The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Vaughn Medford Retires from Pipeworks After 19 Years

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By Jason Bove.

“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right…” —Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead, “Scarlet Begonias”)

After 19 years, Vaughn Medford is retiring from Sacramento Pipeworks. In a post by a friend and gym member on the Pipeworks Facebook page, Matt McCormick describes many of the important contributions that Vaughn has made to our beloved climbing community:

“He has invested countless hours of his life, both on and off the clock, making decisions, cultivating the community, hosting events, and organizing (films, local/regional/national competitions, BBQs, fundraisers, music, group bike rides, seminars, trainings, classes, donations to the community, events for underprivileged kids, overnight gym campouts, summer kids camps, parties…the list is sooooo long)…”

I echo Matt’s sentiments, and encourage you to check out his full tribute story online if you haven’t already!

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As for me, in 2002 I drove my 1986 brown Ford Ranger into the dirt parking lot of a warehouse in the River District of Sacramento, CA. Inside the ordinary looking corrugated building lived 43′ indoor climbing walls that this ambitious Midwest transplant was eager to scale! Though I applied for a job at Pipeworks first, I ended up working the front desk out in Rancho Cordova at a different climbing gym for four and a half years.

Interestingly, both Vaughn and I had now spent time employed at Granite Arch, so we had some common references, characters, and stories to tell when it came time to try again for employment in 2006. He gave me an opportunity to utilize my customer service skills over at Pipeworks, and to “see how it goes.” It was then that I finally managed to procure a job at the elusive Sacramento Pipeworks, and earn my chance to work for the master and commander of 116 N. 16th Street, Mr. Vaughn Medford.

Fast forward fourteen and a half years…

I guess it must have gone pretty well, given the fact that I get to share this story with you today, and reflect on our many hours spent together.

As one may guess, working at a climbing gym is FUN! So fun, in fact, that I have personally chosen to pursue work in the climbing world for the past 25+ years. This is mainly because I have always had strong team members and tenacious boss figures like Vaughn.

Fun as it is, a climbing gym is also an occupation: hard, dirty, and stressful work that is rarely praised or widely rewarded. The amount of behind-the-scenes preparations are just as important as the front-of-house daily interactions. We are working in a fast-paced, customer service-oriented industry, while also playing lifeguard to keep everyone safe. Your coworkers and boss play crucial roles in making sure that everything runs smoothly. I am eternally grateful for Vaughn and the team he created, and that I have been blessed to be a part of.

From the early days of Crowne 1 billing and fax machines (916-341-7775), to the Rock Gym Pro database and wi-fi superpowers of today, we pushed on and endured! Many people do not have the pleasure of saying that they have had the same manager for so many years, but I am happy to say a huge “thank you” that I have. Vaughn’s leadership played a major part in raising Sacramento Pipeworks from its infancy to the thriving climbing facility it is today.

If you know Vaughn, it goes without saying that he, as all humans, has a complete range of emotions. I can honestly say that he is not always a ball of sunshine, nor is he constantly living under the black cloud of doom. Often, if a member or salesperson were to ask if now was a good time to approach him with a particular request, I could easily answer by looking at his body language or facial expression. When you know, you know…y’know?

[Vaughn] is a unique individual who has taught me many valuable life skills, and at the end of the day, if something needed to be done or accomplished, it was.

His admiration of fine film, books, and music—Allen Ginsberg, the Grateful Dead, Martin Sexton, and Jim Jarmusch, to name a few—help make him the well-rounded character we have all come to know and love. He is a unique individual who has taught me many valuable life skills, and at the end of the day, if something needed to be done or accomplished, it was.

Vaughn has touched so many lives and been such a constant for many of his coworkers over the last 19 years that it’s impossible to fully encapsulate all that he means to us. But a few brave souls at Touchstone have tried, and we’ve included some of their words here:

It’s quite a huge feat summing up our friendship over the past 19+ years. V is probably the most loyal person you’ll ever get a chance to work with. His personality and wisdom are inspiring, so much so that you just want to be in his presence or ask his opinion on anything. He is honest and caring at the same time. We shared so many moments of success and many moments of frustration but, tried and true, we are walking away with a lifelong friendship. We wish him nothing but the best and success with his star gazing hobby in LA, his passion for finding the finest cigars and to finally being able to shake the doctor-on-call stress of a gym manager—CLIMB the highest mountains! You’ve done good, my friend.

We love you so much.

p.s. Thankfully, he has been weaning me for this moment—it’s a day full of happiness but also a lot of tears.

Donna Hawkins, Mission Cliffs Manager

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Vaughn couldn’t have been more perfect for Pipeworks and made that gym his own. His facility projects were done with a lot of thought and taste. His connection with members and staff were so genuine and fun. But most importantly to me were the talks we had, both personal and professional. I’d sit down with him and he’d give me a quiet, “how’re you doin’?” The flood gates would open, good or bad. He laughed at my stupid stories, whether about family or work, and he was a thoughtful listener about the more serious stuff. It was just easy with Vaughn. I’ll be forever grateful having him manage Pipeworks with all the care and creativity he put into it; but what I’ll cherish most are our chats, whether they were on a bike ride along the American River or a walk through the gym.

Markham Connolly, Touchstone Director of Operations

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Who knew in 2002 as a front desk person training you, the new manager, we’d witness so much growth and change in that gym. Endless stories and fun memories. You will be missed, Vaughn.

Nicole Moffat, Director of Human Resources and former Pipeworks desk staff

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In 2003 when I was 18 and brand new to climbing, I pulled a tendon while climbing at Pipeworks because I didn’t warm and went straight to my proj. Vaughn came out to give me ice, talk to me, and provide a few dos + don’ts. I really appreciated that and have never forgotten that he did it. We weren’t even friends! I was just some stoner 18-year-old and he was the manager of the facility. Not even sure if I’ve ever told him that.

Anyway, it was super cool because he is…super cool.

Ryan Moon, Events Coordinator + Programs Director

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Compared to others I haven’t known Vaughn long, but he quickly became my favorite person to talk to at Pipeworks. “What’s up buddy?” has started just about every day for me for the past five years. Even through stressful situations, Vaughn had a knack for finding humor. Always able to make me laugh or see the bright side of any situation, I am realizing how much I leaned on him through the complications of developing Touchstone Brewing Company. Now that the brewery is open and the restaurant is getting close, I am bummed that he is not going to be sharing all things Touchstone Sacramento with me.

Vaughn, I envy your ability to shake everything off, to start each day new, and stay calm and casual through any situation. Venting and laughing with you has become super important to me, and I appreciate you a ton. Enjoy your retirement! You have certainly earned it, though most of us will never feel like we are ready for it.

Ryan Campagna, Touchstone Brewmaster

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When I first started climbing I had only worked with Vaughn a couple of times. One day I was working with him at his gym and he talked me into climbing with him. It was my first 5.10b and I was up about three quarters of the way—I was tired, my hands hurt, and my legs were shaking. I told him I was “done,” but he wouldn’t lower me down. He said I had to finish it. I must have hung in my harness for a good ten minutes or more. I even tried to bribe him with some homemade cookies or bake him something. But he wouldn’t lower me down, so I stayed up there until I finished it. He definitely made an impression on me that day, and thus started our lifelong friendship. That was such a great memory and I’ll always remember him for being a butthead. I will truly miss working with him but I know we’ll stay in touch.

Marie Garringer, MetalMark Manager

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Vaughn has been the lifeblood of a gym that has catalyzed generosity and goodness in tens of thousands of climbers over the years. He’s made the decisions and choices to do the right thing for his public—intuitive choices of an empathetic person. I’ve tried to learn from him the patience for working things through. We started a climb together once, the Steck-Salathe on Sentinel, retreating for weather. I’d always hoped to climb with him again. Vaughn told me the other day, “I never understand people that retire and suddenly don’t have anything to do, as I have a list of a hundred.” Well, Vaughn, that list deserves you.

Mark Melvin, Touchstone Climbing CEO

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I know that retirement will not be the end of Vaughn’s hard work, but will just mean that his laundry list of projects at home will finally be able to come to fruition. While it is sad to see my friend and boss retire, I am grateful this story is a tribute rather than a memorial!

As I write this, we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are transitioning management responsibilities for Sacramento Pipeworks to Diane Ortega. Speaking from past experience, I know Diane will do a great job, and I leave you with her statement about our previous boss:

Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the trajectory of your life changed, but for me it’s easy: It was the first time I walked into Pipeworks. It is impossible for me to separate Pipeworks, the place, from Vaughn, the man who has helmed it for 19 years. Little did I know that 15 years ago I would sit down and interview for a summer camp job with my future mentor and good friend. Vaughn has impacted so many people for the best in his time at Pipeworks and I hope to continue to lead the gym with the same care, work ethic and vision as he has…they will be big flip flops to fill.

Diane Ortega, incoming Pipeworks Manager and former Pipeworks camp staff and desk staff, Studio Manager, and Dogpatch Boulders Manager

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Congratulations Vaughn, and best of luck on writing your next chapter. You still have lots of life to live, and many more people to inspire. We will all dearly miss you, and will carry the torch toward the future in your honor. Climb on.