Climbers We Lost in 2018
Below is our annual tribute to Climbers We Lost, here honoring those who left us in 2018. The climbers range in age from 20 to 96. Some people broke our hearts by leaving much too soon. Some lived long and at least died naturally.
Climbers We Lost has in the six years since inception become an affirmation of how meaningful our endeavor is and how important our identities as climbers are to us. This year one young contributor, Danika Hill, in contacting us about her friend Haley Royko, 25, wrote, “Climbing was her life’s joy, and she told me in 2015 that when she passed, she wanted to be included in your annual tribute. It is actually the only dying wish she made of me, and I want to make sure it happens.”
Each year we are concerned to think that we will inadvertently leave out some people. We encourage you to use the comments field to add photos and remembrances of others.
John Marts, 71, December 15
The jack-booted Russian policeman and I were arguing over my jay-walking across Red Square when a citizen approached, said something in Russian to the officer, and then pointed toward John Marts, who was partially hidden behind the corner of a building. As the crowd turned to where the finger pointed, John lowered his camera. The officer knew immediately that John was documenting the argument and motioned for him to come over. With a “Cool Hand Luke” grin, John slowly walked toward us while secretly winding his film into the canister. Using gestures, the officer ordered John to remove his film from the camera. Reluctantly, John did. The officer then pulled the strip of 36 exposures from the canister into the sunlight. The incident was lost. John just smiled and held the curled length of film aloft, as the Russian crowd broke into laughter. Typical John: A little hell here and there kept the spirit alive. In good spirit, John’s wit and humor endeared him to our 19-person American team, the approximately 160 other climbers from 18 different nations, and our Russian hosts during the deadly summer in the Russian Pamirs in 1974.
John Rogers Marts, born June 3, 1947, in Illinois, was an exceptional climber and, like many who take up mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest, as comfortable on the region’s snow and ice volcanoes as he was bushwhacking into the granite spires of the north Cascades. While still in his teens, John guided in Estes Park with his older brother, Brian, for five years building his confidence and alpine skills. In 1968, John and Scott Davis, a well-known Yosemite big-wall climber, climbed the Bonatti Pillar of the Petite Dru and the East Face of the Aiguille de Fou, both first-time one-day ascents. After graduating from the University of Washington in 1969, he joined the Navy and finished basic flight training in 1971. Once out of the Navy and after a trip to Denali in Alaska, John was chosen by Pete Schoening to represent the American Alpine Club in the Russian Pamirs. It was a tragic summer in the Pamirs, as 15 climbers lost their lives, including John’s friend Gary Ullin and an entire team of eight Russian women.
After Russia, John pursued a law degree from Gonzaga University and later established a successful law practice in Lynnwood, Washington, where he lived. In 1999, he married Susan Stark, the love of his life, and their marriage included her family of four adult children, Daniel, Bridgette, Trisha and the youngest, Laura. They were a never-ending support team after John was diagnosed in 2010 with a rare form of dementia—frontotemporal degeneration with peripheral aphasia. Not one to sit still, John continued to be active over the years and was known for his physical strength to the end. He kayaked the Middle Fork of the Snake, rowed a private raft down the Grand Canyon, hiked the slot canyons of the Southwest, and made long-distance bike trips throughout Washington. As his life ends, his spirit continues. I picture that classic grin of his and realize what a treasure of incredible memories he’s left us.
He is survived by his wife and children, their spouses and 14 grandchildren, as well as his brother.
Roberts “Bob” French, 83, November 26
Roberts “Bob” Walker French died at home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a year of living with bile-duct cancer.
I was in high school when I met Bob French at Dartmouth College in 1955. My brother Tony, ’57, and I were teaching skiing at a week-long Christmas vacation camp nearby. New Year’s Eve would find hard-core Dartmouth Outing Club types at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, which required a two-mile uphill walk with winter gear to settle in for a few days of x-c skiing and evenings of song and camaraderie known as “Wing Ding.” I remember Bob from this event because of his red hair, his smile, and ubiquitous pipe.
Two fond memories include a very long x-c ski up “Jobildunc Ravine,” an old logging road, and one evening of Bob by the fireplace reciting some of Beowulf in Old English. With enough gluvine in us, we thought we understood what he was saying …
During several summers starting in 1958, Bob was an Exum Mountain Guide in Jackson, Wyoming. Also in 1958, he and three friends pioneered a ski traverse through the Purcell and Selkirk mountains in B.C. Having spent summers in the Jackson area myself, I know how much others of us were in awe of what they had accomplished.
From my first visit to the Tetons in 1959, I got to climb with him. The end of many a day would find us at The Stockade, the bar-restaurant where wait staff included Bob’s lovely wife to be, Jennifer “Jenny” Kelley Brennan.
Bob had a very distinguished professional career teaching literature at U Mass Amherst for 29 years, receiving the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award. His publications include numerous poems, reviews and critical articles, most notably on the works of John Milton and Walt Whitman.
He was also an avid and accomplished runner, who completed 10 Boston Marathons and the Paris Marathon. Joe and Wendy Larsen, friends of his from Pelham, New York, share this personal note: “Bob French, Jenny, and their two sons Rob and Barry had a special impact on our older daughter, Marion. Bob encouraged her to join the local Sugarloaf Mt. Runners Club, whose membership included all ages of men, women, boys and girls, and its special purpose was to encourage more young girls to compete in track and cross-country. Marion was soon doing training runs, in all kinds of weather, over the wood roads and trails of Pelham.
“Though his initiative, she learned that neither age nor gender need be barriers in her personal and public life. This has served her well in her professional life, first as a game warden, and now as the head of the information and education section of a state conservation agency. We will always be grateful.”
After retiring from teaching, Bob remained an avid backpacker and hiker and actively supported the formation of Santa Fe’s Dale Ball Trail System. With his trail miles and editing expertise, he was a contributor to the eighth edition of Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area. He also maintained his passion for literature and the arts, serving on the board of New Mexico Literary Arts and also the Santa Fe Arts Commission for the selection of the city’s Poet Laureate, writing a regular poetry column for NMCultureNet, and avidly attending every production at the Santa Fe Opera.
Bob is survived by his wife, Jennifer, his sons and their spouses, and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Mary French Moore of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a brother, John French, of New York City.
Chip Chace, 60, November 3
In a moving remembrance called “A Life of Gratitude, a Death of Beauty,” Chris Weidner wrote in Boulder’s Daily Camera about his friend and the last route he rope soloed:
“‘It was a 17-hour moment of grace,’ [Chip] says softly. “The rock was perfect. It was just this bluebird day, Chris. It was like, ‘Yeah, this is why I do this. This is why I’m going to continue doing this until I can’t anymore.’
“‘And then …’ he pauses. ‘I can’t anymore.’
“Immediately following his trip, Chace learned he was dying of pancreatic cancer.”
In his last weeks, Chip Chace wrote several pieces on the joys of his life and of facing his mortality. To read them, visit Chip’s site here.
Below is the obituary we published at the time of his death.
Chip Chace lived his whole life as an extended spiritual practice. “Somehow my climbing practice is not substantively different from my Chinese medical practice, from my meditation practice, from my marriage practice. They inform one another,” Chip said. He was a prolific climber, one of the best all-around of his generation. He came to Boulder at 17, already a 5.11 climber, and soon was climbing with Pat Ellinwood, Steve Levin and Roger Briggs. They would all climb together for 40 years. Chip and Pat did the first ascent of Fine Jade, and Chip had over 50 ascents of the Diamond with all of them. Chip could lead hard aid and 5.13 free climbing, and many of his climbs had an R rating for minimal protection.
He felt in the later years of his life that his solo climbs, when he was often out for many days at a time in the mountains, were the most important part of his spiritual practice, because soloing caused him to be fully aware the whole time. He was doing hard climbs all over the country by himself, and never really came back and told anybody, or certainly never wrote about any of it.
We went to Yosemite two years ago, and I helped him carry gear up to the base of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome for a rope solo. He started at 3:00 in the afternoon and climbed all through the night because he didn’t want to have to interact with other parties, finishing the next morning.
Recently he felt like he was getting older and he couldn’t climb as well as he had been. He could no longer onsight 5.13, but he could still climb alone in the mountains and he felt that was his place. He had always wanted to solo Mount Asgard on Baffin Island. On Asgard rockfall cut his rope, so he came down and decided to tackle Mount Freya. He was climbing that by himself, and was up in an icy gully when he fell 30 feet and broke his ribs. His comment was, “To the extent that there was a ‘me’ at all—which is a whole other thing, right?—I was completely comfortable.”
Chip was one of America’s foremost scholars and practitioners of classical Chinese medicine. With a small group of colleagues, he was involved in developing a new cutting-edge approach to Chinese medicine diagnostics and treatment. He had many deeply appreciative students and patients.
Chip met his wife, Monika, in 1987, and they were married soon after. They were very independent from one another, but still a tight team. They both loved being in the mountains and the desert, and there was quite a long period when they climbed together, doing first ascents in Indian Creek up to 5.12. Monika is a remarkable healer herself, and the two of them had a combined medical practice that really fit together well. After 30 years they were still deeply in love.
Chip died in his meditation room at home in the mountains outside Boulder, after a short and intensive course with pancreatic cancer. He always held a deep sense of loyalty towards his close friends. He died surrounded by those friends and of course with Monika. The climbing community, the Chinese medicine community, and the Zen community—we are all in grief for the loss of this amazing human being.
Huntley Ingalls, 90, October 21
Huntley was adventurous physically for many years and intellectually his whole life. He had many friends and was interested in everyone, but was also a very private person.
A geophysicist and mathematician, he was animated and engaged: His interests were wide, including science, photography, philosophy, exploration, traveling in Eastern lands, and music. My wife, Jean, and I first heard Indian music (Ravi Shankar and others) from Huntley’s collection. We also heard Huntley play a didgeridoo.
Huntley was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Maryland. According to a longtime Boulder friend, Bela Scheiber, “His father had gold fever and spent much of his time seeking that metal. He took his son into a gold mine, and Huntley was never the same again. He fell in love with nature and the wonderment of caves. His remarkable photo inside Cass Cave in West Virginia was honored with a two-page spread in National Geographic June 1964.”
Huntley’s career, as outlined by Schreiber, included working on a gravity survey in the desert Southwest; on an oil exploration team in Colorado, Nebraska and Montana; as a geophysicist with the Coast and Geodetic Survey; and finally as a mathematician with the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder. Schreiber says the last job took him on his first cross- ocean trip: “It was to the Cook Islands where he helped with the study of a total eclipse of the sun. Soon after he embarked on a two-year trip to India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Ceylon and Iran. In Boulder he finally found some peace and freedom to be himself and to explore the Rockies with others.”
When I met him, he explored as a climber, spelunker, and wanderer in the desert. He had already climbed the grandfather of desert routes, Otto’s Route on Independence Monument.
When Huntley moved to Boulder he climbed with many but was most productive with Layton Kor. Kor led; but Huntley led Kor to the desert. In 1956, while working for the U.S. Geological survey, Huntley saw Castleton Tower and the Fisher Towers. In 1961, he convinced Kor to climb Castleton Tower. In 1962 he convinced Layton and me to try the tallest of the Fisher Towers.
Not only was the Titan an exciting possible first ascent, Huntley had an offer of sponsorship from National Geographic. It happened more by accident than design. While Huntley was in the National Geographic Society office to reclaim some caving slides, he showed the editor a slide of the unnamed tower he hoped to climb.
Returning to Boulder, Huntley got a letter from National Geographic offering to sponsor the climb. He wrote the article and took the photos then published in the November 1962 issue. Huntley was paid $1,500, which he generously divided equally among the three of us.
He later wrote about the climb in Alpinist No. 8, in 2004. The article was reprinted by Steve “Crusher” Bartlett in his excellent book Desert Towers, published in 2011. Two other essays by Huntley, “The Colorado Plateau” and “Castleton Tower,” are also in Desert Towers.
Jean and I left Boulder in the fall of 1978. After that I saw Huntley only when I was in Boulder for climbing. He always had time for a visit, and the talk was as lively as ever.
Scheiber adds this reminiscence: “He was a true Renaissance Man with not only an interest but a deep understanding on many subjects. We spent many long hours in all-night cafes discussing philosophy, the nature of existence, science, politics and much more. He took me on many hikes in the Colorado Rockies and impressed upon me his love of mountains. Only much later did I discover how prominent he was in the climbing community. He never boasted about his accomplishments, instead preferring to talk about the flowers that we encountered along our hikes, his beloved Leica or Nikon camera always ready for the next photo.”
He is survived by a sister, two nephews and a niece.
A memorial will take place Sunday, January 6, at Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder. Information here.
Stacey Li Collver, 50, September 12
Stacey Li Collver, named “Windsong” at her birth in Taiwan, comprised 80 pounds of energy and love. After her adoption, Stacey lived in Molokai, Hawaii, with her younger sister Denise and her parents, both of whom were teachers. The family camped and traveled often, cultivating her love of the outdoors. She became the first girl on the boys’ soccer team in high school, and enthusiastically tried every sport she could before settling on rock climbing as her main avocation.
Stacey managed Twisters Climbing Gym in Mountain View, California, and coached a youth competitive team. She organized the SF Bay Area SheClimbs fundraiser and climbing event from 1999-2006, and then became president of the national organization SheClimbs in 2003.
I met Stacey at Planet Granite in Belmont, California, where she worked as a coach and trainer. In the gym, between severe coughing attacks, she climbed the steepest 5.11 routes. She’d do a few hard moves, suffer a coughing fit, and continue to the top. She never once gave up, even when, after I belayed her to the top of a route, she’d collapse upon reaching the ground, and then sit coughing. Even when she coughed too hard to stand, she never complained.
While not a world-class climber herself, she coached one of the best: Josh Levin, the 19-times youth nationals champion, open nationals champion, and a successful American Ninja Warrior. She coached Josh starting when he was 5 years old until he was 10, and he remained in touch with Stacey throughout her life. When Stacey became ill with the rare lung disease Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), she had to stop coaching.
Josh says she believed in the young climbers, such that they believed in themselves.
“Without the initial step of Stacey’s encouragement, I might have never gotten past the fear of failure and learned to accept myself for who I am. Stacey’s belief in my abilities positively changed my life forever.”
He still recounts his experience at age 5 with Stacey, when he tried to climb on something known as Wall #8.
“I seized up and immediately began to panic and cry. I’d never been faced with a move in climbing I couldn’t do before. … Stacey comforted me and explained that sometimes there are big moves that are harder if you’re shorter. The only thing to do, she said, was to try again in different ways to figure out how to position my body.”
“The lessons I learned from this climb, namely perseverance, problem-solving, and belief in your own abilities, stayed with me the rest of my life. For all future projects both within climbing and outside of it, the lesson from Wall #8 still reminds me that when faced with a problem, take a step back, breathe, figure out other solutions, and try again.”
His mother, Carried, says, “Stacy was great with the kids … The most important thing she taught them was to keep it fun.”
In August, 2003, Stacey was diagnosed with LAM. A double-lung transplant in 2004 at Stanford Hospital gave her another 14 years to live.
As the end drew near, Josh had to say goodbye. “There was so much I wanted to say….How do you adequately thank someone who’s so positively impacted your entire life? … not only in my athletic career, but my life as a whole. Stacey was there to guide me at each step of the way.”
“As the conversation drew to a close, I felt at a loss for words. In response, she smiled and laughed and wished me luck at my competition, just as she’s always done. She passed two days later.”
In celebration of her life and to honor her values, the family asks that donations be made to the ACLU in Stacey Li Collver’s name
See also Stacy and her family’s Windsong Journal.
Jeff Lowe, 67, August 24
At a memorial in Jeff Lowe’s recent home town of Boulder on September 22, his brother-in-law read what seems to be the last paragraph Jeff ever wrote. His daughter, Sonja, found it on his iPad:
“I know, bit by bit, a little more about that narrowing perspective. It’s not all bad. It’s enlightening. We only have need for words in this world. As energy, we are not separate, but a part of all, so we know all, except when we have mortal shells. Life and death are both great gifts. My perspective is narrowing here, expanding over there. So now I have to go.”
Below is the obituary we published at the time of his death.
The last time I saw Jeff Lowe, at the 2018 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Denver, I asked how his summer was going. An intervening minute of silence, then: “Not doing much climbing,” he said with a cheeky grin.
That was a given. Beginning in 2000, Lowe suffered from an unknown neurodegenerative condition akin to ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, that left him wheelchair bound and stripped away nearly all of his motor skills. But that comment was Jeff: always a joker, still a character, even if the jokes took a bit longer to type into the text-to-speech program (the voice of which he referred to as his alter ego, Ryan) than they used to.
Widely regarded as the finest American alpinist of his generation, Jeff Lowe died on the evening of August 24. He was 67 years old. His daughter, Sonja, announced the death on Facebook, writing, “My father, Jeff Lowe, to put it in his words, ‘moved on from this material plane to the next.’
“The last few days were a beautiful whirlwind of laughter, tears, sadness and new friendships … We laughed, cried and honored his life and the many climbs and many lessons he experienced, and had a three-day celebratory party with him as the guest of honor and the one bringing us all together.” His young granddaughter picked flowers for him at the hospital.
Connie Self, Lowe’s former longtime partner, wrote on Facebook: “I am very sorry to share that Jeff Lowe took his final journey into the great unknown, peacefully last evening with his family. Jeff was the love of my life, my best friend, my business partner and the most amazing human being I have ever known, with all the flaws and foibles that beset those with extreme talent and brilliance. Jeff always made the best of any situation by living in the present moment. He had an incredible sense of humor, was a visionary climber and inspiring writer. I was blessed to know Jeff for 37 years, to live with and care for him for 8 years … RIP, dear Jeff.”
It’s hard to overstate Lowe’s influence on modern-day climbing. As American climber Pete Takeda put it for an article in Rock and Ice, “If there was a Mount Rushmore of American climbers, Jeff Lowe’s face would easily rate Jefferson’s spot. Lowe is perhaps best known by the general outdoor public for pioneering a paradigm shift in ice climbing—not once, but twice.”
But those shifts were later in the Jeff Lowe story. … [Read the full obituary here]
See another obituary, from The New York Times, here.
Tom Frost, 82, August 24
At Tom Frost’s memorial in his home town of Oakdale, California, on October 12, Tamara Robbins took the stage to read a paper she had found among her late father, Royal’s, things.
Royal had written: “Two things struck me [upon meeting] Tom—his ability and his affability. Thirty-five years later I can say exactly the same thing: Here is a fine fellow who loves climbing and life, and has nothing but good to say. I have, in fact, never met a person with integrity more granite-like than Tom Frost. He never takes himself too seriously, and, when the climbing got serious, his sunny sense of humor would often crack the tension. In all the times I have spent with him, and all the climbs I have done with him, his actions have always been in character, they have always fit his ideals and his words.
… [M]y friendship with Tom is especially meaningful because I know it is built upon a rock …. tested and refined in the crucible of some of the world’s great rock climbs, and never found wanting. I remember, when we were near the top of the North America Wall on El Capitan, it was his turn to finish the leading that day with Yvon Chouinard, while Chuck Pratt and I took our turn at hauling. But Tom suggested I take his place because he wasn’t feeling well. I jumped at the chance to lead over the top of this amazing route. Later I came to the conclusion that Tom, knowing how much it meant to me to climb that day, had faked illness … Tom is such a true friend, that it would be just like him to perform such a selfless and generous act.”
Below is the obituary published at the time of his death.
Tom Frost was a great who shone even while surrounded by other greats. Tom was in his last year as a mechanical engineering student at Stanford University in 1957 when he was introduced to climbing and mentored by the bold John Harlin and the Nobel-prizewinning physicist Henry Kendall. Once he graduated and began working for North American Aviation, Tom sought out other climbers through the Rock Climbing Section of the Los Angeles Sierra Club. Climbing at Tahquitz, Tom soon fell in with what he called the Bachelor Rock Climbers (BRC): a great California crew that included TM Herbert, Bill Feuerer, Dave Rearick and Yvon Chouinard. On a Sierra Club outing to Mount Pacifico, Tom caught the attention of Royal Robbins when he easily repeated the difficult Robbins Eliminate boulder problem.
Royal soon asked Tom to join him, Joe Fitschen and Chuck Pratt for the second ascent of the south buttress, or Nose, of El Capitan. Without utilizing fixed ropes, a radical concept, the team climbed this grand route in a little over seven days in 1960. The following season Tom, Royal and Chuck teamed up again to climb the Salathé Wall, establishing the route with an astonishingly few 13 bolts. After an attempt with TM Herbert, Tom and Royal did the second ascent of the Salathé, without fixed lines, as the first party of two to climb El Cap.
Tom learned alpine climbing skills from Yvon Chouinard and others while climbing in the Sierra Nevada. In the fall of 1962, upon hearing that Ed Hillary was looking for climbers for a service and mountaineering expedition to Nepal, Tom drove 830 miles to meet with Ed for a 20-minute interview at a campsite in the Uinta mountains in Utah and secured a spot on the team. The Schoolhouse Expedition, as it became known, built two schools in Thyangboche and Thami, laid a mile-long water line to the village of Khumjung and succeeded in the first ascent of Kangtega after failing just 200 feet short of the summit of Taweche due to avalanche hazard.
In the summer of 1963, Tom accepted an invitation to join John Harlin as American representatives to the Rassemblement International in Chamonix. Before the gathering Tom and John teamed up with another American, Gary Hemming, and a Scottish climber, Stewart Fulton, to climb the south face of the Aiguille du Fou, a longstanding testpiece, after several attempts. During the meet, John and Tom established the remote Hidden Pillar of Frêney, the most technically demanding route on Mont Blanc at the time.
In early 1964, Henry Kendall and Leigh Ortenberger began to assemble a team for an expedition to the Andes. Tom, Dorene del Fium, Irene Ortenberger, John Kendall, Dan Doody, Henry Abrons, Herbert Hultgren and Graham Mathews assembled in Huaraz in June. … [Read the full obituary here]
See another full obituary, from The New York Times, here.
Calvin Landrus, 57, August 4
My first vivid memory of Calvin is of him in a tall old wooden barn in the sagebrush of Central Oregon. Hungry climbers lined up for burrito dinners after a day of completing substantial trail projects at the annual Smith Rock Spring Thing. Calvin smiled, joked and asked climbers about their days out. Simultaneously, he supervised the serving line to make sure chopped veggies, salsa and fresh cilantro were restocked. He had the line running like a well-oiled machine—this was not his first rodeo. The barn was filled with sounds of crunching tortilla chips, good conversation and laughter as climbers gathered around the picnic tables to eat and share stories before the evening raffle and slideshow.
Calvin Landrus trained regularly and was a strong climber. Though many years my senior, he climbed harder and always carried a heavier pack than I did. But it wasn’t his climbing skill that made Calvin well respected in the Smith Rock climbing community and everywhere he went. He was not a pro-level climber. Calvin treated everyone he met with respect and made time to climb with them, encourage them, and listen to their stories.
As the executive director of a global climbing ministry, Solid Rock Climbers for Christ, Calvin took an authentic approach. He walked with humility and focused intently on loving others—his family, his friends and the rock climbing community—well. He breathed life back into Solid Rock Climbers for Christ when he took the helm 15 years ago. Under his leadership, the organization extended its reach internationally and grew to a community of over 3,000 climbers worldwide.
Calvin trained hard, worked hard, prayed hard, and loved well. He encouraged many others to do the same. His example inspired me to see what I could do if I really let go of fear and challenged myself, both in climbing and my life as a follower of Christ. I pray that we all have a chance to live life fully as Calvin did, and accept the challenge he gave us to “Climb Hard. Love Harder.”
Calvin, who lived in Bend, Oregon, passed after becoming ill with leukemia. He is survived by his wife, Jan; three children: Jessica, Hanna and Jaxson; and four grandchildren.
Marco Dees, 33, July 22
“I love to witness a Gunks first-timer introduced to the awesome climbing!” Marco exclaimed. We were coordinating my first trip to the famous Shawangunks in upstate New York, and it was the first hint that this friend of a friend, twice removed, would quickly became one of the bright spot in my life in an otherwise unpleasant year in Manhattan.
During long waits at belay stations high off the ground on popular Gunks routes, Marco would alternately nap and talk in a sprightly manner about the nature of space, time and the universe. His three graduate degrees in philosophy notwithstanding, I imagined him as a mathematician only disguised as a philosopher.
“He had a luminous, extraordinary mind, driven by an urge to understand and share,” said Misha Handschumacher, a climbing partner and close friend. Like many friends, Misha was drawn into climbing by the enthusiastic Marco, and dazzled by his work that dances at the intersection of the tangible and the imagined—questioning the nature of physics itself.
Beyond his academic veneer, Marco was foremost a passionate outdoorsman. According to his brother Paul Dees, the Rotterdam, Netherlands, native grew up in the UK and had begun mountaineering as a teen, his technical climbing commencing as he pursued his PhD at Rutgers University in 2009. Despite being a Gunks fixture, particularly after taking a job as a professor at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, Marco made no secret that his heart belonged to the peaks of the American West. It seems fitting that his beloved Tetons now tower over his final resting place.
According to Denise Germann of Grand Teton National Park, the investigation into Marco’s death has yet to be completed at the time of this publication. However, the Jenny Lake climbing ranger Ryan Schuster posits that Marco had “only clipped one of the (rope) strands through his (belay) device into his carabiner, and didn’t notice until he leaned back,” a conclusion substantiated by the observations of Marco’s climbing partner, Grace Mooney. While my own first reaction was to reject the idea that my meticulous climbing partner could be careless, I also know that even those of us with decades of experience have made similar mistakes. As a reminder to all, the consequences could have been avoided by weighing the rappel before unclipping, but with darkness approaching Marco was likely hurrying. He fell away from the belay station.
Ben Hoste, a friend and long time climbing partner, recalls Marco as “the kind of guy who made his own beer, threw croissant-tasting parties, took photos of the summit register showing you’d climbed a route, and texted it to you.”
In the words of Marco’s girlfriend, Emily Shertzer, he is best remembered for “his focus on … how a person could make the most positive impact on the world.” This quality was most often manifested in patience, particularly in his teaching. He was open to experiences, to possibilities, to communing with people, nature, and the world. His was a rare and precious open heart. His was a rare and precious open heart.
Marco was an avid supporter of social justice and advocacy. Memorial contributions may be made to his two favorite charities: WaterAid and the Access Fund. He is survived by his parents, two brothers and two sisters.
Charles Cole, 63, July 18
John Long adds this remembrance to the below:
The plan was to dial in our ocean kayaking and then do a slew of link ups—paddling island to island—around remote archipelagos in the wild places of the world. After dialing in the basics by surfing the boats in the breakers along the California coastline, we stepped up the mileage to build endurance. The first milestone was a 50-miler along the Malibu coast. Except my partner, Dwight Brooks, was visiting friends in Bali, so I called Charles, who had gone out a few times with us but had no idea what he was doing.
“I’ll be there in an hour,” said Charles.
We drove up to Oxnard and started paddling south. The ocean was like “Victory at Sea” but Charles was game. It started raining. Then fog rolled in, and we weren’t sure if we were paddling along the coast or toward Fiji.
I said as much, and Charles smiled and said, “Sounds good. Never been to Fiji.”
He’d also said, “Sounds good,” earlier that winter of 1979, when we established the “Century Club,” climbing 100 routes out at Joshua Tree in a day—all free solo. Nobody had ever considered such a thing, and that’s what always stoked Charles’s embers. Anything new, unprecedented (at least for us) and borderline reckless, and Charles was there. That’s how I will always remember Charles Cole. He was always “good to go.”
Here is the obituary published at the time of Charles Cole’s death.
Charles David Cole III, founder of Five Ten and the inventor of Stealth Rubber, died unexpectedly at his home last summer.
Cole, an avid athlete who loved running, tennis, baseball and swimming, started climbing while earning his BS in Mechanical Engineering from USC. In 1975, after watching the movie “The Eiger Sanction,” he taught himself how to use hemp rope, soft-iron pitons and steel carabiners at California’s popular Mount Wilson and Tahquitz climbing areas. He soon focused on first ascents in Joshua Tree National Monument, and later Yosemite Valley, where he bivied at the Camp Four SAR site. His list of noted first ascents includes Run For Your Life (5.10b, Joshua Tree), Jolly Roger (VI 5.10 A5) and the solo ascent of Queen of Spades (VI 5.9 A4+) in Yosemite. But arguably his best route was his ascent of Space (VI 5.10 A4+), a necky 28-pitch solo climb near Mescalito on El Cap.
In 1985, Cole, a newly-minted MBA graduate of the University of Michigan started Five Ten with his mother and father, Mary and Charles Cole Jr. Cole chose the name Five Ten after the eponymous grade in the Yosemite Decimal System. A life-long inventor, Cole developed Stealth rubber in 1986, the popularity of which earned him the moniker “The Rubber King.” Five Ten’s debut shoe, the Five Tennie, was a sticky-rubber soled hybrid climbing and tennis shoe designed to make descents off big routes safer. By the end of the first year, Cole saw an unexpected boom to the fledgling business. The Five Tennies were popular (although the first production run wasn’t up to specs and the toes wore out almost immediately). But his rubber formula was so popular that climbers requested sheets of it for resoling. By the end of the year, Stealth rubber for resoling was Five Ten’s most important asset and Cole decided to explore designing and manufacturing his own line of climbing shoes. In 1987, he introduced the Verticál. Cole was Five Ten’s chief shoe designer, spokesman and marketer, and developed a series of rubber compounds for other sports including mountain biking.
Cole’s whimsical sense of humor was essential to the brand’s marketing success. When most climbing shoe companies were focusing on photos of ripped athletes, he challenged the status quo. His advertising campaign with the “Quit Your Job” tagline caused a flurry of letters from concerned parents. Perhaps the most iconic Five Ten ad is El Cap Roads, a Yosemite-based recreation of the Beatles’ Abbey Roads album cover, shot by Dean Fidelman, with Dean Potter, Ivo Ninov, Matt Wilder, and Amon McNeely strolling across a faux-sidewalk that had to be assembled and removed before park rangers noticed. Cole’s Paper Bag ad, which simply said, “Two paper bags, resoled with Stealth Rubber, outperform any climbing shoe on the market,” stirred the pot in the climbing shoe wars of the 1990s. … [Read the full obituary here]
—Nancy Prichard Bouchard
Christian Huber, 51, June 29
While Christian Huber was equally at home in the European ranges of his youth and the Greater Ranges of the world, he spent most of his mountain hours in the hills above his adopted home of Louisville, Colorado.
“He was too devoted to his family to go to the big mountains frequently,” his friend and climbing partner Bruce Normand of Scotland says. “Basically he was just in love with adventures in the outdoors, and hiking through wilderness—mountains and forests, or canyons and badlands—was good enough for him.”
Huber died on June 29. With Normand and the Scottish climber Timothy Miller, he was attempting the first ascent of the southeast pillar of Ultar Sar, a 7,388-meter peak in the Karakoram, Pakistan—regarded by elite alpinists as one of the biggest outstanding prizes. During the night, an avalanche cascaded over the team’s bivy tent, burying all of them. Miller and Bruce Normand managed to dig free, but Huber did not. Normand and Miller retrieved Huber’s body before two helicopters rescued them from the mountain.
Huber hailed from Linz, Austria. He honed his mountain craft in the Dachstein, near Salzburg, and became an alpinist of formidable ability, but his first love was backcountry skiing. While still living in Austria in the early 1990s—before backcountry skiing had caught fire in the outdoor industry—Huber had the chops to become a full-time extreme skier, but opted against it. Normand says, “It didn’t look like a smart commercial move, so he stayed in school and became an electrical engineer.”
That vocation served him well for the next two-and-a-half decades of his life. After moving to the United States and making his home in Louisville, Huber settled into a role at Inovonics, a company that designs wireless sensor network. He was a design engineer at Inovonics for 13 years.
On vacations and extended leaves, Huber would tackle mountains a bit farther away than the Rockies. Among other expeditions, he went to Denali, northern Japan, and K2 in 2007. On his K2 expedition, he reached 8,000 meters before turning around.
While Huber’s slight accent pegged him as a foreigner, his knowledge of the trail systems and peaks to the west of Louisville marked him as a Coloradan. Climbing acquaintances paid tribute to Huber on Mountain Project, remembering a consummate outdoorsman, but an even better friend. Terry Parker wrote, “Christian was one of the strongest and most graceful climbers I have ever seen. He was supportive and always happy to help this climber of much lesser skill.” Ames A. Blaze added, “He had the whole package: confidence, strength, grace and humility.”
Huber leaves behind his son, Caleb.
Tim Klein, 42, June 2
Jim Herson offers this update to his obituary:
Last spring Tim’s 13-year-old son, Levi, got a baby pig, Sarge. Over the summer, while broken by the loss of his father, Levi nurtured Sarge into a hefty 267-pound porker and brought him to the 4H auction. Levi was hoping for $3 per pound. Then his father’s innate kindness and generosity, legendary throughout the tight-knit community, triggered a bidding war. Finally, the pig bidders colluded to split Levi’s pig 13 ways and paid a staggering $30 per pound! Others, shut out from the group bid, gave another $1,700 in “add-ons.” In total, Levi’s pig pulled down $9,100 in a show of love for his dad.
I had the honor of speaking at Tim’s beautiful memorial about his two openly secret lives. Tim’s students knew he climbed but they had no idea what Tim and Jason Wells would routinely throw down in their manic Valley weekends. Tim’s climbing buddies knew he taught but we didn’t have a clue. It’s been a heartbreaking joy to stumble upon story after story of Tim making a profound impact on his students. One of those stories was Tim climbing the height of Mount Everest in a gym as a fundraiser for his student, Keiry, who was tragically shot in a drive-by shooting. Keiry was given a less than 1 percept chance of survival but last spring, three-and-a-half years after the shooting, Tim walked her through graduation.
Keiry remains in a wheelchair with an open hole in her throat from her tracheotomy. Any water that gets in can cause suffocation. Keiry needs a $10,000 operation to reverse the tracheotomy. To see through Tim’s unfinished work to help Keiry, Tim’s church has set up a fundraiser. To donate, send checks marked “Keiry’s surgery” to Grace Chapel, 44648 15th St W, Lancaster, CA 93534.
Below is the obituary published at the time of his death.
That you cannot write a remembrance of Tim Klein without making it about others is pure Tim Klein. Tim’s fundamental guiding principle was deceptively simple: make others better. It wasn’t an aspirational goal; it was organically baked into every fiber of his being.
Tim taught for 17 years at Palmdale High School, 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Tim’s climbing partners knew he taught. Tim’s students knew he climbed. But neither of us really had any idea what that really meant.
For the last 11 years Tim served as co-director of the Health Careers Academy (HCA) at Palmdale, which has a diverse, high-risk, 70 percent low-income student body. The HCA offers strong vocational training as a gateway into challenging medical careers as well as a strong academic college path. Under Tim and his co-director Angela Hefter’s leadership, the academy doubled in size to 400 students with a 100 percent graduation rate.
Tim’s visionary effort, though, was conceiving of an EMT program for high school seniors—the first of its kind in the California. With the meticulousness and tenacity he brought to his audacious climbing, he navigated an impenetrable bureaucracy, winning final approval and funding for his EMT program from the school board, county and state.
But Tim was not about graduation rates, funding levels, curriculum, college acceptance and job placements (although he was all that in spades). Tim was about affecting deep, personal change.
Like the young girl who was originally afraid to admit she dreamed of being a UCLA Bruin. One day Tim sensed something was wrong. With his warm smile and soft voice, he slowly coaxed it out of her: Her mother had been arrested. Tim bailed her mother out of jail. Without that, the young, promising freshman might have had to drop out of school to care for her younger siblings. She graduated valedictorian. She is a junior math major at UCLA.
Or the young girl who refused to go through her second open heart surgery. She preferred to die at age 15. She had had enough. Tim talked her into enduring another surgery. He passed away before she woke up in recovery.
Or the student who was having seizures. No one would listen to her. Tim told her she could get through it. He was there for her brain surgery. She graduated and now has a career in laboratory science and a family of her own. … [Read the full obituary here]
Jason Wells, 45, June 2
Jason Wells and I had just moved past Half Dome’s “death slabs” approach when we heard a sharp crack.
“Get out of the gulley!” Jason yelled as a granite block tumbled from above, exploding on the ground ahead of us seconds later. As the dust cloud cleared, we saw another climber ahead, collapsed on the side of the gully, having fractured his ankle avoiding the rockfall. Jason’s yell that day likely saved all three of us from worse.
The next day another kind of shout, Jason’s ecstatic whoops of joy, propelled us to the summit of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. After little sleep and a helicopter evacuation of the injured climber, Jason had still been psyched to climb.
At 45 years old, Jason still had so much left to do and climb when he died on June 2 in a fall from El Capitan with his close friend and climbing partner Tim Klein. The determination and commitment that had kept him psyched to climb after our close call was the same that he brought to life in general.
Jason lived in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, Becky, and worked as an investment manager at Granite View Asset Management. He had a daughter from a former marriage, and he and Becky had another on the way. He was a beloved and respected member of the Boulder climbing community, and deeply involved with the Action Committee for Eldorado (ACE), a nonprofit that helps monitor the state of fixed hardware in Eldorado Canyon.
Eldo was also the site of what might have been Jason’s biggest claim to fame in the climbing world: he and Stefan Griebel held the speed record on The Naked Edge, a classic 5.11 up the most striking prow in the canyon. Beyond Eldo, Jason had probably climbed more vertical feet on El Cap than anywhere else, most often with Tim Klein. But Jason was an unassuming, humble man. You wouldn’t know he had set speed records or that he routinely did multiple Yosemite big walls in a day.
I first met Jason through friends at San Francisco’s Mission Cliffs climbing gym in 2000. Although he was from Southern California and I was from East Tennessee, our friends quickly pointed out that we had at least two things in common—our Patagonia short shorts, and a burning desire to climb the Nose on El Capitan.
For years we trained a couple of nights each week in preparation for weekend adventures in the High Sierra and Yosemite, which we affectionately called “church.” Driving to Yosemite after skipping out on work early to beat the Bay Area traffic, we would have hours to chat. Jason would talk about learning to climb with his Uncle Jim, and how he valued those early experiences. We also talked about more mundane things, like finance.
From 2000 to 2003, we climbed classics like the Stecke-Salathé, the Rostrum, Serenity Crack and Sons of Yesterday, the Direct North Buttress, link-ups of the Cathedrals and Spires, Half Dome, the Third Pillar of Dana, Aiguille Extra, East Buttress of El Cap, Freeblast, the Palisade Traverse, link-ups of Tenaya Peak-Mathess Crest-Cathedral Peak, Harding Route on Mount Conness, Positive Vibrations and Red Dihedral on the Hulk, and Mount Whitney … to name a few!
We continued our adventures and good times until Jason relocated to Boulder in 2006. In the years that followed, Jason and Tim Klein accomplished incredible things together. Their Yosemite link-ups included the Nose and the Salathé, Nose and Triple Direct, the Nose and Lurking Fear, the Nose and Half Dome, and the Nose twice in a single day. Brady Robinson, one of Jason’s close friends and the former executive director of the Access Fund, told Rock and Ice for a previous article, “I think they may have passed a Nose in a Day party twice!”
In Boulder, Jason connected with an amazing climbing tribe. He and and his pals put in near-limitless laps scrambling in the Flatirons.
Stefan Griebel has memories of wide-ranging conversation topics when they were out in the Flatirons: “No conversational topics were off-limits, and none felt uncomfortable: financial collapse and mathematically related core-halo distributions, depression, quantum entanglement, psychedelic drugs, the importance of honesty, what makes someone a good dad, the existence of God or the “God” state-of-mind, and always, the raunchiest or cheesiest dad jokes ever.
“Jason was in so many ways my hero,” Stefan says, “from effortlessly pushing the limits of human capacity with double El Cap weekends to being a wonderful and solid family man.” But he adds that, “like all of us,” Jason had his troubles: “He struggled with depression and never gave in. He fought it with his entire being. Yoga and climbing were some of the most effective outlets for quieting his body and mind. His constant fight against those struggles made him even more of a hero to me.”
One of Jason’s greatest gifts—beyond his ability to climb multiple grade VI walls in a day—was his constant encouragement of others to keep going, even when it got uncomfortable. From his signature motivating whoop to his refrain of “Just 15 more minutes,” Jason helped many other people push through big days and challenging moments in the mountains.
I always enjoyed seeing Jason light up when he talked about his daughter and how much she meant to him. His wife, Becky, gave birth to their new daughter, Evelyn, a little under six months after Jason died. He would have glowed as brightly talking about her.
Charlotte Fox, 61, May 24
Becky Hall, longtime friend of Charlotte Fox and a past president of the Access Fund, writes this update to the below obituary:
As word of Charlotte’s passing spread, many reached out to ensure that her legacy of giving continued. While her generosity was far-reaching, Charlotte especially cherished her experiences in Nepal and with the people there. Since 2004, she had been a strong supporter of the dZi Foundation’s work in Nepal. For her final Seven Summits climb—Mount Elbrus in 2014—Charlotte formed an all-women’s team to raise nearly $10,000 for the dZi Foundation. To honor Charlotte, friends and family organized the Charlotte Fox Memorial School Fund through the dZi Foundation to reconstruct a school in Eastern Nepal damaged by the 2015 earthquakes. In just a few months, Charlotte’s tribe raised more than $53,000 to fully fund the reconstruction of the school for its 139 students. The community broke ground in October, and the four classrooms for the elementary school are on track to be finished in June.
Anyone interested in supporting the the school, including through furniture, play equipment, and teacher training, may donate in Charlotte’s name here or through the dZi Foundation, PO Box 632, Ridgway, CO 81432.
Below is the obituary published at the time of her death.
When Kim Reynolds and Peter O’Neil arrived in Telluride, Colorado, on Thursday, May 24, for Mountainfilm weekend, Kim spoke to Charlotte Fox for five minutes while unloading food and gear; only five minutes, but long enough for Charlotte to say, “I love being 61.”
“We’ll talk later,” they said, as they went off to different dinners, the start of a gala long weekend.
Charlotte had just had a birthday May 10, had recently climbed two 8000-meter peaks—Dhaulagiri, known as a hard mountain, on May 22, 2017, and Manaslu in 2016—and had returned only May 3 from attempting Baruntse this past spring.
Charlotte was strong, good in the mountains, not known for speed so much as being able to go and go and go. She climbed Everest in 1996, surviving the famous nighttime “huddle,” with her eyes and contact lenses freezing in her head and patches of frostbite dotting her face and feet, though she fortunately kept all her toes. Her high climbs were mostly guided, but she was prepared: Before Everest, she had also climbed Gasherbrum II (on a private expedition, not guided) and Cho Oyu (she was the first American woman to do three 8000-meter peaks), and had climbed all 54 of Colorado’s 14ers, involving all kinds of terrain and weather. Other climbs, according to www.everesthistory.com, include Aconcagua, also Huascaran and Chopicalqui, “along with several 18,000ft peaks throughout Peru.” She climbed Mount Vinson in Antarctica; Mont Blanc, Rainier and Denali; and many routes in the Canadian Rockies. She did all the seven Summits. She’d ski patrolled for 30 years, in Aspen and then Telluride (and saved every patrol uniform she was ever given). She had so much energy she would run or skin up a mountain before a full day of patrolling.
Charlotte had survived so much up high, it was stunning and profoundly sad that she died that evening of May 24 in a household accident. Kim and Peter came home at perhaps 10:45 p.m. to the house, and in descending found their friend. Charlotte had apparently fallen on one of the steep flights of hardwood stairs in her 4.5-story, 77-stair house (she never took the elevator, even when rehabbing a knee injury), which is entered via the top floor; sustained injuries; and apparently died immediately. Somehow the scene, sorrowful as it was, was indicative of her life. Her house was full, with three friends already staying and two more soon to arrive, because she was a giver: generous and open-hearted. She loved Mountainfilm and the mountain community. Beyond those, she encouraged others to have confidence as climbers or people.
“No one lived larger than Charlotte,” said Deb Curtis, an Aspen friend who made the four-hour drive for an impromptu but packed gathering of many dozens in the green back yard of a good friend, Julie Hodson, in impossibly beautiful weather. “No one got after it like she did. And she had a heart of gold.” … [Read the full obituary here]
Mark Vallance, 72, April 19
Mark Vallance, founder of the U.K.-based company Wild Country and instrumental collaborator in the production and manufacture of camming “Friends,” passed away peacefully at his home in Switzerland on April 19 following a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Among his many contributions to the climbing industry, both in his home country and across the world, his most notable and innovative accomplishment, achieved alongside the American climber Ray Jardine, was bringing the revolutionary camming “Friend” to market in 1978.
A serendipitous meeting with Jardine in Colorado while the duo were working for Outward Bound in 1972 started the long six-year road to large-scale production of Friends. Vallance was one of the few people privy to the first iterations of Friends, at first produced in secrecy. The unnamed devices were given the code name Friends to keep them secret from other climbers, and the name stuck.
Jardine failed to obtain funding to produce Friends in the U.S. and so asked Vallance to manufacture and market them in England.
“Now I had to go for it, the long unprotected lead,” wrote Vallance on the Wild Country website. “I borrowed all the money I could and got the bank to give me a second mortgage on my house. I had some stationery printed and started to place orders for tools and components. Finally, in November, I took a deep breath and gave up my job—no runners on this climb—either success, or a big, big fall: and that’s how Wild Country and the Friends revolution was born.”
Shortly after the Friends were released in 1978, Vallance famously took a lead fall at Millstone Edge in the Peak District to demonstrate their holding power for the U.K. science and technology program Tomorrow’s World.
Within six months of their release Friends were being exported to 16 different countries. The Friend and other devices built in their image went on to change the world of climbing. They allowed climbers to climb harder, bolder routes more safely, pushing the limits of what was achievable.
“Anyone who’s ever placed a cam owes Mark a lot,” writes Terry Fletcher on the Climber’s Club website. “I remember the first time I saw him demonstrating his new-fangled Friends on Tomorrow’s World by jumping off Millstone. It wasn’t quite hover boots but it still looked like science fiction when all you’d had was hexes and wires.” … [Read the full obituary here]
Haley Royko, 25, April 17
Haley Ann Royko (born June 16, 1992) lived fully and fiercely. She was a scientist and a spoken-word poet, an athlete and a prolific reader. She deeply loved the outdoors and wildlife. Haley was silly; she created her own games and enjoyed pranking her friends. She truly enjoyed helping people, creating connections wherever she traveled. Her favorite community was the one she found in rock climbing.
Haley was a climber from a young age. “She used to climb on top of the fridge, even at 3 years old,” her mother, Cindy Royko, remembers. As a child, when not climbing, she stayed active in volleyball, softball and soccer.
In high school, she joined the first-ever climbing team at Vertical Endeavors in Warrenville, Illinois. She climbed competitively, placing at multiple tournaments throughout the Midwest. She also, as a high school senior, qualified for the Bouldering Nationals championship in Virginia.
Her former climbing coach, Chris Claytor, recalls: “Even as a little kid in the beginning, she affected all of us with her positive attitude and supportive way she encouraged the rest of the team kids. We could always count on her to be everyone’s cheerleader, as well as mixing in more than a bit of mischief.” Haley transitioned from student to teacher, instructing younger children and learning to set routes. When considering and applying to college, she considered a campus climbing wall a necessity.
She chose the University of Wyoming, a school in the middle of a landscape that matched her independence and spirit, to earn her bachelor’s in zoology. She worked at the climbing wall on campus, setting routes and moderating competitions. She spent her summers at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, living the dirtbag lifestyle by sleeping in a tent, eating Clif Bars, and climbing until her callused fingers bled. The pumpy and technical Getting Lucky in Kentucky (5.10) was one of her favorite climbs. The Red was her favorite place in the world.
Although fierce in her endeavors, Haley was a deep thinker and gentle in her soul. She was born with a genetic disorder, mitochondrial disease, that was not diagnosed until she was an adult. She lived her childhood with an extensive list of allergies and autoimmune disorders, balancing schoolwork and extracurriculars with hospital visits. She was extremely active with APFED (American Partnership For Eosinophilic Disorders) and UMDF (United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation). She founded a support group for teenagers fighting Eosinophilic disorders, encouraged countless children and their parents as they lived with chronic illnesses, and worked extensively to spread awareness and education. After receiving her first feeding tube, she created stuffed animals with matching feeding tubes to give to young children after they received theirs. In the summer of 2014, Haley entered a coma and spent months recovering in the hospital.
Despite her physical limitations, Haley never stopped challenging herself. Her childhood friend Kelly Goldstein remembers, “Only five months after Haley relearned how to walk, she was kicking my freaking butt up the wall.”
Haley continued to take classes online and teach herself new languages, and constantly made plans to finish her bachelor’s degree. During her last summer, she completed training to be certified as a Wilderness First Responder through NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School), despite being almost unable to walk. “When I think about Haley climbing,” Kelly continues, “I think of her escaping.”
In high school, Haley once wrote on Facebook that “a night at the climbing gym erases all problems.”
Haley passed in her sleep on April 17, 2018, at home in Naperville, Illinois, with her service dog Finn by her side. UMDF is initiating a scholarship in her honor. She is survived by her beloved parents and three siblings, her dogs Finn and Maisy, and many loving relatives and friends.
Helen Kilness, 96, April 14
Helen Kilness was a mountaineer, climbing pioneer and co-publisher of Summit,the first monthly climbing magazine in America, running for 34 years.
Born in 1921, Kilness grew up in South Dakota, moving to Georgia after enlisting in the Coast Guard during World War II. She worked as a radio operator until the end of the war, in 1945. During her time stationed in Georgia, Kilness met Jene Crenshaw, a lifelong friend and partner.
After the war, the pair traveled West from Georgia on an Indian motorcycle purchased with their combined savings. The two ultimately stopped in Big Bear Lake, California, where they founded Summit in 1955. They lived and worked together in the aptly named Summit House, a shingled home/ printing press situated among California boulders and wildlife — a perfect place for Kilness.
“I enjoyed every moment, just living surrounded by birds, deer, trees, being out in the mountains” Kilness said in an interview in Alpinist magazine.
Over the years, the magazine became a fixture in climbing circles, involving contributors from Royal Robbins to Arlene Blum. Summit was about representing not just hard-core mountaineering but all forms of connection and recreation in the mountains. It often featured articles on extreme mountaineering next to ones on simple backpacking or hiking.
During her long tenure at Summit, Kilness not only published well-received articles, but pushed the boundaries of equality in the sport of climbing, writing about women climbers, publishing stories about women climbers, and as a climber herself. In a time when climbing was a male dominated, she and Jene made countless ascents of peaks rarely, if ever, climbed. Hardly documenting her ascents, Kilness found more value in simply being in the mountains than telling others about her adventures. Instead, she preferred to tell the stories of others.
Alex Reed, 20, April 11
On a warm June night at Smith Rocks in Central Oregon, Alex and I made our way by headlamp to the base of Voyage of the Cowdog, a fun three-pitch 5.8+ near the Picnic Lunch Wall. By the time our rope was flaked and our gear was racked, we were totally surrounded by darkness. Alex led all three pitches by dim headlamp—his “dirtbag” budget didn’t cover new batteries—so we relied on the faint glow of Bend’s city lights to illuminate much of the way. I remember sitting on top of the last pitch, talking about family, dreams and Alex’s plan for a new bed frame in his kitted-out minivan. I had been Alex’s camp counselor in New Hampshire when he was in high school, and this moment was the proudest of him I had ever been.
In the second half of high school, Alex had gone full steam ahead with his climbing. He worked at a local gym back home in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, where he learned what it took to set routes indoors and out. On one of his early first ascents, Alex fueled himself up with Little Debbie Fancy Cakes before dispatching the route, and so, naturally, named the route Little Debbie Choss Cakes.
After high school, he decided to move to the Northwest’s climbing mecca, Bend, Oregon. Alex would park and sleep in the parking lot at the base of Smith Rocks just so that he could wake up at the crack of dawn and meet people to climb with. His minimalist lifestyle allowed him to focus on his climbing without breaking the bank.
As soon as Alex moved to Bend, he began climbing harder and harder routes. One of his close friends, Chris Hatzai, remembers how Alex was hitting new highs at Smith: “Not only was he climbing very well just before his passing, Alex was also starting to put up really, really good routes. The last four superb lines Alex developed are all in the 5.13 to 5.14- range, with him putting up 10 routes in total at Smith Rock State Park. While the original intention was to have several mega-projects to work for years to come, Alex’s last gift left to us were the routes he so tirelessly worked on. From the relentless scorching hot sun to 17-degree freezing fog winter inversions, Alex was out there cleaning, hammering, hauling, jugging, lifting, fixing, carrying and working his ass off to put up the routes he envisioned.”
Alex lived out of his van when it was warm or in his friends’ houses when it got too cold outside. He played Settlers of Catan and drank kombucha, he geeked out over new gear or the new Astrovan he was building out. And while developing was a vital outlet for him, nothing trumped his relationships.
Hatzai recalls, “Alex was one of the hardest-working but also most down-to-earth, nice-hearted people I have ever met. His stoke for family, friends, life and climbing were paramount in his young life. Well beyond his years, Alex had the wisdom to see what was important in life and the intuition to go after it full bore. He understood that hard work pays off and to give 110 percent every single time.”
On the morning of April 10, Alex went out early up the Misery Ridge trail to throw down a static line on a project he was working on. While setting up his line, Alex slipped and fell 300 feet to the bottom of the main wall. He was only 20 years old. He is survived by his parents, Gwen and Scott, and his sister, Leana.
Alex left his mark on many lives and many walls. One of the last routes Alex was developing with his friend Alan Collins at Smith Rocks is now known as the Alex Reed Memorial Route.
Lisa Korthals, 49, March 28
An update from Lisa Korthal’s friend Lee Anne Patterson:
Nine months have passed since we lost Lisa in an avalanche. Nine months, the time it takes to create human life. Those close to Lisa feel as if we are slowly beginning to embrace a new life, a new reality that doesn’t include her physical presence but is full of her spirit and energy, and has spurred a new calling, to Live Like Lisa.
We do what we can do to remind everyone of her spirit every day. A favorite heli-ski run near Mount Currie has been re-named Amazeballs (a phrase she used); a bike trail (one of Lisa’s favorite rides) built by her husband is now known as Live Like Lisa (or L3), and a new ski made by Foon skis is called the Moma Lisa. A fund has been set up in her name to support upcoming female guides in the CSGA. Any contributions are welcome here. Live Like Lisa!
Below is the obituary we ran at the time.
Ten weeks before Lisa Korthals was killed in a sympathetically-released size 3 avalanche while heli-ski guiding in Whistler, she gave an interview to Mountain Life magazine about her historic first female ski descent of Alaska’s burly University Peak, completed in 2002 alongside husband Johnny Chilton.
During that conversation, she reminisced about an early “date,” her first major rock climb with Chilton.
“We climbed Yak Peak on the Coquihalla Highway. That was our first 12 hour day together. It’s a long climb—16 pitches, plus getting off. It’s probably the best day of climbing I ever had, because I wanted to impress him, so I was trying not to show fear. Then while he slept in the car, I drove all the way home and had to get up and go to work landscaping the next day for 6:30 a.m.”
Dry-humored, humble and hard-working, Korthals was a trailblazer—a gravitational force and an exuberant and open-hearted person. She was a preternaturally gifted athlete, in every field—from canoeing and softball to skiing, mountain biking and climbing.
Korthals had been introduced to rock-climbing in the mid-1990s by friend Lee Anne Patterson. Her first route ever was Squamish’s classic multi-pitch Dierdre, and she loved it.
Over the next decade, she would climb in the Needles, Smith Rock, Joshua Tree, Red Rocks, the Rockies and Squamish, often with Patterson, Jia Condon, Nadine Nesbitt or colleagues from her stints guiding at Outward Bound, where she introduced students to climbing at Smith Rock and J-Tree.
Drawn to Whistler in 1988 to ski, the Toronto-raised Korthals joined the Whistler Ski School at the age of 19, and went on to compete on the freeski circuit, win several Powder 8 championships with Patterson, and feature in the documentary film Ski Bums, before transitioning to ski guiding in 2000.
Korthals later became lead guide and operations manager at Coast Range Heli-skiing. She was one of only a tiny handful of women at that level. She felt proud of the team environment she created there, replacing the industry’s more prevalent top-down decision-making hierarchy with a collaborative process. … [Read the full obituary here]
Savannah Buik, 22, March 28
A memorial fund has been set up in Savannah Buik’s honor to benefit Project HEAL, a non-profit that helps those with eating disorders receive treatment and support. Savannah was an intern at Project HEAL.
From the memorial fund’s website:
“Savannah was a passionate advocate for eating disorder recovery and courageously shared her own journey in order to help others and the organization. … All funds raised by this campaign will go towards our Treatment Access Program to help more people get the treatment they need and deserve.”
To donate, visit the memorial fund’s webpage here. Below is the obituary that ran at the time of her death.
Savvy always talked a lot about what she wanted in her life after college—what she might like to do, where she hoped to go. She told me she loved Chicago, where her parents live, because of things like the music scene and their donuts; she told me she would love to move West—maybe to Colorado, maybe California; she said she wanted to go somewhere with bubbling culture, easy access to the outdoors and great concert venues. She said she wanted to make a positive influence on the climbing community with regards to eating disorders and people’s self and body images, things she had personal experience with. But at the end of the day, even with the mountain of things she was telling me still growing, she would just giggle and say, “There’s just too many things I’m passionate about—I just want to do it ALL,” and then let out a drawn-out exhalation.
On March 28, Savannah was climbing on the sharp end at Devil’s Lake, wearing her helmet as she always did while trad climbing, when she fell, ripped two of her pieces out, and decked. A rescue call was made immediately; however; there were no signs of a pulse and she wasn’t breathing. That evening I got a text message from a mutual friend with the news.
I first met Savannah in 2012 in Atlanta at at a pre-Youth Nationals training camp. Still in high school, she had just started climbing. I was one of the U.S. Team coaches. Most other participants in the camp had been climbing for years and were preparing to compete at Youth National Championships. Despite her comparative newness to the sport, Savannah had a desire to learn and to be great that rivaled those who had already done big things. She would leave all of herself on the wall, screaming on gritty moves all while smiling in joy regardless of whether or not she found success.
After the camp, we tried to meet at the Red River Gorge a couple of times, but she was busy with college and working on laying a solid foundation for herself. Savannah struggled with an eating disorder and mental illness growing up and made several attempts at recovery while she lived in Atlanta, but the first few attempts didn’t work out the way she wanted. After her first year at college, she decided she needed to move away and start from scratch to really recover and turn her life around, so she headed to Chicago, where her parents, Nina and Courtney, had relocated.
Savvy worked hard to take control and create a good foundation for herself, eventually recovering with the help of doctors, therapists, nutritionists, family and friends. And it was all on her own terms.
Through all of this, she kept in touch. Savvy always made an effort. Even seven weeks ago, as I was preparing for shoulder surgery, she called me and left a goofy, uplifting voicemail wishing me luck and letting me know she was with me in spirit. She liked to say,“Just reach out,” and that phrase cycles through my mind daily. … [Read the full obituary here]
Tom Higgins, 73, March 21
Tom Higgins’ daughter, Alanna Higgins Joyce, M.D., shares this from her eulogy, as well as a personal photo of her parents and her children.
Tom was a pioneering climber, steadfast professional, and loving husband to Nancy, father to me, and grandfather “Ba-Tom” to Charlie and Thomas. An only child raised in Sherman Oaks, California, he attended Notre Dame High school and graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and later Master’s of Public Policy from UC Berkeley. Thereafter he worked as a transportation consultant and lived in Oakland, enjoying the symphony, cycling, home improvements, and travel to natural wonders across seven continents.
When I was a child, my dad glued rubber to the soles of my child-sized sneakers; I remember the feeling of being above the tree line – a bird whooshing behind you, some pine needles on a ledge nearby, my fingernails gripping the granite. From the ground, he was a speck on a wall in the sky, singing his commands through the trees. Let us hope he has found easy rest somewhere on those walls. His legacy as a climber, husband, father, grandfather and friend will live within us all.
Below is the obituary we published at the time.
Tom Higgins was one of America’s most unusual and thoughtful climbers, a purist for decades. He lived a climbing ethic that others could only imagine.
Tom died at home in Oakland, California, March 21 at age 73. Longtime climbing partner of Bob Kamps, he was also a partner and contemporary of Pat Ament, Vern Clevenger and Chris Vandiver, among many other leading climbers. He was known for establishing hard and runout climbs, all bolted on lead, at Tahquitz, in Tuolumne and elsewhere, and also for technical difficulty, such as in his first free ascent of the Left Ski Track, Joshua Tree, an early 5.11.
Tom was a transportation expert, co-founder and owner of the transportation consulting company K.T. Analytics, and a terrific climber in the period just post the so-named Golden Years of Yosemite and California climbing in the 1960s.
As climbs grew harder and harder during that time, to a point five grades beyond the original 5.9, many new methods might be incorporated, but Tom always felt climbers had to play by a style of ethics. Others might not be clear on what they even thought, but he always felt there was only one true way. He was not so much competitive as he was sure and graceful.
His best-known piece of writing is surely the polemic “Tricksters and Traditionalists,” in which he popularized the phrase “traditional climbing” and advocated for it versus contemporary styles. The piece was featured in the original Ascent, edited by Steve Roper and Allen Steck and published by Sierra Club books, and later republished in the “Best of” 25th anniversary edition. In the essay Tom wrote:
“‘Tricksters’ are bending and altering the traditional rules of the climbing game. In the traditional style, climbers do not alter the rock in order to free climb it. Nor do they preview routes on rappel, or fix protection on aid or on rappel with the intention of immediately trying to free climb. Aid climbing is done to get to the top, not to set up a route for free-climb attempts. Likewise, in traditional style the climber might fall a few times trying a free climb, but he or she doesn’t rest on the protection between attempts. The traditionalist knows there is a time and place to give up.”
Among other writings are “In Thanks” and “Nerve Wrack Point” in the classic compendium Games Climbers Play, edited by Ken Wilson, of the famous Mountain magazine in the UK. Tom also wrote fiction, including “In Due Time: A Play in Three Acts,” in Ordeal By Piton, Writings from the Golden Age of Yosemite Climbing, compiled by Steve Roper, and “Swaramandal” in Climber’s Choice, edited by Pat Ament. Tom maintained the website http://www.tomhiggins.net of climbing images and writings, including fiction, histories and observations about style.
Among his best-known routes are, with Kamps, the first free ascent of the Northeast Buttress of Middle Cathedral Rock, also the FFA of Serenity Crack (with Chris Jones) and other Valley FAs, many of which are recorded in Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber by Steve Roper. … [Read the full obituary here]
Ryan Johnson, 34, Between March 5 and 13
Samuel Johnson adds:
We miss Ryan more than ever, for his strengths and struggles, for lighting the way for winter climbers in Alaska and for being there for so many of us as a friend, adventure partner, son, father, mentor and inspiration. Ryan’s mother, Ruth, gave me permission to reopen the GoFundMe campaign—every dollar of which will go toward Ryan’s son, Milo, as he grows up.
Below is the obituary that appeared following Ryan’s death.
I first met Ryan Johnson in Juneau, where we teamed up with Tim Banfield. I could tell that Ryan was open, honest to a fault, and super solid in the mountains. On our first adventure together we sent a major new ice line near Juneau, and later that fall we made it to the far reaches of Kyrgyzstan. We didn’t send our chosen objective—an unclimbed line of thin, alpine ice on Kyzyl Asker—but suffered high on the face and retreated knowing we had done our best with the terrible weather. The trip had everything that we craved: intense suffering and starvation, a new technical route in Kyrgyzstan on the Ochre Walls, and some of the best pitches we had ever climbed in the alpine. These experiences—bookended by legal shenanigans (we ventured sans visa or permit into China to attempt one of the world’s most coveted big-wall ice/mixed lines) and social misadventures in countries where we were total outsiders—forged a deep bond between us that set the stage for an enduring friendship focused around alpinism, personal growth and fatherhood.
As a climber, Ryan was a visionary and a dreamer with the motivation, skills, and dedication needed to accomplish what many others considered difficult, impossible or inadvisable feats. His and Marc-Andre Leclerc’s final first ascent, an ephemeral patchwork of ice and mixed terrain climbing through a granite big wall on the North Face of the Main Tower in the Mendenhalls, is just one of many outstanding accomplishments in his career as an alpine athlete. Based in Juneau, Ryan was arguably the most motivated winter climber in Alaska’s history, and undoubtedly one of the more talented alpinists in North America. He accomplished hundreds of technical first ascents in the Juneau area, from difficult waterfall ice and mixed climbs to first free ascents and challenging alpine climbs in Alaska and around the world. He put as much passion into fatherhood as he did into his climbing, and loved his son, Milo, more than anything else.
After climbing the Cassin Ridge on Denali, onsighting M10 and completing a variety of testpiece ice and mixed lines as a young nomad, Ryan began a lifestyle based around difficult physical work in the mining industry where he built a reputation for being the little guy who could outwork the big guys. Though the job made him a great living and allowed him to travel extensively, he grew tired of this lifestyle. It was just too tough to maintain climbing-specific fitness and the mental edge he needed to climb cutting-edge routes. He made a decision to dedicate his life to developing a local climbing community in Juneau and expanding the range of his first-ascent activity in the nearby mountains while planning for far-off Himalayan projects. As a result, Ryan played mentor to countless up-and-coming Juneau area climbers and expanded the paradigm of what they thought was possible.
His local testpieces in the Mendenhalls include Balancing Act (450m 5.11c), the first free ascent of the South Buttress of Main Tower (600m 5.11a), Fall Line (1100m AI3 M5), The Great White Conqueror (750 meters, a sandbagged AI 4 M5 A1), and his final first ascent (unknown difficulty) with Marc-André. …[Read the full obituary here]
Marc-André Leclerc, 25, Between March 5 and 13
Marc-André’s friend and climbing partner Kieran Brownie adds the following thoughts:
Marc-André’s legacy is one of concentration; not only in focus and intent but in content, in distilling this experience we call life and shortening the distance between ourselves and what we love. The trauma of Marc-André’s sudden absence is still felt by his tribe, but looking back on the last nine months, I see beauty amongst the products of grief. I see expressions of love that took form as essays, sculptures, paintings, songs and countless first ascents from Alaska to Argentina and everywhere in between. Each of these was an opportunity for those partaking to reflect and reconnect with Marc-André.
Below is the obituary that appeared at the time of Marc-André’s death.
I first met Marc-André Leclerc at the Starbucks in Squamish, B.C., when he was about 15 years old. Wild-eyed, with curly dark hair, he seemed to have an electrical current of stoke running through his gangly body. He peppered me with question after question and practically reverberated with psyche and curiosity. I’d never met anyone with such bubbling levels of excitement about climbing. In the words of his longtime friend Drew Brayshaw, “Marc-André was the only climber and maybe the only person I’ve ever met who made those impossible dreams manifest and actually lived up to his own teenage fantasies of climbing by doing all the things he’d said years earlier that he wanted to do.”
Leclerc, originally from Pitt Meadows, B.C., started climbing in a gym in Maple Ridge at age 9. When he was 11, his family relocated to Agassiz, B.C., where Leclerc took to the local cliffs and the mountains above his home, honing his skills and already thinking of bigger things.
When he relocated to Squamish, not long after our first meeting, he blew me away with unprecedented levels of dirtbagging. Lacking a vehicle and driver’s license, he either occupied a cramped stairwell for $180 a month, or lived in the boulders beneath the Chief. Before long he had ticked 5.14 and done some impressive rock solos, such as the first free solo of High Plains Drifter, a 5.11c at the top of the Chief. At age 20, he soloed three routes—the Grand Wall, Uncle Ben’s and University Wall—on the Squamish Chief in a 17-hour push. Later that same summer he soloed the Grand Wall in just 57 minutes. … [Read the full obituary here]
Ann Krcik, 60, February 26
Many of us remember how we felt about Ann Krcik more than specific memories. She helped us gather courage to continue an epic journey or navigate the ups and downs of personal life. She inspired us to aim higher than we thought possible. Her wisdom would ground and support us and leave us feeling understood and connected. She wanted us to believe in ourselves and not let the bad times get us down.
We loved her gentle strength, kind smile and feisty spirit. She was a champion for many, including other women in the outdoor industry. With Carolyn Cooke, she founded the Outdoor Industry Women’s Coalition, now Camber Outdoors. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from them as well as the American Himalayan Foundation’s “AHF Star Award.”
In about 2005, Ann learned she had breast cancer, and in 2006, Extreme Connection, a speakers’ bureau and talent agency she founded for climbers and other outdoor adventurers in 1992, suffered a severe blow. One of her premier speakers, Todd Skinner, died in a climbing accident in Yosemite.
Ann found herself working through grief, finding a new course for her career and fighting cancer all at the same time.
When she went back to work with a previous employer, The North Face as senior director of brand communications and outdoor exploration, she found new inspiration and purpose. Her work wasn’t just about what clothes to wear in the outdoors. It was also about protecting the wilderness to make sure we have someplace to go to wear those clothes.
One day, I asked her to go on a hike. She off-handedly responded, “Well, I can’t. I have a meeting at the White House.” Her advocacy work with The North Face and the Conservation Alliance took her there more than once.
Many are grateful to Ann for introducing us to each other, to her family and to her many friends. As Conrad Anker said, in www.snewsnet.com, “She was always like a well-seasoned alpinist on a serious route. Behind all this is the spirit that made Ann special. She had a way of connecting people and connecting them to groups, causes and organizations.”
As Alex Honnold said, also on www.snewsnet.com, “She’s this wise presence that everybody respects and she keeps it all going in the right direction.”
Ann is still with us. She continues to remind all of us – now more than ever – what’s important in life: love, loyalty, and not giving up.
Ann Krcik, who lived in Mill Valley, California, has been memorialized by Camber Outdoors with the Ann Krcik Advocacy Fund “to ensure that women continue to develop community and connections that will shape the future of the outdoors.”
—Kristi Denton Cohen
An obituary by Conrad Anker for outsideonline appears here.
Jim Bridwell, 73, February 16
Jim Bridwell was creative and a tinkerer, always devising gear or new ways of using it. While his ascents in Yosemite are legion, he thought ahead in many ways. Sibylle Hechtel, who met Bridwell in Yosemite in 1971, adds this memory:
Though Jim had a reputation as a ladies’ man and flirt, he was in a way a feminist, who helped women’s climbing and supported strong women climbers.
Jim took me on hard, strenuous routes at the limits of my ability, and made me lead pitches. He introduced me to Beverly Johnson, and suggested that we “chicks” could climb together. … Bev invited me to climb, on Jim’s recommendation.
I don’t know whether Jim suggested that Bev and I should climb El Capitan together, but once she asked me to climb it, Jim supported our effort. In early 70s, when I was a novice climber, he lent me gear, taught me new techniques, and always encouraged us to become better and stronger climbers.
Below is the obituary we published at the time.
I last saw Bridwell five years ago at the Ouray Ice Festival.
“Come here,” he ordered during an evening event, a flea-market type gathering of gear makers and climbers. “I’ve got a pecker to show you.”
Bridwell reached into a pocket and slung out a junkyard of gear, the fruit of an ever-evolving vision he had had about 30 years ago when he sawed one arm off of an anchor-shaped nut, the Chouinard Crack-N-Up, to make a micro pin for times when the RURP was just too big.
Bridwell was in his late 60s but he seemed to have not aged—even when he had been young he had looked old. Years of sun and privation and maximum effort had famously given him the face of a plowed field. It was said that he had “the head of a 70-year old, body of a 25-year old, attitude of an 11-year-old.”
Bridwell was a tinkerer. He looked for an edge. A sliver of creativity occupied his mind like a burst of light through a cracked door. There was the rock shoe with a swim-fin toe for slotting into thin cracks. It was beautiful except when there wasn’t a crack. Another invention, the chalkbag, found greater popularity. Paisley shirts set off with a colorful bandana had their turn, too. The handlebar moustache would have caught on, but no one else could grow one like him.
Bridwell materialized in Yosemite in the early 1960s when the establishment of Robbins, Harding, Pratt, Sacherer, Et al., were still making hay, but were soon to split, having grown up or died.
The Bird inherited the kingdom and decreed a new game, free climbing. The throne fit him. When he had arrived in Yosemite there were just two 5.10s. By the time he left, around 1980, there were so many routes of that grade and miles harder, he had to develop a sub-grading system of a, b, c, and d to tell them apart.
Standout lines of his from his prime included Freestone, Wheat Thin, Outer Limits (Yosemite’s first rappel-bolted route, in 1971), Butterfingers. When he felt like he was too old to free climb at a world-class level, Bridwell grabbed iron and banged out the hardest walls in the world.
Yet Bridwell’s brand in Yosemite went beyond achievements—he was the evolutionary link between the old and the new, taking youngsters John Bachar, John Long, Ron Kauk, Dale Bard, John Yablonski, Dean Fidelman, and others under his wing. A decade older, he was a father figure. “Bridwell’s Boys,” who later became The Stonemasters, were the crew on his ship and they sailed the granite sea plundering treasure. There was the first one-day ascent of El Cap, with Long and Billy Westbay. A free ascent of its Stovelegs. A string of fierce nail ups, the Sea of Dreams being his Pieta. Over 100 first ascents in all. In his prime Bridwell was likely the best rock climber in the world, and he climbed hard well into his 50s, making his final FA on El Cap when he was 57. “For sheer production of routes,” wrote Long in a 1970s feature for Mountain, “he is unparalleled.”
Fidelman remembers meeting Bridwell in 1974. “I was 16,” he says. “I ran into Largo [John Long] in the parking lot. He asked me if I had any dope, and led me to a tent in the back of Camp 4.
“Jim was inside, they both proceeded to smoke ALL of my weed, that’s how I met JB, I was awed to meet my hero. Jim was a father figure to all of us … I went climbing with him shortly after we met. I struggled to lead a pitch and got frustrated and embarrassed. Bridwell asked me to sit with him on the ledge, he told me that it wasn’t important to him how hard his friends climbed.
“He said, ‘I’m not friends with climbers, I’m friends with people.’ I’ve always taken this lesson to heart.”
Besides projecting motivation like a solar flare, Bridwell brought longhair and joblessness (he “had a disdain for labor”) to Camp 4, becoming one of the first professional climbers, and in a time when being the best climber in the world might earn you a free rope. “I was never tempted by money,” Bridwell said. “If I had been, things could have gone badly.”
On rock, Bridwell was a technical master, bold but calculating. He disdained soloing, saying: “I don’t need to solo, I got friends.”
He was a hippie, but not in the traditional sense of say, Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes. He was anti-establishment, but could fit in when he needed to.
In Yosemite for the long haul, Bridwell founded YOSAR with John Dill, a “true patriot,” in 1970. He scraped by, drawing the occasional wage by saving a life or recovering a body and “canning,” rummaging through trash for bottles and cans for their redemption deposits. He didn’t need much. …[Read the full obituary here]
John Myers, 66, February 3
Sean Cobourn updates us since writing the below obituary:
North Carolina’s newest legal and reliable ice climbing venue, Little Bearwallow Falls in Gerton, is dedicated to the visionary climber/conservationist who protected it and much of the surrounding land. Since John Myers’s untimely death in February, this cliff has seen more ice climbers than ever before and now draws rock climbers as well, due to the establishment of roughly 25 new, mostly sport, routes in 2018.
The Wildcat Rock Trail, which leads to the cliff and beyond, runs for miles through the pristine lands of the upper Hickory Nut Gorge, also managed to take its designer, Conserving Carolina’s trails coordinator Peter Barr, to Washington, D.C. where he was given a national award from the Coalition of Recreational Trails for its design and construction.
Below is the obituary we published at the time.
The North Carolina climbing and conservation communities lost a giant when John Myers passed away February 4, due to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). John was my friend, partner and mentor.
He had an engaging, laid back demeanor. He was a gifted climber, equally adept at pulling Gunks roofs, enjoying Yosemite walls or running it out on North Carolina’s scary slabs.
Residents of Asheville and then Gerton, John, age 66, and his wife of nearly 20 years, Jane Lawson, were both originally from Middletown, Ohio. Later in life John worked with the Trust For Public Land on deals in New York. In the early 2000s he served on the Access Fund Board of Directors. Thankfully, in 2004 Jane convinced him to move to western North Carolina. He and I became a team on and off the rock. I too had served on the Access Fund board and was soon to become president of the Carolina Climbers Coalition. While John and I were out establishing new routes throughout the North Carolina mountains, we brainstormed for access projects. The Southeast is blessed with hundreds of fabulous climbing areas, but cursed in that many of them are on private property.
John was a visionary. He was an architect and vocal advocate of the concept of climbers purchasing areas to obtain and preserve access to them. John recently said, “Through recreation, conservation emerges. I believe in getting people outdoors to love land like this.”
Our first successes were working to buy several tracts for the newly created Chimney Rock State Park, the climbing showcase of which is Rumbling Bald Mountain.
We next aimed high. Really high. Laurel Knob is the tallest cliff in eastern America. John used his negotiation acumen to cut a great deal with the owners while I wrangled the regional climbing community’s political will and milked the fundraising contacts needed to raise the staggering quarter-million-dollar purchase price. The Carolina Climbers Coalition became “the little nonprofit that could” and they now proudly own Laurel Knob thanks in large measure to John’s skills. This massive project helped create the Access Fund’s current revolving loan fund for the acquisition of climbing areas. … [Read the full obituary here]
Dave Lanman, 55, January 28
Russ Clune, a longtime Gunks resident, adds this remembrance to the below obituary:
In the late 1970s, Dave visited the Gunks from Canada for a prolonged stint. Both young and new to the place, we met at Sky Top, each with a list of routes we wanted to tick of Gunks testpieces. Dave was an amazingly self-assured climber and strong as a bull. One day we while we were at Sky Top on the classic 5.11 roof, Crack of Bizarre Delights, the current top-dog “A” team arrived and sieged another classic 5.11+ face climb, Open Cockpit. We watched them for a bit as they took turns getting gear a little higher on the climb before lowering off, pumped. One of them noticed us, and with a smirk invited us to tie in. Dave immediately took the sharp end and cruised to the high point. Our hosts were not amused, and suddenly there was a problem from the A teamer feeding out slack. Unable to make progress despite his call for some rope, Dave finally fell. No matter. We all knew.
Below is the obituary we published at the time.
Dave Lanman, 55, a onetime leading Canadian rock climber, passed away at home in New Paltz, New York, in the last days of January 2018. Although most of his accomplishments were a decade or so in the past, Dave was a colorful, well-known and beloved friend of climbers from all over Canada and the United States. Cause of death was given as cardiac arrest in his sleep.
Dave grew up in the lower middle-class suburbs of east Toronto. His father had been a fell runner in England and when he perceived an opportunity for his boys to try rock climbing with the Alpine Club of Canada at Bon Echo, a 300-foot granite crag in Ontario, he took it. The club only took Dave’s older brother, Steve, however, because Dave was too young, so Dave enlisted a friend in the family’s building, Steve Labelle, to try rappelling off their balcony with a laundry rope. For the next outing, their dad convinced the Alpine Club to take both boys so the police wouldn’t come to the building any more.
After a couple of seasons at Rattlesnake Point, where Dave climbed with local hard climbers George Manson, Tom Gibson and Mike Tschipper, the youth was able to climb the local 5.11s, a hard grade for a teenager in the late 1970s. In 1979, at the age of 16, he climbed the Shield on El Capitan with the Toronto climber Dean Lister. On his home crags of the Niagara Escarpment, Dave made numerous first ascents of 5.11 and 5.12 routes that were mostly trad-protected. His most impressive climb was the hardest route at Mazinaw Rock, the four-pitch Spiderman, the first 5.12 on the cliff. These climbs influenced a whole generation of suburban climber kids, although not perhaps with safety as the first consideration. He was famous, for example, for shouting, “Lower me, express!” when he backed off a climb on an especially poor piece of protection or telling nervous belayers, “Relax, dude!” as he plowed through loose, sloughing rock.
In the early 1980s, Dave moved to the Gunks. Over the coming years he made an assortment of hard first ascents, including Seeing Things (5.12c) in the Gunks and Salad Days, the first 5.13 in the Adirondacks. Dave also won Canada’s first climbing comp and participated in the famous Snowbird climbing competition in Utah in 1988.
Dave exemplified the carefree, drop-out attitude of 1970s climbing. He was known to some as Picnic Butt for patching his climbing pants with gingham tablecloth material. At the hut in Bon Echo he would rack up with whatever hardware was lying around, whether or not it was his. He owed everyone a small amount of cash, and he made his way in the world known for his disarming smile, shock of blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. He never trained or educated or prepared himself for a life outside of climbing because he rejected accepted wisdom. Two weeks before he died, he emailed me a link to a video series offering investment advice from a convicted felon inside a state prison. The subject line read, “FOR YOUR RRSP, DAVE HAHA YOU KNOW ITS ALL BS.” … [Read the full obituary here]
Elizabeth Hawley, 94, January 26
Billi Bierling, Miss Hawley’s close friend and successor at the Himalayan Database, updates us on events since she wrote the below obituary:
Though widely known as the “Keeper of the Mountains,” Elizabeth Hawley was first and foremost a journalist. After she officially retired from the trade to dedicate her life to the Himalayan Database, Elizabeth continued to cover Nepalese affairs for ambassadors, entrepreneurs and development officials. Her notes from 1998 to 2007 were published in a two-volume book called The Nepal Scene in 2015. Given her love for journalism and her zest for truly reporting about anything worthwhile, the American Himalayan Foundation (AHF) has recently established a fund to pave the way for young female writers from Nepal. The annual Elizabeth Hawley Memorial Master’s in Journalism Scholarship is open to any Nepalese woman with a bachelor’s degree and an existing body of journalistic work. The scholarships will be available for one candidate per year and will cover the academic costs of attending the university and the purchase of a laptop.
Below is the obituary published at the time of Hawley’s death.
Anyone who has ever set foot on an expedition peak in Nepal would have come across Miss Elizabeth Hawley. Dubbed the Miss Marple of the Himalaya—a term she never warmed to—this American journalist lived in Nepal since 1960 and was regarded as the undisputed authority on Himalayan climbing. Known for her sharpness and her formidable interrogation skills, she would grill every mountaineer coming back from a Nepalese expedition peak trying to establish whether he or she really did what they claimed. She was known to phone and demand an audience with the expedition members even before they were able to put down their backpacks in the hotel.
This special era ended in the wee hours of January 26, when Miss Hawley died in the CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu at the proud age of 94. Her death has not only brought down one of the main pillars of Himalayan climbing, it has ripped a hole into the lives of those close to her. “The nice thing is that she kept her willpower and sharpness until the very end,” said her nurse Dawa Sherpa, sadly. She had been looking after Miss Hawley (as she was widely known) in her longtime home in the Dilli Bazaar district of Kathmandu for the past five years.
Elizabeth Ann Hawley was born on November 9, 1923, in Chicago, Illinois, and was educated at the University of Michigan. Even though she would have never referred to herself as a feminist, her incredibly independent life reflected just that quality. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew that I didn’t want to be a secretary,” is her loud and clear opening statement in Alison Otto’s documentary The Keeper of the Mountains.
Elizabeth Hawley came through Kathmandu during the late 1950s when she traded in her researcher’s job with Fortune Magazine and launched herself around the world. “Nepal was high on my list. I had read a short article on the Himalayan Kingdom in The New York Times and how it was opening up toward the West,” she told me once. She came, she saw and she never left. “I guess inertia kept me here,” she kept on saying when she was asked why she never went back to the United States.
Her initial work in Nepal was as a stringer for Time Life and Reuters, and she was an important mentor for some of the finest journalists in this country. “Liz taught me precision and I owe a lot of my journalistic skills to her,” says Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepal weekly newspaper Nepali Times. “She didn’t suffer fools gladly.”
Clad in her trademark high-waisted tweed skirt with perfectly groomed hair and armed with her ever-present clipboard, her piles of papers and a bag full of paper clips—they had to be of the right sort and were preferably from a country other than Nepal, as Asian paper clips “get rusty”—she would rock up in her baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle at hotels in Kathmandu to interview expeditions. In her interrogations she would frequently dwarf some giant mountaineer when he sat next to her in one of the many lobbies she conducted her interviews in. Still, despite her fierce and relentless questions, an expedition in Nepal would not be the same without the infamous visit from Miss Hawley. “Liz helped build trust and facilitated communication between Nepal and its visitors. For this, we all owe her a great depth of gratitude,” said the American climber Conrad Anker in a tribute to her. … [Read the full obituary here]
David J. Swift, 69, January 16
David Joseph Swift died on a beautiful, sunny January day, while cross-country skiing the freshly groomed tracks to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
David was my climbing partner, general outdoor buddy, and best friend for over 40 years. He was not an extreme climber, never did first ascents (at least not on purpose), and climbed almost exclusively in the Tetons. But David was what a great climbing partner should be like. David was always enthusiastic and appreciative. He was up for anything in the mountains. He was great company on the trail, witty and generous, and would share his last drop of water or raisin with you.
Originally from Compton, California, David grew up in the 1960s and 1970s surfing and riding dirt bikes. He was an editor at Dirt Bike Magazine in the early 1970s. I, too, was enamored with dirt-bike riding, and remember reading his clever articles and seeing his picture on his column page.
My wife, Betsy, and I moved from Tucson to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 1975, and I met David a couple of years later. He had packed up and left L.A. to work as a writer and photographer in Jackson Hole. I had a new job, wife and daughter, and a house in Wilson, but not much time. I had begun climbing in the late 1960s after spending two summers during college working in Jackson Hole. I had climbing experience, but I needed a climbing partner. David had only scrambled about in the mountains, but he knew he was in love with them. He needed a partner more experienced than he was. We hit it off perfectly, and climbed every chance we could: all of the major Teton peaks, some by more than one route; South, Middle, the Grand Teton and Buck Mountain in winter; a one-day ski traverse of the Tetons on crappy Fischer 99 skis; and a traverse of the Wind River Mountains with a climb of Gannett Peak included. Later on, as we mellowed, mountain biking, hiking and cross-country skiing became our outlets.
David photographed the mountains and wrote many articles about mountain adventures. Locally he was also a movie critic and wrote a very esoteric column about pop culture. I remember how, reading one of his columns, I scratched my head when he exhorted fellow climbers to “eschew obfuscation!” “The Fine Art of Backing Off” demonstrated his sense of humor, while tackling a touchy subject for climbers. Included was a picture of me taken on an actual back-off, post-holing up to my crotch in early season snow. We were a month too early.
David was widely known and loved in Jackson Hole. It always amazed me how he seemed to know everyone we met on a hike. He was in great demand for his photographic skills. He was also a talented musician, playing bass in some of the local bands. But most of all, David was a lifelong outdoor partner, whether it was an afternoon cross-country ski, or a hike up Snow King Mountain.
Feature image photo credits: (Top Row, Left to Right) Tim Banfield, Austin White, Tim Klein, courtesy of Andrew Krcik, John Chilton (Middle Row, Left to Right) Monika Chace, Matt van Biene, Duane Raleigh, Tim Foote, Jim Herrington; (Bottom Row, Left to Right) Cindy Rokyo, Jonathan Dees, Jim Herrington, Royal Robbins Collection, Nikki Smith.
“Climbers We Lost in 2018” was compiled by Alison Osius, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Michael Levy, email@example.com.
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