Climbers We Lost in 2013In Memoriam—Tito Traversa, Layton Kor, Billy Beckwith, Randy Udall, Steve Gladbach, Steve Johnson, Alexey Bolotov, Yang Chunfeng, Marty Schmidt, Denali Schmidt, Kevin Volkening, John Ewbank, and Jarad Spackman—2013.
Editors’ note: Such a list is never comprehensive. We may have inadvertently left out other climbers who died this year. Please add your own remembrances about any other—or the following—climbers in the comments. We welcome your additions, comments and images.
Tito Traversa, 12
Nothing, it is safe to say, broke the heart of the world community like the boy who didn’t get to grow up. Tito Traversa of Italy was the future, a climbing prodigy who at 12 already moved as if he’d spent decades refining his craft. He had onsighted 5.13a, sent his fourth 5.14. The young Tito died on a warmup route, out for a day of climbing with a youth group at the mellow-natured area of Orpierre, France.
As he clipped the anchor and lowered, several incorrectly set-up quickdraws failed, zippering him to a groundfall. In the wake of shared international grief and soul-searching, climbers took a worried look at the very young stars whose emergence has in recent years been so exciting.
Wrote Peter Beal on his website Mountains and Water, “[H]is death puts us in very new territory for the sport, where parents especially have to ask what they can do to respect their children’s desire to climb while being careful to acknowledge that they are not responsible independent adults.”
Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, parent and youth coach, wrote briefly but also memorably: “Buddy check every time, kiddos, including your gear!”
Layton Kor, 74
Kor, who died April 21, was the driving force of a generation, rising to preeminence in the 1950s and 1960s. He burned through partners: from the greats of the day to anyone he might grab to go. His classics in Eldorado Canyon include FAs (using aid, as was common) of the Yellow Spur (5.9) and the Naked Edge (5.11). There were also: the Kor Ingalls (5.9) route on Castleton Tower and Finger of Fate on the Titan, in the Fisher Towers, among others in desert Utah. The Yellow Wall (V 5.8 A4) on the Diamond Face of Long’s Peak. The South Face of Washington Column. Kor’s pictorial memoir Beyond the Vertical is a classic as well.
Five years ago, when he gave a talk in Boulder, the original venue of Neptune Mountaineering was changed to a university auditorium to accommodate the crowds, and that venue sold out, too, with disappointed people at the doors. That evening Kor talked humorously about being a glutton—“We were hogs,” he said—for climbing. Kor was already in declining health, and speech was viewed as his probable final retrospective. He spoke of climbs worldwide, but did not address the traumatic and defining event of John Harlin’s death in 1966 as they, Christian Bonington and Dougal Haston forged a route up the North Face of the Eiger.
Among many historic tributes to Kor is this gem from Yvon Chouinard, in describing the first ascent of the North American Wall, El Capitan: “The reason it was so scary was that there was only one climber capable of rescuing us, and that was Layton Kor, and he was in Colorado.”
Click HERE to read Layton Kor’s Obituary by Rock and Ice.
Billy Beckwith, 38
William John “Billy” Beckwith, 38, died in San Francisco on December 2 when a car hit him on his motorcycle. He was the brother of Christian Beckwith, founder of outerlocal.com and former editor of Alpinist. The two grew up on a farm on the coast of Maine, where Billy began climbing at age 15 on the side of the family’s 150-year-old barn.
“We’d culled rocks from the fields, drilled holes in them using our father’s press drill, bolted them to the barn walls and traversed above the mud,” recalls Christian. They also climbed up under the roof, top-rope protected by a single eyebolt drilled into the roof slats.
Twenty years of adventure followed. Billy gained North American summits and El Cap routes. In his early 20s, he and Jason Lakey bicycled across Mexico from Texas to Guatemala, on the way summiting Pico de Orizaba with jerry-rigged gear and much spirit.
Billy worked as a builder, a dancer, an actor, a model, and eventually as co-host of HGTV’s “Curb Appeal.”
From Christian: “While this ‘day job’ got him in front of millions on TV, his heart remained in the mountains and on the walls, particularly of Yosemite.”
Randy Udall, 61
After a weeklong search, Randy Udall, 61, was found in early July: off trail (yet on his intended route), pack on his back and ski poles in hand, in a meadow in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming. He was 61 and had died of natural causes. Udall spent a lifetime in the mountains, was an Outward Bound wilderness instructor, had done plenty of technical climbing but mostly liked mileage, covering huge distances on skis or foot, or scrambling.
Son of a Congressman, brother and cousin of U.S. senators, Randy was part of a family that championed both public service and preservation of the outdoors. Randy, an energy expert and writer, promoted energy efficiency, conservation, and use of renewable resources, co-founding the progressive yet pragmatic Community Office for Resource Efficiency.
Udall, who lived in Carbondale, Colorado, was married to Leslie Emerson, an educator and former Outward Bound instructor, daughter of the acclaimed mountaineer Dick Emerson of Tetons climbing and the first American Everest expedition of 51 years ago. Randy Udall left behind three children as well as his wife, a large extended family, and a lifetime of good work.
Click HERE to see Rock and Ice’s original report of Udall’s disappearance.
Steve Gladbach, 52
Steve Gladbach, 52, of Pueblo, Colorado, died in a fall on June 23 while descending Thunder Pyramid, a 13,932-foot mountain in the Elk Range of Colorado. He had told his companions he was scouting a different line to return to.
Gladbach was an experienced mountaineering guide and the first person to ascend all of Colorado 14,000-foot peaks during the winter and reach the summit of all of Colorado’s 13,000-foot peaks.
He appears by far best remembered, though, as a mentor, who welcomed, coached, and encouraged dozens and dozens of people up mountains. The site 14ers.com was deluged at the time of his death.
Wrote one person, describing himself as a newbie, of a day on the 14er Mount Elbert: “Kevin and I were the last two reached the summit. There is no way we could make it without Steve’s help. I remember I told him he looks like Harrison Ford and he couldn’t stop laughing.”
Gladbach was a high-school math teacher. He left behind two daughters.
Steve Johnson, 55
Steve Johnson, 55, of Tucson, a prolific route developer on Mount Lemmon and in the Cochise Stronghold, Arizona, was found on a rope in the Santa Rita mountains. He had been scoping a new wall and route. His body was covered in hundreds of bee stings from a nest he had inadvertently disturbed. The swarm also killed his dog, waiting for him at the top of the cliff.
Brian Benedon posted on Mountain Project: “Steve was a great person, a simple man with honest values. He was a dedicated family man.”
Says Eric Fazio-Rhicard, a longtime Arizona climber who was part of the search and recovery effort: “He really was one of those people who would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it.”
Johnson was an integral part of development of many routes along the Mt. Lemmon Highway and other areas. He found and led climbing efforts at an area called Revindell, putting in a dozen bolted lines. His last find was a place he called Avalon, at Mount Lemmon. It became a destination for moderate leaders, replete with a few trad lines and at least a dozen sport climbs ranging from 5.4 to 5.12.
He leaves behind two sons, Kyle and Ryan, and a daughter, Deven.
Alexey Bolotov, 50
Alexey Bolotov, 50, died May 14, 2013, while trying to establish a new route on the SW Face of Everest.
Bolotov was that rarity, a winner of two Piolets d’Or awards, one in 1998 for Makalu West Face and another for the Janna North Face expedition. He was also veteran of many Everest trips and success on Khan Tengri and Thalay Sagar. He was with another leading high-altitude climber, Denis Urubko, a Kazakh climber. Urubko wrote on the Russian website Mountain.ru that Bolotov when a rappel rope severed, and he fell 300 meters.
Bolotov was from Ekaterinburg, Russia, and was rated the USSR mountaineering champion in 1987.
Yang Chunfeng, 45
Yang Chunfeng, 45, was one of 11 innocent mountaineers killed in the terrorist attack June 22 on Nanga Parbat. He had climbed Everest in 2007 and 2009, and Cho Oyu in 2008 among 11 of the world’s 14 highest peaks, the only Chinese climber to ascend so many. His other peaks were Manaslu, Dhaulagiri, Kanchenjunga, Gasherbrum II, Gasherbrum I Annapurna, Lhotse, K2 and Makalu, according to the South China Morning Post.
Sixteen attackers stormed basecamp on Nanga Parbat at about 9:30 p.m., hauling climbers and staff from their tents, first robbing them and then destroying all electronics such as satellite and mobile phones, and finally shooting some. The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility.
The other victims, all male, were: Igor Sviergun, Badavi Kashaiev and Konyayev Dmytro (Ukraine); Anton Dobes and Peter Perka (Slovakia); Honglu Chen (China-American dual citizenship); Sona Sherpa (Nepal); Ernestas Marksaitis (Lithuania); and Ali Hussain (Pakistan).
In an open letter to the UIAA, the president of the Alpine Club of Pakistan wrote: “I take this opportunity to express our deepest and heartfelt condolences, share grief and sincerely apologize for the tragic loss of these mountaineering comrades … [G]eneral masses and Government of Pakistan are shocked and shattered.”
Marty, 53, and Denali, 25, Schmidt
Marty and Denali Schmidt. The father-son team last radioed from Camp 3 on the Abruzzi Ridge, K2, on July 26. Sometime that night or the next day both were lost in an avalanche that wiped out their camp.
Marty, 53, was an experienced American guide and mountaineer who had moved to New Zealand. He had started climbing in California in 1972, soon became a guide, and progressed to climbs in Alaska (climbing Denali three times in the 1983 season) and South America. In 1988 he moved to New Zealand, guiding many peaks there and in Europe. In 2010 he attempted a new route on Makalu, rescued his ill partner, and then climbed the mountain solo even after rescuing three Ukrainian climbers on the way. His resume, in fact, contains rescues on Denali, Aconcagua and Everest – as well as one of nine people from a hotel fire in the Philippines, according to everestnews.com.
He climbed a new route on Everest, from Tibet, in 1994, and guided the mountain only this past spring. According to http://climber.co.nz, he also summited Kangchenjunga; guided (three times) and soloed (twice) Cho Oyu; and climbed Gasherbrum I and II solo.
Denali, 25, had recently graduated from California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and was an experienced climber as well.
As described by the American climber Jake Norton on his website: “In 2001, Marty and Denali had a climbing tour-de-force in Alaska, guiding clients to the North and South summits of Mount McKinley (Denali), then climbing the Sultana Ridge on Mt. Foraker before sending a new route on the Southwest Face of Denali in a 29-pitch, 29-hour blitz. The route was pretty burly, and aptly named Dad and Son (5.10 A2 WI5).”
After the tragedy, a British climber, Adrian Hayes, released a statement from basecamp: “Marty and Denali … were very well known, highly experienced and extremely strong mountaineers – the last people many would expect to be killed on a mountain.”
A eulogy posted by their friend and Broad Peak/ K2 teammate Chris Warner (Australia) on climber.co.nz states, “In my 18 years of climbing this is the most tragic of accidents I have personally experienced.”
Warner called the trio’s acclimatization climb of Broad Peak “comfortable,” writing: “Both Marty and Denali were climbing strong on the mountain with Denali showing all the talent of his father, he had his father’s legs, lungs and heart. It was inspiring to watch a 8000m novice climb with such ease.”
Kevin Volkening, 25
Kevin Volkening, 25, a Black Diamond engineer and employee, was killed climbing in Clark’s Fork, Wyoming, on August 30. “K-Bone,” as he was fondly known, had led up the final pitch of a moderate route when a block dropped out from beneath him. He fell about 50 feet, hitting a ledge. He was wearing a helmet and his friends reached him swiftly, but to no avail.
Kevin graduated from Montana State University in Bozeman in 2012 with a degree in chemical and biological engineering, having also gained many days of climbing in Gallatin Canyon. A year and a half before the accident he moved to Salt Lake City to take his dream job, working for Black Diamond in quality assurance, and to be near his favorite climbing area, Indian Creek.
The Black Diamond website posted this note: “Kevin was always smiling, always willing to help out and always…ALWAYS psyched to climb. The tag line from his personal blog reads ‘I LOVE to climb…everything,’ and it was true—from rock and ice all across the Western US and alpine routes in Alaska, to local bouldering and training at the gym—Kevin was a climber, and shared his positive energy with everyone.”
A friend, Will Parrett, posted this comment: “Most people at BD consider themselves climbers, that is, until they meet K-Bone. Climbing was everything to Kevin, second only to his lovely Wife (perhaps 1A and 1B). Whether asleep, at work, or in his spare time, K-Bone lived climbing. He did it well, was humble, and was more stoked when a buddy sent a route than when he did.”
He is survived by his wife, Marge Coyle Volkening; his parents, sisters and extended family.
John Ewbank, 65
John Ewbank pioneered hundreds, possibly over 1,000, new routes across his adopted homeland of Australia, with many still considered among the country’s great classics of today. His Janicepts (21 / 5.11a) at Mount Piddington was for years the hardest climb in the country; he was the first to climb the world-famous Totem Pole in Tasmania; he started Australia’s first climbing magazine, known as Thrutch; and he originated Australia’s enviably simple rock-climbing rating system.
A creative force in and out of climbing, Ewbank later moved to the United States, pursuing careers in music and in fine woodcraft in New York City, with recreational climbing at the nearby Shawangunks and further north, in New Hampshire. Ewbank died at (or within weeks of turning) age 65 in New York following a series of surgeries, the last an abdominal surgery from which he was healing poorly.
During his time in New York, he released two CD’s (still available), named “Songs From the Bright Side (of a dark cell)” and “Stark Raving Songs.”
See Ewbank’s Obituary by Rock and Ice
Jarad Spackman, 40
Jarad Spackman, 40, was a snowboard mountaineer and a lifelong climber with dozens of ascents in the Tetons. He died March 1 when he was avalanched about 1,000 feet from Apocalypse Couloir near the mouth of Death Canyon, Grand Teton National Park. His companion in the ski mountaineering foray, during which an adjacent steep chute as their objective, was Christian Beckwith. Beckwith reached and found him, but resuscitation efforts were futile.
The energetic and positive Spackman, a realtor as well as all-around mountain athlete, left a wife and family.
An obituary in the Jackson Hole News paraphrased Jarad’s brother Brandon in writing: “He was a world-class athlete, a connected community member, a loving husband, a special friend, a talented businessman, a much-loved son and an incredible brother.” Jarad and Brandon climbed in Alaska, the Himalaya, Antarctica and Iceland, while Jarad and his wife, Stephanie, rock climbed across the United States, to Cuba and Thailand.
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