Climbers We Lost in 2016
In Memoriam—Dick Pownall, Jim Detterline, Phil Schaal, Junko Tabei, Anna Smith, Alfred Kwok, Kim Schmitz, Julia MacKenzie, Kyle Dempster, Scott Adamson, Laurel Fan, Melissa Raue, Gary Falk, Nicholas “Nick” Clinch, Ken Wilson, Jean Sylvain, Mark Cole, Jim Curran, Allen Frame Hill, Eric Seidman, Glenn Dawson, Mark Davis, Eric Klimt, Cal Swoager, Steve Edwards, Scott Cosgrove, Lorraine Bonney, Richard Wright.
Each year, Rock and Ice pays tribute to the fallen among us. Some lived out their natural lives, though some of those were still sadly short. Others died young in the mountains or elsewhere.
This is our fifth year of this undertaking. We know, and we are sorry, that we cannot cover all those who were lost and are deserving members of our community. We very much welcome your additions, memories and photos, about these people or others whom you cared about, in the comments field below.
In Memoriam—Dick Pownall, Jim Detterline, Phil Schaal, Junko Tabei, Anna Smith, Alfred Kwok, Kim Schmitz, Julia MacKenzie, Kyle Dempster, Scott Adamson, Laurel Fan, Melissa Raue, Gary Falk, Nicholas “Nick” Clinch, Ken Wilson, Jean Sylvain, Mark Cole, Jim Curran, Allen Frame Hill, Eric Seidman, Glenn Dawson, Mark Davis, Eric Klimt, Cal Swoager, Steve Edwards, Scott Cosgrove, Lorraine Bonney, Richard Wright, Angus Moloney.
Dick Pownall, 89, December 7
On March 23, 1963, on the first day of the sole expedition on Mount Everest that year, Lou Whittaker, Lute Jerstad and Willi Unsoeld had forged a route halfway through the Khumbu Icefall, finding themselves forced to fix over a 30-foot ice wall between two crevasses.
The second day, another group stepped up: Dick Pownall, 35 and a phys-ed teacher from Denver, with Sherpa Ang Pema, Jake Breitenbach, Dr. Gil Roberts and Ila Tsering. Reaching the wall, Pownall began to lead, with Breitenbach and Ang Pema roped just behind.
In “Americans on Everest, 1963,” the team leader, Norman Dyhrenfurth, recalls the accident with these words by Pownall: “[T]here was a noise, and everything under, around and above started moving. … [M]y first impression was shocked disbelief. My next was movement and the thought, ‘so this is death.’”
On April 6, 2013, at an expedition reunion held at the American Alpine Club in Golden, Colorado, Pownall called himself “probably the luckiest person on the expedition by far.” (See “High Ground,” issue 211, July 2013.)
Jake Breitenbach was killed and Ang Pema badly injured, events that over the years haunted the quiet Pownall “every morning,” he said, and about which he mostly suffered in silence. At the time Pownall, too, was buried, pinned at the chest by a giant block and with only his hand sticking out. Gil Roberts and Ila Tsering chopped him free with their axes.
Tom Hornbein, team member, says, “After Jake’s death, he could have as easily picked up and gone home. Instead he pitched in to help.” Pownall and Lute Jerstad were later on the second summit team, behind the summiteers Jim Whittaker and Sherpa Nawang Gombu. The two, though, turned around to help the debilitated Dyhrenfurth, who had gone high with the first team to film, and Ang Dawa. Hornbein says, “If Norm and Dawa hadn’t been so wasted, it’s easy to imagine [Pownall] could have gone ahead and climbed the mountain.” Instead Pownall and Jerstad took the others down, giving over the oxygen meant for their use. “They really gave up their summit chance.”
In a remembrance of Pownall, who lived in Vail, Colorado, in Mountain Town News, the author writes: “In my three interviews with Pownall over the span of 15 years, he never spoke with regret about the Everest climb except for the death of his partner. Neither did he express envy that another American became first. Acquaintances said he was always as I had found him: soft-spoken, self-effacing, and calm.”
Pownall was an Exum guide in the 1940s and 1950s who was a force in many leading climbs in the Tetons. Best known is the complete North Face of the Grand in 1949 with Ray Garner and Art Gilkey. As described by Bill Wright: “In the fading light of dusk, Pownall unlocked the key to the upper face with his brilliant lead of the ‘Pendulum Pitch.’”
In 2002, at age 75 and reportedly having climbed the peak some 150 times, Pownall returned to Wyoming and climbed the Grand Teton one last time.
Pownall had been weakened by Parkinson’s at the time of his death. He leaves his widow, Mary, and three children.
Hornbein says, “He was a very sweet, gentle, self-effacing person.”
Jim Detterline, 60, between October 23 and 25
Lightning doesn’t strike twice, the saying goes. In the case of Jim Detterline, though, it struck four times. Detterline, a longtime Colorado climber and former climbing ranger with Rocky Mountain National Park, was struck by lightning three times on Longs Peak, his favorite mountain, and once on the Grand Teton.
Tim Trout, a friend and climbing partner, tells the tale of how Detterline was on the Casual Route on the Diamond on Longs Peak “when a storm rolled in and he was struck by lightning, losing his vision. His partner talked him through reversing the moves back down to the belay ledge. They decided to spend the night on the ledge. When dawn broke, his eyesight was back, and they finished the route! They don’t come much tougher than that.”
With such a history, Detterline, of Allenspark, Colorado, may have appeared invincible. But sometime between October 23 and 25, the magnetic and beloved 60-year-old fell to his death while out rope-soloing in the Ironclads in Estes Park Valley. Trout says, “I would have been less shocked if told Superman had died than if Jim had died in a climbing accident. He was one of the most methodical and conscientious climbers I’ve ever had the pleasure to share a rope with.”
Detterline is best known for his mind-boggling 428 ascents of Longs Peak. In the foreword to Dougald MacDonald’s Longs Peak: The Story of Colorado’s Favorite Fourteener, Detterline wrote that his “personal love affair with Longs Peak began in 1979, when I missed a complete ascent of the Diamond by two rope lengths.” After retreating down the face, as he wrote, “I realized I had fallen in love with the rocky mistress.”
Detterline is also widely known for his stewardship and service to the Colorado climbing community. Before retiring in 2009, he spent 22 years as a park ranger in RMNP and participated in over 1200 rescues. In 1995, the U.S. Department of the Interior awarded Detterline its Valor Award after Detterline plunged into a freezing river to help two recreationalists in danger of being swept over the falls ahead.
Detterline had many varied interests. His wife, Rebecca, says, “Jim was a renaissance man, and he was always very proud of that. He loved to rock climb, but he also loved playing the trumpet, collecting reptiles and riding horses.” Trout, a herpetologist, says that, before becoming climbing partners, he and Jim initially bonded over a shared love of reptiles.
Detterline’s hundreds of summits of Longs by various routes attest to a simple joy in being out in the mountains, regardless of how hard a climb is. Trout says Detterline “would seem as excited about climbing [the moderate] Hidden Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park as he would about trying Curecanti Monster in the Black Canyon or some ephemeral smear that only comes in every 10 years or so. It simply didn’t matter to him, his eyes just lit up when he was going climbing with his friends.
“Jim’s presence, spirit and infectious smile will be mourned and missed not only by his friends, but by the countless number of people he has rescued from the hills.”
Phil Schaal, 35, October 22
Little Phil, as Phillip Schaal was called as a little-brother type growing up in the East, was thin, with “eyes bigger than his head,” says Caroline Treadway, who knew him since he was 16. Treadway also says, “He was super strong from the get-go.”
Schaal, who died October 22 at age 35, had startlingly blue eyes that accentuated the general sweetness of his expression.
Soft-spoken and courteous yet a determined athlete, Schaal grew up in Hartford, Connecticut. Subject of a short profile in Rock and Ice in 2010, he had at the time pulled off (in only three days) the fifth ascent of Daniel Woods’ famous boulder problem Jade (V15, now V14), Rocky Mountain National Park, and climbed Ode to the Modern Man (V14) at Mount Evans, also in Colorado. He had also made the second ascent, after a gap of six years, of Dave Graham’s The Book of Bitter Aspects in Bradley, Connecticut, given V14: “Since then it’s been downrated [to V13], but not by me,” Schaal said in the RI interview, smiling. “Personally, I like numbers, but I’m not the kind of guy to downgrade or upgrade a route.”
At that time, he moved to the Boulder area, and in 2011 made an early (the eighth) ascent of Midnight Express (V14) in Boulder Canyon and the fourth ascent of Echale (V14), Clear Creek Canyon.
He also climbed such varied V13s as Agent Orange in the Shawangunks, New York; The Chelsea Smile, Lincoln Woods, Rhode Island; Roses and Blue Jays, Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Nagual and El Techo, Hueco Tanks, Texas; and Top Notch, Free Range and Freaks of the Industry (V13+), in RMNP; put up sport routes up to 5.13c; and did two 5.14s in Rumney, New Hampshire: Parallel Universe (5.14a) and Super Nova (5.14b). He flashed V12 and climbed up to V14 in Rocklands, South Africa.
In late 2012 Schaal moved back East and began working as head routesetter at Brooklyn Boulders. His mother, Eloise Tencher, refers to her part Chilean, part Swiss son as “a good Swiss boy. He was so diligent. I have all these books of notes about his climbing and his job. He never took vacation. He was so dedicated, he loved it, he traveled around and opened a gym in Somerville and one in Chicago, and was constantly traveling to both places to go and make sure the routes were what he wanted.”
Upon his passing, the climbing gym posted a heartfelt note praising him as a dear friend and “legend,” and stating, “He made us laugh, he always spoke his mind, and … breathed so much heart and soul into our community.”
Tencher is open about the circumstances: her son died, she says, of drug poisoning that sent him into a coma, in which he remained for nearly three weeks before his death.
She says, “I believe someone slipped a lethal drug mix into his drink. He had to work the next day.” She adds, “I want to spread awareness.” Early intervention might have saved him, but he was not helped for many hours.
Tencher, having just traveled to Chile, hastened back upon learning that her son was hospitalized. She says her son’s boss, Lance Pinn, other coworkers and friends gathered continually in the hospital, talking to Schaal, touching him and crying, before she made the wrenching condition to “disconnect.” She held her son as he died.
Phillip Schaal had an unusual background: a grandfather who was a Life magazine photographer and who, Tencher says, once shared an apartment with Albert Einstein, Igor Stravinsky and Alfred Eistenstadt (who took the famous photo of a WW II soldier kissing a nurse in Times Square), while Phil’s father, Andi Schaal, was a Swiss ski racer and Olympic coach. Tencher met the father at a summer ski camp at La Parva. Andi (from whom she was divorced) died last year. Tencher owns two restaurants in Middletown, Connecticut. A memorial there for Schaal was filled beyond capacity with friends from New England, Colorado, California, Texas, Kentucky, Illinois and Florida.
Joe Kinder, another leading Northeasterner, says: “Phil was part of the new generation of strong climbers to come out of New England. We always had a lot of pride in that and spoke about him as if he was ours. He always had a low-key style that I found endearing. He simply did his thing, [as] a great climber and an awesome guy.”
Treadway says, “Phil made everyone laugh. He made fun of himself … one reason why people loved him so much.”
As well as his mother, Schaal leaves a brother, Billy Gillen, age 22.
Junko Tabei, 77, October 20
In 1969 the Japanese climber Junko Tabei founded the Ladies Climbing Club: Japan, with the slogan, “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.”
In 1975, Tabei and a team of 14 women traveled on a (mixed-gender) trip to Everest, where, on May 16, Tabei became the first woman to stand on the summit.
Junko Tabei in 1985 at Communism Peak (now known as Ismoil Somoni Peak). Photo by Jaan Künnap (Wikimedia Commons).
With that landmark ascent, Tabei provided inspiration to women of all ages—climbers and non-climbers alike—around the world.
“I met Junko when I was in my early 20s,” says Stacy Allison, who became the first American woman to summit Everest in 1988, 13 years after Tabei. “She was gracious, kind, unassuming and extremely encouraging. I will remember her for her strength, courage and commitment to pursue her dream.”
Though Tabei is best known as the first woman to summit Everest, she went on to become a hugely accomplished mountaineer on many peaks. The list of mountains she has climbed, as found on her website, includes 13 peaks over 7,000 meters. According to the New York Times, over the course of her life, Tabei reached the tallest mountain in over 70 countries—an astonishing logistical as well as physical feat. Furthermore, in 1992 Tabei became the first woman to climb the highest peak on every continent, a journey known as the Seven Summits.
Peter Athans, a renowned alpinist who has summited Everest a whopping seven times, tells Rock and Ice via email that Tabei “was an inspiration not only to women explorers, but to any explorer that has a dream that appears utterly intimidating. Her lesson of using intelligence, ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness balanced with physical strength can facilitate reaching enormous, challenging goals.”
In her autumn years, Tabei still chased summits and made time to get out into the mountains. Since 2012, she had a tradition of ascending Mount Fuji every year.
On October 20, Tabei passed away at 77 years old after a battle with stomach cancer, as reported by her husband, Masanobu Tabei, on Tabei’s website. She is survived by her husband and their two children.
Anna Smith, 31, October 1
About a year ago, Anna Smith left her job at Parks Canada to chase her climbing dreams and goals to the fullest extent. “To me, Anna defined the word ‘rebel.’ The noun, the verb, the essence,” says Alison Criscitiello, a close friend and climbing partner. “In a truly feminist sense, she bucked any system that tried to define her neatly and cleanly with words. She was unruly, inspirational and hard to keep up with.”
Anna Smith laughing her way down Professor Falls, Banff National Park, Canada after a “speedy and fun day” with Alison Criscitiello last winter. Photo courtesy of Alison Criscitiello.
Criscitiello says, “Her spark set my own aspirations afire, lifting them higher, to harder grades,” and that in the mountains, they were a complementary pair: “Her wildness met with my order and need for organization; her boldness met with my tempered strides. We were a perfect team, and I will never know what we could have accomplished together in the Garhwal or the Himachal Pradesh.”
As Smith herself wrote on her blog, she went out into the wild “mostly with a smile and always with a desire to return for another, bigger, badder and bolder round two.”
Anna Smith died in her sleep from a medical condition on an expedition to the Garwal Himalaya in India. She and Criscitiello had mounted the expedition under the auspices of the American Alpine Club’s Mugs Stump Award, with the original goals of climbing Brahmasar II and The Fortress.
Alfred Kwok, 50, between September 18 and 20
A picture of Alfred Kwok, high on a mountain, shows him sitting on a rock, rope backpack-coiled behind him. Eyes behind his sunglasses, he appears to have just turned toward the camera, looking up momentarily from a topo or route description in his hands. The slight smile on his face seems to say: How lucky I am to be here.
Kwok, 50, who died from a fall while hiking Deerhorn Mountain in Kings Canyon National Park, California, was a physics professor at Pomona College, Claremont, California. He had grown up in Hong Kong, attended UC Santa Cruz for undergraduate studies, and earned a Ph.D. from Yale University.
“Alfred said that he never felt so fully alive as when he was on the rock,” wrote Tim Peck, Kwok’s friend and the pastor at Christ Our King Church, Azusa, in a eulogy. He said his friend felt “most alive” when “hiking to a summit like he was doing at Deerhorn or alpine climbing … climbing the East Buttress of El Cap in Yosemite Valley or leading a bolted sport climb at the Holcomb Valley pinnacles.”
Kwok took nothing in the mountains for granted. Several years back, he was involved in a climbing accident in Joshua Tree National Park, California, in which his climbing partner was killed and Kwok suffered a brain injury, according to Peck. “Alfred understood the risks perhaps more than of us,” Peck wrote, noting that Kwok always “sought to climb safe.”
According to NBC Los Angeles, Pomona students shared these among other written thoughts and memories about their teacher on a whiteboard: “Kwok always stayed in Millikan until 2-3 a.m. and would always help with whatever class you were working on—even philosophy,” wrote one student. Another wrote, “Professor Kwok single-handedly bridged the gap between profs and students.”
Kim Schmitz, 70, September 19
“Characters drift in and out of all of our lives, but none were quite like Kim,” John Roskelley wrote of Kim Schmitz.
Roskelley and Schmitz met in Yosemite Valley in 1971, although it wasn’t until 1977 that they would team up for the first time, to attempt Pakistan’s then unclimbed Great Trango Tower. After their successful ascent, Roskelley wrote, “I came away with from this trip with a great respect for Kim’s athletic ability, competence in the mountains, and great smile that would light up those piercing blue eyes.”
Schmitz, a survivor of both a Himalayan avalanche and a groundfall taken while guiding in the Tetons, could have been killed many times while climbing. And so it seemed ironic that he died in a single-car accident after a river trip, on his way to visit his old climber friend Roskelley.
Yet as Angus Thuermer recounts in a painstakingly researched article on WyoFile, Schmitz survived the initial crash and then did two things emblematic of his life. First he battled resourcefully, cutting himself out of his seatbelt, pawing through clothing and his First-Aid kit, and pulling out the canes he needed to walk. He made it a quarter mile toward help, then walked down the riverbank and sat under a large tree, where he passed away.
See our full obituary on Kim Schmitz’s life and high and low times, as written by Roskelley.
Julia MacKenzie, 30, September 8
Any description of Julia “J Mac” MacKenzie must start with her laugh. Julia possessed a loud, melodic laugh that bubbled out of her, echoing off surrounding cliffs, and instantly raising the spirits of anyone who was fortunate enough to hear it. Her laugh was just one part of the kindness, grace and joy that Julia carried.
In both her work as an emergency-room nurse and in her climbing, Julia brought a radiant compassion. Her father wrote, “She loved being an ER nurse in Arcata and later at SF General because she said it was absolutely wonderful when she was able to save lives.”
MacKenzie’s career and the flexibility of her schedule allowed her to spend most of her time pursuing her main passion: climbing. Julia traveled and climbed all over California, across the United States, and in Europe, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Mexico, Canada, Ecuador and Cuba.
A California native, Julia started climbing at age 12 at Class 5 Fitness, a Touchstone Climbing gym in San Rafael. She got hooked on the sport quickly, gaining experience climbing outdoors in the Sierras and working as belay staff and at the front desk of another Touchstone facility: Berkeley Ironworks, Berkeley.
Julia was a fixture in the Bay Area and Humboldt climbing scenes. She was constantly making friends, ready to offer hugs, belays and food to everyone she met. She was always the first to suggest a climbing trip, to welcome a new member to the climbing community, and to say yes to whatever ways her friends needed support in reaching climbing goals and challenges.
Earlier this year, Julia relocated to Bishop to spend more time climbing in the Sierras. She had climbed the Nose on El Cap, and for her 30th birthday in May, completed a birthday challenge of 30 pitches in a day.
On September 7, Julia died on the Evolution Traverse in the High Sierras when a granite hold broke loose and she fell.
The Berkeley Ironworks posted this note on its Facebook page: “Our community lost a truly beautiful soul yesterday. … [Julia’s] love of adventure, people, baking, family and climbing was always evident for anyone to see and her warm smile and goofy laugh were such a welcome sight. She was a spirit of generosity—bringing in a plate of cupcakes ‘just because.’ Dear, dear Julia, you will always be in our hearts and they ache for you now but are so grateful that you were with us.”
Julia is survived by her parents, two brothers and sister.
Kyle Dempster, 33, sometime after August 21
Seven years ago, the day before his 25th birthday, Kyle Dempster sat in a café in Canmore and wrote in his blog that he was “loving life.” He reflected upon the lessons he had learned in life and in a month in the Canadian Rockies.
The first thought he expressed was that age 25 was “a year of life that my cousin was never able to experience.” His cousin, Drew Wilson, died at 24 rappelling off a new route on Baffin Island, right after hugging Kyle, then 22, and saying, “Man, I’ll go climbing anywhere in the word with you.”
That day in the coffee shop, Dempster wrote: “Imagine passing so young, [being] so inexperienced. The worst thing about premature death is that it robs the unfortunate of education that life bestows. … I can’t help thinking about how spectacular my last year of life has been and this past month in Canada. I greatly miss my cousin, my best friend.” The two had grown up climbing together; Kyle at age 12 had learned to climb from Drew.
Now the world is bereft of Kyle, too, since his and Scott Adamson’s disappearance on the Ogre II in the Karakoram, Pakistan, after starting up it on August 21.
Dempster’s achievements, as cited in a previous Rock and Ice article, include ascents of the Ogre 1 with Hayden Kennedy and Josh Wharton in 2013, and the first ascent of the north face of the Xuelian West (Chinese Tien Shan), 2010, with Jed Brown and Bruce Normand; both climbs garnered prestigious Piolet D’Or awards. His and Bruce Normand’s first ascent of the East Face of Mount Edgar, China, was nominated for a Piolet D’Or in 2011.
Other major ascents include a 20-hour car-to-car ascent of Wild Thing on Mount Chephren, Canada, 2014; first ascents in Sichuan China in 2015; and a previous attempt, also in 2015, of the Ogre II with Adamson. That climb ended when, after they’d climbed the two crux pitches and established a belay within 400 meters of the 6980-meter summit, Adamson fell and broke his leg. The two retreated, building anchors, cutting sections of their rope when it was damaged or stuck, and decimating their rack. They were within three or four short pitches from the ground when a V-thread popped, and both fell and slid to the glacier.
Although Adamson gained no further injuries and Dempster sustained only a bloody nose, Dempster later wrote in the American Alpine Journal that in ensuing months he “beat myself up” over the error, which he called “inexcusable.”
“Anchors can’t fail. Every single one, no matter how tired you are or how bad conditions become, needs to be placed in a state of complete mental and physical awareness. With deliberate attention and over-emphasized inspection, you need to see and feel that the anchor is solid, and then place a backup piece for the first (heavier) person rappelling.”
He had vowed for increased safety for this year’s Ogre climb. No sign of the two was ever seen despite repeat helicopter scans of the face (see rescue article). What seems feasible, according to those on the scene, was a long fall when a storm came in, after which they were covered by snow and impossible to spot.
As much as his ascents, Dempster was known for his endearing candor and creativity, such as that displayed in self-shot footage of a bike trip in Kyrgyzstan, later to become the award-winning 25-minute film “The Road From Karakol,” and for the industry and originality that had him setting up a tent—in winter—to live on top of his coffee shop in Utah.
Nathan Smith, friend and, via Liberty Mountain, sponsor of Dempster, tells us: “Kyle was driven. He was a dreamer that made the impossible possible. He racked up cutting-edge first ascents and attempts all over the world, receiving the coveted Piolets d’Or twice. …But what made Kyle great was his ability to connect with others. He made everyone around him feel like they were the most important person in his life. He genuinely cared about what others had to say. He wanted us to achieve our dreams the same way he had achieved his.”
Last summer Dempster, a thoughtful and expressive writer who had published in Alpinist as well as the AAJ, applied to join the annual John Long Writing Symposium put on by Rock and Ice. His writing sample was excellent, but the symposium was full. A space later opened, and he was invited to join, but by then he had bought a ticket to Pakistan.
Interviewed in 2010 for a short profile in Rock and Ice, Dempster was asked about his greatest asset in climbing. He said, “Maintaining mental calmness and clarity in precarious, difficult terrain. And enduring. … I love the 24-hour and 40-hour pushed on walls or alpine routes. I love that stuff.”
Kyle is survived by his mother, Terry; sister, Molly; and girlfriend, Jewell Lund.
Scott Adamson, 34, sometime after August 21
In “Desert Ice,” a short film about ice and mixed climbing in Zion National Park, Scott Adamson grunts and thrutches his way up an unprotected, overhanging crack. His friend Pete Takeda provides the narration: “There’s probably like a millimeter of steel between him and eternity. That stuff’s super dangerous. You have to have the precision of a surgeon and the balls of a Brahman bull.”
Adamson struggles toward the top, but keeps it together and tops out with two solid turf-sticks into a downed tree. Once standing on flat ground, he starts cracking jokes, throws his head back and laughs.
Nathan Smith of Salt Lake says, “Scott was one of the most gifted ice climbers I have ever seen. He worked hard for it but also had a natural talent. He was so solid on everything, and it was contagious. Because it was easy for him he knew it would be easy for you, too. He pushed those around him to be better. I always knew if Scott was with me we could get up anything. Not just because he could, but I’d be able to as well.”
Scott Adamson of Orem, Utah, one of the country’s leading alpinists, disappeared with Kyle Dempster while climbing the North Face of Ogre II in the Karakoram, Pakistan.
Early in his climbing career, Adamson excelled at climbing varied, often less-than solid terrain. In his late teens and 20s, he spent a lot of time repeating and developing new routes in the Wasatch mountains, which, according to Liberty Mountain, he affectionately referred to as the Choss-atch Range. Over time he developed over 100 mixed and ice routes there, according to the site.
His brother Tom recalls: “Scott and I grew up wallowing around in the red rock desert sand and sun in Utah. He battled his whole life between freezing on high peaks around the world and jamming thin finger cracks on desert towers in the heat of the Southwest.” Tom recalls idle time as being anathema to his brother, who ran on “eternal combustion … whether it was rafting rivers on a blow-up mattress, juggling butcher knives, or taunting Black Widow spiders to consume the tasty insects he graciously donated to their intricate webs.” Injuries alone seemed to put Scott on the couch, and he would do pullups even with a cast on his leg.
According to Tom, “Scott always said, ‘If you hit a wall, punch it back.’
“Trying to decelerate or hold the line with Scott was like catching a runaway snow tube on a steep hill with a five-second lead.”
While Adamson made his mark with hard climbs in the Wasatch and Zion, he also established major routes in the world’s greater ranges, including the first ascents Levitation and Hail Marys (V M7), NWS (V W I6 M5), and Terror (VI WI 6 M7 A2), all on the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska; Pangbuk North and Lunag West, two peaks in Nepal over 6,500 meters; and Down the Rabbit Hole (V WI 6 M6) on Alaska’s Mount Huntington.
Adamson was a three-time winner of the prestigious Mugs Stump Award: in 2010 with Matt Tuttle, 2014 with Chris Wright, and 2015 with Dempster. For the latter two expeditions, he and his partners also received Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Awards from the American Alpine Club.
In July 2015, Adamson teamed with Dempster for an attempt on the North Face of the Ogre II. High on the route, Adamson took a fall, forcing retreat. As they neared the bottom of the face, one of their anchors blew and the two plunged and slid to the glacier below. Miraculously, both climbers survived. On his Facebook page, Adamson wrote of the ordeal, “This was a ‘what not to do’ kinda trip. I broke all three of the climbing rules (1. don’t fall 2. don’t fall 3. don’t hit the ground/glacier).”
Adamson’s friend and partner Matt Tuttle recalls his friend’s character in an e-mail to Rock and Ice:
“Scott was someone you could just cross paths with in life and instantly have a friend. He had this energy … this vibe that was pure.
“Scott was an alpinist. As an alpinist you are always training for something. Pushing the burn, finding your limits, enduring the pain, suffering through the misery. …[Scott and I] shared quite a few of those moments. Scott would find something good in every one of them. He always seemed composed. That was good to have in a partner and a friend.”
Tuttle recalled a funny story of being surprised as the two were climbing what would later be NWS. “I was following Scott up a pitch, and every now and then I would find those little Peeps Easter candies. The first one caught me by surprise. I had forgotten it was Easter … Leave it to Scott to brighten up any moment.”
Adamson leaves his parents, Thomas C. and Kathleen Porcaro Adamson, his brother Thomas J. Adamson, sisters Shayla, Andrea and Sheresa, his maternal grandparents Robert and Jean Porcaro, paternal grandmother Jeanne, and girlfriend, Angela Van Wiemeersch.
Laurel Fan, 34, July 24
Laurel Fan once wrote a paper positing that failure in climbing is necessary: climbers should seek out failure, she wrote while a participant in the Alpine Mentors program, in order to grow and improve. Fan always sought to further her education in the mountains, as both student and teacher. Her close friend Joe Sambataro says she was known both for “pushing herself and teaching others to climb stronger and safer.”
Laurel, 34 and a cherished member of the climbing community in the Pacific Northwest, died in a fall while attempting Serra 2, a peak in Canada’s Waddington Range, on July 24.
Sambataro calls Fan “quiet and humble on the outside, but absolutely brilliant, selfless and caring through and through.”
The word precocious appears not to begin to describe Fan, who, according to the Seattle Times, began her undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon university at just 13 years old, and earned a master’s in electrical engineering before she turned 20. As a young professional, Fan worked for a few different companies, including Amazon, before transitioning to the nonprofit world. In 2014 she began working for the organization Code.org to expand the opportunities available to women and minority students in the field of computer science. She was still working there at the time of her death.
Steve House, a world-class alpinist and the founder of Alpine Mentors, says: “Laurel was a very inclusive person, always willing to get out climbing with people, whether they were more or less experienced than she was. She had a lot of enthusiasm for climbing, and it was clearly infectious with those around her. She did a lot of great mentoring work on her own, especially with the Washington Alpine Club, and helping new climbers get out and teaching them the basics.”
Laurel leaves her brother, Raymond, her sister, Jennifer, and her parents, Yung and I-Sing.
Melissa Raue, 62, July 23
A year ago, after first moving to Utah, Melissa Raue posted on Facebook of the joys of her retirement and how much fun she was having climbing near-daily.
“You don’t run out of routes here in SLC in a lifetime,” she captioned one photo.
Melissa and her husband, Dave, were longtime and experienced climbers who had both recently retired and moved west from Westchester, New York.
Dave had, in his retirement in the years prior to Melissa’s, bought The Rock Club, a climbing gym in New Rochelle, that Melissa also frequented. Both had attended Colby College, and Dave was quoted in a July 2009 alumni newsletter as encouraging his middle-aged gym visitors by saying: “Of course you can do it! That’s my wife rippin’ it up there, and she’s 55!”
Melissa was, as well, a habitué of the nearby Shawangunks, New Paltz. The Gunks Climbers’ Coalition wrote in her memory: “She was known in our community for her eagerness to share her love of climbing by bringing new people to the area. She would climb with anyone, anytime, and always took the time to make people feel comfortable and confident on the wall.”
In Salt Lake, through a mutual climbing friend, Melissa met Jackii Pellett at a local climbing gym. “The first thing I noticed about Melissa was that she was a very safe and conscientious belayer and climber—adding to that, she was really nice, fun, psyched about climbing, and loved the outdoors,” Pellett wrote Rock and Ice in an e-mail. “We got along together like we’d known one another forever and quickly became close friends and dedicated climbing partners.” The two went on climbing trips, climbed in the gym and climbed outside together “as much as possible,” Pellett wrote.
On July 23, Melissa, Dave and Pellett went climbing in Maple Canyon. On their second route of the morning, Melissa took the last lap to clean the anchor—a task she had performed a thousand times over her 10-plus years of climbing. After cleaning the anchor, Melissa asked Pellett, her belayer, to lower her, then suddenly fell approximately 60 feet to the ground.
The fall was immediately fatal.
On her Twitter account, filled with commentary on politics and education, Melissa described herself as a “P.A., climber, always curious, Buddhist.”
Dave wrote in an announcement of her passing, “Melissa was incredibly blessed [both] to have so many friends back East and to find a fantastic circle of new friends here in Utah. She loved climbing and all my happiest pictures of her was when she was on the rock.
“Melissa was my best friend, a fantastic mom and beloved by so, so many.”
Melissa Raue is survived by her husband, Dave, and two sons, Matt and Eric.
Gary Falk, 42, July 23
A leader. A mentor. Or, simply, “a rock.”
Those words and many more were used by a heartbroken community after an Exum guide who was a family man and the father of two young children fell to his death while guiding on the Grand Teton. An obituary posted by the American Mountain Guides Association described Falk as “a consummate professional, inspiring co-worker and [someone who] worked actively in all three guide disciplines.”
Falk was a 12-year Exum guide and an Internationally Certified AMGA/IFMGA Mountain Guide who had guided across the American West and Northwest and in Alaska, Mexico and Ecuador.
Cyndi Hargis, Exum co-owner, told the Jackson Hole News and Guide, “He was the father of two young boys, loved by everyone.”
Kate Falk, Gary’s wife, remembers how the fusion of his passion for guiding, the outdoors and their children colored his life. “When our first child was only three weeks old, we took him on his first camping trip … [Being outdoors] was Gary’s way of sharing love and experiences,” she previously told Rock and Ice.
His commitment to family and friends and desire for fun was integral to how he lived his life. “Gary was always trying to figure out what worked,” Kate said. “He didn’t want to have any less family time, but loved his climbing and his work, so he was always trying to figure out that balance.”
Falk leaves behind his wife, Kate, and two young sons, Anders, 4, and Donovan, 9 months.
Nick Clinch, 85, June 15
In the fall of 1955, a young Nick Clinch was kicking back with friends after a spaghetti dinner at “Toad Hall,” the rental place of five fellow Northern Californian climbers (with various others who crashed there), when he tossed out an invitation to climb Hidden Peak in 1958.
“Aw, come on, all I want is just two more names so I can apply for permission,” Clinch entreated. Robert Swift and Dick Irvin shouted from the next room, “I’ll go with you,” and, “Sure, count me in.”
That moment, described in both the June 22 New York Times and Clinch’s delightful expedition memoir A Walk in the Sky, would lead to an ascent of the world’s second-highest unclimbed peak, the only first ascent of an 8000er ever by Americans. Clinch, then 28, led the expedition that placed Andy Kauffman and Pete Schoening on the summit of Hidden Peak / Gasherbrum 1 in the Karakoram. A second summit team, of which Clinch was a part, was denied due to bad weather.
A diplomat by nature as well as a repository of grace and humor, Clinch also led the first ascent of Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, in 1966.
As a onetime president of the American Alpine Club, he established the still-thriving Teton Climbers’ Ranch and was key in building the club’s world-renowned library. Clinch will be commemorated at a memorial prior to the AAC’s annual gathering in February. For information, see clinchmemorial.app.rsvpify.com/
Ken Wilson, 75, June 25
Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of The British Mountaineering Council called him “one of the most influential voices in British climbing,” and that is saying a lot when you consider the erudition and literacy of the British climbing culture. The editor of the late, great Mountain magazine from 1969 to 1978, Wilson was also author and editor of the compendiums Games Climbers Play, which gained great play in this country as well as the U.K., and the coffee-table trilogy of Hard Rock, Classic Rock and Extreme Rock.
Last year Wilson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boardman Tasker trustees. Upon the occasion, Jon Barton of Vertebrate Publishing (which had acquired Bâton Wicks) printed a congratulatory note titled “An Eye for Class, a Nose for Bullshit” that showed the strength of Wilson’s convictions about adventure.
Wilson was also a key player in this near-deadly misadventure: “When a Rescue Needed a Rescue” from our My Epic series.
Jean Sylvain, 82, May 2016
When two German climbers plucked a coveted first ascent on the South Face of Quebec’s Cap Trinité right out from under his nose, even using his fixed ropes, the Canadian climber Jean Sylvain simply elected to one-up them. “We decided to respond to our legitimate frustration by undertaking a superior exploit,” Sylvain was quoted at the time as saying of himself and his partners.
Instead of griping, Sylvain, André Robert and Pierre Vézina pioneered a purer route, 330 meters in length, directly up the center of the face. In his Pushing the Limits: The Story of Canadian Mountaineering, the climbing author and historian Chic Scott writes of their 1967 ascent: “After 12 days and 4 nights on the wall, they reached the top on July 2. They named their route Directissme. Jean Sylvain wrote, ‘Our honor was avenged.’”
In 1972, Sylvain made the first ascent of Montmorency Falls, a 100-meter WI 3. “It was an amazing ascent considering how primitive their equipment was at the time,” writes Chic Scott. “Using a torch they heated their ten point crampons, then bent two points upwards to give them front points.”
Sylvain contributed to the growth of Canadian climbing in other crucial ways as well. He authored Parois d’Escalade au Quebec, the first guidebook for rock climbing in the Quebec region, and founded the Laurentian Climbing Club in eastern Quebec.
Sylvain was 82.
Mark Cole, 58, April 24
Mark Cole, who died at 58, was central to both the climbing development and community of Alabama and the South. With roots in the trad climbing at such areas as Steele, Yellow Creek, Sandrock and Jamestown, he was an early adapter of sport-climbing techniques, putting up initial 5.12’s at Steele and Yellow Creek and proceeding to 5.13s and whole walls at Little River Canyon.
His friend Eugene “Geno” Smith recalls Cole as a self-made man whom he met in 1983 as a 25-year-old painting contractor with “plenty of work but not much time.”
“However, every weekend Mark and Curt Merchant would drive in his work truck from Montgomery to climb at Steele. These guys were gymnasts and knew that to do difficult moves they needed progressions so they took falls and kept trying.”
The two progressed rapidly, boosting standards in Alabama from 5.10 to 5.12+ trad.
Smith relates: “A number of other strong Southern climbers at the time, such as Maurice Reed, Shannon Steggs and Rob Robinson, were also inspiring. But no one was more dedicated than Mark to train hard and persist.”
Cole was willing to take on all manner of other new challenges. He had little experience in writing but chronicled 1980s Alabama climbing in articles and reports in Climbing magazine, and developed excellent photography skills, assembling and publishing images of area climbers and routes. He taught himself to paint murals on interior walls of high-end homes, becoming, according to Smith, a “very successful and sought-after” painting contractor.
Above all else, though, as Smith reflects: “Mark had a strong moral compass. This was by and large a positive trait, but occasionally he would hold forth a rigid view on a climbing style issue (for at least for a while Mark through the years evolved his views on climbing, but always remained a completely honorable and good person to his core. He was spiritual, treated others with dignity and respect and was protective of the environment. I admired him personally and sought out his views on climbing as well as other matters because, besides considering what was practical and possible, he always considered what was right and what was wrong. He took belaying, for example, as a point of pride and ultimate obligation.”
As driven a climber as he was himself, Cole was a mentor and de facto coach to a plethora of young climbers in the Southeast, whom he would bring to the Canyon and to competitions, often at his own expense, teaching and encouraging them.
Jim Curran, 73, April 5
Jim Curran was a documentarian as much as a climber, present through decades of important events and genres of climbing. The British mountaineer and filmmaker was on K2 during the great tragedies of 1986, after which he wrote K2 – Triumph and Tragedy, also the title of one of his 15 expedition and mountaineering documentary films. He filmed the greats of more than a generation of British alpinists: Peter Boardman and Joe Tasker, Alan Rouse and (still living) Chris Bonington and Joe Brown. His work extended to the 1998 Emmy-award-winning film Rock Queen, showing the outstanding French climber Catherine Destivelle soloing the Old Man of Hoy sea stack.
Curran’s book K2 – The Story of the Savage Mountain won the non-fiction award at the Banff Mountain Book Festival in 1996. Among his other books were a biography of Bonington titled High Achiever.
In a British blog called Footless Crow (named after a historic hard climb in the Lakes District of England, John Appleby writes: “Rock Climber/mountaineer, film maker, artist, lecturer and friend to so many. … Jim’s name was synonymous with what seems like a golden period in mountain culture. So many creative people were producing quality material at that time … [a] rich banquet.”
An artist throughout his life, Curran in his later years posted on his website, “He lives in Sheffield where his painting is constantly interrupted by the attractions of the Peak District in general, and the attractions of climbing on gritstone outcrops in particular.”
Allen Frame Hill, 53, March 24
A prominent part of the Colorado College and the Colorado Springs climbing community of the 1980s, Allen Frame Hill was found deceased at home in Denver on March 24. He was a climber, filmmaker and historian who greatly admired, in particular, Eastern Bloc climbers and the corps of British alpinists who gathered in Leysin, Switzerland, from 1967 to 1977.
Of the former culture, he co-directed and co-produced, with John Catto, the award-winning film “Jump,” about Czech climbers jumping among high spires; and until the time of his death Hill was assembling a film with the working title “Vagabond Club Documentary,” chronicling an era during which such luminaries as John Harlin, Layton Kor (USA), Peter Boardman, Dougal Haston and Chris Bonington gathered at a watering hole at the Club Vagabond hotel, Leysin.
Friends knew him as humorous and highly intelligent, an incredible absorber of information and culture, also often maddening and given to excess. Hill chronicled his battles with illness and alcohol consumption in darkly funny running commentary on his Facebook page. His degenerative illness is cited by friends as severe MS, though Cam Burns, whom Hill brought in to write the Club Vagabond film, described it in the American Alpine Journal as an undiagnosed neurological disorder.
In his heartfelt remembrance, Burns recalls spending extensive amounts of time with Hill and Layton Kor (who died in 2013): “Several times our trio ventured as far as Eldorado Canyon and the Sink in Boulder, Allen always carrying his beloved Leica and shooting images of Kor below various formations in Eldo. All the while, Allen would pull out tidbits of information about the routes that Kor had first climbed—many of which Kor didn’t even know. Allen was a walking encyclopedia, but he didn’t just have a massive number of facts tucked away in his brain. Allen distilled these facts to understand the context of when and why events happened.”
Eric Seidman, 26, March 23
Eric Seidman’s tick list on Mountainproject.com contains a September 2014 entry for the Yosemite classic Snake Dike (III, 5.7). “Incredible day!! 13 hr c2c [car to car],” he wrote. The elation and joy evident in this brief entry extended to many facets of his life.
Born in San Jose, California, Seidman grew up in Granite Bay and graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara in 2012 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He spent part of his junior year studying in the U.K. at Imperial College London. Upon graduating, Seidman took a job as a mechanical engineer with the California company Griplock Systems. In 2015, he began working as a technical support manager at Invoca, a tech company in Santa Barbara.
Kevin Groh, Seidman’s roommate and main climbing partner, says, “Eric was an amazing person. He always strived to be better and improve on every aspect of his life. He was an amazing cook. He could cook one hell of lasagna. He enjoyed having friends over for dinner parties. He would say, ‘I enjoy cooking so that I can be around the people I care about.’”
Groh illustrates Seidman’s generosity with another story. The two had just moved into a new apartment when Groh realized with horror that he had somehow lost his friend’s trad rack, approximately $1800 worth of equipment. Dismayed, he vowed to replace everything, piece by piece. Eric’s response, Groh recalls, was: “Hey, man, anything that can be replaced with money is not worth being upset about. What’s more important is that I keep the things that are truly important: my friends, my family, and sharing the experiences that make life worth living with those people.”
As his dinner parties were about more than the lasagna, climbing for Eric was about far more than getting to the top of a route—it was about the process, the partnership, getting to beautiful places and being with people he cared about. Groh recalls his patient attitude on days out: “There are two phrases he would use when we failed that I will always remember. ‘I was humbled by the rock.’ He would then go on to say, ‘It’s O.K., the rock isn’t going anywhere.’ He knew he would be back and be successful next time.”
On a remembrance page for Eric, a friend and coworker wrote, “Every day, and I mean EVERY day, whenever I would come into work, he would say bright and loud, ‘Good morning, Crystal,’ and flash me that gorgeous Eric smile. Whenever I had a look of frustration on my face, Eric would message me online (even though he was sitting across from me) with a simple message: ‘Smile,’ knowing full well I would look over at him and start laughing.”
Eric Seidman died on March 23 after a 100-foot fall while climbing at Gibraltar Rock, California, with coworkers. He was 26 years old. He is survived by his sister, Rachel, his parents, Mark and Mary, and his girlfriend, Julie Johnson.
Glen Dawson, 103, March 21
In 1931, a small team made the first ascent of Mount Whitney’s East Face. Situated on the highest peak in the lower 48, this extremely exposed route became the first big wall ascent in the Sierra Nevada. The 1000-foot 5.7 was a turning point in the difficulty of California alpine climbing. At 19, Glen Dawson had made his mark on mountaineering history.
Dawson, a fabled Sierra Nevada mountaineer and environmentalist, died on March 25 at age 103.
Dawson was raised in a nature-oriented family—his father was the Sierra Club president during the mid-1930s—and began climbing early. After ascending the Matterhorn in 1928, Dawson returned to his native California and began a spree of rapid ascents in the Sierra Nevada Range.
The legendary ascents extended throughout the 1930s and included new routes in the Minarets and Palisades. Dawson also notched notable climbs in El Piacho del Diablo in Baja, California, and Castle Dome in Yuma, Arizona, before traveling abroad and ticking off peaks in the Alps, Wales, USSR and Japan. He interspersed his climbing with several notable first ski ascents in California, including of Telegraph Peak in the Transverse Range and Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada.
Beyond mountaineering, Dawson served as the president of the Sierra Club (1937-1951) and was a climbing and skiing instructor for Alpha Company of the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division (1944-1947). He was also a prominent antiquarian bookseller in Los Angeles. He and his brother took over the bookshop established by their father in 1905. Though the store closed in 2010, his son Michael continues to sell books online.
At the time of his death, he was both the oldest and longest active member in the Sierra Club.
Mark Davis, 50, March 12
Before moving to Utah to pursue teaching full-time, first as a high school teacher, later as a film professor at SLCC, Mark Davis worked as a camera assistant in Hollywood—with names such as Steven Spielberg and Sam Raimi.
One of the Raimi films was 2002’s Spiderman—fitting work for a dedicated rock climber.
Mark Davis died on Saturday, March 12, at Indian Creek, Utah, following a rappelling accident. He had climbed Way Rambo (5.12) to fix a line for a photographer there that day. While he was descending from the top of the climb, one end of the (unknotted) rope passed through Davis’ belay device, sending him into freefall.
“Mark was an intense and awesome teacher,” says Channing Lowe, a friend and colleague in the film department at Salt Lake Community College. Davis started working at SLCC in 2011, following several years teaching at East Hollywood High School in Salt Lake City. His love of all-things film shone through in his excitement in the classroom. At SLCC, Mark taught all facets of film, from cinematography to screenwriting to directing. “Mark was serious about the discipline, and [he] emphasized safety and professionalism on set,” Lowe says.
Part of the tragedy of his death, notes Lowe, a climber himself, is that Davis, who had climbed for many years from Yosemite to Patagonia, “was always concerned with safety. He was always double-checking his gear, my gear, testing the knots, checking the harness, rope, etc.
“When I was trying a new route, I could tell by the look on his face that his anxiety and concern for his climbing partner increased.”
Beyond his climbing and his teaching, Davis was thoughtful and genuine. “Mark was simply a topnotch person,” Lowe says. “He made friends all over the country and the world.” Once, when a friend’s mother died, Davis showed up at the friend’s house several days after the funeral, lawn mower in tow, and began attending to the yard work.
Chris Noble, a friend, climbing partner and author of Why We Climb and Women Who Dare, writes in a piece on Momentum Climbing’s blog, “Mark’s passing tore a hole in the lives of all who knew him,” and that he would most miss Davis’ self-deprecating humor and “booming laugh.”
“His leaving hurt our souls and left many in shock,” Lowe says. “He touched so many lives.”
Eric Klimt, 36, March 9
In a letter to the editor printed in Rock and Ice No. 185 in April 2010, Eric Klimt wrote of the responsibility of his generation “to ensure that the youth of tomorrow have a chance to understand the true meaning of freedom and adventure.” For Eric, climbing contained lessons about life and how to live meaningfully.
Kirsten Klimt, Eric’s sister, says, “Climbing consumed him. He used climbing as a way to balance his life and channel his focus. Eric was at his best when he was climbing.” Still, he kept perspective. Kirsten calls him humble as a climber, and recalls watching him come close on routes, fall off, and still come down “beaming” as opposed to frustrated. He would look at her, smiling, and say, “Next time, Kir, next time.”
Klimt was compassionate and gentle, “a thinker and a dreamer” who inspired confidences from others, she says. Yet he was driven and fiery at times—“He could be the most ornery SOB when he wanted to be.”
He was also a cinephile who crafted his own film projects and could quote the next line of a movie on command.
For much of his adult life Eric made his living as high school math teacher, first in Maryland and later in Arizona. As rewarding as he found the work, Eric was unfulfilled, wanting more time on the rock. He transitioned to a rope-access job in Tennessee, but found himself drawn West to Oregon, where he had lived before. It was on his way out West, in a stopover at Zion National Park, Utah, that Eric died in a fall while climbing Moonlight Buttress, on March 9. He was 36 years old.
On a remembrance thread on Supertopo.com, a poster called BenVen writes about his friendship with Eric, and how, though he was an “ambitious” climber, he was “one of the most supportive partners I ever tied in with.” They both dreamed of one day free climbing Moonlight Buttress. Now, the friend writes, “That dream has even more meaning to me.”
Klimt tried to live life to the fullest. In a letter he wrote to a friend once about a funeral he had recently attended, Eric wrote that the friend “was a great man. A good inspiration for us all. Made me reflect a bit on my life. Life is a dream. And I aim to make mine a spectacular one.”
Cal Swoager, 66, February 28
Calvin “Cal” Swoager, Jr. earned his place in east coast climbing lore for pioneering a multitude of heady, gear-protected routes “in the glory days of eastern climbing—back in the 70’s and 80’s,” his climbing partner and friend Rick Thompson wrote in a Rock and Ice tribute.
After returning from the Vietnam War, Swoager’s passion for putting up “poorly protected, bold and ballsy routes. New routes that would test his skills, and suck every drop of fortitude out of him,” Thompson wrote, made him a local legend.
He established Leave it to Jesus (5.11c)—a thin and pumpy crack climb, now considered a classic of the New River Gorge, West Virginia—in 1985. At Seneca Rocks, he established the R-rated The Bell (5.12a) with Alex Karr, Hunt Prothro and Mel Banks in 1983, described as “Serious, scary and hard to protect,” in Tony Barnes’ Seneca: The Climbers Guide. At West Virginia’s Woodland Wall, he made the first ascent of the now-classic Repent or Parish (5.11c/d R/X). Swoager’s first ascents extended to the boulders as well, such as his 25-foot highball Electric Avenue (V4) at Cooper’s Rock.
“And there were stacks of routes where you’d have to man-up to have even the chance of success,” Thompson wrote.
On February 28, a Sunday afternoon, Swoager was free soloing an easy route at Coll’s Cove, Pennsylvania to set up a top rope when foothold broke near the top of the climb. He fell 40 feet to the ground, and never regained consciousness.
“Cal was a legend … one of the boldest, most talented climbers in the Mid-Atlantic region throughout the 1980’s,” Kevin O’Brien, climbing partner and friend of Swoager, posted on Facebook. “Many of his audacious routes from that era remain testpieces to this day,”
“A true Hardman, an inspiration to us young climbers…” one user commented on Mountain Project.
Swoager is survived by his wife Terry, and sister Melissa Swoager Egan.
“His love for the outdoors and heart for others will live forever in so many climbers,” says Egan.
Steve Edwards, 55, February 25
A birthday challenge is not meant to be easy. It is, according to Steve Edwards, the climber and training buff who popularized the Birthday Challenge among climbers, “essentially a goal, generally in the form of physical achievement, to make your birthday more memorable than the last.”
The number of the birthday year typically dictates the challenge. For Edwards’ 35th birthday, for example, he celebrated by leading 35 routes and running 35 kilometers (22 miles).
@TheRVProject.” title=”Steve Edwards. Photo courtesy of Spenser Tang-Smith for The RV Project / @TheRVProject.” style=”float: right; margin: 0px 0px 10px 10px;”>“With no pain, there is no struggle, no struggle, no rewards, and if no rewards, then why bother living at all?” Edwards reflected on his website. “Am I crazy? Do I enjoy hardship and suffering? If I like pain so much, then why don’t I just do the Eco-Challenge, then spend my birthday partying like everyone else?
Edwards, who climbed largely in Yosemite Valley and various Southern California climbing arenas, inspired his good friend the Yosemite speed climber Hans Florine to take up a birthday challenge on his 40th, and kicked off a 40-day torture plan with a different activity each day, including 40 unroped pitches in Yosemite, raising $4000 for a good cause, and 400 pull ups. One day Edwards joined Hans for 40 pitches up four Valley formations in 14 hours.
Edwards challenged himself every birthday for over two decades and participated in over 80 events with his friends. “Few people understand, live, breathe, and eat fitness the way Steve did,” Denis Faye wrote on the Beach Body blog following his death. “Whether he was writing the definitive rock climbing guide to Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, competing in a mountain bike race across the Himalayas, executing one of his awesomely impossible birthday challenges, or playing a pivotal role in the creation of P90X and countless other Beach Body programs, Steve was undeniably ‘The Man’ when it came to fitness.”
When diagnosed with cancer at the age of 53, Edwards was still in his physical prime. He immediately carried over the fighting fervor of his birthday challenges to his new health battle. In a series of video diaries on his blog, he began documenting his 18-month bout with an aggressive lymphoma cancer, maintaining his characteristically positive attitude. He passed away on February 25.
Florine wrote a heartfelt remembrance on outsideonline.com that reads: “The day I heard the news of Steve Edwards’s passing I thought about having a couple of martinis and a full size bag of pork rinds, or running 20 miles, or climbing 20 routes in honor of his memory. But then I realized Steve would probably do all of these things and then add on 40 boulder problems, and a 50-mile bike ride, and perhaps write a 1000-word blog post about the ATP process (the energy carrier in cells) … He was a leader. I don’t think anyone called Steve The Leader or acknowledged it outright, but everyone wanted to do what Steve was doing.”
Scott Cosgrove, 52, February 23
While one might say a climber’s job is to maximize life, a stuntman’s job is to defy death. Scott Cosgrove, both climber and stunt rigger, embodied his dual mission: masterminding ground-breaking climbing ascents and Oscar-winning stunts, he brought the vertical world to new heights.
His friends knew the adventure-seeking California native as “Cozzy.” On the cliffs, Cosgrove was a bold first ascensionist and consistent crusher. He started climbing at age 13, frequently making the three-hour pilgrimage from his childhood home to Yosemite to fine-tune his natural talent. By age 18 he had climbed El Capitan.
In 1987, at 23, Cosgrove teamed up with Dave Schultz to establish the first free ascent of the 14-pitch Southern Belle (5.12c), a severely runout route on Half Dome’s remote South Face. Kurt Smith, a longtime friend, told Rock and Ice it was “probably the boldest ground-up free climb ever done in Yosemite,” and it has since seen few repeats.
That same year, Cosgrove began his career as a stunt rigger, stage hand and stunt performer in the film industry. According to his IMDb profile, he rigged and performed in 37 feature films—including 300,Rush Hour 3,TRON: Legacy,andThe Hunger Games—in addition to multiple television series and commercials. He won the Screen Actors Guild Award and Taurus World Stunts Award for his work on300 and shared an Academy Award in 2005 for Technical Achievement on an aerial camera-rigging project.
But Cosgrove truly made himself at home in the California climbing scene as a guide and instructor in Joshua Tree and Yosemite Valley. As the owner and president of California Mountain Guides, he boasted over 6,400 client days, with zero accidents. According to his diverse, extensive resume, Cosgrove established over 400 first ascents, including four A5 VI routes, made more than 28 El Capitan ascents, and was among the first Americans to climb 5.14. Over the eight years he spent on the Yosemite Search and Rescue Team, Cosgrove received two Presidential Civilian Bravery Commendations.
In October of 2014, as he was rigging from a structure more than 30 feet up, he fell out of a crane onto a cement floor. Rock and Ice reported that Scott suffered multiple compound fractures to his wrist, leg and skull, broke ribs, and “basically shatter[ed] every bone in his upper face,” as John Long, friend of Cosgrove, wrote at the time, yet “astonishingly, no major organ damage, no spinal issues and aside from swelling on the brain, requiring a drainage tube/stint, no significant brain damage.”
Cosgrove was still recovering from the accident 14 months later, doing physical therapy and slowly incorporating hiking back into his routine. On February 24 he went hiking alone near his home in the Californian Santa Monica hills, and was unexpectedly found lying on the trail. Although the cause of his death was never fully disclosed, complications in his recovery are widely believed to be a factor.
See full feature about Cosgrove in the upcoming issue, No. 240, out January 15.
Lorraine Bonney, 93, February 9
At the old Teton Tea Parties, a Canadian folk song frequently rang: “One day a mountain climber, he climbed with skill and grace/ The words that he spoke right then, they filled my heart with song/ ‘God bless you little foothold, you’re right where you belong.’”
It was Lorraine Bonney’s favorite song, according to Bill Briggs, a friend and musician who frequented the Teton Tea Parties. The weekly gatherings, which started in 1955 and continued for decades, originated in Lorraine and her husband, Orrin’s, teepee at the Jenny Lake Campground, now site of the Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch. It was a space for climbers and guides to share stories, swap beta and admire the wilderness; the space that first inspired Bonney to preserve information and capture it with the written word.
Bonney and Orrin compiled and wrote guidebooks for climbing areas throughout Wyoming. In some cases theirs were the first guides to significant surrounding mountain ranges, including the Grand Teton National Park and the Wind River Range. From the outset, Bonney’s mission was to protect the wilderness, and she later advocated for the creation of the Wyoming Wilderness Act.
As the Jackson Hole New & Guide noted, “The information [the Bonneys] were documenting in their guidebooks was instrumental in drafting the details of boundaries of the original designated Wyoming Wilderness, now preserved with the help of their verbal and written advocacy.”
Moving down to Texas with her husband, Bonney continued her fight to preserve wild and natural lands. She helped found Texas’ first Sierra Club Chapter and motivated the Houston community to help protect the surrounding forests. Brandt Mannchen, a friend and fellow Sierra Club member, recalled in a memorial letter, “Lorraine, unfortunately, was under recognized in the Sierra Club and the wider conservation community for her efforts to stop clear cutting and protect wild forests and wilderness.”
Bonney lived an active, varied life. After Orrin died, she traveled around the world, kayaking the Prince William Sound in Alaska, biking across Africa, hiking mounts Kilimanjaro and Fuji, and sailing in the Caribbean.
Bonney died in Chase, British Columbia, with her brother Paul and sister-in-law Eve Gagnon by her side.
Richard Wright, 61, January 4
As a prolific route developer in Colorado, Richard Wright contributed hundreds of lines along the Front Range and was an early fixture in the climbing community. “If you’ve clipped bolts on the Front Range, you’ve surely clipped one of Richard’s,” Mark Anderson wrote on Mountain Project, in a line often repeated among the innumerable tributes to Richard Wright and his life. In Clear Creek, Empire and Rifle Mountain Park, Wright’s name is a guidebook staple.
Perhaps Wright’s best-known first ascent is Rumor Has It (5.11b), Rifle’s first redpointed route. In the late 1980s, Wright and Mark Tarrant teamed up to establish the classic line, which catalyzed the fervid bolting and route development throughout the canyon that followed.
Wright was a climber dedicated to training and progress. Late into his 50s, while beginning a battle with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of cancer, Wright continually worked toward being a better climber. He frequented Rock and Ice’s training forums, both asking and giving advice, and wrote a wild and near-unbelievable “My Epic” about a misadventure descending from Art’s Spar (5.10c) in Eldorado during which his partner somehow dropped his Figure 8 mid-rappel and had to hand over hand down the rope to the belay.
In 1987, in the 18th issue of Rock and Ice, Wright wrote a training article about the usefulness of gymnastics, stating, “Of all training programs that one might find, few seem as well adaptable or more suitable to bringing true athletic ideas to climbing.”
Wright worked as a researcher in a molecular genetics lab at the University of Colorado. According to the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s website, he was “one of the leading experts on the enzyme xanthine oxidoreductase,” an enzyme that regulates inflammation. The site continues, in a special tribute, “In science and in climbing, we will picture Richard Wright alone on a thread of rope making something new from the unknown.”
Richard, 61, died in Lakewood, Colorado, after a three-year battle with Hodgkins lymphoma. He leaves his wife, Anna Brandenburg-Schroeder.
Read: Art’s Spar Ordeal – Coming Down the Hard Way, by Richard Wright
Angus Moloney, 22, September 26 
Angus Moloney was a man in motion—always climbing rocks and trees, jumping on a trampoline, doing flips, parkour, springboard and platform diving, or walking a slackline. He saw the environment around him as a Rube Goldberg engineering challenge.
Whether he was at the climbing gym or outdoors facing a wall of rock, Angus planned and executed climbs with a calculating eye. From his first technical climb at Pilot Mountain, North Carolina when he 12 years old, his hands and feet moved gracefully over rock, blending his kinesthetic memory of balance and poise with his intuitive sense of how and where to reach and grab.
In contrast to Angus’s perpetual motion, he had a calm and centered spirit, connected to his purpose. He was determined to change the world, to make it a better place, and to energize people with fresh and positive ideas. At 22 years old, he was well on his way to making contributions to environmental and social justice issues. He opened his own internet business in 2014, which promoted emerging entrepreneurs in the areas of sustainability, mental and physical health, and learning.
Angus Britton Emmett Moloney was born on Friday 13 August 1993, in Salida, Colorado. His love of nature and his creative work-around approach to life grew from his childhood with his family in Colorado, living off the grid in the mountains above 10,000 feet.
He passed away on Saturday, 26 September 2015, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall when hiking in Gregory Canyon, Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado. Though he was an avid rock climber, his death was not the result of a radical free solo attempt, equipment failure, or falling rock but rather a missed foot placement while scrambling above the beaten Saddle Rock Trail.
In honor of his bright and beautiful spirit, Angus’s family and friends began the Stardust-Startup Factory—a 501(c)(3) to maintain and grow his contribution to the world.
—Laura Jean Palmer Moloney and Camille Babington
Editors’ note: Such a list is never comprehensive. We may have inadvertently left out other climbers who died in 2016. Please add your own remembrances about any other—or the following—climbers in the comments. We welcome your additions, comments and images.
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