Editors’ note: Such a list is never comprehensive. We may have inadvertently left out other climbers who died this year. Please add your own remembrances about any other—or the following—climbers in the comments. We welcome your additions, comments and images.
Bill Putnam, 90, December 20
You gotta love a guy who nearly gets his dog into the American Alpine Club, back in the days when admission required resumes. Bill’s pooch, named Henry S. Pinkham, really had climbed many mountains in New England with him.
“The Bear,” outspoken, deeply engaged and generous within many communities, contrary and gregarious, died within the same year as his wife, Kitty Elizabeth Putnam, to whom he was devoted.
“Crusty on the outside, mushy on the interior,” said his longtime friend Jim McCarthy. McCarthy also noted that, in addition to Putnam’s many contributions to the climbing world, as sole trustee of the Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, Arizona, “he transformed the institution from a musty backwater research facility into one of the world's premiere astronomical observatories, with a very successful public outreach program.” The observatory was founded by his uncle Percival Lowell, astronomer and mathematician.
A member of the prominent Lowell family in Massachusetts, William Lowell Putnam III, who maintained homes there and in Flagstaff, died December 20 after hitting his head in a fall. Putnam was president of the American Alpine Club (AAC) from 1971-73 and its 30-year American delegate to the UIAA, also representing Canada for many years. He also served as vice president of the UIAA Council.
According to his bio on the AAC website, Putnam “made scores of first ascents in Western Canada” and produced several historical reference works on mountaineering there.
“William was a great friend of the UIAA and one of its staunchest supporters,” the UIAA president Frits Vrijlandt posted. "He spent many decades representing the United States of America and Canada at the UIAA, making many friends and contributing greatly to the organization.”
Putnam studied geology at Harvard, where he was president of the Harvard Mountaineering Club. During World War II he left his studies to volunteer in the elite ski and mountaineering corps known as the 10th Mountain Division, eventually sustaining a serious chest wound. According to wwllp.com, he received two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained and Silver and Bronze Stars for gallantry in action.
Putnam founded the Springfield Television Corporation, the first television station in Springfield, Massachusetts, and added two more stations. A broadcaster through his main years of service to the AAC, he was in 2001 inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
His books on varied topics included A Century of American Alpinism and (co-written with Andrew J. Kaufman) K2: The 1939 Tragedy.
Eric Bjornstad, 80, December 17
Most climbers know Eric Bjornstad for his classic comprehensive guidebook Desert Rock, but his first ascents ranged from the major desert spire Moses, in Taylor Canyon, Utah; to El Matador (later freed at 5.11) on Devil's Tower, Wyoming; to the Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse in British Columbia.
The rest of his life was at least as interesting and diverse as his climbs. The website for Adrift Adventures in Moab, where Bjornstad had lived since 1985 and had worked as a Jeep tour guide, states: “His early passions included poetry writing, chess, speed typing and classical music—playing both piano and oboe. He also sought physical challenges such as boxing, in which he excelled.”
Bjornstad spent years in the Northwest, running coffee and tea houses, and for a time also owned a tea house in Moab. The Adrift site lists his past work as a draftsman, piano salesman, photo processor, gardener, bartender, dump truck driver, tree topper and handyman at a sorority, “to mention only a few.” He also produced and sold etched glass window hangings depicting Anasazi art. He was married and divorced three times, and had five children.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Bjornstad lived in Seattle, where he taught climbing for the Seattle Mountaineers and began his alpine career. He and Fred Beckey, his best friend and climbing partner, co-authored the Climbers’ Guide to Leavenworth Climbing Areas.
Bjornstad, featured in our “Lifers” photo essay in Ascent 2013, made a first winter ascent of Mount Robson in British Columbia and the second winter ascent of the West Peak of Moose's Tooth in Alaska. His desert years began in the late 1960 and led to many FAs including of Eagle Rock Spire in Monument Valley, Arizona, Echo Tower in the Fisher Towers, and The Bride in Canyonlands. Over the years he extended his desert guidebooks to four volumes.
He spent his last years in a care facility, and died December 17.
Dave Pegg, 47, November 8
Dave Pegg of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, was all sweetness and talent, and 100 percent climber, a contributor to our world in myriad ways.
Dave was a first ascentionist, publisher, writer and head climbing-shoe reviewer at Rock and Ice, a familiar face in our offices and even more so at the local crags. A Yorkshire man by birth (you could hear it in his pronunciation of photo without the “t”), he first moved to Colorado from Sheffield, England, in 1996 to work for Climbing magazine. Five years later, he started Wolverine Publishing, writing, printing and distributing such high-quality color guidebooks as to elevate the whole field. Wolverine has 42 climbing guidebooks in print, as well as ski, cycling, hiking, kayaking and other books, and was a leader in early use of digital media.
In Western Colorado, focusing on Rifle Mountain Park, he put up roughly 100 routes, and was a leading developer at such outlying crags as Main Elk, the Fortress and West Fortress, Hogwarts and the Distillery.
He climbed as hard as 5.14, doing two of them—one in England, and The Gayness (5.14a) in Rifle, two decades apart, but is best known for his legion of high-quality FAs. Among those in England, the Yorkshire Ripper (5.13d) has gone down in lore. To thwart poaching efforts by the strong visitor Jean-Baptiste Tribout from France, Dave rapped down and smeared lip balm on the crux holds. He got the FA and Tribout the second ascent.
Dave’s routes in Rifle, perhaps 40 in total, were consistently well-thought-out, and ranged from 5.11 to hard 5.13. They include Das Fruit Machine (5.13a), Bloodhound (5.12c), and the route extensions Don’t Point That Thing at Me (5.13c) and Hang ‘Em Higher (5.12d).
He had, impressively, sent every climb (though not all the later extensions) at the 5.13-stacked stacked Project Wall, including Living in Fear (5.13d) as well as The Gayness.
Dave was gentle, humorous, animated and friendly to all. He was also spacy, and absent-mindedly might leave his dog Bellatrix behind at the crag… or depart his house with the teakettle on … again. He was the heart of Rifle, starting its annual cleanup and serving as head of its Climbers’ Coalition.
Struggling with depression, Dave took his life November 8, despite great care and concern from those close to him. His memorial was crammed with about 300 climbers, including from as far away as England.
For some, Dave will always be defined by the five-part “Living with a VSC” (Very Serious Climber) series published intermittently in Rock and Ice from 2005 to 2013 by Fiona Lloyd about his obsessiveness yet cheer and guilelessness.
You can read a long account of his life and nature, containing the best Dave Pegg story of all (hint: it involves a nuclear warhead), by Andrew Bisharat in our upcoming issue, No. 224.
Mark Weber, 54, November 3
Mark was a lifelong climber, backcountry skier, hiker, biker and pro photographer who published images with Rock and Ice among many other venues. He died on November 3 of a heart attack.
Weber had authored many of the routes and written the guidebook to the basalt playground of Dierkes Lake, Twin Falls, Idaho. His photographs also appeared in Nature’s Best Photography, Standup Journal, Outside, Sun Valley Guide, Outdoor Photographer, Climbing, Alpinist and Idaho Magazine.
Wrote magicvalley.com, “His legacy lives on through his images and his children, Jedidiah, Jessica and Elijah,” all of whom grew up as outdoorspeople.
Elijah, 29 and a strong climber, told Rock and Ice that one of his father’s mottos was, “A day on the couch is considered a day wasted.”
Mark’s friend Andrew Stone tells us: “Mark was quite simply the best climber that I ever roped up with. He taught me that the way to stay out of the funk of fear and self-doubt was just to get to climbing with no hesitation.”
Richard Harrison, 60, October 24
Richard Harrison lived and climbed in Las Vegas for 35 years, pioneering at least 100 routes there, but he left his mark far more widely: in Suicide-Tahquitz, Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Tahoe, with further ventures to big faces in Mexico.
The author of so many bold, hard routes in Red Rocks that any climber today will probably follow his path, Harrison was one of the original Stonemasters memorialized by the writer-climber John Long (who plans to write about him in our upcoming annual compendium, Ascent). Still, Harrison remains something of an unsung hero.
He, Long and Rick Accomazzo all went to high school in Upland, California, and learned to climb together.
“Ricky had all the talent,” John Long posted on Supertopo, “and Richard had all the commitment. I just talked loudly.”
Harrison’s routes in Red Rocks include Adventure Punks (5.10d), Cloud Tower (IV 5.12a), Buffalo Wall (V 5.11 A3), Lone Star (IV 5.10+) and Sergeant Slaughter (V 5.10 A2) with Paul Van Betten and others; Rock Warrior (III 5.10) with Jay Smith and Nick Nordblom; and the Woodrow (5.10- R) with John Long. In Yosemite he established the classic Electric Ladyland (VI A4 5.10a), named for a huge thunderstorm, with Gib Lewis and Rick Accomazzo on Washington Column, and bold early 5.10s such as Greasy But Groovy with Long and Accomazzo, Shake and Bake with Accomazzo, and Spooky Tooth with John Yablonski and Fred East. He, Long and Accomazzo did the first free ascent of Le Toit (5.11c), a multipitch aid line with a roof high on Tahquitz, in 1973, and Harrison and Long freed the big second pitch of Iron Cross (5.11) on Suicide. The two also put up Imaginary Voyage (5.10d) in Joshua Tree in 1977. At Lovers Leap and in the greater Tahoe area, Harrison climbed many fine routes, including Purple Haze (5.10d) with Jay Smith, also in 1977. Another landmark was the first free ascent of D7 (5.11) on the Diamond Face of Long’s Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, with John Bachar in 1977.
Harrison died unexpectedly October 24 only four days after his wife, Christina (“Tina”) succumbed to the depredations of a brain tumor. They had met 35 years ago in Yosemite, and leave a daughter, Lisa, 22, around whom the climbing community has rallied.
An obituary in the Las Vegas Review Journal states: “He pioneered rock climbing in Red Rock National Conservation Area, establishing some of the area's most popular routes that are enjoyed today by climbers from around the world. … Off the rock, Richard loved listening to punk rock music and all types of racing, especially Formula One. He dabbled in motorcycle racing and had a passion for Porsches. His success on the rock was matched in business. For more than 20 years he ran his thriving window cleaning business.”
Says Rick Accomazzo, “Whenever I caught up with him on the phone or in person over a 43-year time span, I’d ask about his family and what he had been doing. He’d chuckle and his response was always the same, ‘Family’s great and you know, the usual: been doing some new routes.’ Richard was dedicated to the climbing life like no one I’ve known, except [John] Bachar. Yet for how much he loved climbing, you got the contradictory sense that he never took it too seriously and appreciated the underlying absurdity of risking life and limb to struggle up some piece of rock. So he really couldn’t be bothered to spend time discussing himself or his climbs in the climbing media or guidebooks. The focus was always on the next climb, the next new route, preferably partnered by his wonderful daughter, Lisa.”
Ross Halverson, 31, September 7
Ross Halverson, 31, a fixture at the Vertical World climbing gym, Seattle, died September 7 in a rappelling accident on Mount Garfield in the Cascades.
Says his friend Tyson Schoene, “Ross was a beloved coach and outstanding routesetter. He spent all of his time in the mountains when he wasn’t mentoring young climbers. He was a very accomplished mountain runner, skier and climber. His hard work and dedication have influenced many in our community.
“It’s hard for me to explain what he meant to me and the rest of our climbing team. He was one of my best friends, my right-hand man, and the softer side of who I need to be. His commitment and passion were infectious. His legacy lives on in the kids he worked with. He is missed in our gyms every day.”
Ross Halverson, of North Bend, Washington, and a friend were rapping the 23-pitch route Infinite Bliss (5.10c R) in the face of encroaching darkness when the accident occurred. He missed a rappel station and possibly rappelled off the end of his rope, though his friends think that scenario unlikelygiven his habits of caution and double-checking, or he may have gone off it deliberately intending to down climb the last 15 feet. Whatever happened was an aberration.
Ann Vogel, whose daughter learned from Halverson, told the Kitsap Sun, “He was just a superb rock climber, as well as a superb youth coach.”
Brian McCray, 45, August 23
Brian McCray, 45, was known, in almost an underground way, as a great all-arounder. But upon his death, with his feats compiled in many tributes, his achievements were stunning: First 5.14, Proper Soul, in the New River Gorge, in the 1990s, among scores of still testy and rarely repeated routes that brought the area to a whole new level. Seven El Cap speed records (including four first one-day ascents, one being the Wall of Early Morning Light) with Ammon McNeeley in the early 2000s. The FA of Isaac's Stigmata (VI 5.11R A4+), Zion, in 2000, and the 1999 Sauron's Eye (VI 5/10+R A4) in Red Rocks, ultimately completed solo after McCray earlier rescued his partner, Warren Hollinger, when he broke his back. Hundreds of sport routes. The FA, in 1999, of the monster route The Useless Emotion (VII 5.9 WI4 A4), the Bear's Tooth, Ruth Glacier, Alaska, with Jim Bridwell and others.
“It was McCray’s first alpine climb; he led more than half the climb,” reported the American Alpine Journal.
McCray had learned to climb in the early 1980s in Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, and from then on, he climbed all the time: everything, anything.
Wrote Kenny Parker of Waterstone sports store, Fayetteville, West Virginia: “Flyin’ Brian McCray was the most motivated, psyched climber I have ever known. A lot of climbers are good, as in talented, and a lot are just so motivated they look good. Flyin’ Brian was both. His determination was inspiring. …. He just had a sense about him that he could do it all, which he basically went on to do.”
McCray was a climbing-shoe re-soler and rigger. Florence Rogers, his partner in Las Vegas, his home and latest climbing venue, says, “At the time of his death he could pick and choose rigging gigs while ‘saving soles’ out of a workshop attached to a house he’d expertly rehabbed out of foreclosure. The same tenacity he applied in climbing was evident in anything he put his mind and hands to. He built an E-Bay business buying and selling esoteric books, art and specimen minerals. He had become a stealth purchaser of up and coming artists in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. From time to time he made his own paintings. He always had a book—or four—on the go ranging from Cormac McCarthy to Christopher Hitchens to some ancient treatise on alchemy. His own accounts of his climbing trips revealed a compelling storytelling voice and a window into his mischievous sense of humor. … and he could hold a conversation with absolutely anyone.
“He was a renaissance man, constantly curious and ultimately fearless in the face of death itself.”
McCray took his own life.
Brad Parker, 36, August 16
Brad Parker asked his girlfriend, Jainee Dial, to marry him on the summit of Yosemite’s Cathedral Peak. She said yes. Since he was training for a bigger climb to be undertaken with his friend Jerry Dodrill, Parker carried on alone and ran the three miles to Matthes Crest. He died in a fall while soloing the 5.7 traverse.
Dial wrote to Rock and Ice, “He was a caring friend, a passionate yoga teacher, a healer, and a bad-ass outdoorsman with a deep commitment to living boldly and loving deeply.”
Parker, 36, had climbed all over the world, and in 2012 was featured on the cover of California Climbing Magazine. According to The Press Democrat, Parker took two years after college to travel, going to destinations like Thailand and New Zealand. His Facebook page is crowded with photos of him surfing.
His closest friends spoke to his commitment to making the world a better place. They and family have created a foundation in his honor that organizes projects that support community wellness, outdoor adventure, and environmental stewardship. Visit the B-Rad Foundation.
Cole Kennedy, 24, July 14
Cole Kennedy, a graduate in physics from Colorado College, was an ardent climber and skier, his Facebook page overtaken by photos of him and friends bouldering and descending snowy summits.
Kennedy, 24, died July 14 in an ice avalanche on Pirámide de Garcilaso in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range Peru, devastating his friends and fellow climbers in Colorado Springs, where he lived after growing up in Castle Rock.
“As a mom, I can tell you he was outrageously smart, good-looking, level-headed, and funny with a sarcastic edge,” Karen Kennedy wrote to Rock and Ice. “He loved traveling, climbing, skiing, cooking, IPA beer and pub trivia.”
Cole’s father, Jim, wrote, “Cole was really focused on his climbing over the last year or so. I remember how proud he was when he redpointed his first 5.13b and finished a V11 boulder project he was working on.”
After the accident friends posted eulogies on Cole’s Facebook wall that testified to his humor, loyalty and adventurous spirit.
“As a climber, you were always cool under pressure,” wrote John Collis, Cole’s best friend and his climbing partner when he died. “I could always count on you to have a cool head whether you were on a route with me or in front of an administrator who was looking for answers about how a keg could have found its way onto the roof of an academic building.”
“He lives on through the people he touched,” Hannah Marshall, Cole’s girlfriend, wrote. “Through snarky one-liners, and our callused, swollen and bleeding fingertips, through every IPA we drink and pool game we play, every peak we summit, and, perhaps, in alphabetically organized record collections.”
Richie Copeland, 50, May 18
On May 18, Richard Copeland, a beloved Yosemite regular, fell to his death traversing an exposed ledge to reach the Southwest Face of Liberty Cap in Yosemite.
Joe Reidhead, Copeland’s partner that day, recalls this line in a letter Copeland wrote a week before his death: "Climbing is about lifestyle even more than the climbing itself!"
“Rich lived these words,” Reidhead tells Rock and Ice in an e-mail. “He knew that life is fun, even when suffering. The last words Rich said were, with a laugh and his infectious smile, ‘I love thrashing through manzanita.’ His love for friends, adventure, teaching, and the world was limitless. A true hero and hardman in an age when there are too few, he endeavored to inspire this love and joy for life in everyone.”
Among Copeland’s accomplishments were two winter attempts on the North Face of Mount Hooker, over 20 ascents of El Capitan, and these first ascents on Yosemite's big walls: the Direct North Face (VI 5.8 A3, 2012) on Porcelain Wall with Erik Sloan, Good Ol' Boy (V 5.8 A2, 2012) on Camp 4 Wall with Sloan, and Call of the Yeti (VI 5.8 A2, 2014) with Gabriel Mange and Luke Smithwick on Lost Brother. He made a solo ascent of Zenith on Half Dome (VI 5.8 A4, 2004). Rich also did “countless” ascents on the sandstone and limestone of southern Missouri and southern Illinois.
Copeland was a dedicated mentor, taking many “newbies” under his wing. He worked at the Montecito Sequoia Lodge in Sequoia National Forest, teaching climbing, mountain biking, snowboarding, and other activities to youth and adults.
As a devoted steward, he replaced hundreds of anchors and worked to maintain trails. He was one of those behind setting up the controversial but popular El Cap Swing, done with his usual flair in orange bell-bottom jeans.
From Reidhead: “Richard Copeland. Rich. Richie. The Dude. Carni Man. Raspberry Crumblecake. We miss you. Your death extinguished a blazing light in this world. But I know it burns on another wall. I only hope that you brought enough cam shackles and bear grease.”
Adrianne Wadewitz, 37, April 8
Adrianne Wadewitz was a prominent Wikipedia editor who provided over 50,000 edits to the articles about 18th-century female writers and had authored 36 “featured” articles, in which other Wikipedians choose a work to published on the home page of the website.
Yet in addition to photos of her teaching classes about Wikipedia and feminist scholarship, her Twitter page includes videos of the young climber Ashima Shiraishi and links to Wadewitz’s detailed article on Steph Davis, climber and BASE-jumper.
Adrianne, 37, died April 8 after sustaining a head injury in a fall 10 days earlier in Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Sage Ross, a Wikipedia colleague, wrote on her blog after the accident that her friend had been “thoughtful and incredibly sharp.”
“I remember her unfailing kindness and generosity, indomitable work ethic, and voracious appetite for knowledge.”
Wadewitz had begun climbing two years prior, taking classes indoors, continually working with an instructor to improve. A Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Occidental College, she took the lessons she learned climbing— the importance of having goals, embracing failure and celebrating successes—back to her students.
“[O]ne of the most empowering outcomes of my year of climbing has been the new narrative I can tell about myself,” she wrote on her blog. “I am no longer ‘Adrianne: scholar, book lover, pianist, and Wikipedian.’ I am now ‘Adrianne: scholar, book lover, pianist, Wikipedian, and rock climber.’”
Matt Hegeman, 38; Eitan Green, 28; Mark Mahaney, 26; Uday Marty, 40; Erik Britton Kolb, 34; May 31.
On May 31, a group of six climbers, apparently swept down by icefall or avalanche in the night, fell more than 3,300 feet down the steep north slope of Mount Rainier. The Alpine Ascents International group had been climbing the challenging Liberty Ridge.
For our news story on the accident, click here.
In August, three bodies were recovered after they were spotted during a training flight. They were identified as Mark Mahaney, 26, of St. Paul, Minnesota; Uday Marty, 40, of Singapore; and John Mullally, 40, of Seattle. Also lost were Erik Britton Kolb, of Brooklyn, New York, and the two guides, Matthew Hegeman, 38, of Truckee, California, and Eitan Green, 28.
Hegeman, the lead guide, had climbed the mountain more than 50 times, as well asin Patagonia, the Alps, and Yosemite, where he had done El Capitan five times, once solo. He was an AMGA-certified rock and alpine guide practicing in the Sierra, the Cordillera Blanca in Peru, Mount Vinson in Antarctica, and Aconcagua in Argentina.
In a eulogy, his friend Jonathan Spitzer celebrated “the laughter, the adventures, and of course the bullshitting we used to do while drinking whiskey. [Matt’s death] has made me remember the time we road-tripped through the Utah desert where the memories are not so much about the beautiful desert sandstone towers we climbed but more about the friendship we had created. I thought about the first time I met Matt and I can still see that big friendly smile and hear the sound of his voice telling funny stories.”
Eitan Green, the other guide, was a 2009 magna cum laude graduate of Colby College who won the Anthropology prize. As a senior, he wrote an honors thesis discussing the global climbing community.
Eitan had previously guided rock with Acadia Mountain Guides, and ice with the International Mountain Climbing School in North Conway, New Hampshire. He had climbed Rainier over 40 times, and in the Alaska Range and Patagonia.
A remembrance on http://www.wbur.org discussed his intelligence (including social) and meticulous preparedness as a mountain guide, and told this story:
“When his mother turned 60, Eitan took her on a backpacking trip through the Northern Cascades. He chose a path and a pace so she wouldn’t feel winded. He wasn’t fond of level hiking himself—too horizontal for him—but he wanted her, like everyone else he led, to feel sure-footed in the midst of wild beauty.”
See our obituary here.
Mark Mahaney, a quality-assurance analyst for the high-tech company GovDelivery Inc., was an avid climber. His Instagram account is packed with images of him on technical ice flows, and he had climbed Rainier by another route in 2013 as well as Denali in Alaska, according to statements by his family, but wanted to return to Rainier and complete the technical Liberty Ridge. His family in a written statement called climbing “his true passion in life.”
In a Facebook post before the ascent, for which he trained by biking 20 to 30 miles a day, according to his home newspaper, the Star Tribute, he wrote, “Nothing will be easy on this climb.”
He was a member of Vertical Endeavors climbing gym in Saint Paul.
Uday Marty, was an Intel Corp vice president, overseeing microchip-manufacturing operations in Southeast Asia. “Love the mountains yet live in Singapore,” he wrote on Twitter, while Intel called him “an accomplished engineer and manager.” An award-winning employee, he had been with Intel for 18 years. He described himself “an active mountain climber/hiker/runner and love dabbling in various languages.”
Bill Calder, Intel spokesperson, told the Associated Press, that Marty was "widely loved and respected at this company.”
"He was a guy with a great attitude, and he always had a big smile," Calder said.
John Mullally, was a longtime Microsoft employee and a rock and ice climber, boulderer, biker and runner. His wife, Holly, tells Rock and Ice that he had attained three previous summits of Rainier (twice on the Disappointment Cleaver route, once on the Emmons/Winthrop route, also Aconcagua via the Polish Glacier, Mount Baker twice, Mount Adams, and Rainier and Stuart each three times.
Says his wife, Holly, “John was happiest on the trail. When [daughter] Isabella was 4 and Melanie was 1, we took them backpacking. We had to carry huge packs, as Melanie herself had to be carried. John loved the Cascades and backpacked all over.”
Holly and both daughters are climbers. John and Holly climbed Mount Stuart together in a day, via Cascadian Couloir. “He always said it was one of his favorite climbs ever.”
Erik Kolb, a financial manager at American Express, was an experienced hiker and an adventurous individual who had traveled extensively to places as disparate as Jordan and Tanzania, with a trip planned to Peru.
His family sent us this statement: "Erik was a smart, gentle and generous man whose warmth and kindness touched the lives of all who knew him. He was an avid outdoorsman with a passion for new and exciting experiences."
He lived with his wife, Lisa.
Sean Leary, 38, March 13
Sean “Stanley” Leary died March 13 in a wingsuiting accident in Zion National Park, Utah.
Leary, whose website gives the motto “Live for Adventure,” was one of the great climbers of his generation, possessor of five El Cap speed ascents among a total of 70-plus ascents of the monolith, and hard trad and sport FAs around the world.
"In some ways Sean was a hard guy for me to climb with because he was so good,” Yosemite’s Chris McNamara tells Rock and Ice. “It was too easy to let him take more than his fair share of pitches because he was just so much faster. But he was so modest, it always felt like we were climbing together, even though he was so much better on the bold and free stuff.”
Among Leary’s multitude of climbs are the first free ascent of Easy Rider (VI 5.12), El Capitan, Yosemite, with Dean Potter; a 20-pitch first ascent on the Great Cross Pillar, Sam Ford Fjord on Baffin Island; an FA of the East face of La Espada, Torres del Paine, Patagonia; and the FFA of the Bonington-Whillans Route (Grade V 5.11), Torre Central, Chile.
He climbed three El Capitan Grade VI routes—the Nose, Salathé and Lurking Fear, with Alex Honnold in under 24 hours in 2010, and two years earlier had linked Half Dome and Freerider (Grade VI 5.12d) on El Capitan, with Leo Houlding.
He was an integral part of a 5.12 first ascent of Cerro Autana, Venezuela, in 2012, and, the following year, the FA of the Antarctic peak Ulvetanna, both times with Leo Houlding, Jason Pickles et al.
Says Russ Mitrovich, big-wall and expedition partner: "He had this raw ability. When he put in the first speed ascent of Wyoming Sheep Ranch, he [did] 20 feet of hooking, got impatient, then decided to free the rest of the A4 pitch. Once he forgot the large cams on Native Son and had to free the offwidth without gear for 100 feet. …. Sean had a natural artistic talent that shone through in all his pursuits, from his garden at home to his incredible gymnastics on the rock."
While many people these days climb hard, Leary seemed to climb hard in any conditions, to an outrageous extent.
Alastair Lee, U.K. filmmaker and expeditionary, tells us: "There seemed to be a direct relationship between worsening conditions and Stanley's performance. The more hostile it got, the more Stanley would rise to the occasion. [On Baffin Island] Stanley [drew] on all his superman powers to climb 5.12d in the freezing dampness. One of the most memorable pitches I have ever filmed. I was filling my trousers from the exposure.”
See Rock and Ice issue number 221 (October 2014) for a feature article by James Lucas on Sean Leary.
Leary was married to Annamieka Simmons Leary. Their son, Finn, was born after his death.
Charlie Porter, 63, February 23
The New York Times called Charlie Porter, who died in Punta Arenas, Chile, “a mystery man.” He was the outsider who arrived to take Yosemite by storm, in the early 1970s putting up major El Cap routes: the Shield, Zodiac, Tangerine Trip, Grape Race and Mescalito.
He climbed Mount Asgard, Baffin Island, solo in 1975, and in 1976 became the first person to solo the Cassin Ridge on Denali in 1976.
He was a boat captain, boat builder and climate-change scientist, who, according to The New York Times, “made botanical and oceanographic surveys of the South American coastline, guiding visiting scientists through the maze of Chilean fjords and channels in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. In recent years, he helped conduct climatological studies—setting up weather stations and glacier monitoring networks—in affiliation with the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.”
Click here to read our obituary and an in-depth interview.
Chad Kellogg, 42, February 14
Kellogg’s last decade was peppered with tragedy. In April of 2007, Kellogg’s wife, Lara Karena (Biteniecks) Kellogg, a climber, scientist and Rainier guide, died in a rappelling accident on the Northeast Ridge of Mount Wake, the Ruth Gorge, Alaska. Her death was not made public for five days, until Kellogg could be reached where he was climbing in the Sichuan Province of Western China. One of his closest friends, Joe Puryear, was also killed in the mountains, in Tibet three years ago. Kellogg had lost his brother to an early death and he himself survived colon cancer, diagnosed just months after his wife’s death.
Kellogg, from Seattle, and his friend Jens Holsten of Leavenworth, Washington, had climbed the Afanassieff route on Fitz Roy in Patagonia and were descending at night when they pulled a stuck rappel rope, dislodging a block that hit Kellogg.
Dan Nordstrom, owner of Outdoor Research, called Kellogg “an inspiration.”
“I've long believed one of the things that differentiates most elite athletes from the rest of us,” Nordstrom’s post continued, “is the mental ability to find joy in mind-boggling amounts of training. Chad's training was truly legendary around the Seattle climbing community. I would see him at Vertical World doing 20 laps of overhanging 5.11+, and then he'd mention that he was about to do Rainier three times in a row—from White River up the Emmons glacier to the summit to Camp Muir and Paradise and back and then back again, 28 hours or so. Seriously.”
A onetime climbing ranger on Mount Rainier, Kellogg was first to climb that mountain in sub-five hours.
Mike Gauthier, chief of staff in the superintendent’s office in Yosemite National Park, recalls meeting Chad in a first-aid class when both were teenagers, then seeing him often out cragging. “Finally in 1996 I convinced him to become a climbing ranger. We had an incredible team or climbers/rangers for about five years at Rainier.” (One was Lara.)
Kellogg, like Alex Lowe, Conrad Anker and Denis Urubko before him, won the Khan Tengri speed competition (2003); and he was first to climb Denali’s West Buttress round-trip in sub-24 hours. He tried three times for speed records on Mount Everest, and intended a fourth effort.
Kellogg’s many alpine climbs included: the FAs of Pangbuk Ri, Nepal, 2007; the Black Crystal Arete on Kichatna Spire, Alaska, 2005 (with Puryear); the Southwest Ridge of Siguniang in China, 2008; and the Medicine Buddha on the South Face of Aconcagua, 2009.
After his Everest attempt in May 2013, Kellogg admitted his disappointment in a blog post, but adding that he was happy to be healthy and coming home. “[T]he only thing you can hope to control in this life is your mind. … There will be other climbs and trips to be made because I made the right decisions. I have all my fingers, toes and appendages. I learned and progressed as an athlete and as a human being. After all, life is about living for each moment. I do not have any regrets, as each moment is a gift.”
He left his parents and family; his partner, Mandy Kraus; and a hard-hit Seattle climbing community.
See our news report at the time here.
Jay Renneberg, 43, January 29
“Jay was above and beyond generous, kind, and stoked to help a college kid he hardly knew,” wrote one Supertopo poster. “My sincerest condolences to everyone who had the pleasure to meet such a superb human being.”
Stoke is a word commonly used, yet almost not strong enough, to describe “Ghoulwe Jay,” part of a California climbing group or club that once, in a late-night moment, melded the words “couloir” and “gulley” to form the name. Renneberg, a Sacramento-based climber, was the type of swashbuckling character of whom novels are written and movies made. He won and lost fortunes, drove fast, and entertained hosts of climbers with his humor and tales. He once rescued two climbers while out on a casual solo day on Washington’s Column. Yet as high-spirited as he was, he was alone in many ways, and in the end chose to end his life. His adventuresome spirit is captured in this obituary by Greg Crouch.
Click here to read more on Jay Renneberg.
Mark Hesse, 63, January 27
Mark Hesse, a lifelong rock and mountain climber, died January 27 in a fall in the Boulder Rock Club climbing gym. He climbed landmark routes such as Tulgey Woods (sandbag 5.9) at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, as early as 1972, with many FAs in the Utah desert and South Platte. In the mountains he soloed Denali’s South Face and was part of the bold and committing alpine-style first ascent of the Northeast Buttress of Kangtega (22,251) in Nepal with Jay Smith, Craig Reason and Wally Teare. Yet he is best known for his incredible stewardship efforts.
A longtime resident of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Mark saw early on that climbing’s popularity would to create a need for systematic cliff maintenance and trailbuilding, and made himself a leader in such work. In 1982 he founded the American Mountain Foundation to support expeditionary climbing, and 15 years later changed the group’s name to the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, and its focus to education, sustainability and organized maintenance of climbing areas.
Two years ago he retired and moved to Boulder, and immediately began helping with Access Fund trailwork efforts there.
Rebecca Reed Jewett, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, told the Boulder Daily Camera: "He loved being in the field working on projects. He would spend all day moving rocks and material, and even when the rest of us thought we put in a good day 's work and it was time to go back to camp and eat dinner, Mark would stay until dark. He was incredibly passionate about the work and just loved the outdoors."
See our obituary here.