Climbers We Lost in 2015
In Memoriam—Robert Craig, Dasán Marshall, Mark Miller, Todd Serious, Scott Sederstrom, Andy Tyson, Marisa Eve Girawong, Tom Taplin, Jim Ghiselli, Logan Jauernigg, Dean Potter, Graham Hunt, Dick Bass, Magic Ed Wright, Alexander Ruchkin, Matt Davis, Tex Bossier, Lucky Chance, Bela Vadasz, Andrew Bower, Pete Sinclair, Doug Tompkins, Kayah Gaydish, John Ellison, Ryan Jennings, Doug Walker—2015.
Editors’ note: Such a list is never comprehensive. We may have inadvertently left out other climbers who died in 2015. Please add your own remembrances about any other—or the following—climbers in the comments. We welcome your additions, comments and images. [Updated on January 24, 2016]
Robert Craig, 90, January 16
Robert Craig spent his life breaking new ground.
As a teen in Seattle, Craig teamed up with the future-mountaineering legend Fred Beckey on unclimbed peaks throughout the Northwest’s Cascades and Alaska. Their 1946 ascent of Kates Needle and Devils Thumb in the Stikine Icecap region, on the border of Alaska and British Columbia, caught the attention of the mountaineering community.
Between cutting-edge first ascents, Craig completed Bachelor’s degrees in both philosophy and biology from the University of Washington. He served in both World War II and the Korean War, interrupting his completion of a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University.
Returning from the Korean War, Craig moved to Aspen, Colorado, and met Walter Paepcke, founder of the Aspen Institute. In 1961, he helped establish the Aspen Center for Physics, a focal point for scientists to gather and discuss biophysics, astrophysics and cosmology.
In 1953, Craig joined an American-British team on K2, as the fifth-ever expedition to attempt the world’s second-highest mountain. Their attempt yielded one of the most harrowing tales of mountaineering history, which Craig recounted in K2: The Savage Mountain.
On that trip, five men nearly fell to their death during an attempt to evacuate their ill partner, Art Gilkey. The men were saved by a single boot-axe belay from Pete Schoening, who had sunk an ice axe into the snow behind a boulder, wrapping the rope once around both the axe and his waist. Craig, who had descended ahead to establish the next camp, ascended to anchor Gilkey to the slope while he helped his teammates into camp. When Craig returned for Gilkey, he had been swept away by an avalanche.
In Craig’s second book, Storm and Sorrow in the High Pamirs, he recounts the mountaineering tragedy that occurred in the former Soviet Union in 1974. A team of eight Soviet women was buried by a snowstorm following their summit of Peak Lenin. Craig was in the Pamirs, leading an American team to an international convention of climbers.
Craig moved to Keystone in 1975, where he founded the Keystone Policy Center, an non-profit organization that connects policy makers to field-experts in education, energy, and environmental concerns.
He was elected President of the American Alpine Club, serving from 1983 to 1985.
Craig, 90, died on January 16 in Denver, Colorado.
His friend Tom Hornbein stated in an American Alpine Journal tribute: “The lives he touched ranged from young to old, from dirtbag climbers to politicians, statesmen, scientists, and others involved in shaping the destiny of our place on this planet. Bob Craig was a visionary, someone who had the chutzpah to try to make a difference… He was a guru and guide to many, a thoughtful, caring, giving, and kind person.”
Craig leaves his wife, Terry, his daughters Kathleen and Jennifer, and a son, Michael.
Dasán Marshall, 24, January 18
Dasán Shantidas Marshall huddled over a cutting board, slicing vegetables with a six-inch hunting knife. It was a cloudless October evening at Smith Rock, Oregon, a crag Marshall frequented, and most climbers shivered in their neon-colored down jackets. Wrapped in a buckskin poncho, he seemed unfazed by the cold; not a single facial muscle was tense.
When I told this story to Conor Roland-Chicvara, a long-time friend and climbing partner or Marshall’s, he replied, “Dasán’s unique presence touched those he met even just once—he always seemed to leave such an authentic impression of who he was.”
Marshall developed his passion for the mountains in the Cascade range near his home in Portland, Oregon. He was an avid mountaineer, climbing peaks throughout Alaska and the Northwest including Ptarmigan Peak, Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and many others. A video tribute by Sam Hoiland, a friend of Marshall’s, shows him soloing ice near the shoulder of an oceanside highway.
Marshall died while attempting a route on the north face of Mount Yukla, in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. He slipped and fell approximately 1,000 feet.
“I learned that Dasán was whooping with joy only a minute before he fell,” Simon Frez-Albrecht, a classmate and partner of Marshall’s, writes in a tribute by Alaska Pacific University. “It was a common sound on any adventure with Dasán. Cheering and laughing.”
Marshall was finishing his last semester at Alaska Pacific University, where he majored in Outdoor Studies. His final project was devoted to starting an alpine club for the student community.
Frez-Albrecht writes that Marshall was a creative soul who carved woodcuts, wrote poetry and prose, and made woodblock prints. He sewed some of his own clothes and hunted with handmade bows.
Aaron Porter, another close friend of Marshall’s, shares a photograph from the summit of Smith Rock. Porter and his partner smile for a selfie with the third climber they brought along: a creased photograph of Marshall, looking out over the landscape he loved.
For Dasán – A Tribute By Sam Hoiland:
Mark Miller, 50, January 30
Mark Miller taught ice climbing for over 20 years—longer than any other active guide in Ouray, Colorado.
Clint F. Cook, his friend and co-worker at San Juan Mountain Guides, writes in an AMGA eulogy: “Mark had a style of instructing all his own. It was an intense combination of assessment, constant encouragement, and unique drills that could take just about anyone and turn them into an efficient climber…
“Every day of ice guiding, I use something that Mark came up with.”
Miller had moved to Ouray from Minnesota with climbing aspirations and quickly established himself as an indispensable community member. Miller was an EMT for Ouray County, a member of Ouray Mountain Rescue, and a Rigging for Rescue instructor. He also volunteered as an “ice-farmer” at the Ouray Ice Park, manufacturing water-ice and mixed routes by spraying water down the canyon walls. He was San Juan Mountain Guides’ most-requested instructor.
Despite his workload as a volunteer and guide, Miller found time for his own impressive ascents. In May 2014, he and Frank Robertson climbed Shaken, Not Stirred (WI5, M5) and Ham & Eggs (WI4, M4), 3000-foot routes on the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge.
Miller was killed while guiding two clients on the popular First Gully (WI3) in Eureka Canyon near Silverton, Colorado. The Durango Herald states that Miller was soloing about seven feet left of his clients when the bulge of ice he was climbing detached, causing a fatal fall. The two guided climbers escaped unscathed.
He is survived by his wife, Collette.
Todd Serious (Todd Jenkins), 41, March 7
Todd Serious laybacks a limestone flake on Dry Mouth (5.12c) at Esler Bluff, British Columbia in a photo. His liberty-spike-length mohawk is twisted into a French braid to keep the hair from his eyes.
On March 7, Serious died in a rappelling accident in Black Velvet Canyon—the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area, Nevada.
In his other life, Serious, a climber from Vancouver, Canada, belted lyrics for the Vancouver-based punk band The Rebel Spell. The band’s lyrics attack the prejudices of modern culture: sexism, racism, consumerism and environmental injustice. The Rebel Spell toured Canada in a vegetable-oil fueled bus.
Serious was an avid climber whose interests ranged from steep sport climbs to peak-bagging. Another photo shows him atop the sunlit summit of Mount Good Hope (10,636 feet) in British Columbia’s Coast Mountains.
Serious’s friend Elena Yeung describes him in a blog tribute: “Seeing him was like staring into a mirror: Have you thought thoroughly about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it? Are you living according to the values you say you have?”
Todd left his parents, Barry and Judy Jenkins; his brothers, Cory and Leigh; and his partner, Anna-Raye.
Scott Sederstrom, 44, March 13
One image of Scott Sederstrom, from the October 1990 issue of Powder magazine, predicted the future of 21st century freeskiing: Sederstrom hurtles off a cliff, snow flecking from the tails of his skis, his eyes trained on a landing too far beneath him for the photo’s frame to capture.
When Sederstrom, from Whitefish, Montana, moved to California’s Eastern Sierras in the 90s, he established himself as a fixture of the skiing and climbing community. He also worked as a nurse at Mammoth Hospital, where its Facebook page praises him for “his accomplished nursing skills, his great love for the outdoors, but mostly for his warm, generous heart and the compassionate care that he extended not only to his patients, but to all of us as well.”
Sederstrom was humble about his accomplishments, never seeking accolades or bragging-rights. Peter Clark, Sederstrom’s co-worker, ski-buddy and former roommate, says through Mammoth Hospital, “By himself he would ski the legendarily steep Parachute Chute, or sleep on the summit of Mt. Ritter alone in his bivy sack. And then never tell anyone.”
Hans Ludwig, in a story for Powder, remembers days in the mountains with Sederstrom and his husky, Yogi, as a simple joy. “He was always making the ridiculous sound of a donkey braying to remind us that we were just a bunch of asses fooling around in the mountains,” Ludwig writes. “Scott was so active with so many people that having spent time in the mountains with him is probably the best possible definition of a member of the loose and low-key Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing or climbing ‘communities.’”
Sederstrom, 44, died when a bolt failed on Life in Electric Larvae Land (5.10b) in Owen’s River Gorge, California. In the accident report on rockandice.com, Jeff Jackon hypothesizes that Sederstrom was using a stick-clip to clip up the route, intending to set up a top-rope for himself. When he didn’t return home that evening, Sederstrom’s fiancée, Suzanne DeBonno, drove to Owen’s to find Yogi and his car at the Lower Gorge.
Peter Clark writes also: “Scott was quietly excellent at everything he did— skier, telemarker, snowboarder, climber, ultramarathoner, Moontribe partier, nurse, dog owner, and more recently boyfriend. It was wonderful to see Sede settle down, find a woman that he loved, and transition from itinerant Sprinter-dwelling gypsy to responsible partner while still retaining the soul of the mountains. He was kind. He was positive. He epitomized the Sierra soul dirtbag with the heart of gold.”
Andy Tyson, 46, April 10
Andy Tyson concluded his TEDx lecture in Pheonixville, Pennsylvania, with a Goethe quote: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” These words are ingrained in the ideology that shaped Tyson’s lifestyle.
Ty Mack, Tyson’s friend and climbing partner, told Rock and Ice, “Andy had so much enthusiasm for climbing. He was always game for an adventure whether it was a quick jaunt up a familiar Teton peak in his backyard or an unexplored mountain on the other side of the globe.”
Tyson of Victor, Idaho, co-founded Creative Energies, a company that designs and installs solar-energy systems. He served in chair and board member positions for Idaho’s Clean Energy Association and Strategic Energy Alliance, organizations promoting efficient and responsible energy consumption.
In 2013, Tyson led an expedition to climb one of Myanmar’s highest peaks, Gamlang Razi. The American-Burmese party trekked for 16 days to reach the base of the 19,259-foot mountain, courted by the remote jungle’s sand flies, spiders and leeches, and beset by monsoon rains. On September 7, 32 days after arriving in Myanmar’s northernmost airport, Tyson and five others summited Gamlang Razi for the first ascent.
“We hugged and shouted, relieving the stress that had built during the first 32 days of the expedition, not to mention the years of planning leading up to it. It truly felt like a Myanmar-American expedition from start to summit,” Tyson wrote in the American Alpine Journal (2014).
Tyson worked as a mountain guide and instructor for 25 years, collaborating with NOLS, Exum Mountain Guides, Alpine Ascents International and Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, according to the Jackson Hole News & Guide. He and his wife, Molly Loomis Tyson, a contributor to Rock and Ice, The Wall Street Journal, Outside, the American Alpine Journal and other media outlets, traveled to China’s Genyen Massif in 2006 and pioneered the first ascents of two 5,000+ meter peaks. The couple co-authored the instructional guide Climbing Self-Rescue, published by The Mountaineers Books in 2006.
Tyson and Mike Clelland co-wrote Glacier Mountaineering, a guide covering snow travel and crevasse rescue.
A lifelong philanthropist, Tyson taught climbing clinics in Oman, China, India and Nepal, and helped Burmese climbers nurture the Technical Climbing Club of Myanmar.
The Andy Tyson Memorial Fund was established to serve mountain communities in the developing world by funding outdoor expeditions, with the intention to form a robust climbing culture.
Tyson died in a plane crash in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness leaving Diamond-D ranch, where he and his co-workers were assessing potential for clean-energy alternatives. His co-workers A.J. Linnell and Russell Cheney, and the pilot, John H. Short, also died in the accident.
In Tyson’s obituary, the Jackson Hole News and Guide writes: “he carried himself with humility and relished in others’ successes. He made the people he touched better people. He was a rare mix of intelligence, kindness, mischief and playfulness. He loved his family, community and dog tremendously and often spoke of how lucky he was to live in such a place among such people.”
Marisa Eve Girawong, 28, April 25
When Marisa Eve Girawong was attending to her team’s medical needs, as her teammate Alan Arnette put it in Rock and Ice, “She was on it,” whenever someone coughed.
“She let nothing go by. She was unselfish, compassionate and giving. And she was having a great time.”
Girawong of Edison, New Jersey, joined Madison Mountaineering, a Seattle-based guide company, on an expedition to Mount Everest and Lhotse in April. She was recruited as the team’s base camp doctor.
Girawong was killed by windblast and debris in the aftermath of the Mount Everest earthquake on April 25. Nineteen died and 61 were injured on Everest that day.
In 2009, Girawong graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey with a B.S. in biology. She was working toward a master’s degree in mountain medicine at the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom.
Girawong had also worked as a physician assistant in the emergency room at East Orange General Hospital in New Jersey.
An avid rock climber and mountaineer, Girawong had summited Mount Washington, in New Hampshire, and Mount Rainier, in Washington, according to her bio on madisonmountaineering.com. On April 5, she shared a photo of Nepal’s Khumbu Valley on Facebook, which she captioned, “I can’t think of anything that makes me as happy or peaceful as being out here.”
Tom Taplin, 61, April 25
A CNN clip of Tom Taplin shows him rising from his tent, surveying Mount Everest’s base camp.
“It’s a beautiful morning—misty, magical—and… I think I need a cigarette and a tequila to start the day,” Taplin says. His companions, all of them climbers and filmmakers, laugh, and Taplin’s revelatory expression breaks into a wide grin as he cracks the punchline.
Taplin, a Santa Monica, California, resident and Colorado native, was directing a documentary about base camp on Mount Everest when the April 25 earthquake struck. Taplin died in the ensuing avalanche, among the 19 who perished in the disaster.
An avid climber since his teenage years, Taplin learned to climb at wilderness camps in Colorado, the Los Angeles Times states. He climbed Denali (20,322), in Alaska, and took numerous trips to Patagonia and the Himalayas.
Taplin also summited Aconcagua (22,841 feet) a few years after falling into a crevasse and breaking his arm on a previous attempt. He wrote Aconcagua: The Stone Sentinel- Perspective of an Expedition, a book recounting the experience.
In 1975, Taplin graduated from Lake Forest College, in Chicago, Illinois, with a bachelor’s in English and film studies. He completed graduate work in film at the California Institute of the Arts in 1979. Taplin went on to found TET Films and Photography, the media company under which he produced his work.
Taplin also loved to ski, organizing an annual friends-and-family trip to Vail’s Soul Ski Fest.
He is survived by his wife, Cory Freyer.
Jim Ghiselli, 54, May 14
Old photos of Jim Ghiselli are classics of late Stonemasters-era climbing. In one, Ghiselli looks into the camera over his freckled shoulder, sorting through a pile of climbing gear: Shirtless, he wears prescription aviators and chinos ending mid-thigh. An empty bottle of Bacardi sits in the foreground.
His friend and partner James Crump has captioned the Facebook image, “Yosemite’s Camp 4 parking lot after getting off the Nose and being arrested for descending a closed trail.”
A lifelong climber, Ghiselli of Boulder, Colorado, completed his J.D. at the University of Denver in 1986, according to the Daily Camera. He co-founded the Boulder-based law firm Shoemaker Ghiselli + Schwartz LLC.
Ghiselli applied his legal skills to his climbing passion by working with the Access Fund as a regional coordinator. “Jim was instrumental in securing North Table Mountain aka Golden Cliffs as a climbing resource forever,” the Access Fund website states.
Chris Archer, an Access Fund legal consultant, tells Rock and Ice,“I did some of my best climbing with [Jim].” Their routes included Astroman (5.11c, IV), Yosemite, California; Bird Brain Boulevard (WI5 M6), Ouray, Colorado; Bridalveil Falls (WI5), Telluride, Colorado; and “many Eldo scarefests.”
The Access Fund established the Jim Ghiselli Scholarship Fund in memory of Ghiselli and his contributions. The scholarship supports climbers who wish to attend conferences related to climbing management and conservation.
Cause of death has not been disclosed. Ghiselli is survived by his wife, Sari, and his son, Noah.
Logan Jauernigg, 20, May 15
Logan Jauernigg was born in Vail, Colorado, an outdoorsman from the start. He took his first ski lesson at age 2, and began telemark skiing by 8.
His love for “everything outside,” as his mother, Michelle Schlund puts it, expanded to climbing when he joined the Vail Athletic Center climbing team in 2006 at age 9. Logan made nationals in bouldering and sport climbing every year for the next seven years.
Jauernigg’s interests turned to outdoor projects in his teenage years. In the summer of 2014, he completed the first ascent of Midnight Run (5.13d), a project bolted by Joe Kinder, at the Puoux, near Glenwood Springs, Colorado (see video below).
Adam Markert, Logan’s climbing coach, says Logan developed a strong ethic of conservation and climbing sustainability, all the while dispatching double-digit boulder problems, Rifle’s futuristic sport routes and adventurous trad lines on Moab’s towers.
“Logan was using his creative vision to establish first ascents of his own,” Markert says. “These are the test-pieces that others will use as stepping stones in their pursuit.”
Schlund says a friend introduced Jauernigg to kayaking a few years ago. “By the end of the summer he was hitting class V.” He kayaked throughout the winter on stretches of the upper Colorado River, and spent three months, a year ago, kayaking in the Pacific Northwest.
Jauernigg died in a kayaking accident on a class V section of the White Salmon River in Washington. He was thrown from his boat and trapped beneath the rapids, according to The Goldendale Sentinel, of Goldendale, Washington.
Schlund started the “Live Like Logan/Logan C. Jauernigg Memorial Fund” to “provide funds for kids who show an interest in learning rock climbing, telemark skiing and/or kayaking, but lack the funds for training.” All young people who demonstrate financial need will be qualified to apply, as long as they maintain a B average in school. “I always told Logan he had to have a B, or no climbing until he did,” Schlund says.
He graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 2013.
Markert says, “There was a strange, floating gracefulness to the movement he made that let everyone know, experienced climber or not, that he was perfectly suited to be doing exactly what he was doing.”
Watch Logan Jauernigg send Midnight Run (5.13d), FA, at the Fault Wall, Puoux, Colorado.
Dean Potter, 43, May 16
Dean Potter, free soloist and community oracle, died attempting a wingsuit jump from Taft Point in Yosemite Valley. His flight partner, Graham Hunt, died in the same jump.
More lore and mythology surround Potter than perhaps any other climbers of his generation. His feats skirt the fantastical: in 2006, Potter free soloed Separate Reality (5.11d), a steep crack rising above Yosemite Valley’s floor. “In a trance,” as he told Rock and Ice, he repeated the climb five times, hardly pausing to catch his breath.
For most of his youth, Dean migrated from state-to-state and country-to-country while his father served in the Army. He lived for three years in Bethany, Israel, where a man he described only as Father Jerry took the youth on hikes through the nearby mountains and caves. Potter wrote in a Rock and Ice article that these treks kindled his passion for exploration and, though he calls himself non-religious in the organized sense, influenced his spiritual take on the outdoors.
Back in the U.S., “I tried going to college… at the University of New Hampshire,” Potter wrote. “I hated going into classes and learning these things that really didn’t interest me.”
Potter spent his first season in Yosemite in the spring of 1993. He learned to slackline, adopting it as what he called one of “my three arts.” Soon he was walking highlines tetherless.
In 2006, Potter free soloed Heaven (5.12d), becoming the first person to climb the legendary Yosemite roof-crack ropeless. He eventually adapted his interest in BASE jumping for the purpose of free soloing, wearing a parachute for solo ascents of Alien Roof (5.12b) in Yosemite and a 5.12+ on the North Face of the Eiger. He called his hybrid sport FreeBASE.
Potter and his partner, Jen Rapp, made plans to settle permanently in Yosemite. They purchased property in Yosemite West, where they were clearing trees to make room for a house. They had a blue heeler named Whisper, whom Potter took BASE jumping.
His first-free ascent of Concepción (5.13+ R) on the Tombstone wall near Moab, Utah, and his solo walk of a highline to Yosemite’s Lost Arrow Spire, are just two of Potter’s legacies which define the climbing zeitgeist—contributions that will challenge climbers for generations. But more than any of his accomplishments and innovations, Potter will be remembered as an embodiment of Yosemite’s emotional core, as a beating heart of the climbing community.
WATCH Dean Potter, First Free Solo of Heaven (5.12d/5.13a) in Yosemite:
Graham Hunt, 29, May 16
Graham Hunt died in a wingsuit BASE jumping accident in Yosemite Valley on the same flight from Taft Point that killed Dean Potter.
Hunt grew up in Shingle Springs, California, the Los Angeles Times state, and attended Butte College’s fire academy in northern California. Hunt worked as a hotshot firefighter based in Sacramento, where he met Sean Jones at the Pipeworks Climbing Gym. Jones convinced Hunt to spend off-seasons climbing in Yosemite.
By age 22, Hunt was spending the majority of his time in Yosemite, and at 26 he quit firefighting to focus on climbing and flying. He picked up piecemeal work, including construction and cleaning jobs, to support himself.
Hunt progressed in climbing quickly. In Yosemite, he claimed the second ascent of Close to the Edge (5.12c) and the first ascent of the Jackass Rock crack First Blood (5.11); he also had climbed El Cap in a single day.
When Hunt met Jeff Shapiro and Sean Leary, pioneers of California’s BASE jumping community, his interested in wingsuit flying was piqued. Shortly thereafter, he was making regular flights from El Cap and Half Dome in Yosemite, and cliffs in Tule Valley and Zion National Park in Utah.
Christine Mei tells a story on Facebook about Hunt’s legendary calm: “After a jump off Half Dome, he landed and instead of immediately taking off like someone would normally do, he… start[ed] packing his parachute right there… When rangers confronted him to arrest him, he mentioned they had no proof of anything but packing. It’s a beautiful setting to pack, right?”
Hunt formed a bond with Dean Potter in Zion after Sean Leary died in a BASE jump there in March 2014. Leary was a mutual friend of the two, and together they mourned his loss.
Hunt leaves his mother, Ann, his father, Cliff, his sisters, Victoria and Samantha, and his partner, Rebecca Haynie.
Fly Free – Tribute to Grahamn Hunt
Dick Bass, 85, July 26
Jim Clash, of Forbes, once asked Dick Bass if he considered himself a professional climber.
“Definitely not. I’m a high-altitude trekker.”
Professional or amateur, trekker or climber, the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort founder Dick Bass dreamed up the Seven Summits, the most fanciful mountaineering challenge ever to capture the public’s imagination. He set out to climb the highest peaks on each of the seven continents: Aconcagua, South America; Denali, North America; Mount Vinson, Antarctica; Kilimanjaro, Africa; Mount Elbrus, Europe; Mount Everest, Asia; and Mount Kosciuszko, Australia. Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner challenged Bass’s Seven Summits with a competing list, replacing Mount Kosciuszko with Puncak Jaya in Indonesia.
In1985, Bass, with David Breashears, summited Mount Everest and became the first person to reach the highest point on each of the seven continents. Someconsider it Everest’s first guided ascent. At 55, Bass was the oldest person to stand atop Everest at the time.
Three years later, Bass and Frank Wells, then-president of the Walt Disney Company, co-authored the memoir Seven Summits with Rick Ridgeway. The book details the travels of Bass and Wells, businessmen with little mountaineering experience who endeavored to climb their seven chosen peaks. Ridgeway accompanied them to Mount Vinson, where he guided the men in the technical aspects of their ascent.
“Mountain climbing,” Bass told snowbird.com for his online biography, “recharged me with a greater sense of self-confidence and self-respect, and enabled me to put my troubles and pressures into better perspective by more fully realizing, ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!’”
Bass spent much of his life in Dallas, Texas, where his father, Harry W. Bass, owned the Trinity Gas Corporation. Dick graduated from Yale University at age 20, and served two years as an officer in the Korean War.
Released from active duty, Bass returned to Dallas to work with his father in the petroleum business. In 1962, Bass invested $10,000 in the up-and-coming Vail Ski Resort, according to the Vail Daily. He procured enough expertise in Vail’s ski industry to open Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1971.
Bass loved art and literature, and was known for reciting poems from memory as he climbed.
Frank Wells, who was to die in a helicopter crash in 1994, told snowbird.com, “Dick is a Renaissance Man in the ultimate sense of the word, with an inherent, insatiable curiosity about everything and everyone around him. That fascination with ideas, and especially people, becomes infectious.”
Bass died of pulmonary fibrosis at age 85, surrounded by family in his Dallas home. He is survived by his wife, Alice, his four children and five step-children.
“Magic” Ed Wright, 66, August 5
By Ed Wright’s count, he bolted more than 85 routes during the 20 years he resided in El Potrero Chico, Mexico. His routes include the ultra-classic Time Wave Zero (5.12a) at 2,300 feet, one of the longest sport routes in North America; Yankee Clipper (5.12a), 1,500 feet; and Estrellita (5.11a), 1,200 feet.
But “Magic” Ed was probably as well known for an event that took place 300 feet up El Sendero Diablo, a six-pitch sport route in the Potrero.
Reaching the top of the fourth pitch, as Wright wrote in a “My Epic” article for Rock and Ice, “I stumbled onto the ledge, yelled, ‘Off belay,’ and took stock of my situation. I was having a heart attack, and because of the length, steepness and traversing nature of the pitch I couldn’t simply be lowered.”
Wright survived the close call, earning a reputation for unrivaled toughness around the campfires of El Potrero Chico. With strengthened resolve, he continued bolting routes well into his sixties.
On August 5, Wright died from a coronary in Wisconsin, where he and his wife, Tami, lived part-time.
Born in Mexico City, Wright discovered climbing as a student at University of Colorado in Boulder. He climbed at El Potrero Chico for the first time in 1989, and relocated to Mexico full-time in 1994 with Tami.
Tami opened “Tami’s Cafe” at the entrance to El Potrero Chico, and Ed established services including a direct shuttle between Monterrey’s airport and El Potrero (with a quick grocery stop along the way), to help visiting climbers get acquainted with the area. Wright published Potrero Select—Selected Climbs of El Potrero Chico in 2006. The two were active community members in the nearby town of Hidalgo, organizing trips to teach local children to climb.
Jeff Jackson, a friend of Wright’s and editor at Rock and Ice, remembers Wright in an obituary: “Humble, respectful and tough as nails, Ed had many friends, both Mexicans and Americans, who will miss him and his unique brand of hospitality, enthusiasm and optimism in the face of adversity.”
Alexander Ruchkin, 52, August 31
Alexander Ruchkin’s climbing career began at 21 under the auspices of the U.S.S.R. There were no commercial sponsors; instead, the Soviet government funded expeditions and mountaineering competitions. The more impressive the climb, the greater the sponsorship: a new route might be worth a pair of boots, while an unclimbed 7,000-meter peak earned helicopter support for an objective.
Ruchkin of St. Petersburg, gained international mountaineering acclaim with his 1997 first ascent of The Russian Route (VI 5.10 A4), which rockets up the 3,400-foot Troll Wall, Norway. He and Yurii Koshelenko climbed the route over eight and a half days, removing more 20 pounds of debris from some of the dirtiest cracks (American Alpine Journal, 1998). The Russian Route was the first new line to be established on the Troll Wall since 1972.
In 2004, Ruchkin and his 11-member team claimed the first ascent of North Face of Jannu (25,300 feet) in Nepal. The ascent required 50 days in a cycle of warming and cooling temperatures that froze their equipment behind a waterfall at 20,000 feet.
Ruchkin told russianclimb.com, “Our crampon’s teeth were rubbed out—so we looked like drunk cows at the ice.”
The Russian team received the Piolet d’Or for their Jannu ascent.
Ruchkin also won the Russian version of the Piolet d’Or twice. The first was for his 2009 ascent of Mount Gongga North (20,125 feet) in the Minya Konka Massif, Sichuan, China, with Mikhail Mikhailov. The second was in 2013 for the first ascent of Falling into the Void, the Southwest Face of Kusum Kanguru (20,889 feet), Nepal, with Vyacheslav Ivanov.
Ruchkin and Ivanov died attempting a route on Huandoy Sur (20,209 feet) in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. The mountain’s south face is notorious for loose rock, and the men may have been struck by a cascade of stone, causing a fall to the glacier.
Ruchkin is survived by his wife, daughter and son.
Matt Davis, 41, September 3
Dr. Matt Davis, in a suit and tie, converses with President Obama. He smiles from the top of countless peaks, his signature blue jacket matching the skyline. In group shots, he grasps the shoulders of family and friends, and in other images he drags weights for CrossFit workouts. But for all the variety you find in Facebook photographs of Davis, each one captures his expression: always on the verge of a half-smile, if it is not there already.
In his daily life Davis was director of trauma, emergency surgery and surgical critical care at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas.
A posthumous television report by KXAN remembers Davis as the surgeon who treated many of the 14 soldiers injured in the 2014 Fort Hood, Texas, shooting.
Davis loved peak-bagging, rock climbing, mountain biking and skiing. His friend and CrossFit partner Britt Mattix says, “Matt took me on my first climb. We did the Crestone Traverse.”
Billy Wren, a close friend of Davis, writes on Facebook: “Matt Davis lived ‘a well balanced life. ‘He loved the mountains because it allowed his mind to slow down enough to remind him how much he loves and misses his wife and kids. He was adventurous, caring, smart, and strong.”
Davis died during an ascent of Crestone Needle, one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, with his longtime climbing partner Ryan Brown. He and Brown chose to climb Ellingwood Arête (5.7 III), which includes an unprotected third-class scramble across a series of ledges mid-route. Davis lost his footing on one of the ledges and fell more than 100 feet.
CrossFit CenTex hosted a memorial workout called “The Final 14er” designed by Davis’s friends. The workout consisted of 14 sets of 14 reps for each exercise, honoring his passion for the mountains.
Friends and family gathered in Breckenridge, Colorado, for a hike to the summit of Quandary Peak, where they left a stone engraved with Davis’s name. His son, Mason, 15, carried his ashes and scattered them atop the peak.
Davis was married to Sharron Davis. Their children are Ellissa, 10, Cecily, 13, and Mason.
Read the original accident report here: Climber Dies in Fall from Crestone Needle, CO.
Tex Bossier, 71, September 6
An old photo of Tex Bossier on mountainproject.com shows him after five days on El Capitan, Yosemite, in 1975. He sports a pink hat, red bandanna and signature aviator glasses, swami belt in hand, sun setting over the Valley behind him.
Floyd Allen Texas “Tex” Bossier died in a hospital in Annecy, France, on September 6.
Bossier learned to climb in the 1960s in Boulder, Colorado, where he met his frequent partner Layton Kor. Along with Royal Robbins, they established some of the first routes on Longs Peak after the climbing ban on the Diamond was lifted in the summer of 1960, according to the Denver Post. The routes included Diagonal Direct and Jack of Diamonds. Diagonal Direct went unrepeated for more than a decade.
In Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison, notorious for loose rock and unpredictable protection, Bossier, Kor, and Jim McCarthy embarked on the 2,000-foot Diagonal Route, which became the state’s first Grade VI.
Bossier established the company Patagonia’s first offices in Europe, over the years moving from Annecy to Nice to Paris, and eventually back to settle in Annecy, the American Alpine Club states on its website.
On supertopo.com, Jan (she gives only her first name) remembers Bossier’s “Texas drawl and cowboy boots, with his feats on the rocks to be an interesting and colorful contrast.” Others recall encounters with Bossier in Yosemite or at parties around the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Val Franco of Patagonia Inc. told Rock and Ice that Bossier’s ashes were spread on Longs Peak, visible from the home of Bossier’s son, Jack.
Read the original Rock and Ice obituary here.
Lucky Chance, 31, September 8
By Olek Lato
A photograph of Lucky Chance shows him flying off a rope swing in the Blue Mountains, flipping backwards with a parachute strapped to his back. Another shows him balancing up British gritstone, while others have him highlining in costume, in a handstand over a cliff, or posing precariously on railings.
As his Youtube channel puts it, Chance was a ‘heights specialist.’ At 15, Chance, then Toby Benham, left school to join the circus where he made a living as an acrobat nicknamed “The Devil from Down Under.” Soon after he immersed himself in the vagabond lifestyle of the Australian climbing scene, and later took on BASE jumping.
As a climber, Chance found his niche in the bold and unprotected. During what he called a “gritstone rampage,” as Chance put it in 2003, he soloed End of The Affair (E8), Soul Doubt (E8), The Zone (E9), Stampede (E8) and Drummond Base (E8); all test pieces of the UK’s climbing scene.
As a jumper, Chance took on jumps no one else dared try. “His raw talent… allowed him to quickly excel to a level well beyond that of the average BASE jumper,” Gary Cunningham told Outside. “He would do advanced jumps that most people would not even consider.” By 31 he had over 500 jumps.
The ingenuity, energy, and boldness that Chance brought to climbing and BASE are accentuated in the countless films he made, performing either as himself of as his costumed alias Stunt Monkey, doing anything from climbing to highlining to just performing. According to Chance, the films were “physical image creation – art through physicality.”
Chance’s lifestyle made him no stranger to close calls. In 2011 Lucky narrowly survived the ‘Death Swing’ in the Blue Mountains (see video below). After attempting a BASE jump off the swing, his pilot chute got caught around his leg and failed to deploy, opening just 30 feet from the ground. Lucky walked away unscathed. The footage from that jump was used later in the movie “Smitten.”
Later that same year Chance suffered a broken jaw, pelvis, and two open fractures to his foot and femur after an unsuccessful BASE jump in the French Alps—one that few others would attempt. Chance recovered from the resulting coma after six weeks.
Chance died in the Blue Mountains on September 8. Attempting the ‘Death Swing’ once more, he hit one of the ledges at Hanging Rock where the swing is set. He died from the resulting injuries. Chance leaves behind his mother Carol, sister Melanie, and girlfriend Nandalie.
Lucky Chance’s Miracle Save on the Death Swing in 2011:
Bela Vadasz, 62, September 15
If not for Bela Vadasz, American mountain guiding might be an outlier. When Rob Hess, technical director of the AMGA, presented the 2008 AMGA Lifetime Achievement award, he said, “Bela started the ski program which was the crux of the AMGA being admitted into the IFMGA. Without his vision and perspiration, the AMGA wouldn’t be where it is today,” according to wildsnow.com.
A longtime California resident, Vadasz emmigrated from Hungary with his parents at age 3, landing in San Francisco. He attended San Francisco State University, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation Management and met his future wife, Mimi.
The couple founded Alpine Skills International in Truckee, California, in 1979. One of the first American establishments of its kind, the institute teaches courses in ski mountaineering, alpine climbing and avalanche education throughout the Sierra Nevada range.
Bela and Mimi shared some spectacular ascent/descents of their own, including the first free-heel ski descent of Denali (20,322 feet), Alaska, and a ski descent of Makalu (27,825 feet), Nepal. They also completed the first American ascent of the Peuterey Integral on Mont Blanc, the longest alpine route in the Alps, wildsnow.com states.
Vadasz instructed soldiers in mountaineering skills at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Mountain Warfare Training Center in Sonoma, California. He developed curriculum for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.
Vadasz loved surfing and playing percussion with his Santana-influenced jam band, Montaña.
In a Facebook tribute, Mimi Vadasz writes, “Bela was unique and pure to his core. He did not do things to advance himself… He loved to share his passion, whether it was skiing, climbing, surfing, music, communicating, encouraging, believing in people more than they believed in themselves… Everyone was important to him… he was hard on guides, but he loved them.”
Vadasz died during a medical procedure in Oceanside, California, earnyourturns.com states, possibly related to an ongoing heart condition.
He is survived by Mimi and their two sons, Logan and Tobin.
Andrew Bower, 26, November 6
Over the summer, Andrew Bower took it upon himself to replace worn bolts and anchors at local crags, including the cliff at Dishman Hills in Spokane Valley. Bower died in a fall at Dishman, presumably searching for a spot to fix his rope in order to replace bolts on rappel.
Andrew Bower lived in service of others. The Facebook page, whatdidandrewteachyou, is filled personal anecdotes about Bower’s impact, including Chelsea Sunblad’s statement: “Andrew taught me many things, but I’ll always remember him most for the way he loved and welcomed everyone around him.”
Bower moved to Spokane, Washington, from Colorado to attend the Moody Bible Institute’s missionary aviation program. In Spokane, he volunteered as a white-water rafting and mountaineering guide for Peak 7 Adventures, a non-profit offering low-cost outdoor programs to underprivileged and at-risk youth.
He worked as an instructor and wall manager at Wild Walls Climbing Gym. Wild Walls’ website writes, “Resident highlining enthusiast, Andrew thinks getting scared is fun.”
Bower was an EMT for American Medical Response in the Spokane area.
Bower served as a worship leader at Faith Evangelical Church in Loveland, Colorado, during high school, where he learned to play guitar. In 2007, he traveled on a mission trip to Jamaica.
His brother, Aaron, started the Andrew Bower Memorial Fund to finance Andrew’s memorial service, help support Andrew’s wife, Emily, and contribute additional funds to the Spokane climbers community for re-bolting efforts.
Pete Sinclair, 80, November 28
By Olek Lato
Pete Sinclair was among the pioneers of the Grand Teton guiding community. He knew the mountains as both a ground-breaking climber and as a dedicated rescuer and ranger.
Sinclair started climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire during his two years at Dartmouth College. After graduating and fulfilling obligations in the Navy, Sinclair hitchhiked to the Tetons where he began work as ski patrol at Snow King Mountain and as a climbing ranger in Teton National Park.
In the winter of 1967-68, Sinclair helped Barry Cobert establish Jackson Hole Mountain and became Chief Guide of the company. He soon after took over its leadership and ran it through 1970.
Sinclair’s long list of mountaineering experiences are marked famously by his 1959 Denali expedition during which he and his team made the first ascent of the Southwest Rib of the mountain.
In 1967 Sinclair and a team of rescuers were called to the North Face of the Grand Teton where a party of three climbers was stranded – one severely injured. The successful rescue took the team three full days and was the first of its kind on the North Face. Sinclair later published the details of the rescue in his book We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans and his description of the events became the basis of the 1993 movie The Grand Rescue. In 1994, the book was short-listed for the Boardman-Tasker Prize at the International Festival of Mountaineering Literature in London.
Between seasons in the Tetons, Sinclair pursued a Ph. D. in English Literature. He began teaching literature at Evergreen State College in 1971 and continued to do so for three decades until his emeritus retirement in 1999.
Sinclair died on November 28, 2015, “under the guiding light of a waning moon, surrounded by family” writes his grandson for The Olympian.
Sinclair is survived by Connie Sinclair, partner and wife of 52 years; children Kirk, Melanie, and Summer; and his grandchildren.
Douglas Tompkins, 72, December 8
By Alison Osius
“Viva Los Funhogs” reads the banner held aloft by Dick Dorworth, Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard on the summit of Fitz Roy, during the mountain’s third ascent, in 1968. In an era when the mountains of Patagonia were barely known to the climbing world, five climbers had made the 16,500-mile trip overland, surfing and skiing all along the way, in an expedition almost mystical in meaning to the climbing world.
Tompkins died in the same region of the world at age 72 in a boating accident, kayaking as part of a five-day trip in Lago General Carrera.
Perhaps more telling words are in the caption for another image in the book Climbing Fitz Roy 1968, co-credited to all five expedition members: “Dick (left) and Lito [Tejada-Flores] eat ice cream in Santiago, Chile. Our Ford Econoline had broken down, and so Doug Tompkins and Yvon were slaving away in the street, rebuilding the engine.”
Doug had been visiting Chouinard, founder of Chouinard Equipment and Patagonia, Inc., to surf when the two dreamed the trip up on the strength of some slides shown to them by an Argentine climber. The supremely capable Tompkins appears to have been a driving force on the whole trip including the climb, a 60-day endeavor that at one point involved waiting 15 days in an ice cave and 25 straight days of storm. On summit day an eager Tompkins tricked his friends by setting the alarm an hour early. Underway, he swapped leads with Chouinard, and as he noted in an American Alpine Journal entry, “We climbed extremely fast for a rope of five.”
He wrote, of the high terrain: “A hard lead took us around the first tower. Four hours and four towers later, we reached the final snow and boulder slope…. My enthusiasm to see if there would be any more technical difficulties caused me to set off ahead while the others finished their pitches.” The Southwest Ridge route, now widely known as The California Route, took the team 30 hours round trip from Camp II. The climbers topped out on December 20. Their whole adventure was immortalized in photos, films and the wildly creative essay “Night Driving” by Dorworth.
Hayden Carpenter Guanacos, no longer confined by miles and miles of barbed wire fence,roam free in Patagonia on the Tompkins’ land. Photo: Hayden Carpenter Tompkins was a fervent climber, skier, kayaker and conservationist who learned to climb in the Shawangunksat age 12, never finished high school or entered college, lit out for Aspen at 17 and proceeded from there to the Sierra. Beginning in the 1960s he and his then wife, Susie (they later divorced), co-founded two monumental businesses, The North Face and Esprit. Selling his stakes in TNF in 1969 and Esprit in the 1980s, he left the business world and put his fortune and passions into conservation, first creating the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He then moved with his second wife, Kristine McDivitt, the former CEO of Patagonia and like him an outdoorsperson and former ski racer, to Chile and Argentina to work for the protection of Patagonia, where they bought and preserved 2.2 million acres, much set aside as national parks. Some of his actions created opposition but in recent years he gained vast support and was successful in fighting installation of five dams in the region. The Chilean government removed the dams’ permits last year.
When the accident occurred, Tompkins and Rick Ridgeway—vice president of environment initiatives at Patagonia, part of the first American Ascent of K2, and skillful mountain author—capsized in the sub-40-degree water in a two-person kayak while struggling with a faulty rudder amid high winds and waves variously described as from 6 to 9 feet. Also in the party of six, Chouinard was in a double kayak with Jib Ellison, a river guide and the founder of BluSkye, a sustainability consulting firm. The two made it to a near shore, from which Ellison headed back out with Lorenzo Alvarez, co owner of Bio Bio and the party’s guide; Weston Boyles, the founder of Rivers to Rios conservation organization, struck back out in his single kayak. Towed in by Ellison, Ridgeway nearly died, immersed in the 40-degree water for an hour. On shore, Ellison called for help on a sat phone, according to an article on nationalgeographic.com.
Weston Boyles in his single kayak took longer to bring in Tompkins, yet never gave up and in a courageous, sustained physical effort never let go of him. According to nationalgeographic.com, Tompkins was conscious for 20 to 30 minutes after Boyles reached him, and he fought hard to live; he was ultimately in the water for nearly two hours.
In a Latercera interview, the helicopter copilot described arriving to a “desperate situation” and oceanic waves and winds. Those on shore pointed him out to where Boyles held Tompkins. The helicopter hovered above the waves, and the copilot threw a short rope to Boyles. Boyles “grabbed the rope with one hand and with the other held [on]to Douglas.”For 45 minutes the chopper pilot dragged boat and men through the waves, trying to keep the rope from tangling in the blades, to within 15 feet of shore. After being loaded aboard for a 35-minute flight Tompkins arrived at Coyhaique Hospital with a body temperature of 66.2 F. He died that evening.
The others in the party were very fortunate to be alive. The use of the satellite phone and heroics of the boaters and helicopter pilots were crucial.
Kris McDivitt Tompkins has vowed in a statement on tompkinsconservation.org to “continue—and even accelerate—our work.”
Dick Dorworth wrote this in an email to Rock and Ice: “Doug Tompkins believed in people and operated on the premise that every person is good at something. The quality of his character was such that you always wanted to do your best for him.”
He had just reread this passage by Barbara Rowell in her book Flying South as she described her apprehension about flying with the experienced pilot Tompkins: “At the top were fears about my ability to fly like Doug and live up to his expectations. I was not alone when it came to a desire to please Doug. He seemed to have that effect on people. As another friend in common, Dick Dorworth, said, ‘At some level you immediately want Doug’s approval. You know that he is a solid, honorable, and very real individual who lives essentially by sound values.’ Dick was right. From the moment I met Doug, I, too, wanted his approval, his stamp that I was worth his association.”
Dorworth wrote us, “Doug and his friendship changed my life in more ways that can be put here, but a huge one was inviting me on the Fitz Roy trip before I had ever climbed. He believed that I would figure it out. That trip changed my life.”
Kayah Gaydish, 36, December 20
By Alison Osius
A tragic accident, the loss to a fall of a warm-hearted single mother of two teenage children, has broken the heart of the North Carolina climbing community and caught the attention of a concerned and sympathetic national readership. The cause of the accident was disclosed today.
Jennifer “Kayah” Gaydish, age 36, of Asheville, North Carolina, was a former wilderness ranger and the current North Carolina Conservation Coordinator for the conservation group Wild South. She also worked with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy; was a volunteer board member of the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC); was a consistent volunteer for the Carolina Mountain Club; and had started a trail crew called the Draft Crew, also as a volunteer.
She died Sunday, December 20 in a 50-foot fall at the Hidden Valley Lake area in Washington County, Virginia.
The accident occurred when she was cleaning the quickdraws from the anchors atop a sport route in the Ginseng area. She hung from two daisy chains, pulled a few feet of rope up, and clipped the bight to her harness, as is standard to prevent dropping the rope. That knot was reportedly still attached to her on the ground after the accident. Then she untied the rope, also normal practice, from her harness tie-in to thread it through the anchors (instead of the quickdraws, which she would bring down) in preparation for being lowered. In an instance of human error, she apparently did not retie that rope end to her harness, a sad reminder to all to double check everything, every time. No knot was found in the rope end. The rope came down with her.
She had originally been rigging the anchor to rappel, which perhaps caused confusion. She had difficulty threading the rope through the lower rings, so called down asking to be put back on belay. She was on belay when, moments later, she fell. No miscommunication occurred with the belayer.
Gaydish had only been on the North Carolina scene for a handful of years, but had made a huge impact as a generous and humorous person as well as a community and conservation advocate. “She was a giver,” said her friend Sean Cobourn, a past president of the CCC.
Mike Reardon of Asheville, a close friend of Gaydish and also a board member of the CCC, said, “She was one of the most selfless people I know. Her two kids, Caleb and River, are incredible. We have a close-knit but widespread climbing community, and she had kind of adopted the community, with so many selfless acts, with different volunteer events, but also on a personal level.
“When we had our son, she randomly brought over a meal, and I know other people she did that for who she hardly even knew, and she drove an hour and a half round trip to deliver that meal. She was just that type of personality. She started climbing about four years ago, so she had a deep effect really fast. She dedicated her life to working on trails and in wilderness.
“Even in the first year that she was climbing, what attracted her to climbing is the community that surrounds it and shares adventures. About three years ago I brought her out for her first trad lead, and she was really excited about that, and we were able to do some first ascents together. She started climbing with her daughter, River, who was about 10 at the time, at the ClimbMax Climbing Center. River climbed in a group called Climbing Towards Confidence, centered toward middle-school-age kids.
“Kayah’s husband had passed just before the time they started getting into climbing. [Kayah] loved the confidence building that it offered to her daughter, and that was kind of her introduction into climbing. Climbing for her was much less about the individual experience and much more about relationship building, sharing adventure in a beautiful place, and being a part of something that was bigger than herself.”
On her Facebook page, the organization Friends of Chimney Rock State Park posted: “Kayah was a big supporter of our group and worked tirelessly to improve trails, remove invasive species, and protect the wild places we all love. She leaves behind two children, Caleb and River. Please consider supporting the memorial fund for this family.”
The memorial fund can be found here.
Click here to read the original report: North Carolina Climber Dies in 50-foot Fall
John Ellison, December 27
By Hayden Carpenter
On any given day, at any popular crag, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find someone climbing in a colorful CAC T-shirt. That presence is just a small part of the legacy of John Ellison.
John Ellison, climber and founder of the charity Climbers Against Cancer, passed away in his sleep on December 27 after a four-year fight against terminal cancer.
Ellison, of Lancashire, England, was diagnosed with advanced-stage metastatic prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones, on October 28, 2011.
Despite knowing his fate, Ellison appeared to find great happiness in his final years: “When you get to this situation, you really appreciate life,” he said in a video by Polished Project (see below). “And you see the beauty of life that, really, everybody should see everyday.
“It might sound really weird, but, I’m dying but I’m really happy.”
While sitting among friends at the World Cup Climbing Championships in Paris, he realized, as he wrote on his website, “just how unique climbing is as a sport and how special we are as climbers.
“No matter what nationality, creed or colour there is a natural desire to support each other and encourage one another to succeed. Very few sports display this togetherness.”
He continued: “I am terminally ill and my clock is ticking. This you may say is my ‘crux’ and I either fall or push on to the summit. For me there was only one option and since that day I have kept on climbing, taking in the beauty around me and enjoying every challenge that lies ahead.”
He wrote the above at 4 a.m. on October 28, 2012, when he conceived the idea for CAC, and the words have remained unaltered on climbersagainstcancer.org since that early morning.
Three months later Ellison founded CAC with a mission to raise awareness and money for cancer research around the world. He started the website climbersagainstcancer.org, through which he sold the colorful CAC T-shirts and sweatshirts—and later, pin-up calendars of climbers, climbing holds, beanies and carabiners—and donated the proceeds to cancer research facilities across five continents. Since it began, CAC has raised over $518,000.
The CAC logo had special meaning to Ellison. When the second “C” in CAC is flipped, it looks like the glasses that Ellison wore, and the modified logo became his symbol. And in the mirror, CAC, in reverse, looks like DAD.
In an interview with UKC, Ellison said his proudest life moment was the birth of his daughter Charlotte, who is now 21. “She is the light of my life and my rock to lean on. She is beautiful, honest, humble, happy, hard working and very sociable—what more could a father ask for?” Ellison was a single father.
Ellison was very active in the climbing community, judging local and national climbing competitions, as jury president at international events, and assisting the Great Britain national climbing team for nearly six years.
For his contributions, Ellison was awarded an honorary membership to the International Federation of Sport Climbing and won the Arco Rock Legends Ambassador Award.
On December 24, Ellison entered the hospital with renal problems and was kept comfortable as his condition was carefully monitored. That evening, Ellison’s doctors decided to withdraw his treatment since it was no longer effective, CAC reported on its Facebook page.
Three days later, his daughter Charlotte announced his passing.
“He left us yesterday evening, peacefully in his sleep and free of pain.
“I would…like to thank everyone who has been a part of his journey, and for the journey yet to come, and to all of the people who made his CAC dream a reality.”
For more information and to support Climbers Against Cancer, please visit climbersagainstcancer.org.
A Day with John Ellison – Founder of Climbing Against Cancer:
Ryan Jennings, 42, December 30
By Alison Osius
The second-to-last day of the year was a heartbreaking one in the Roaring Fork Valley, when Ryan Jennings of Carbondale, Colorado, was overdue from an ice climb and then found lifeless by a good friend.
Jennings, age 42, had left his home in Carbondale at about 4:30 a.m. December 30 to ice climb in a cirque near the multi-pitch routes of the Redstone Slabs, 17 miles up the Crystal River Valley. Set 1,000 feet above the valley floor, Jenning’s intended climb was about 400 feet of rolling ice and snow, capped with a freestanding vertical pillar 40 to 50 feet high. Jennings had done numerous first ascents in this area and this season the exit formed with two columns, a rarity.
Jennings was on the rarely formed second pillar and was rope-solo leading, self-belaying off a bolt and had placed at least one ice screw in the pillar. At some point on his climb, the column collapsed and took him with it to a ledge. In 1997 the same column broke off on the local climbers Mike Barnato and Mike Yellico just as Barnato was making the last tool placement. The column pulled Barnato off, 50 feet to a snow slope amid Volkswagen-sized ice blocks. Miraculously, both climbers walked away.
Jennings may have been near the top or topping out when the pillar collapsed, but since he was alone the exact circumstances of his accident can never be known. Climbing partners and the Pitkin County Mountain Rescue team recovered Jennings from high on the ice wall the morning of December 31.
One local, Derek Franz, posted, “We’ve lost a father, a friend and a hero. …There’s a big hole pulling at my heart, and the collective heart of this community, far beyond the climbing circles.”
Jennings balanced climbing, a professional career, and an abiding love of family. He was an impressive climber, who in May 2014, with his longtime partner Kevin Cooper of Estes Park, put up the route of a lifetime with the forbidding 4,000-foot Stairway to Heaven (Alaska 6 A1 M6 W14 A5+) on Mount Johnson in the Ruth Gorge, Alaska. The direct north face line had been a 20-year dream.
Jennings, 40 at the time, told Ryan Gannaway of Rock and Ice: “To never go attempt your grandest dreams, those you spent years training for, seems a travesty. So we determined we had to find a way. We had to go.”
He and Cooper spent 81 hours on the climb.
They had attempted the massive and near protectionless face in 2003, then struggled with the decision of whether to return. “We are both getting on in age and both have children,” Jennings, a dedicated family man whose Facebook page shows him in smiling moments sledding and building a teepee with his young son and daughter, told Rock and Ice. “I personally have gotten to a point in climbing where I contemplate risk versus reward every time I head out.”
They returned, however, for the opportunity to use and combine their vast aggregate skills.“Kevin and I started setting our sights on our biggest lifelong goals in an attempt to focus our remaining energy and utilize all that we have learned over roughly 15 years climbing ice together,” he continued in the same article.
He had been supported in that climb by a prized Mugs Stump Award for alpine exploration, and indeed as of only this month, December 2015, was announced as recipient of another. He and Kevin Cooper were aiming for the West Face of Middle Triple Peak, the Kichatnas, Alaska. Jennings was quoted in the official press release as saying, “We prefer to pack as much fun and suffering as possible into each day in the hills.”
At Coldwell Banker Mason Morse, where Jennings was an award-winning realtor with a background in residential construction and a forward-thinking interest in use of visual technology, the company website refers to him as “an avid climber, kayaker, skier, biker, fisherman and all in all outdoor enthusiast [whose] love of the outdoors defined his personality from an early age.” Jennings had also started Ryan Jennings Photography, developing a collection of crystalline architectural, commercial, scenic and adventure imagery.
Two or three years ago Jennings was hit in the face by rockfall while climbing an ice route to the right of the Redstein cliff, also in the Crystal River Valley. He was seen around town sporting multiple facial stitches, especially on his nose, but recovered well and cheerfully. Local climbers like this writer, who had shared a rope with the affable, solid and straightforward Jennings only weeks ago at a winter crag in nearby New Castle, are pained and tremendously sorrowful at his loss and for his family.
His climbing was a cumulative process, studied and thoughtful. Asked in an interview on splitterchoss.com what drew him to ice climbing, Jennings extolled the medium’s changing nature. “No climb is ever the same and you’re never guaranteed it will be in shape,” he said. “It requires a dedication to learning the habits of ice to succeed. It’s liquid to solid, never the same … An ice climb does not wait and instead I find myself waiting for it. It takes patience, luck, skill, timing, speed, and so much more.” He prized a certain favorite route because, “It requires every skill you know and you’ll learn some new ones while you’re at it.”
Jennings leaves his wife, Robin Beck-Jennings, and two young children. Contributions may be made to the Beck-Jennings Family Fund here.
A memorial will take place in Carbondale on January 23.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Jennings was attempting a first ascent. The pillar had likely been climbed at least once.
Doug Walker, 65, December 31
By Alison Osius
Luke HumphreyDoug Walker, American Alpine Club president, was killed by an avalanche while snowshoeing on December 31, 2015. Photo by Luke Humphrey The first time that we climbed together, in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, I at first thought it was funny when Doug Walker quizzed me on Shakespeare quotes, then found it curious—as he continued at every pause and belay on a couple of single-pitch routes and then a three-pitch one.
“You were an English major, right?” he’d opened the volley. And yes, but it had been a while. I soon got a huge kick out of the astonishing amount of quotes he knew and the way in which they kept pouring out.
“The play’s the thing,” he said. “Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Well, I could guess Hamlet, but he knew the whole context, and also threw out and explained a different line or two from the scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and I am still racking my brains trying to remember what those words were. (Author’s note: I never remembered the quote, though kept hoping it would surface; then two weeks later I found that I had been so interested as to note it in my phone. The line was, from Guildenstern,”Start not so wildly from my affair,” meaning to stick to the subject, with this response from an acquiescing Hamlet: “I am tame, sir. Pronounce.”)
At least once after spending time with Doug, I went home and looked information up.
Doug Walker, entrepreneur, philanthropist and American Alpine Club president, active in a huge array of conservation and humanitarian causes, was found New Year’s Day on Granite Mountain, near his home in Seattle, amid avalanche debris on a hike he’d done some 200 times. He is the first president of the AAC, established in 1902, to be killed in office.
In October, Janet Wilkinson and I carpooled with Doug to a party in Denver after an AAC board meeting at club headquarters in Golden, and with a fast bouldering session in between. Janet, pregnant and tired, sat quietly in the back as we drove through the night, he fired out quotes, and I egged him on.
“I won’t forget that car ride,” she tells me. “It was constant with him, and I do not have a mind for trivia, but he never gave up trying to get me to engage with it! My impression from the back seat was amazement—that we’d just had a full-day meeting, led by him, several hours of climbing and several hours of networking, I was dead tired, and here he was, talking circles around us both as his mind continued in rapid-fire mode.”
Another general impression, she says, is this: “He didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and I was also amazed how he treated everyone with absolute equality of respect and presence. I was so flattered any time he asked advice, knowing his instincts and knowledge were so advanced, and he didn’t do it just because he should since I was a colleague on the board, he did it because he really cared what I thought.”
Walker, 65, and a climber of 40 years who in 2012 ascended Ama Dablam in Nepal, made his fortune as a software entrepreneur. According to historylink.org, he was in 1981 a cofounder of Walker, Richter and Quinn (WRQ), started on $500 and brainpower. In that pre Internet era, WRQ developed software to connect early desktop computer systems into central IT.
The Seattle Times wrote, “Mr. Walker’s business was hugely successful, a fact he attributed to good fortune, his wife said.” The newspaper quoted Maggie Walker, Doug’s peer in philanthropic effect and a mode of seeking “integration” among various parties, with this summary of his bedrock belief: “[W]hen good things happen to you, you have to pay it forward and not assume that it’s all because of you. It’s because of a place and a community that you benefited from, and have to help preserve so that other people can benefit from it, too.”
His life was jam-packed with useful work. Doug served on the boards of many not-for-profit organizations, including the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club Foundation, and Conservation Lands Foundation. He was a former chairman of the board of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, dealing with top surgeons and asking them what they needed and what funding should be sought. He was also active in the Seattle Parks Foundation, the Institute for Systems Biology, Forterra (formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy), the UW College of the Environment, the Mountaineers conservation and mountain-education organization, and the YMCA (where he was a volunteer instructor for the BOLD program). Among his passions was creating opportunities for underprivileged youth to experience the outdoors.
Walker was also the former chairman of REI, where he had developed an enduring friendship with Sally Jewell, now Secretary of the Interior, as fellow board members. He had only two weeks ago visited the White House to meet with senior staff about developing philanthropic support for programs to help city kids go outdoors.
As a climber, Doug visited and experienced many areas across the United States, from the Southeast to Red Rocks and Yosemite, northward into Alaska, and to Squamish, the Bugaboos and elsewhere in Canada as well as areas in Europe, New Zealand and Africa. At home in Washington he led a funding effort that raised $250,000 for preservation at the popular Index Town Walls area. He was humble about his climbing ability, but I was impressed by how solid an all-arounder he was, leading trad climbs or hastening around a gym, and he once led a U.S. Senator up the Grand Teton.
Doug was born in South Carolina, attended Vanderbilt University and graduate school at the University of Washington. “He was a math genius,” says Steve Swenson, a past president of the AAC and fellow Seattle-ite, who drew Walker into involvement in the club. Swenson, who like Walker is involved in many area organizations, vividly recalls Walker urging him to be patient and respectful with opponents on a given issue even when their views seemed unreasonable. Walker told Swenson, “You might want them as your allies sometime.”
Walker was also a Civil War and World War II expert, his home containing walls of charts and models as well as a wealth of related books.
Charlie Sassara, another AAC past president, with whom Walker at the time served as secretary, says, “Doug was gracious, smart and Southern Cool.”
Walker leaves his wife, Maggie, and daughter, Kina.
The American Alpine Club has established the Doug Walker Fund as a memorial: www.americanalpineclub.org/donate.
Editors’ note: Such a list is never comprehensive. We may have inadvertently left out other climbers who died in 2015.
Please add your own remembrances about any other—or the above—climbers in the comments. We welcome your additions, comments and images.
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