Climbers We Lost in 2012In Memoriam—Jack Roberts, Paul Borne, Tony Scott, Michael Ybarra, Patrick Edlinger, Lincoln Hall, Maurice Herzog, John Rosendahl, Gil Weiss, Ben Horne, Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and Johnny Brenan—2012.
Jack Roberts, 59
A renowned ice climber and alpinist, Jack Roberts died January 15 on Bridalveil Falls, the 400-foot Grade 5 ice climb outside Telluride, Colorado, a route he had done countless times.
Says his wife, Pamela Ranger Roberts, “When they finally reached me in Cuba, over 24 hours later, and told me, I truly did not believe it. My first thought was, ‘He can’t be dead, he’s in Telluride. NO WAY he could die in Telluride!'”
Jack fell roughly 60 feet leading the steep second pitch of Bridalveil Falls in tricky conditions. He broke his hip, and went into cardiac arrest. San Miguel Search and Rescue was able to respond to the scene, but Roberts died before he could be evacuated.
“At that time they thought the only way he could possibly have fallen was that maybe he had a heart attack,” Pam continues. “Jack, who NEVER fell on ice. He was conscious for a while before he died, and told Jon he didn’t know why he fell. In the end, I suspect his tool popped as he was getting ready to clip a draw on the ice screw.”
Jack was a climber of over four decades, climbing rock and ice from Yosemite to New England. Further afield, he made major first ascents of new routes on Denali, Huntington, Kennedy and Lewis in the Alaska Range; in the Canadian Rockies, he and Dale Bard succeeded on the first free ascent of Polar Circus; and Roberts and Tobin Sorenson pulled the first winter ascents of the North Face of Mount Robson and Central Couloir on Mount Kitchener.
Roberts was a professional guide; taught and lectured at many ice festivals; wrote the 2005 guidebook Colorado Ice and articles in Rock and Ice and other climbing journals. An article he published in the Canadian Alpine Journal was honored at the 1997 Banff Book Festival as best of the year.
Pam Ranger Roberts recently attended the Bozeman Ice Climbing Festival to represent Jack, who was posthumously awarded the Guy Lacelle Hyalite Service Award.
In recent months, she walked the Camino de Santiago across Spain and finally spread his ashes in the sea. “For me, the grief process has been very much like surfing,” she writes in an email to this magazine. “Mostly I’m up and paddling around, surrounded by beauty, love, and joy, riding waves happily. But once in a while I wipe out badly, and just get hit over and over, until I’m finally able to climb up on my board again and paddle out.”
Jack is also survived by his mother and sister.
Paul Borne, 52
A burst of spontaneous praise from this time last year is now sad affirmation.
“Got to talk to an old friend yesterday,” wrote Michael Paul on supertopo.com. “His routes are test-pieces to this day, [he’s] one of the better guitar players I’ve had the pleasure to play with, he’s a stunt man and adventurer, and I want to give a shout for Paul Borne!”
Who knew the ensuing thread would end a year later in sorrow? Borne, of Joshua Tree, California, died November 27 when his paraglider hit power lines on a mountainside near Hemet.
“I climbed with Paul last Friday,” Todd Gordon marveled in when contacted by Rock and Ice. “He had his accident on Sunday.”
Borne was a fixture on the So Cal scene, particularly Joshua Tree, in the 1980s and ’90s. His route Scorpion, at 5.13d, was one of the hardest pitches of its era, though his best talent may have been in seeing potential in stretches of rock others had walked right past. Among his routes, put up on lead and often sparsely protected, were Misfits (5.11b), Solo Dog (5.11), Chameleon (5.12a—and apparently scene of some big names taking 50-footers), Games Without Frontiers (5.13a), and numerous others. He was also an active soloist, a contemporary of John Bachar and others of the day, in the Hidden Valley circuit. Close climbing friends were Michael (Mike) Paul, Al Swanson, Dave Mayville and Alan Bartlett, area guidebook author.
Borne’s stunt work was extensive, with a filmography of some 30 titles including two GI Joe films, the Transformers series, Shooter and Man on Fire, and he was a musician: a guitarist and lead vocalist.
While Borne himself sounds like the type of person of which novels are written and movies made, “Paul was not really a wild person,” Todd Gordon reflects. Borne seems mainly to have been incredibly colorful: “He was a Hollywood stunt dude, a musician, and climbed everything from big walls to 5.13 first ascents,” Gordon continues. “He had a big black truck, and a black Harley too. He did all his FAs ground up, and some of his 5.12 sport climbs are the best ones in the Park. He was friendly, but not a person you wanted to piss off. He had a strong personality, and always said what was on his mind. He was unique and his own boss. In the last few years, Paul seemed to be doing more Hollywood work, less climbing, and he seemed happy and content. He was a favorite with the girls, with his strong features, positive vibe, rock star life style, and his I-can-do-anything attitude. He did some crazy stunts in movies: wild car chases, fight scenes, any climbing-related stuff, and was the real deal. He had sort of a bad-boy persona, but he wasn’t really a bad boy. He smiled a lot, laughed a lot, talked the talk, and walked the walk.”
Borne, who was memorialized in a gathering out at Joshua Tree last weekend, also ran a climbing school that catered to the Hollywood crowd, which leads us into our next loss, that of his friend Tony Scott, world-renowned movie director.
Tony Scott, 68
When Tony Scott began scaling a 15-foot wall up the side of the Vincent Thomas Bridge above LA Harbor, his movements were so sure and strong that one witness assumed he was seeing an organized stunt. Would that it were so. Scott, beloved director of such top-grossing movies as Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Man on Fire, and the younger brother of the acclaimed director Ridley Scott, topped the wall and jumped unhesitatingly to his death.
Tony’s alacrity that day, August 19, arose from his history as a lifelong climber.
Scott climbed in various locales in the UK, where he was raised, and made an early solo of the iconic Cenotaph Corner, in North Wales, a 5.10+ with the hardest moves at the top. He climbed extensively in Joshua Tree and Idyllwild.
In Joshua Tree, Scott went with Summit Adventures, owned by Paul Borne (who also climbed with Scott on the Nose, El Capitan, Yosemite) and for which Borne’s friend Michael Paul also guided. Borne and Scott are both pictured here, with Borne on the left (olive-green top, long blond hair) and Scott with a cigar (and in a purple fleece). A signed note that came affixed to it stated that Scott was then editing Crimson Tide, and that the soundtrack was to include a song by Paul’s old band The Gathering. In the film the song is briefly heard, playing on a boom box in a sequence where a sailor is working out in a gym. A red alert then interrupts the scene, and drowns out the music. The band was paid $1,000 per second of music played.
Michael Paul says: “Tony was one of the finest, most giving people I have ever met …The groups that he brought out were all great stars in their own right but all very genuine and down to earth. Paul and I would have a super time climbing with them, [and] after the day was through they always invited us for some after hours fun. I was truly shocked when I heard about Tony, and I’m sure Paul never really quite got over it.”
Paul could, he says, go on and on about Tony Scott. “He loved Josh. No one place in particular or specific climb, as he always seemed to just want to share the place with his friends.”
Michael Ybarra, 45
The subject line would say something like, “climbing next couple of days?” The message would be direct. “How’s it going? I’m in LA, want to get out. Fast.”
Those are the notes that Kris Solem would get from his friend Michael Ybarra, who wrote about climbing and other “extreme sports” for the Wall Street Journal.
“This is the way it was with Michael,” Solem recalls. “He would be off in some faraway place like Patagonia or Peru, or maybe running a river in northern California or ice climbing in Wyoming, and then he would pop up on the radar screen here in L.A. with a phone call or an email, always asking the same question: ‘Do you want to go climbing?’”
Ybarra climbed from Joshua Tree and Tahquitz / Suicide, to the Kern River Canyon and the Needles, to Squamish. He climbed the Nose in a day; ice climbed in Hyalite Canyon and the backcountry of Yellowstone.
Ybarra had a undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science from U.C. Berkley, and in addition to the WSJ, wrote for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The New Republic. In 2004 he published the book Washington Gone Crazy, Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt. When Solem bought and asked Ybarra to sign his copy, Ybarra challenged him first to read the 800-page volume, and said he would only sign after that.
Writing about climbing for lay audiences, and with humor, heart and real knowledge, Ybarra was one of our sport’s best emissaries. He died in a fall on about June 30 on the Sawtooth Ridge Traverse, a long alpine endeavor in the Eastern Sierra, which he undertook alone.
“I was about to leave on a road trip when I heard about Michael’s accident,” Solem tells us. “I was going to take his book and read it, since we had plans to meet in Bishop at the end of my trip. I’d get him to sign it then. …Today, now that some time has passed, the book is back on my desk. I just read the prologue and I am into the first chapter, and just as I expected the writing is brilliant, as was the man. I sure do wish I’d get another one of those emails, though.”
Patrick Edlinger, 52
Patrick Edlinger walked out wearing headphones, didn’t even look at the route, and just started climbing. Smooth and nimble, he touched the high point, a thin crimp, and popped past it to a better hold, then he alone reached the looming overhang above. No one will forget that moment as Edlinger, about to top it to win the first professional competition ever held in the United States, was lit through glowering clouds by a sunbeam.
That beam traveled. The French athlete’s image appeared on American television and around the world. It graced the pages of every climbing magazine. His beautifully stylized but athletic climbing was perfectly suited for the films, especially of soloing the airy walls of the deep Verdon Gorge, that really made him famous; best known was “Life by the Fingertips,” about soloing in the Verdon. He also soloed Orange Mechanique (5.13b) at Cimai, and onsight-soloed Partie Carree (5.12d), Buoux.
Edlinger climbed (roped) the cutting-edge routes of the day, including Maginot Line (5.14a/b) and Agincourt (5.14b). He developed the looming cliff of Ceuse, high above the Gap area in central France, turning it into a major destination.
Lincoln Hall, 56
“I imagine you are surprised to see me here.” Those were the words of Lincoln Hall to Dan Mazur, an approaching climber-guide on Mount Everest, after Hall had just spent the night out above 28,000 feet, according to Mazur’s team’s report on Everestnews.com.
It was 2006, and, on a commercial Everest expedition, Lincoln had made the summit but been struck with cerebral edema during the descent. A group of Sherpas tried and failed to pull him down the mountain. The expedition leader finally instructed them by radio to leave Hall, an Australian climber, for dead and save themselves.
“Before you go down, please cover him with rocks,” the Sherpas were told, according to The New York Times.
Lincoln would say later, as quoted in that article, “Fortunately, at that particular spot there were no rocks.”
The morning after Hall unconscious, Mazur, who is from Olympia, Washington, was moving on the North Ridge toward the summit with two clients and a Sherpa guide (Andrew Brash, Myles Osborne and Jangbu Sherpa) when they turned a corner to see Lincoln sitting up, muttering and incoherent.
“I was shocked to see a guy without gloves, hat, oxygen bottles or sleeping bag at sunrise at 28,200 feet height, just sitting up there,” Mazur told the Associated Press.
“He seemed to be in deep distress, shivered uncontrollably, and kept trying to pull himself closer to the edge of the cornice, to the point that we physically held him back and eventually anchored him to the snow,” the team reported on Everestnews.com. “Lincoln later told us that he believed that he was on a boat, not a mountain, and that he wanted to be overboard…. i.e. 10,000 feet down the Kangshung face.”
Mazur’s team wrapped Lincoln in warm clothes and gave him water, food and oxygen. They stayed with him for hours until Sherpas were able to arrive and start the laborious process of bringing Lincoln down. After waiting for the Sherpa team, Mazur’s group felt that they could not reach the summit by a safe turnaround time, ultimately sacrificing their own attempt.
Apart from his astonishing survival on Everest, Lincoln Hall was also known for founding the Australian Himalayan Foundation, which raised money for schools in the Himalayas. He also penned several books, including Dead Lucky: Life After Death on Mt. Everest (2009), and was the subject of the National Geographic Channel documentary “Left for Dead: Miracle on Everest.” Ironically, he died not from exposure on a mountain, but from mesothelioma due to childhood exposure to asbestos.
Maurice Herzog, 93
If ever there was a quote to love, it is this one by Maurice Herzog, who with Louis Lachenal was the first ever to climb an 8000-meter peak, in 1950. It begins with what has to be the all-time best reason, profound love and respect, to climb mountains:
“The mountains had bestowed on us their beauties,” the French mountaineer, who died December 13, wrote in his book Annapurna, “and we adored them with a child’s simplicity and revered them with a monk’s veneration of the divine.”
Annapurna was not only the first such high summit attained, it was done with no previous reconnaissance. By way of comparison, Everest as of that same year was the site of its 15th expedition, some with the sole intent of reconnaissance; and by the time it was climbed, three years later, had hosted 16 (though the existence of a reported trip from Russia was disputed).
The above quote by Herzog (see our obituary here) ends with the most ringing of clarion calls for a fulfilling life beyond the realm of the mountains:
“Annapurna, to which we had gone empty-handed, was a treasure on which we should live the rest of our days. With this realization we turn the page: a new life begins. There are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.”
But we really have to let Tom Patey, Scottish mountaineer and accordionist, have the last word, from one of the original songs and ballads recorded in his book (published posthumously) One Man’s Mountains. Severe frostbite on Annapurna claimed the Herzog’s fingers and toes, and Lachenal’s toes, in amputations that began even as the expedition returned home across Asia.
Twenty frozen fingers, twenty frozen toes
Two blistered faces, frostbite on the nose
One looks like Herzog, who dropped his gloves on top
And Lachenal tripped and fell, thought he’d never stop
The refrain to the song is “Chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop chop.”
Annapurna was not climbed again for two decades.
John Rosendahl, 56
John Rosendahl was an academic, a lecturer in physics at the school of physical sciences, University of California Irvine. He was also a rad climber. He continued to climb after spinal-fusion surgery, cranking hard into his 40s and 50s, and soloing 5.11s.
Matt Blank recalls meeting him at the base of a 5.11c in Clark’s Canyon. Rosendahl was about to embark on the route wearing a pair of men’s dress shoes.
“What?” Rosendahl said as Blank and his friend stared. “They’re good for edging.”
At his local climbing gym, Rockreation in Costa Mesa, he often climbed hard routes with no shoes, and he befriended and mentored many.
“Quite the character! John was friendly to all, always willing to share beta and a rope,” a friend posted on Supertopo.com.
Rosendahl climbed and soloed many hard routes at Suicide and Joshua Tree, yet shrugged his feats off as casual.
His smile was so frequent and his manner so encouraging and upbeat that many were stunned by his decision to take his own life, on September 1. But what they wrote of was his continual, enduring kindness.
Since his passing, there have been two memorial services, one among climbers and one held at UCI with a physics demonstration, as well as several holiday food drives in his name, and other donations to multiple charities he supported.
Gil Weiss, 29 and Ben Horne, 32
The American climbers Gil Weiss and Ben Horne went missing this past July in the Peruvian Andes, where they were attempting a first ascent of the south face of Palcaraju Oeste. Friends only realized the two were absent when Ben failed to return for his flight home.
“Gil and Ben were very different people,” says Shay Har-Noy, CEO of Tomnod, a geospatial analytics group involved in the search, and also a close friend of the two. Har-Noy and Ben Horne had recently completed a first winter ascent of the Evolution Traverse, a link-up of nine peaks in the Sierra Nevada, as part of a team of three.
“Gil was a free spirit. He liked to live life to the fullest and didn’t want to waste time doing things he didn’t love. He wanted to spend all his time in the mountains.
“Ben was a very meticulous planner. He knew the historical significance of routes. He knew the weight of all his gear. But when these two came together in the mountains, they had the same passion for getting after it. They wanted to make these ascents and do them in good style.”
Har-Noy received an email that the two were missing, and a group of concerned friends quickly organized a search. Tomnod was able to work with the outside companies DigitalGlobe and GeoEye to get satellite imagery of the area where Gil and Ben were missing. After analyzing the satellite imagery, Tomnod sent a PDF of the top four locations to search to the team on the ground in Peru. Searchers were able to locate the bodies of Gil and Ben on Saturday, July 28, and carry them off the mountain the next day.
Jim Jack, 46, Chris Rudolph, 30, and Johnny Brenan, 41
These three Leavenworth skiers were killed in an avalanche at Stevens Pass on February 19. Elyse Saugstad, a pro skier, was also caught in the slide but was the sole survivor.
Jack, Rudolph and Brenan were part of a group of 13 experienced skiers going down sidecountry tracks just outside of Stevens Pass Resort. A Powder magazine editor, John Stifter, was also part of the group. After starting the day skiing in-bounds, the group ventured out to an area called Tunnel Creek. They divided up into smaller teams and used the buddy system for safety.
Jim Jack, the seventh skier to descend the slope, triggered the slide. The slab avalanche was 32 inches deep, 200 feet wide, and carried the four trapped skiers roughly 2,700 feet down the slope.
“Chris, Jim and Johnny’s bodies were recovered by their ski partners soon after the slide,” says Laurie Brenan, wife of Johnny Brenan. “They were taken off the mountain and cared for very lovingly by their good friends on the Stevens Pass Ski Patrol.”
Jack, Rudolph, and Brenan were all deeply involved in the community at Stevens Pass. “If you pick the three biggest personalities in the community, that’s these guys,” says Joel Martinez, vice president of operations at Stevens Pass and a close friend. “Any time you got a text from them, you knew you were going to have a fun time.”
Chris Rudolph was marketing director at Stevens Pass. He was a big personality who quickly made friends and stayed connected to others. “Rudolph was the life of the party,” Martinez says. “He was the guy everyone wanted to be around. Everybody wanted to be his friend.”
Jim Jack was known internationally for his work as head judge of the Freeskiing World Tour, and ran a summer business in Leavenworth focused on preserving wildlands near private homes.
Johnny Brenan was a local contractor near Stevens Pass. He had just remodeled all the lift shacks at the resort. As a family man, he and his wife had just purchased an RV so they could ski there every weekend. “I feel blessed that our two daughters have a good strong foundation with him shaping their early years,” says Laurie Brenan. “I would say that out of all of the things that Johnny was good at, he was the best at being a dad.”
“A lot of media people say in retrospect that they shouldn’t have been out there. But that’s not really fair,” Martinez says. “These were experienced people. They were all doing the right things. They were following backcountry protocols. If I had hadn’t had an injury, I would’ve been out there as well.”
We gathered these stories as we could. You are welcome to share remembrances of these and other climbers we lost this year, in the comments field below.
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