolt every 5ft that's kind of ridiculous."

Bachar, who did much of his climbing decked out in calf-high tube socks and high-cut running shorts, added: "I would rather do something in good style than just fudge my way up it. I would rather leave it alone if I can't do it in a certain style."

At the height of his career, in the 1970s, there was no such thing as a professional rock climber. So well-known did Bachar become, however, that for a time he was able to support himself on the back of his reputation by appearing in television commercials and endorsing various products.

The climbing photographer Phil Bard once said: "It was always breathtaking to see John gliding effortlessly upward on tiny knobs or with only the first knuckles of his fingers in a crack 100ft off the ground. It took superior training and complete control over his mindset to accomplish what he did, and in a way it is only a climber that can truly understand what he represented to the sport."

John Martin Bachar was born in Los Angeles on March 15 1957 and studied Mathematics at UCLA, where his father was a professor in the subject. But his principal passions as a young man were athletics and climbing. He was an excellent pole-vaulter at the Santa Monica Track Club, where he was trained by Joe Douglas, who later coached the Olympic athlete Carl Lewis; meanwhile, he learned his rock climbing at Stoney Point, just north of Los Angeles, finally dropping out of university to pursue climbing full time.

Bachar made his way to Camp IV in the Yosemite Valley, a magnet for America's best rock climbers. His athletics background had drilled into him the merits of physical fitness, and at the campsite he set up a gym, called Gunsmoke, which featured a hanging rope ladder which he would ascend using only his arms (it is now known as a "Bachar ladder"). He also studied martial arts and Chinese philosophy, and relaxed by playing the alto saxophone.

After joining a band of young climbers known as The Stonemasters, Bachar became an enthusiastic practitioner of "free climbing", in which only ropes are used. Then he met John Long, who persuaded him to free-solo a notoriously difficult 95ft route called Double Cross. Bachar made it look easy, and in 1976 he free-soloed another difficult route in Yosemite, called New Dimensions.

In the 1980s he climbed a multitude of well-known routes, including The Nabisco Wall, The Moratorium and El Capitan. He is probably best known, however, for his first ascent of the Bachar-Yerian route on Medlicott Dome in Tuolumne Meadows, California, which he achieved with Dave Yerian in 1981.

In the mid-1980s rock climbers began increasingly to adopt the French practice of drilling bolts into the rock face, a development not to Bachar's taste. By the 1990s he was climbing less often, and exploring less exotic pastimes such as snowboarding and golf. He began to earn his living as a designer of climbing shoes for the company Acopa International, based in Las Vegas.

His fame, however, was assured, and in 2005 he was the subject of a television documentary, Bachar: One Man, One Myth, One Legend.

The following year Bachar was involved in a serious car crash in Nevada. The vehicle, which he was driving, turned over, killing his business partner, Steve Karafa. Bachar himself was seriously hurt, breaking five vertebrae and never recovering full mobility.

Despite this, he did not abandon climbing. He always acknowledged the dangers of climbing without ropes, but explained that the thrill of it had become an addiction. He was killed when he fell from a formation called Dike Wall, not far from his home in California.

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