Ken Wallator, 52, Between December 14 and 21
Very few people forget meeting Ken Wallator, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Viking of a man who always looked as if he’d just returned from some epic voyage. I met him in 1990, as Ken was in Jasper’s Astoria Bar unwrapping a pair of pink double-plastic climbing boots that had just arrived in the mail. He was smiling as he put them on, showing them off while explaining to the many perplexed onlookers that the boots were going to take him up frozen waterfalls and icy north faces that winter.
Unbeknownst to most people in the bar that night, Ken at only 23 had already established himself as an up-and-coming climber in the Canadian Rockies. Ken had grown up without a father, but his kindly neighbors Ben and Cia Gadd had taken him under their wing, inviting him out on climbing days along with their two sons, Toby and Will. In Ken’s youth he scaled a plethora of rock cliffs, frozen waterfalls and alpine routes.
In March 1988 Ken and Tom Thomas made the first ascent of a grade V alpine route up the north face of Storm Mountain, a winter ascent that caught the attention of such luminaries as Barry Blanchard, who saw Ken as a rising star on the alpine scene. A few months later Ken was part of the first ascent team, with Tim Friesen and Charles Scott, to put up an alpine route on the south face of McArthur Peak in Alaska. Wallator and Friesen then teamed up to climb the East Ridge of Mount Logan in only six days, a fast time for that era. The following year, Wallator, Thomas and G. McCormick put a new route up the north face of the remote Mount Clemenceau in a 16-day push. Over the decades-long span of his career, Ken established numerous waterfall ice first ascents in the Canadian Rockies.
Barry eventually got to meet and climb with Ken, their first foray being a three-day tour de force where they covered a huge amount of terrain. In February of 1991, they skied across Hector Lake to Orion Falls, then flew in to Mount Assiniboine, climbed the North Face, and then skied out.
Strapping though he was, Ken earned the nickname “Mountain Goat.” He seemed to be in touch with some elemental force, as if a part of the terrain he moved through. Adverse conditions, rather than slowing him down, seemed to light up some fire within. Many of his partners had a hard time keeping up.
Ken lived his life with a burning intensity, and believed alpinism was the purest expression of his being.
“Ken was the consummate alpinist,” Barry recalls, “who understood all aspects of that game. He had put in a lot of time, dedication and hard work to master his alpinism. He was so capable, so solid, and so incredibly strong.”
Ken and I started climbing together in early 1992. For the next two winters, we lived full time on the Icefields Parkway, climbing frozen waterfalls and living out of my blue Ford Ranger. It was during this time that I got to see that the smiling man I had met in the bar was actually a complicated figure plagued by dark demons. Although Ken was at peace in the mountains, despair lurked around every corner. Our relationship alternated between the lightness of children playing among the peaks and the struggles of a couple who were equally tormented by inner darkness.
Ken and I eventually went our separate ways, but we always stayed in touch. His darkness seemed to grow with each passing year, so much so that it was painful to stay in contact with him.
Ken always told me he would go into the mountains one day and never return. On December 14, he went into the mountains for the last time. There, in the arms of the landscape that had given him solace from a world of pain he did not know how to escape, he ended his own life.
Also see an obituary for Ken Wallator that appeared on Gripped.com.
Brad Gobright, 31, November 27
November 15, 2015: I had just moved to Boulder, Colorado, and though I had arrived at midnight the evening before, Brad Gobright woke me up bright and early to give him a belay on Cheating Reality. It was a fiercely cold morning, but the sun shone strongly. Sleep-deprived, I struggled to keep up with Brad’s pace as he rattled on about beta and gear, his stoke fueling him up the steep hike into the Flatirons.
That stoke started young. Brad began climbing at 7 years old. His parents would take him to the nearby REI every week so he could climb on the store’s rock wall. He then moved on to gym climbing, getting yelled at by the staff for intentionally taking massive whippers. After a series of epics in the Sierra and Joshua Tree during his high school years, Brad took off to live in Yosemite and work for the concessionaire. He was only supposed to stay for a season, but Brad never really left. His devotion to climbing led him to ditch his job as a rooms keeper and take up residence in the boulders, becoming a familiar face during the shoulder seasons. Outside of Valley season, Brad lived out of his Honda Civic, enabling him to climb anywhere he wanted. He funded his adventures with odd jobs he picked up during the winter seasons.
Brad’s growing dedication and intense focus were hard not to admire. He quickly began to check off accomplishments most climbers would have been happy to retire on: free soloing the Rostrum, linking big walls in a day, running speed laps on the Grand Wall in Squamish and the Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon, establishing the Free Heart Route with Mason Earle on El Capitan, ticking off increasingly difficult trad routes like China Doll and Desert Solitaire.
On November 15, Brad was able to add Cheating Reality to that list. A tricky 5.14a R that climbs the back side of the Devil’s Thumb, it offers sparse gear and both delicate and powerful sequences. I’m still convinced he sent the route because he didn’t trust me to catch a large, runout fall in my tired state. I’ll never forget how after he stuck the powerful, overhung move that had been holding him back, and teetered over the edge onto a delicate slab, Brad let out a loud cheer and yelled down, “O.K., so this is the part I was telling you about. If I fall, just run backwards!” and laughed before tiptoeing his way up the runout 5.12 slab to the anchor.
As we hiked down, Brad told me about the frozen-yogurt place he really liked: They had great flavors and didn’t care how many sample cups you took. He told me about his job, bussing at the St. Julian, and how although it wasn’t the best job, he really liked everyone he worked with. We chatted about the TV show “Archer,” Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (Brad’s second-favorite book, behind Stephen King’s It), and whether we should have pizza or burritos for dinner (we had cheeseburgers). We petted dogs and chatted with other climbers we bumped into. Brad would ask them what they were climbing, and no matter the difficulty, he responded that it sounded “sick” and listened intently to their recaps, offering advice only when asked. The juxtaposition of what Brad had just climbed with the normalcy of our conversations never struck me. He was just a friendly, genuine dude who loved climbing, and did so with no ego.
The following season was pivotal to Brad’s climbing career. Cheating Reality was filmed for “Safety Third,” a film directed by Cedar Wright and Taylor Keating that centered on Brad and his free solo of Hairstyles and Attitudes in Eldorado Canyon. He negotiated his first paid sponsorship. He broke his back in a fall, only to make an astoundingly fast recovery and climb Golden Gate on El Cap four months later.
From there, Brad’s career only kept going up. He completed dream routes like Carbondale Shortbus, a striking line by Hayden Kennedy. He broke the Nose speed record on El Capitan in Yosemite with Jim Reynolds, and freed El Corazon the season after, dubbing it as his hardest climb to date. More proud lines, more films, more talks, and more features in magazines followed.
Before Brad left for El Potrero Chico, Mexico, this past November, he insisted he and I have dinner to catch up. Though he had become a name buzzed about in the climbing community, nothing had changed. We talked about shows, Brad told me about the A.I. podcast he had just listened to, and we debated pizza versus burritos (we had curry). Brad told me about his past desert road trip and some goals he had for the upcoming season. I told him about a 5.9 I had climbed in Joshua Tree the weekend before that I was proud of. In true Brad fashion, his face lit up as he listened to the story, concluding that it was, indeed, “sick.” It didn’t matter that my climb was nowhere near as difficult as the things he had climbed: Climbing was climbing, and if you were stoked, Brad was stoked. He was excited to share that passion in a new venture of teaching and guiding, something he had been dipping his toes into in the last year.
Brad fell in a rappelling accident off El Sendero Luminoso in El Potrero Chico on November 27, four years and some change after that morning on Cheating Reality. The following days were rainy and foggy and blended together in indescribable sorrow and disbelief. Alix Morris, a longtime friend of Brad’s, says, “Losing Brad is like someone chopping your arm off. It’s abrupt, confusing, permanent, and life-compromising… Eventually we will learn to move through life without that arm or him, with joy even, but his physical disappearance will be just as obvious as a person missing an arm—always present. Unlike other mysterious and elusive Valley giants, Brad was the guy next door, always around and engaged. His relatable charm made him a friend to everyone. Whether you were close to him or some heckler loitering alongside in the cafeteria, you knew Brad.”
Brad will be missed by his parents, Pam and Jim Gobright, his sister, Jill Gobright, the rest of his family, his friends, and the climbing community in its entirety.
Andy Pollitt, 56, November 13
Andy Pollitt was born in Prestatyn, North Wales, in a small, close-knit village and was introduced to climbing at school by Andy Boorman, one of his teachers. He was immediately hooked, and the two Andys would go on to become lifelong friends. Following his very short climbing apprenticeship, and over the course of the 1980 and early 1990s, Andy Pollitt went on to become one of Britain’s iconic climbers, pushing standards wherever he went. He made early repeats of legendary routes and established cutting-edge first ascents of his own. In 1992, after 44 days of attempts spread over three trips to Australia across two years, he finally redpointed Wolfgang Güllich’s route Punks in the Gym (probably the world’s first F8b+/ 5.14a) at Mount Arapiles, after which he gave up climbing for good. That was when our climbing community lost Andy. We are not really sure why, but being Andy the climber was no longer what he wanted.
That is only part of the story. For those watching, Andy Pollitt had it all. As I wrote as publisher of his autobiography, he had the looks, and he starred in all the big roles in the 1980s and 1990s—on the iconic British rock faces of Tremadog, Pen Trwyn, the big Gogarth climbs, Raven Tor and in cult Australian adventures. Alongside co-stars such as Jerry Moffatt, John Redhead and Malcolm “HB” Matheson, he brought us sexy climbing—gone were the beards, the woolly socks and the fiber pile of yore. Andy was all skin-tight pink Lycra, vests and brooding looks. But what was behind the legend? The self-doubt, ups, downs, the drinking, the cigarettes, the womanizing, the injuries, the loss of a father and the trouble that brings, and a need for something—for recognition, a release. For Andy that meant more drinking, more reflection, bigger runouts.
His climbing achievements are legendary—the second ascent of John Redhead’s psychological testpiece The Bells, The Bells!, and the FA’s of Skinhead Moonstomp and The Hollow Man (the first F8 in Wales) at Gogarth in Wales, Boot Boys and The Whore of Babylon at Raven’s Tor, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door on the gritstone of the UK. In the Grampians of Australia he did Rage, a new start to Serpentine, and the bold sport FA World Party. And, at Arapiles, the route that broke him and robbed the climbing world of a star—Punks in the Gym.
After the climbing Andy went on to just be Andy; he maintained strong friendships and family ties, wrote his candid and even cautionary memoir Punk in the Gym (published by Vertebrate in 2016), and made a life for himself in Melbourne, with a successful career in the rope-access industry. Then his health declined, and a stroke took him cruelly but mercifully quickly. Andy clung on long enough to donate organs.
I have a lasting memory of Andy sitting in Pete’s Eats: In it, he’s 20 years old, he’s at the top of world climbing, he’s relaxed, he’s lean and hot, he’s ambitious. Jerry Moffatt has described this Andy as “so driven, so forward-thinking about what was possible in climbing.” He was about to show a generation of youngsters how to be one of the world’s best climbers, through hard, beautiful climbing.
Legend Andy, thanks. We all looked good in tights there for a bit.
Shiho Kobayashi, 38, November 7
The first time I roped up with Shiho Kobayashi, we had just backpacked into the Wind River Range to climb Black Elk, a 1,400-foot 5.11. While I might’ve chosen a nice roadside crag to get to know a brand-new climbing partner, she was so psyched on this route I couldn’t say no. I knocked down rocks, and Shiho didn’t care. We had a blast that day: Two women, combined height barely over 10 feet, laughing all the way to the top of a big piece of granite.
Shiho ran on stoke. Blind to inconveniences like weather, degrees of fitness or six-hour drives at night, she wanted to do all the adventurous things. She had unwavering faith that we’d figure it out. We did. Sometimes things worked, but sometimes that propulsion meant backpacking our gear uphill for eight hours just to hang out in a rainy tent laughing for two days, talking philosophy and feminism.
“This place is amazing and no one’s here!” Shiho said to me once while we watched waterfalls pour down our objective. “So what if it’s too wet to climb anything? This is like someone’s best vacation ever!”
Hey Shiho, How about an alpine start on two hours sleep tomorrow? Wanna drive 12 hours to climb somewhere new with friends? Black Canyon in the middle of summer?
“Totally psyched,” she always said.
Shiho was also psyched on reading, puppies, pancakes and Jimmy Carter.
Her heart was as huge as her thirst for adventure. You could count on her. As a partner, as a friend. She talked about each of her friends as being the best person in the world. She believed in all of us.
She pushed me to try things before I thought we were ready because she believed we were awesome. While she could crush 5.12 sport climbs, it was the arduous backpack into the Sierras or dreams of the biggest choss-tower in the desert that fed her stoke. She’d suggest them all, the more obscure the better. We’d play a game where she’d suggest a crazy route and I’d reel her back into something one third more modest.
“Dude, Texas tower looks rad!” ….. became Monster Tower. (Both towers are in the Moab area. One is 800 feet and the other 600 feet.)
“I heard about a new route on the Great White Throne!’” … at 2,300 feet … became Tatooine, also in Zion, but 1,400 feet. And so on. Her zest led us to many a choss tower. She’d emerge from a chimney, covered in dirt at old rusty anchors, grinning and proclaiming the climbing was “really good!” I could not agree, but as she danced around on top in a skirt of big cams, hooting in her high-pitched pika voice, I’d assent.
“The pika is my spirit animal,” she told me once. I believe it. Adorable but fierce.
Shiho finished her Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Utah last spring and wanted to pursue cancer research, but the job offers never came and her student visa ran out. She’d been in the U.S. for over 15 years and loved America more than just about anyone I know, but had to leave.
Shiho moved back to Japan in spring 2019. Each time we talked to her, the transition seemed harder. She found adventure in city parks. No climbing. There was a typhoon. Job offers were thin. The last time I spoke with her, though, psych was high. She had accepted a job, gotten a bicycle. She had also found nearby sea cliffs she thought were beautiful and could explore for climbing potential. In her last video chat she showed us the cliffs, stoked.
“Maybe if I bolt them people would come to climb here—the locals would be psyched!”
She was found near the sea cliffs in Ubara, Japan. She died of head trauma from a fall. She was alone. Shiho is survived by her mother and sisters in Japan, and is fiercely missed by her large community of friends in Utah.
Wayne Merry, 89, October 29
Wayne Merry, best known as part of the first ascent of the Nose of El Cap, once wrote in Mariah magazine, 1978, of his long friendship with the outrageous Warren Harding: “We were rich beyond our wildest dreams but we didn’t know that. It was a time of testing, of experimentation, of discovering our limits. It was a golden time.”
Among his other peers were Gary Hemmings and Jerry Gallwas, and among his achievements were founding the Yosemite Mountaineering School and a long and distinguished career in search and rescue. He led the first ski traverse of the Brooks Range in 1972. He also published guides to first aid and wilderness rescue as well as chapters and articles in venues including Sunset, Outside (originally called Mariah), Backpacker and Mother Earth News.
Wayne was born in Fresno, California, but grew up in Calistoga as a flatlander. During the Korean War he saw service in the Navy in San Diego, near the San Jacinto Range, and became interested in rock climbing there. He learned technique, such as it was at the time, with other would-be rock rats at Tahquitz Rock.
As Wayne wrote on Supertopo, “Free climbing techniques were pretty primitive at the time, too. And the shoes were ridiculous.”
He became a regular in Yosemite Valley’s Camp 4 while going to college at San Jose State, where he was studying conservation education. One professor was the late Carl Sharsmith. Based on what I have seen, Wayne soaked up knowledge like a sponge. His mind was keen and his memory was excellent. He even wrote poetry with seemingly impossible rhymes using biological nomenclature.
An obituary in the Atlin Whisper in his eventual home town of Atlin, B.C., notes that he married 18-year-old Lucinda “Cindy” Barrison in 1959, when she was 18: “Her honeymoon was spent on a trip up the Inside Passage from Ketchikan in a wood and canvas kayak.”
Wayne joined the National Park Service and in the 1960s began a stint at Mt. McKinley National Park (now known as Denali), where he served as chief ranger.
To me, he was the quintessential ranger, eager to do his best for both the NPS and the users of the park. I met him when he was out of the Park Service and had become a Curry Company employee, running the Yosemite Mountain School and Guide Service in the late 1960s, employing later well-known climbers like Joe McKeown, Lloyd Price and Gary Colliver as instructors and guides.
Wayne’s involvement in Yosemite Search and Rescue (YOSAR) was due to the fact that his YMS staff was always called out on rescues by the NPS. In 1971 he got the rangers’ consent for a number of campsites in Camp 4 to be reserved for use by those approved by the leading Yosemite climber Jim Bridwell. Since then, YOSAR has become a model of professionalism.
His, Harding’s and George Whitmore’s long and difficult slog up the Nose in 1958 is well known. Here he gives an account on Supertopo of a much lesser-known climb, Worst Error on Elephant Rock with Harding:“We did some piddly things together in Yosemite and some decent ones. He sent me up the chimney on Worst Error – didn’t much care for chimneys or bats. I loved it. No pro with pins, but you could get back in the tight part and take a deep breath and stick like a panicked chuckwalla. Then he did the hard part. Thrashed for a long time at the crux. He had a great vocabulary. I kept waiting for the shock, with the standing hip belay of the time and my eyes like targets. Nice climb.”
In 1974 he and Cindy moved to Atlin, B.C., Canada, where he amassed a record in Canada as the foremost authority on SAR.
As described in the Atlin Whisper: “Wayne became volunteer Fire Chief and worked to get a fire house built and the department trained, equipped and modernized. He was the first official Unit Head of the B.C. ambulance service for Atlin, was later certified as a local Ambulance Instructor, and would eventually become Area Coordinator for the Provincial Emergency Program, a Search and Rescue Instructor, an Advanced Tracker, and a Deputy B.C. Fire Marshall.” He was also president of the Atlin Historical Society and the Protect Atlin Lake Society, and a volunteer leader with Rivers Without Borders.
For decades, he led the Search and Rescue and Northern Survival programs. “Wayne provided training to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Rangers, and Parks Canada, as well as Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories and Nunavut search and rescue organizations.” His awards and recognitions include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program, a Congressional Resolution honoring the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of El Capitan and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for service to Canada.
He is survived by Cindy, his brother Bill, his sons Scott and Kendall, and a grandson, Tristan.
Jennifer Shedden, 34, October 27
The quintessential Jenny that her friends all remember would find out about some objective in the mountains, and proceed to research every little detail, motivate a friend or two to join her, plan the entire trip out, and then show up late with an excessive amount of snacks, energy and excitement—excitement more than anything. During an adventure, whether climbing, skiing or something else, she would randomly break out hooting and hollering from joy.
Jenny was born July 12, 1985, in Santa Cruz, California. She graduated with honors from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo earning her B.S. and M.S. in civil engineering in 2014. Jenny worked at various engineering firms in San Jose and Santa Cruz before moving to Mammoth Lakes, California, where she worked for the town as an associate engineer. Improving the places she loved made Jenny’s work meaningful to her.
Throughout Jenny’s childhood, countless camping trips in California and Colorado instilled in her a deep love for the mountains. On her first backpacking trip with her family, at 14, she summited Clouds Rest and Half Dome. Jenny and her younger brother, Brian, went on annual backpacking trips in their early 20s, throughout Yosemite and the Sierras. Brian introduced Jenny to rock climbing while they were both attending Cal Poly. They later climbed Cathedral Peak, in Tuolumne Meadows. Jenny was instantly captivated—climbing combined so many of her passions and inclinations: mountains, high alpine terrain and geology, a problem-solving mindset, early morning starts, and forging connections with others.
Jenny nurtured and valued deep friendships. Her greatest joy was her family and her close friends, of all ages and from all walks of life. She was known for jumping on a plane last minute to visit a friend.
Her close friend Porter remembers one of their favorite trips, taking their level 1 avalanche certification course together: “I had very little experience in the snow, and was generally uncomfortable in it, but in true Jenny style, Jenny convinced me that I was going to love backcountry skiing and that the best way to learn was to jump in and take this avalanche class. The class ended on New Years Eve, so we convinced our classmates and instructor to go out dancing with us, where we proceeded to drink way too much. The next morning Jenny dragged me out of bed, after sleeping only a couple of hours, to go on my first-ever ski tour. We skinned out onto the Shuksan Arm next to the Mount Baker Ski Area. The snow was perfect waist-deep powder. At the bottom I was exhausted from my hungover struggle in the deep powder. I crawled back up to the cat track and Jenny looked at me with a huge smile. She was so proud of me. She always pushed me to dig deeper and to find a bit more courage.”
Over the years, Jenny became an accomplished alpinist and backcountry skier. Her passion for the mountains led her to leave Santa Cruz in the fall of 2018 and move to Mammoth Lakes. She climbed all over the world, from New Zealand to Mexico. Some of her proudest climbs include: Mount Rainier via the Kautz Glacier, Mount Baker, Mont Blanc in France, Pico De Orizaba in Mexico, the Third Pillar of Mount Dana, and various climbs in Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows. She also completed many alpine climbs in the Cascades and climbed often in the Owens River Gorge.
Jenny’s mother, Martha, recalls the scope of one of Jenny’s grandest adventures: “Last June I was planning to visit Jenny in Mammoth. She called me earlier in the week asking if I could arrive on Saturday instead of Friday. As her mom, I had become accustomed to these slight changes of plan. This time it was a quick two-day adventure with her friend Christina combining four of Jenny’s great loves—biking, skiing, camping and climbing. Highway 120 was still closed to traffic, but clear pavement into Tuolumne Meadows from Tioga Pass gave them bike access into the park. They planned to bike down to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead, ski up to the base of Cathedral peak, camp overnight, then climb Cathedral Peak, ski back to the road and bike out to Tioga Pass the next day.
“And they did it,” Martha says. “I will always remember greeting her the afternoon she came back with the biggest bear hug. She was over-the-top excited, exhausted of course, but brimming with the confidence of accomplishment that came from succeeding at this wild dream.”
Jenny was also an avid dancer, skier, surfer and runner, and an amateur chef. She had a profound love for her two dogs, Stella and Lana.
Jenny is survived by her brother, Brian Shedden; her mother, Martha Shedden and John Buchanan; her father, Rick Shedden and Brenda Morris; multiple aunts, uncles and cousins; and her beloved dogs.
The family encourages donations to Mono County Search and Rescue and Yosemite Search and Rescue to support their heroic rescue operations.
—Martha Shedden, Brian Shedden, Porter Flattery, Anika Young
Michelle Xue, 22, October 27
Michelle Xue grew up in San Ramon, California, and gained her love of the outdoors from frequent skiing trips with her family and from hiking the hills around the Bay area. After graduating from Georgetown University in December 2018, she moved to Manhattan Beach, California, and began working as an acquisitions analyst at RealTerm, surfing and climbing in all her free time.
I had met Michelle in August 2015 on a pre-orientation program for Georgetown University called Climbing 101. She was clearly overqualified for this Climbing 101 program—she even asked the guides if she should bring her trad rack—but she was more than willing to share her knowledge with the rest of us beginners. Before I knew it, she had convinced me and several others to join the Georgetown University Climbing team with her.
During college, Michelle seemed to go on a climbing trip somewhere on the East Coast (and occasionally farther afield) every weekend. She spent many days in the New River Gorge, at six hours away the nearest quality climbing area. She would schedule as many of her classes as possible in the middle of the week to extend her weekends, taking her laptop with her on trips so she could work remotely for whatever part-time job she had at the moment.
The networking skills that helped make Michelle so skilled in the world of business came from her great ability to turn anyone into a friend. On her blog, The Xue Way, Michelle wrote of a multi-month climbing trip she later took: “So incredibly grateful to all the friends I’ve met and caught up with on this trip so far, my family, and all the remarkable people who make up the climbing community. I don’t often get to say this, but I love you guys so much. Climbing is definitely the love of my life right now, but I couldn’t imagine it without you people.”
Michelle once said she could not understand how people could simply climb casually and not let it consume them. Climbing was her top priority. She described the mountains as her church. She got antsy being in the concrete jungle of Washington, D.C.—too far away from the mountains. Spurred on, she graduated a semester early from Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business and the School of Foreign Service.
From there she was off to the races. She spent eight months traveling the globe and climbing, including six weeks in Patagonia, and with stops in Spain, Morocco, France, Nepal, Thailand, China, Australia and Canada. In her 22 years, Michelle climbed on every continent except Antarctica (and she was lobbying her family to take a trip there soon).
Despite having traveled the world, she still loved climbing in her home state of California the most. Virtually every weekend Michelle was out in the Sierras. During the week, before and after work, she spent her time surfing, climbing at Sender One, and planning future trips to Yosemite, Russia and other far-flung places. More than once, she wondered aloud if her job would allow her to randomly take a month off next summer.
Michelle showed others that it was possible to balance one’s career and one’s passion. Since her passing, I have come across many stories from from those who knew her about how Michelle touched their lives and inspired them to take every opportunity for adventure. Her close friend, Cassidy Burg, wrote on a Forever Missed memorial page for Michelle, “I always said Michelle was the friend I needed, she pushed me to do things I otherwise would not have. Everyone that knew her seems to have some story where she called you up and told you about the crazy spontaneous adventure that you were going on the next day, something absurd like a one-day Half Dome trip… That’s right, we hiked Half Dome in one 24-hour period, and I never would have done that without her pushing me.”
During a period in which Michelle was recovering from breaking her back (for the second time), I was going through the most miserable bit of cancer treatment. Michelle cooked for me and tried to lift my spirits. We would go to the gym to “pool-walk” as a low-impact way to recover from our respective weaknesses. To boost morale, she decided that we were training to deep-water solo in Mallorca.
Michelle died in October while ice climbing the North Couloir on Red Slate Mountain with Jennifer Shedden. They were found at a perfectly built anchor and had not done anything technically wrong. They were likely struck by large rockfall and died instantly.
Michelle’s spirit continues to inspire. Three friends she had climbed with in Patagonia—Chris Koppl, Brian Pence and Vitaliy Musiyenko—recently made the first ascent of a new 5.11+ A0 up the south face of Half Dome. They named their climb The Xue Way in Michelle’s honor.
Michelle was looking forward to spending Thanksgiving in Yosemite. She was enjoying her first taste of adulthood, balancing a full-time job with her climbing. She wrote on her blog, “I think life is all about finding that balance and I think I’m either on one end or the other end of that spectrum. Either sleeping on my crashpad in a parking lot, or sleeping in a five-star hotel. Either climbing and scaring myself shitless or not climbing at all. Either eating ramen noodles or charcuterie. I think when you know the spectrum, you begin to appreciate every little part of life more. Things are never that bad/great, but when they are; at least you know.”
Michelle is survived by her parents, Anna and Tony Xue, and her brother, Stephen Xue.
Steve Wunsch, 72, October 25
Sometime in 1993: It is the first time I am climbing with Steve Wunsch, and we are in the trad climbing area, the Shawangunks (aka The Gunks), steep-to-overhanging 200-foot-high cliffs two hours north of New York City, six miles outside the funky college town (now morphed into weekender resort town) of New Paltz. I am belaying Steve as he starts up the Gunks 5.6 classic, Disneyland, which opens with a thin, tricky-to-protect traverse leading to a weird scrunchy mantel with bomber pro the rest of the way.
Two 20-something men watch this middle-aged man with a slight paunch carefully climb up, look for pro, climb down, and then repeat. Several times.
“You can do this, man,” Man #1 shouts earnestly.
Man #2 chimes in, “Yeah, dude, believe in yourself. You can do this, trust your feet!”
They continue to call out encouragements.
Smiling graciously, Steve thanks them, and they move on.
After we top out, as Steve is coiling the rope, he admits, “I had some trouble finding the pro on that traverse.”
He adds, matter of factly, “I never saw the climb from the bottom up.”
As it turns out: Steve, along with two other Gunks greats of the 1970s climbing pantheon—John Stannard and John Bragg—used to climb Disneyland a lot. But it was after scaling some heinous 5.12 R, using Disneyland as their descent route —unroped, of course—a mere casual walk down in the woods for them.
Steve knew the climb well, but only from the top down, and only without pro.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Steve Wunsch, who passed away October 25 at the age of 72, established himself as one of the top climbers in the U.S., even the world, in an era before the concept of sport climbing existed. Climbing was moving from the era of hammer and pitons to protection based on removable small pieces of metal of varying sizes and shapes—sometimes homemade—placed into cracks and crevices. Climbing style and ethics were also evolving, as climbers began embracing a purist approach: no hanging on pieces; no rapping down to first examine the rock face; facing scary falls on this new type of pro; and starting from the bottom up all over again if you fell. (This before cams, so all pro consisted of nuts, tricams and other pieces relegated to historical climbing museum collections, such as hexes and sliding nuts).
And while virtually all climbers at the time adhered to the era’s purist ethos in varying degrees, none embraced its most uncompromising genre like Steve Wunsch, earning his nickname “The Prophet of Purism.”… [Read the full obituary here]
—Susan EB Schwartz
Miquel Riera, 56, October 9
Miquel Riera was the touch paper that lit the Deep Water Soloing world (DWS) on fire. Once a fringe discipline in the climbing world, DWS grew into a phenomenon that brought joy, excitement and fear to climbers worldwide. Miquel himself invented the name—Psicobloc, or in English, “psycho bouldering.”
Born in Mallorca, Spain, when the country was under the rule of Francisco Franco, Miquel had a childhood very different from that of kids in Spain today. Non-Catholics were forced to join the Franco regime; in schools, young children were encouraged to talk about what their parents and neighbors said about the government; and no religion except Roman Catholicism was allowed in public.
Ironically, Miquel started climbing—the pursuit that would lead him to pioneer as pure an expression of freedom as he could dream up—as a function of these coercive and repressive measures. As a teen he was made to join a mountain club during a military recruitment initiative supporting Franco’s regime.
In the late 1970s, from his late teens into his early 20s, Miquel primarily practiced aid climbing. Keen for something new, he visited Porto Pí, Palma de Mallorca, with his friends Jaume Payeras, Eduardo Moreno and Pau Bover, hoping to find routes that they could free climb. They found plenty. The area they developed became Mallorca’s first bouldering venue.
Miquel gradually explored more of the island and found himself venturing out onto the short sea cliffs.
He said in an interview with Climbing magazine, “In Mallorca, Psicobloc arrived before Sport Climbing. We were still Aid Climbing up mountains at the time. Then [George] Meyers’ Yosemite book fell into our hands. Imagine: shirtless hippies bouldering. We wanted to do that too. In Mallorca, the best place to do it was on the sea cliffs. To us, we were simply bouldering like the Americans in Yosemite.”
He continued in the same interview, “But it wasn’t until we began to establish [DWS] routes, name them, and grade them in Mallorca in 1978 that anyone considered it a sport.”
After the emergence of Psicbloc, Miquel’s main partner in the nascent and exploratory discipline had a boating accident and lost a leg. Though the friend survived, he stopped climbing. Lacking a partner for deep water soloing, Miquel turned his attention to sport climbing and bouldering. He became one of the main developers on the island.
In 2001, I invited Klem Loskot and an Austrian team to come deep water soloing in the UK. During a cracking weekend, one of the visitors told us about this guy who worked in a climbing shop in Spain … and had done some DWS development in his area. We decided to search him out. The guy—surprise, surprise—was Miquel. He sent us a picture that will stay in my mind forever. It was of a person in fluorescent yellow shorts high above the water on incredible pocketed limestone (an area now known as Cueva del Diablo). We booked flights.
Mike Robertson, Ken Palmer, Neil Gresham, Grant Farquhar, Klem Loskot and I arrived in Mallorca and met Miquel. The first place he took us to was Diablo. I peered over the edge and felt an instant release of adrenaline into my bloodstream. At 18 meters it was much higher than anything I or any of the rest of the guys with me had soloed before. Our crew was joined by Josh and Brett Lowell, who captured the footage they would use to produce the first DWS film, “Psicobloc,” which featured in Dosage 2.
A year later Miquel met up with the 22-year-old Californian Chris Sharma, who became instantly hooked on Psicobloc. Meeting Miquel changed his life.
Many in Mallorca didn’t understand DWS. They ridiculed Miquel, and thought the practice esoteric and silly. Chris, though, helped bring Psicobloc to the world stage. Chris and Miquel went on epic swims for miles along the coastline as they searched for new cliffs. Miquel became one of Chris’s best friends, and his influence was immense. Not only did he introduce Chris to DWS, he taught him Spanish. Miquel introduced Chris to Dani Andrada and helped him build a life in Spain.
Chris sheds more light on the progenitor of DWS: “Miquel was engaged in the music scene, and knew some top hip-hop artists in Spain. He was knowledgeable about politics and very patriotic. He believed that many of the best things in the world had come from Mallorca, including Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong!”
Sharing his love for Psicobloc became Miquel’s life work, and Chris helped him in it. In 2010 they held one of the first DWS competitions, in Bilbao. The style was head-to-head. A few years later the format evolved into the Psicocomp in Park City, Utah. Today there are DWS competitions and events all over the world.
This last year, Miquel was climbing stronger than ever. Then at the end of July, he fell ill, battling cancer. Chris came back early from a trip to the U.S. to visit his old friend. He says, “It seemed like he was waiting for me to say farewell. He passed away the next day.”
Miquel was many things other than a climber. He was also a writer. For many years he penned a quirky romantic-advice column for climbers in the magazine Desnivel, and more recently he had finished a semi-erotic novel. He was a fun-loving prankster. He enjoyed cooking. But, more than anything, he was a loyal friend who made everyone feel comfortable in his presence.
—Tim Emmett (with Chris Sharma)
Also see this tribute on Evening Sends.
Al Alvarez, 90, September 23
Al Alvarez and Mo Anthoine woke around 3:00 a.m. on a tiny ledge on the north face of the Cima Grande. Something had changed.
“The moon was down, the valley far below was a pool of ink,” Alvarez would later write in “Feeding the Rat,” a 1988 profile of his friend and longtime climbing partner Anthoine, which took the form of both a New Yorker article and a nonfiction book. “The silence, too, had deepened, become impenetrable. We huddled together, trying to work out what had happened. Then Mo said, ‘The waterfall’s frozen.’ At that point, I concluded that our luck had run out and we, too, would soon be frozen.”
That book popularized the phrase “feeding the rat,” Anthoine’s description of the innate craving for adventure and discomfort that drives climbers: “The rat is you, really,” he told Alvarez. “It’s the other you, and it’s being fed by the you that you think you are. And they are often very different people…. You have to keep feeding the brute, just for your own peace of mind and even if you did blow it at least there wouldn’t be that great unknown. But to snuff it without knowing who you are and what you are capable of—I can’t think of anything sadder than that.”… [Read the full obituary here]
See another full obituary, from The New York Times, here.
Marty Vogel, 59, September 16
Audrey Sniezek provides the following update on the various ways that Marty Vogel’s community is honoring his memory and legacy:
There continues to be an outpouring of support for honoring Marty’s life. The Lee County Rec Center Climbing Center in Beattyville, Kentucky, where he coached as a volunteer, has created a T-shirt showing his silhouette, and his longtime friends and fellow volunteer coaches Rene-Andre Keyzer and Margarita Martinez are creating a scholarship fund in his name for local youth.
Ian Kirk, Marty’s longtime friend and the founder of the Fixed Gear Initiative, announced at a memorial that the afterparty for the annual “Rebolt the Red” event would now be called the “Marty Party.” He also plans to dedicate a newly developed outdoor climbing wall to Marty, and the family is collaborating on route names.
Below is the obituary we published at the time of Vogel’s death.
At the base of the wall out at the Deep End in Miller Fork at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, a 4-year old girl poured handfuls of dirt onto the leafy roof of a stick house. “See how my little pony is protected from the rain?” she said, happily picking up another handful of dirt to drizzle over it.
Marty Vogel stood beaming next to her, after helping complete a teepee-style structure surrounded by a ring of rocks and overlaid with leafy branches. He had come out to the cliff that day to say hi and hang out, but not to climb. As was typical of him, he had trained earlier and chose not to overdo it. While the rest of us rotated climbs and belays, he socialized with friends and helped the young girl shelter her little pony.
Marty had been climbing in the Red River Gorge for over 10 years, having moved there to climb full-time two years ago. On our last climbing outing earlier that week, we climbed at the Deep End where I learned Marty contributed to the cliff’s development, even snagging the FA of Knuckle Sauce (5.12a) with Scott Curran in 2013. He had lots of proud sends in the Gorge, including The Abyss, a powerful 5.12d a few climbs left of Knuckle Sauce. Despite having sent the climbs previously, he was unabashed about throwing himself back on them for a repeat.
Just as he was with a 4-year-old, Marty was always ready to engage, teach, help and play. He was easy going, kind, social and adventurous, someone who loved climbing, the outdoors, and travel.
His longtime friend Kevin Lange says, “He did everything with gusto.” … [Read the full obituary here]
Jean Crenshaw, 96, September 2
In 1955, Summit, the first U.S. climbing magazine (1955-1989), was founded by Jean Crenshaw and Helen Kilness. Jean Crenshaw died September 2 in Big Bear, California.
To grasp the contribution of these two extraordinary women is to understand the societal expectations of women in the 1950s after World War II. Mostly, middle-class women were expected to marry and become housewives. This was the generation that produced the baby boomers. Unmarried or career women were often looked upon as those women not lucky enough to have found a husband to support them. This is the world Jean and Helen found themselves in when they left the Coast Guard after World War II. Since commercial air flight did not yet exist, they combined savings, bought a motorcycle, taught themselves to ride in the dealership parking lot, and rode it across the country back to their families. They discovered a passion for rock climbing during excursions with the Sierra Club, and in 1955 they turned their love of the mountains into 35 years spent publishing Summit magazine.
Jean and Helen were concerned no one would buy a mountaineering magazine produced by women, and therefore listed themselves as the more masculine-sounding Jene Crenshaw and HVJ Kilness. This fooled at least one outraged reader, who in 1956 wrote, “Sir: I find a regrettable tendency in your magazine to refer to mountaineering as a career equally adaptable to both men and women.” This created a storm of letters from readers and the resulting controversy delighted Helen and Jean.
Helen and Jean were quite religious but hired the comic illustrator Sheridan Anderson, who was well-known for debauchery, to produce their magazine artwork. Sheridan couldn’t get higher-paying work, and Summit couldn’t afford a more expensive illustrator. Sheridan, always the jokester, couldn’t resist sneaking in cartoons for the covers with disguised vulgarity that would be missed by the “ladies.” Summit unwittingly published several of these magazine covers.
By the 1970s the magazine had an outdated folksy reputation and was overshadowed by the hardcore mountaineering magazines. It focused on mountains for everyone, and an article on a family enjoying a modest hike would run alongside an article on the latest hard rock route to go up. The magazine began as a monthly production but when monthly deadlines interfered with climbing adventures it became bi-monthly. Deadlines became fluid for a sometimes frustrated readership as they explored new mountains to write about and photograph.
Long after Summit ended, Jean and Helen, even into their 90s, would take off for the wilderness and disappear for days at a time. Jean died peacefully in early September. She was preceded in death by Helen in 2018. Theirs was a life well lived.
Dirk Anderson, 54, August 30
Douglas Dirk Anderson, co-owner of Loki Gear, passed away in a backcountry motorcycling accident on the Bangs Canyon section of Tabeguache Trail above Grand Junction, Colorado.
His climbs extended across the country and to Denali West Buttress, Alaska; Aconcagua, Argentina; Pico De Orizaba, Mexico; Rainier, Whitney and the Grand Teton.
He climbed 5.9 off the couch all his life and led sport and trad routes up to 5.11 in Unaweep Canyon, interspersed with many ascents of Independence Monument on Colorado National Monument.
He completed all the Colorado 14ers and many 13ers: first were all the 14ers, as completed on August 24, 2018, alone, and then Dirk completed the goal of climbing them all together with this writer, his younger brother Seth, exactly a year later.
Dirk climbed many high 13ers in Colorado and peaks in the La Sal Mountains of Utah in winter and spring snow and ice conditions, via routes like the Bell Cord Couloir on Maroon Bells, Pyramid Peak’s Keyhole route, Little Bear Hourglass and Capitol Peak Knife Edge, often skinning up and descending on skis or snowboard.
Recently Dirk had turned his sights to range traverses and fast packing requiring speed and interesting routes with minimal gear. We traversed the Wind River Higher Route from Green River Lakes to climb Gannet Peak, then over multiple passes to Cirque of the Towers and out Big Sandy. He then went on another 60-mile traverse of the Weminuche Peaks, from Wham Ridge of Vestal Peak to Jagged Peak, Jupiter, Pigeon and Turret. He climbed these with John Paul Ogden a Leadville 100 finisher, who said Dirk was leading out most of the climbs ,and ran much of the route including the grueling finish to the car.
Dirk was an athlete, but so much more: kind, caring and intelligent. From a young age, he was a voracious reader. He read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica library before he was 8 years old, just because he wanted to. Like his father, he scored 165 on an IQ test, making him a literal genius. Dirk’s big heart was apparent early on. He often defended others from bullies.
A talented athlete from a very young age, he learned to ski and golf at age 3, learned to ride a motorcycle at 7 and played in a soccer league with 14-year-olds when he was only 7 years old. He was skilled in technical and long distance Trials Motorcycle riding in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He set aside his passion for riding serious terrain on motorcycles while raising his family, though he dreamed of riding again later in life.
He was also a tremendous golfer, having learned from his father, Douglas. He played on the high school team and won long drive competitions. Throughout his life, Dirk played annual golf tournaments with his father and their friends Mike Thompson and Calvin Schlisner. The father-son team won two-man best ball tournaments.
Dirk’s intense hand-eye coordination helped him to master arcade games. After playing for 17 hours straight, he won the Colorado state championship for “Stargate Defender” as a teenager.
Instead of going straight to college, Dirk wanted to travel and spent a gap year traveling and working. He entered the medical field after earning an associates degree to become an X-ray technician.
Dirk and Theresa (nee Neitzert) Anderson married in their home city of Grand Junction in 1989 and the newlyweds spent six months traveling through 36 states and five Canadian provinces before settling in Sarasota, Florida where he first worked in radiology.
After returning to Colorado, Dirk took me (his then 16-year-old brother) to climb the 14,157-foot Mt. Sneffels. The experience inspired Dirk to invent and later patent and co-own the outdoor business Loki Outerwear. Dirk worked at St. Mary’s Hospital for nearly 30 years.
He quickly moved from being a tech to managing the CAT Scan department, then the entire diagnostic program. Next, he ushered in a new era of electronic records-keeping for diagnostic and then the entire hospital. Dirk was passionate about patient care and helped the greater community in ways that few can truly appreciate, working hard to make the system more efficient. With his help, St. Mary’s was recognized as one of the top three hospitals to implement “paperless” records keeping.
On August 30, 2019, one week after completing his goal of climbing the Colorado 14ers with me, Dirk left for a short backcountry motorcycle ride. He sped off over a chasm, slammed a rock outcrop and was thrown back and down an 80-foot cliff into an alcove in Bangs Canyon above Grand Junction. He went out of this life with a bang. While he survived the initial fall, he soon succumbed to internal injuries.
Read more about Dirk Anderson in the Colorado Sun’s obituary.
Chaitanya “Chai” Sathe, 35, August 24
Chaitanya Sathe was a bright, shining light who was tragically lost to us earlier this year during a fourth-class descent into the Lower Gorge at Smith Rock State Park. Chai was a prolific climber and a member of the Mazamas, a nonprofit focused on outdoor education, advocacy, and community-building in Portland, Oregon. An engineer at Intel in Hillsboro, Chai brought his analytical mindset when he came to the Mazamas in 2015 as a student in our Basic Climbing Education Program. According to his team leaders, he did not display a natural aptitude toward climbing, but what he lacked in innate skill he more than made up for in dogged determination and through his studious nature. He learned everything he could from the people around him, practiced what he learned, and trained to become fitter and faster in the mountains. He quickly became a solid climber, strong team member, and leader.
As friends and family recounted their memories of Chai, the words that came up most frequently were: smile, joy, kindness, smart, passionate, fun, humble, determined, devoted, and inspiring. Stories shared of mountaineering trips, climbing excursions, and canyoneering trips include Chai often as the heart of the team, and the one who helped everyone keep going when things got tough.
Chai loved the mountains and worked hard to spend as much time in them as possible. In his four short years of climbing he summited more peaks and tackled more rock routes than most people do in a lifetime. He lived well and loved well, albeit for much too short a time.
Chai’s friends encapsulated his spirit and impact on this world well in their posts to Facebook following his death. Here are just a few.
Recounted by his friend Yev Krasnitskiy from their Jefferson Park Glacier climb of Mt. Jefferson in Oregon: “Yev: ‘This mountain is brutal, Chaitanya.’ Chai: ‘This mountain loves you. That’s why you’re still alive. It loves us all. It just has lessons to teach us.’ You taught us many lessons, my friend. And you are loved.”
Cheryl Frankenfield: “We are all better for having known you. Thank you for the smiles, being goofy, being serious, discussions on books, life, family, etc. You will be deeply missed.”
Andrew Tyler Knight: “The memories I have with Chaitanya are ones that I cherish. He was the heart of our ICS class, and he was a good friend. Perpetually stoked and wickedly funny. I will miss you.”
Aimee Filimoehala: “Chai’s energy was contagious. He was a mentor to me and was always so generous to share his knowledge and time. I was lucky enough to share a handful of summits with him and will cherish those memories. Rest in peace, friend.”
Robin Wilcox: “Rest easy, Chaitanya. You have touched so many with your smile, wit, and kindness. Thank you, friend.”
Shane Squires: “Chaitanya was one of the kindest and most generous people I have known, and he had an unusual ability to always keep his focus on the important things in life. We will all miss him every day.”
Read another obituary about Chaitanya at Mazama Obituaries.
Matt Hagny, 50, August 24
Matthew Hagny, who traveled frequently from the Kansas flatland in search of more varied topography, died in a climbing accident in Boulder Canyon this past summer. After Matthew and his partner climbed Cosmosis on Bell Buttress, Matthew was scouting for the descent along the cliff edge when the rock he was standing on broke, resulting in a 60-foot fall onto a ledge.
Wichita, Kansas, is not an ideal home for a climber, but Matt loved the sport. He was an active and valued member of the Kansas Cliff Club community. As his agricultural business—Exapta Solutions, a company he founded 1998 with the vision of providing better tools for no-till seeding—required less direct oversight in recent years, he traveled more and more to apply his skills, honed at the climbing gym, on cliffs throughout the west.
As a fellow traveling climber, I met Matt numerous times over the past three years. We made a good team: he would lead the slab and face pitches while I would cruise the cracks. I will always remember how he naturally balanced his way up thin faces using his massive reach to his advantage, and how comfortable I felt launching up challenging pitches with his attentive and encouraging belay.
Matt’s favorite climbing areas were Eldorado Canyon, Colorado and Joshua Tree, California—particularly the latter. Matt’s friend Yannick Gingras says Matt spent most winter months in Joshua Tree. “I met him there some years ago and spent many months with him since. Matt enjoyed fair weather and he had a perfect mental map of the park. Every day he would look at the weather forecast and he would tell us where we should be hour-by-hour to maximize our comfort based on elevation, shade, and wind. He was always spot on. Matt cared deeply about his climbing partner. He could remember what was on my to-do list better than I did and he would always have my projects in mind when building our itineraries.”
For me, even more memorable than the time I spent climbing with Matt were the dinners afterward. His generosity was limitless; he always covered my bill, yet graciously let me cover the tip. Our conversations were always fascinating. We had both spent time in Ukraine—me for travel, Matt for consulting work—and would share travel tales over margaritas.
His generosity extended into the climbing realm, too. “Matt had started doing route development this year,” Yannick Gingras says. “He bolted two new lines in the Cunning Rock area of Joshua Tree. He was hooked on the process; it fully opened a new creative area of his otherwise very analytical mind. He was committed to offer more routes to the world.”
Following Matt’s death, his company Exapta established the Matthew Hagny No-Till Scholarship Foundation. The Scholarship “awards an individual each spring with funds to aid in an opportunity to travel and research a topic related to non-tillage farming.” Matt’s generosity will continue into the future.
Finally, Matt was a good teacher. He was financially savvy, and he coaxed me to work and save more. One time, he told me simply: “You are better off planning on living.” Matt followed that maxim himself to the end.
Matthew Hagny is survived by his parents, Philip and Gladys Hagny; his two sisters, Sara French and Emilie Downs; and two nephews and one niece.
Cody Tuttle, 32, August 15
Cody Tuttle was a climber, photographer and filmmaker. Meeting him in 2015, I was struck by his huge smile and wide eyes—he’d just begun paragliding, but in just one conversation I learned that Cody was wide-eyed not because he was new to the sport, but due to his overwhelming excitement for life. He had a passion for adventure and was dedicated to sharing it. People all over the world counter the “daily grind” by dreaming of wild places, and Cody encouraged those dreams through his photos and film. Cody loved to climb and fly in the mountains but sharing those dramatic landscapes through film, photos and his writing may be his greatest legacy.
Cody’s love for the outdoors started as a teenager during trips with his family to go whitewater rafting, snowboarding and hiking. He was a talented jazz drummer, playing large venues across the Eastern and Midwestern states after high school, but his life’s direction dramatically changed when he discovered how, in his words, “The mountains filled my soul.” After heading West from his childhood home in Michigan, he devoted his time to rock climbing. He moved to Mammoth in 2006 and spent almost every fall and spring climbing in both Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra. We’d often share stories from days on El Cap, and I could tell these were the years that shaped him.
In 2009, Cody met Cherise, his soulmate and partner in life; the two became inseparable.
She recently told me this of him: “There aren’t many people you meet in life who change every single facet of how you look at the world around you. Cody had an all-encompassing perspective of living that made you want to be a better person and create the change you were looking for in the world. He changed the way I care for people, giving me the gift of unconditional, unwavering love that I don’t think many people get to experience.” They were married in 2010.
In 2015, Cody and Cherise were working to document the experiences of climbers on the north face of Annapurna 1 when Nepal was rocked by a devastating earthquake. It was yet another life-altering event in Cody’s life, connecting him to the people of Nepal forever, and creating a desire to devote his life to helping others. Cody and Cherise spent the next several months working with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), helping to create the Remote Access Operations (RAO) program, which provided emergency relief-aid by foot/animal into regions shut off by damage from the earthquake.
Shortly after Cody’s passing, his long time climbing partner, best friend and business partner, Malcolm Wood, wrote this in an email: “Cody was an incredibly kind humanitarian. He first introduced me to Nepal when we started working there on film projects and he inspired us (Far North Productions) to constantly look for ways to improve the lives of others. One idea lead us to a remote village to rebuild a school that had yet to fully recover from the devastating 2015 earthquake. Children attended this school in a ruined and completely unsafe structure. We wanted to change that together. Whilst we miss one of our dearest friends, it gives us a sense of peace knowing how many children are going to learn in a school that now bears his name, with new opportunities to receive a proper education.
“Cody and I pushed each other and challenged the odds with every plan. Sitting in a tent, perched on the side of a snowy peak sharing fears … learning from one another, are things that are rare to come by in this short life. Finding a friend like Cody who shared the common goals of leading a life full of adventure, of chasing para-alpinism and environmental filmmaking will forever remain one of the most special bonds I’ve formed.”
During my last expedition with Cody, we attempted to hike and fly our paragliders across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska’s Brooks range. Our intention was to make a short film about the necessity to protect that unique swath of wilderness. Cody’s true character showed when he looked over at me and said, “I’m just not interested in making any film, or doing any project, that doesn’t have the ability to help make the world a better place, you know?”
Cody climbed and flew all over the world. He loved his dog, he loved dark beer and most of all, he loved his family and friends. Even on his last, fateful flight, while paragliding north over his favorite mountains (Sierra), he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Cody is survived by his wife, Cherise; his parents, Kathy and Tod; and his sister Danielle.
Ken Anderson, 33, August 4
Gisely Ferraz, Ken’s partner, adds this update:
Earlier this year, Ken fulfilled a lifelong dream: he became a boat owner. He spent countless days researching techniques and working on his boat, the Dawn Star, so that he could safely take out friends, family and anyone with a sense of adventure.
After Ken died, family and friends held a celebration of his life. Local artists and companies donated gear for the event: the funds raised in his memory will go to mooring and maintaining the Dawn Star for years to come.
Ken’s brother Ryan created a website for friends to share pictures and stories of Ken. Learn more about Ken at www.kenclimbs.rocks.
Below is the obituary we published at the time of Ken’s death.
Back in March and April of this year, Ken Anderson and his girlfriend, Gisely Ferraz, traveled to Liming, China, a rural and off-the-beaten-path cornucopia of beautiful sandstone splitters. At the end of each day, a crew of fellow climbers would crowd around a table in a dimly lit restaurant, a Lazy Susan likely spinning in the center loaded with delicious local dishes, and discuss—what else?!—climbing.
Ken was always “psyched to hear what everyone else was doing,” Gisely said. He was modest and loath to brag. “You never would’ve guessed he was about to send The Firewall”—a 5.13d overhanging ringlock-sized sufferfest that is one of the two hardest trad climbs in both Liming and China as a whole. It had seen only several prior ascents.
Ken, 33, died on Sunday, August 4. The 33-year-old was leading a 5.4 scrambly section on the traversing fourth-pitch of Parallel Passages, a 1,000-foot 5.10b/c on the Chief, Squamish, when a handhold broke, and he fell. Ken died several hours later in Gisely’s arms as they waited for a rescue.
“Ken was such a positive spirit—humble and stoked,” Gisely said. “If you go on his Instagram you will just see pictures of an average climber.” But—as his redpoint in just nine burns of The Firewall attests to—he was far, far from an average climber. … [Read the full obituary here]
Travis Swanson, 33, July 14
Travis died while climbing the Northeast Arete route on Mt. Cowen in the Absaroka range, Montana. Travis, who had previously climbed the route four times, and two friends were group soloing the 1,000-foot 5.6 when a large section of the route collapsed. He and one other climber were on the section that fell. The other individual sustained serious injuries, including a broken neck. The third member of the party was above the rockfall and was uninjured. He called 911 and down climbed about 500 feet in order to locate the surviving friend, a key factor in the subsequent rescue and recovery.
Travis was a contractor in the construction industry by profession, but his passion was in the mountains. He was a climber, skier and mountain runner, and spent countless hours as a member of search and rescue. He became a member of the Gallatin County Search and Rescue shortly after graduating from high school, and continued as an integral part of the organization until his death. He excelled in helicopter-based mountain rescue and completed dozens of successful short-haul operations, including evacuation of an injured climber near the summit of Granite Peak in the Beartooth mountains, to date the highest-altitude short-haul rescue in Montana.
While Travis’s climbing career revolved heavily around the Western United States, he also made climbing trips to Canada, Alaska and Ecuador. Highlights include summiting Denali in Alaska and Illiniza Sur and Illiniza Norte in Ecuador, which led to a temporary job guiding on Illiniza Norte.
Travis had a particular love of the Tetons, where he had summits of Middle Teton, Teewinot, Mt. Owen, a ski descent of Middle Teton, and 12 summits of the Grand Teton, which he particularly loved: He always said he wanted to climb it 1000 times before he died.
Elsewhere, he climbed in Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne Meadows, Red Rocks, the Cascades, the Sierras, the City of Rocks, the Beartooth Mountains, and on many days around his home in Bozeman. As a sport climber he established routes at the Natural Bridge climbing area east of town.
Travis’ wife, Blair Speed, described him as a lifelong learner:
“Trav loved to learn but hated school. …He learned to play mandolin, guitar, saxophone; read every climbing and climbing history book. He taught himself to invest, to better understand the stock market, build his own companies. He studied search and rescue techniques and knowledge continuously, and how to move in the mountains safely. Recently, he was learning German” as well as Spanish. Shortly after high school he started a drywall company which allowed him to set his own schedule, save money, and take periods of time off to climb, ski and live life to the fullest.
Blair Speed also called him “the most gentle of giants” and wrote this about his rescue experience:
“He has carried people out on his own back, helped fly them to safety, and returned those lost to their loved ones. Of course, he was also known to throw a dog on his back to get them to safety, too. He was the perpetual big guy teddy bear. Participating in Search and Rescue for 15 years gave Trav a deep sense of purpose and his friendships with his team brought him joy, laughter, love, and men and women to move through the mountains with. If SAR helped you within the past 15 years, chances are high that Trav was on the call.”
Travis is survived by Blair; their “fur children” (pets) Charlotte Ray and The Great Catsby; his parents, Kelly and Dan Swanson; his sister Amanda Dooley; and her husband Dade Dooley.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help with funeral expenses.
Read another obituary of Travis in The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Garon Coriz, 33, July 13
Two days before he died, Garon told me, “I want you to lower from the anchor instead of rappelling. Rappelling is dangerous, and I can’t lose you.” That was Garon: he always looked out for people, avoided unnecessary risk and took every precaution. There was no person I felt safer with, no gear that I trusted more than the pieces he placed. Garon died following a mysterious anchor failure while he was on rappel; the details are still unclear.
From the moment he learned to climb, Garon was hooked. He was experienced across the board: from ice climbing Ham and Eggs on the Moose’s Tooth, Alaska; to mountaineering on Ausangate, Peru; to climbing trad and sport in Yosemite, the Red River Gorge, the Tetons, Indian Creek, Red Rocks, and anywhere else he could go by car or by plane. The love we shared as partners centered and grew out of our mutual love for the mountains and climbing. I once asked him what his favorite type of climbing was and he replied, “All of it.” He maintained the wonder and excitement with every route, no matter how chossy or run-out.
Alongside his passion for climbing, Garon cared deeply about protecting ancestral land and climbing access, particularly in Bears Ears. Garon’s own family origins were tied to Bears Ears through the Pueblo (Santo Domingo/Kewa) tribe. He donated his time and money in advocacy for both climbing access and indigenous rights by participating in rallies, speaking out through TV and newspaper reports, and functioning as an indigenous liaison between the communities.
His close friend and fellow climber, Matt Evans, M.D., said, “What I think was most remarkable about Garon was his ability to bring different people together. Whether it was for a fun climbing adventure or his ability to have others share a vision of protecting and preserving Bears Ears National Monument, his mixed race (Native American/white) and his ability to hear opposing viewpoints made him unique.”
As his friend Kevin M. Madalena (of the Pueblo of Jemez and a staff member at Utah Dine Bikeyah) said, “Garon Coriz’s legacy certainly lives on in the work and advocacy outreach we are all doing in defense of public lands, The Bears Ears National Monument, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, and with rural healthcare for Native Americans. He certainly lives in our hearts and minds as we continue the dreams and goals he has.”
Garon craved access to climbing and if it wasn’t there, he created it. He learned how to bolt and bought a drill and all the equipment to develop a spot near his home in Richfield, Utah, called “Redmond Rocks.” He also bolted routes throughout New Mexico and Arizona.
When he wasn’t climbing, Garon could be found on other outdoor adventures, painting landscapes or working as a physician. He earned his medical degree in 2013 from the University of New Mexico and completed his residency at the University of Utah. He then accepted a job in rural health in Richfield, Utah, as a family physician. Because he recognized how opioids were affecting his community, Garon pursued additional certification so he could treat people struggling with addiction. Earlier in 2019, Garon moved back to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to be near his close-knit family and serve the native people in his community.
Though remarkably accomplished and successful in his personal and professional life, Garon was humble, loyal and outrageously goofy. He loved children, particularly his niece Juliet and his nephew Jonathan. He brought light and laughter and was loved by all. His life touched so many.
Matt Evans said, “He has inspired me to be more involved with my local community (protect Oak Flat!), and every time I look at the carabiner I have of his on my harness I feel inspired to do more to protect our sacred and public lands.”
Kevin M. Madalena said, “My best friend, and ‘brother from another mother,’ made the Pueblo journey to be with the Old Ones this past summer, and left a staggering and heartbreaking void in many communities. In his absence in this world, I think he ultimately gained what he always wanted: He brought all of his friends and family together to be a new and larger family.”
In honor of Dr. Garon Coriz, please consider donating to Bears Ears at https://utahdinebikeyah.org/defend-bears-ears/.
Austin Howell, 31, June 30
Lindsey Howell, Austin’s fiancé, adds the following update:
Austin’s antics and silly demeanor (those who listened to his podcast, “The Process,” will think of his stories and one-liners, from “Pile Ze Bags” to “What’s better than climbing? More climbing, of course”) and loving spirit continue to spread even now that he is gone. A number of climbs have been established in his honor. Marc Castil Williams established a V2 at Walker’s Branch, Kentucky, in Austin’s memory, calling it Stolen Thunder. Alden Brom put up a V1 called Tribute to Austin Howell. The Foxtown area in the Red River Gorge has several other memorial routes.
His memory lives on in all climbers who feel more free on the rock than in life.
Terri Zinke Jackson, Austin’s mother, adds:
Nothing will make the hurt in our hearts lessen but listening to all the stories from people about all the lives that he touched, the advice he gave, and the respect that followed him on and off the mountains has been the biggest blessing to those who loved him most. Listening to the stories and the tributes has given us peace and filled us with pride.
Austin, our wonderfully weird son, wouldn’t want us mourning or consumed with sadness. He designed a model for living and he lived hard—he was crushing it at this thing called life.
Below is the obituary that appeared following Austin’s death.
Austin Howell, widely known in the climbing community through his Instagram account “Freesoloist,” died after a fall while free soloing at Shortoff Mountain, Linville Gorge, North Carolina, June 30.
Howell fell sometime in the late morning. A press release from the Burke County Office of Emergency Services reads, “At approximately 1:18 pm, rescue crews reached victim utilizing rappelling equipment while other climbers were performing CPR on the victim. The victim was pronounced deceased at approximately 1:30 pm.”
At present, it was uncertain which route Howell was soloing.
Howell’s parents updated his Facebook page with a brief message on the afternoon of June 30: “We are absolutely devastated to share that our beautiful, smart and witty son, Austin Howell passed away today. He was an absolute joy and will be remembered by everyone as a Teacher, lover of nature and Climber. He tried to help everyone he crossed in life and always confident in everything he did. I am proud he has touched so many people in the time he was with us.”
Howell first got attention for his soloing back in 2015, after posting a video online of himself climbing Dopey Duck, a 350-foot 5.9 in the Linville Gorge. The video showed him climbing not only without a rope or protection—but without shoes or clothes of any kind, save for his signature hat.
Rock and Ice’s editor at the time, Jeff Jackson, wrote a column after he first saw the video. Titled “Naked Soloist is Saner Than I Am,” Jackson mused on the punishing process of long days of new route development. Towards the end he wrote of Howell, “Unencumbered by any gear—not even clothes—this guy was obviously having a great time recreating in the sunshine on a splitter day. The irony reverberated through my bad shoulder like a hot poker. How pure, simple and … fun!”
Later that spring, Howell had an accident while climbing—roped—on the first pitch of the Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite. He took a fall and landed on his head on a ledge, leaving him with multiple fractured vertebrae. Howell made a full recovery, and from there took his soloing to new level of difficulty and seriousness.
In the next few years, Howell began soloing harder and harder terrain. In 2016 he free soloed his first 5.12. His hardest free solo came in 2017, when he climbed Dalai Lama (5.12c), in Denny Cove, Tennessee. Other notable climbs included an onsight free solo of Tangerine (5.12a), Little River Canyon, Alabama. He free soloed Satisfaction, a 5.12a at Foster Falls, Tennessee, nine separate times.
Also in 2016, Howell completed what he called the “Mile of Mojo” at Shortoff Mountain—the site of his fall—a challenge described on his website as a day in which he soloed “fifteen separate routes ranging from 300 to 450 ft in height and from 5.6 to 5.11d in difficulty for a total of 5700 cumulative vertical feet.”
By the end of his life, he had soloed 19 unique 5.12s, repeating some of them at various times for a total of 37 laps on 5.12 pitches.
Following news of his death, friends and fellow climbers began sharing memories of Howell on several Mountain Project and Reddit threads, as well as on his Facebook page. One post on Mountain Project read, “He was a generous and kind teacher, and I know of so many people whose lives he touched positively, both on and off the wall.”
Another post on Reddit echoed those sentiments: “He was a personal friend and hero of mine and was an inspiration to anyone he met. Whether you were a climber or not he could make you believe in yourself.”
Yet another read, “One of the things that really came through in his comments here was how genuinely he shared others’ stoke—whether they were excited to have passed their gym lead test, onsighted their first 7 on gear, or started breaking into 12s. I never had the chance to know him in real life, but he seemed like someone who understood that a big part of the joy of climbing comes from accomplishing something that had once seemed impossible, and that this joy can happen at any level.”… [Read the full obituary here]
Bryson Allen, 23, June 28
“Hey man, you in town? Have you climbed Outer Space?” Bryson asked me in a text. I hadn’t heard from him in months, but just like that we were making plans to rope up again.
It was mid-May 2019, and Bryson was home in the Seattle area for a few days before heading back to Alaska for his second summer working as a climbing guide. We left for Leavenworth in the dark, hoping to get an early start on Outer Space. What followed was a full and solid day of swapping leads and telling jokes; talking philosophy and politics; unnecessary bushwhacking; and, finally, cracking beers, boots off, in the parking lot.
That’s how it was with Bryson—you could pick right back up where you left off.
Born January 25, 1996, in Minneapolis, Bryson moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington at age 4. He discovered climbing during high school, trading the woods we explored as kids for remote alpine wilderness, and the trees we climbed for granite and sandstone.
Bryson went on to attend the University of Montana, where he excelled in the classroom and out. He became a Freshman Wilderness Experience leader, studied and taught climbing, and earned his Wilderness EMT certification. Bryson immersed himself in the adventure community. He was widely respected for his talent and professionalism, beloved for his positive, uplifting nature, and admired for his quiet but sharp sense of humor. He graduated in 2018 with a degree in wildlife biology, earning the University Scholar distinction from Davidson Honors College.
A man of nature, compassion and intellect, Bryson was a romantic, smitten by the beauty of the natural world. He climbed all across the country, seeking challenging and rewarding terrain, from the Fisher Towers in Utah to the Mendenhall Towers in southeast Alaska.
Bryson’s last climb was on the Mendenhall Towers, an impressive set of seven granite monoliths rising from the Mendenhall Glacier. The single most stunning precipice, the Main Tower, was where Bryson spent his last day. Bryson, Isaac Hardy and I climbed the Southeast Ridge of the Main Tower (IV 5.10+, 1,600 ft). Bryson died during the descent when a rappel anchor failed.
Bryson had led the last technical pitch of the route: a beautiful granite splitter finishing at a belay just below the summit. As he reached the top and looked back at the alpenglow gilding the Juneau Ice field, Bryson shouted down to his partners in joy, “I’m blissed out.”
At that moment, Bryson was unspeakably happy and couldn’t wait to share his mountain adventure with his mom, Cezanne; his father, Demi; and his sister, Haley.
With a shy and quiet demeanor, Bryson revealed himself through writing and poetry, and the following poem captures his reverence and love for the mountains:
We drove in under a jet black sky
The roadside illuminated by a dozen welcoming fires,
to finally find our own site
where we would light our fire
The embers glow
until at last every bit of heat dissipates
into the night
I wake when the sun comes, burning
above the stone monuments
hewn from beds of ancient seas
once pulsing with life, now stone
We set out, following whispers
from friends and books
to try and fail, eventually succeed
to shine our lights bright, until our fuel
is all but burnt out
We climb back down to fires and bed
down under a jet black sky,
— Bryson Allen, 2018, written after climbing in the Utah desert
A wilderness scholarship has been set up in Bryson’s name. See https://www.umt.edu/crec/about/support/bryson-allen-fund.php.
—Bowen “Bo” Schwanke and Eli Bennett
Patricia “Trish” Stoops, 57, June 8
Patricia “Trish” Stoops was the youngest of five, born in Rochester, Michigan, but calling Central California home for the last decade-plus. Based in Modesto, Trish lived at the gateway to Yosemite Valley, home to many of her favored climbing destinations and the ultimate place of her passing.
Trish was a 30-year climbing veteran who had a diverse and rich life outside of climbing. She was known for being brave, brash, funny and smart. Educated as an architect, she designed and built many homes around the world under the auspices of Habitat for Humanity. She remodeled her own Modesto home extensively, doing most of the work herself.
I recall one day during a Red Rocks climbing trip, when we were driving around town, and she said, “Let me show you one of my designs before we leave.” We drove to a neighborhood somewhere in the endless land of Vegas suburbia and she pointed out several homes that featured designs she had created, with stylish and modern bits of flair on otherwise standard-issue Vegas housing.
In more recent years, Trish wanted to transition into a different career, and she was drawn to teaching. Trish was a teacher by nature, and she had been working as a paraprofessional in special education. She and a coworker co-founded the H.O.P.E (Helping Other People Everywhere) project, an organization based on community service for students. Trish mentored many new climbers via the Southern California Mountaineers Association for most of the last decade.
Trish was a consummate granite climber and an excellent crack climber. She was the self-proclaimed “godmother of climbers” for all the years I knew her. During her summers off work, she usually traveled far and wide in order to pursue her love of climbing and allow herself to “rest” and recover from her otherwise consuming teaching job. Trish concentrated most of her climbing days throughout northern and southern California, Red Rocks, Indian Creek and Squamish, happy to climb both old favorite routes and on unfamiliar ground alike. In 2018, Trish and a partner put up a few new routes on Power Dome at Courtright Reservoir, and she did a first ascent of a route in the Alabama Hills. She led hard 5.9 and 5.10 in Yosemite even as she slid toward 60 years of age. In 2018, she underwent surgery for a new “bionic” hip. Trish saw any such setbacks merely as a way to get back in the climbing game minus her bodily pain.
As Ellen Kirk put it: “She walked to the crag with her cane, proceeded to climb fabulously well, occasionally lifting her knee with her hands to place her foot when the bad hip wouldn’t cooperate, and then walked back to camp with the cane, laughing and joking the whole time.”
Trish was killed while climbing Central Pillar of Frenzy on Middle Cathedral in Yosemite Valley. It was not her first time climbing the route. In a tragic and unusual oversight on her part, Trish mistakenly put herself on rappel using the long tail of her tied-off, single-strand rope and rapped off its end.
Alfredo Rivera, a colleague, wrote on Mountain Project: “I had the pleasure of working alongside Trish. Her energy and complete dedication to helping students reach their full potential was contagious. She truly gave herself to her students and she made a huge impact on their lives. Our students grew to love her and seek her out, something that is rare in middle school. Trish, you changed many young lives as well as mine.”
Trish was preceded in death by her father, George, and her brother, Guy. She is survived by her mother, Jean, sisters Goldie and Marilyn, and brother Michael.
Read more about Trish Stoops here in the Los Angeles Times.
Fletcher Ridgely Wilson, 57, June 4
Rad. That was the first word used by Dave Karl to describe his recently deceased friend Fletcher Wilson.
“The first person to take me ice climbing and a true mentor of many things fun & usually dangerous, but they were always done with a chuckle and a devious, big grin,” he posted. “Thanks for the inspiration, dude.”
Wilson grew up in Laconia, New Hampshire, according to an obituary in the Conway Sun, North Conway, New Hampshire, where he climbed regularly. He attended Plymouth State College and worked many years as a carpenter and contractor in New England and California, climbing extensively in both.
A skilled ice as well as rock climber, Fletcher at 23 was invited by Jim Bridwell, climbing leader, on the 1985 Mount Everest West Ridge expedition.
His sister Deborah Wilson-Vandenberg tells Rock and Ice that although no one summited, “[Fletcher] said they all felt like they had succeeded because they had climbed higher than any of the other teams [attempting] that route, but had not lost anyone.” Other members included Kevin Swigert, Jay Smith, Ed Webster, Andy Politz, Randall Grandstaff and Pete Athans.
The Conway Sun obituary read of Wilson: “His spirit of adventure, fearlessness and love of extreme sports blossomed at an early age. Fletcher was a risk-taker. He competed in Extreme Skiing and International Speed Skiing Competitions, jumping off cliffs and reaching 118 mph. Fletcher also skied his way into the 1984 movie ‘Hot Dog.’” (The highest-grossing ski movie ever, according to Outside mag, the anachronistic “Hot Dog” wears poorly today … except for the skiing, long considered “legit.” Fletcher’s brother, Sam, skied in it as well.)
Jim Surette, another longtime friend, on a Facebook thread produced an image of him dropping in on the notoriously steep Eagles Nest, aka McConkey’s, at Squaw Valley, California.
“Fletch was a charismatic old school wild man with a passion for having a good time,” he wrote.
Ted Hammond tells Rock and Ice: “Fletcher was a natural leader and big influence on my earliest climbing days.
“On [one] memorable day in the spring of 1980, we embarked on an expedition to climb the Eaglet in Franconia Notch. As we neared the base after a tough bushwack, a couple ‘hawks’ started flying around above us and screeching. … As Fletcher was racking up to lead us up the two pitches, he took a #10 Hexcentric and added a 2-inch runner to it and slung it over his shoulder. He said, ‘If that bird comes near me … ’ and started swinging it around like a nunchuck!” The group climbed above, and looked down on a nest. “We had some lunch and stupidly threw pieces of bread down to the mother bird, which she totally ignored. We rappelled within a few feet of the nest to the ground …. About a year later I learned that the birds were peregrine falcons, just beginning their comeback in New Hampshire!
“Fletcher was a big personality and lived life with gusto with the pedal to the metal. He was always out to be as ‘rad’ as possible and had an infectious stoke and confidence. He was a flame that burned bright and hot. Unfortunately he partied with the same gusto …. I’ll always be thankful to have had him in my life.”
Wrote Christopher Graham: “We shared many pitches and beers at Cathedral over the years. I worked for him one summer on a local house when I was in college. He was always giving and up for a challenge.”
Among other traits, Fletcher was a huge Grateful Dead fan and often had backstage passes to various shows.
He died unexpectedly in a hospital in Sarasota, Florida.
Posts on forever.com spoke honestly both of the triumphs of a larger-than-life, magnetic figure, and a battle with addiction. Fletcher’s son, Ryan Trask, posted an extremely expressive, understanding passage:
“[H]e was expert at many things, and over time he became an expert at writing himself out of a century that doesn’t do enough to treat the addictions that overwhelmed him. … I think both of his utter brilliance, his redemption, and his addiction, his downfall, as different lenses. One was things of which no human should be capable… just like we are all capable of being lost beyond the reach of the people who love us the most. … That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what happened and the happiness my dad brought to so many.”
Wilson-Vandenberg wrote on the same page: “After all his years ‘cheating death’ (his words not mine), sadly, it was finally Fletcher’s time. We all know what a challenge his life has been over these past number of years and how many close calls Fletcher had flying too close to the sun. … Hopefully, like me, you will always remember him for the fun times, his unbridled spirit, love of adventure and loving heart.”
She wrote this to Rock and Ice: “My brother was quite a character aside from his climbing expertise and love of extreme (skiing) sports. He was always looking for adventure and if asked why he might want to climb Everest or other peaks/routes, ski 120 mph, go helicopter skiing in Chile, it was, ‘Because it’s not here.’
“In his Everest journal, toward the end of the trip, he made a comment that ‘Folks here don’t believe my stories …. My uncle owns a ski area, my cousin was an Olympic skier, my family was in a movie, my father has a TV show…’ They were all true statements, among others he could have included.” The ski area was Nashoba Valley, in Massachusetts; the cousin was Pam Fletcher, the film (“A Private Decision”) was a documentary on voting in America; and the father had a television show, “Jim Wilson Outdoors” in Panama on fishing.
The Everest West Ridge expedition report concluded, “We walked out of base camp with all of our friends. We left with the experience of a lifetime and friendships with teammates and Sherpas that hopefully will last throughout our lives.”
Fletcher is survived by his son, Ryan Trask; his parents, Jim Wilson and Ann Fletcher Simonds; his brother, Scott Wilson; and sisters, Deborah Wilson-Vandenberg and Susan Thompson.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation in Fletcher’s name to either of these non-profit organizations: naturalhigh.org or shatterproof.org.
Plans are underway for a memorial service.
Martin Moran, 64, approximately May 26
Martin Moran died in an avalanche guiding on Peak 6477, an unclimbed subsidiary peak of Nanda Devi in India’s Garhwal Himalaya. Seven other climbers in Martin’s team also died in the accident: U.S. nationals Ronald Beimel and Anthony Sudekum; an Australian, Ruth McCance; an Indian liaison officer, Chetan Pandey; and John McLaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne from the U.K.
The American Alpine Club wrote on Facebook: “Moran wrote more than two dozen reports for the American Alpine Journal, dating back to 1984, about new routes and attempts in the Himalaya, nearly all of them in India. As one of the most experienced and creative mountain guides working regularly in northern India, the British climber made many first ascents, both with his guided teams and personal partners.” The AAC praised his “spirit of exploration.”
Martin was a member of the British Mountain Guides for 34 years, passing on his valuable experience and knowledge to generations of trainee and aspirant guides, as well as thousands of clients. A BMG report called him “the consummate professional, a companion with whom great mountain days were shared and a true friend and colleague.”
As outlined by the BMG tribute, during the winter of 1984/85 Martin became the first person to complete all of the Munros (Scotland’s highest mountains) in a single winter round. In 1985 he qualified as an IFMGA Mountain Guide and with his wife, Joy, established Moran Mountain, a guiding outfit based in Lochcarron, in the Scottish Highlands.
“In 1992 Martin started taking clients on mountaineering expeditions to the Indian Himalaya and during the summer of 1993, with Simon Jenkins, he climbed all of the 4,000m peaks (self-propelled) in the Alps in just 52 days,” the BMG report continued.
In Scotland, Martin established over a hundred new winter routes. The Scottish climber Guy Robertson in a tribute called him “one of Scotland’s best, most prolific and enthusiastic winter pioneers. He was a massive inspiration to me since starting out – first through his writing, then repeating his routes, and latterly by enjoying his good company. It was a real privilege to share a rope with him and he is very sorely missed.” Guy and Greg Boswell named a recent difficult new winter route Local Hero in memory of Martin.
I was a repeat client of Martin’s, including being a member of his 2016 Vishnu Killa expedition, and Richard Payne, who also died in the accident, was my best friend. I found Martin to be a true Renaissance man with endless energy, enthusiasm and charisma. He always had an eye out for future adventures and I was also taken by the intense mutual respect and loyalty between Martin and the regular crew of local expedition staff which he employed in India.
Martin authored six books, including his excellent autobiography, Higher Ground, dedicated to all his clients and colleagues in the mountains. It concludes with these thoughts:
“Mountain climbing, in its finest guise, is a triumph of human spirit over the shackles of convention. The true mountain guide offers companionship, the sharing of adventure, discovery of the natural world, the coaching of skills and the mastery of self-confidence, while generating an enormous amount of fun in the process. A Guide must strike a compromise between scraping a conventional living whilst transmitting the spirit of an alternative lifestyle. Ultimately we are all bound by some sort of convention, but on the mountains our clients can taste of another plane of consciousness and help them sense what Bill Murray described as ‘the evidence of things unseen.'”
Martin is survived by his wife, Joy, and two children, Alex and Hazel.
Also please see this tribute from Martin’s friend and fellow IFMGA guide Andy Perkins.
Mitchel Brian Halberg, 22, May 18
Mitch Halberg died in a fall to the ground from a popular sport route in Poudre Canyon, Colorado. The cause of death was ruled as blunt-force head trauma.
I met Mitch at the first meeting of the UW-River Falls Rock Climbing Team in September of 2018. He had a calm and quiet demeanor that was a stark contrast to the eccentric personalities present in our team. He fit right in, was loved by all members of the team, and during our annual elections was elected president of the team for the next year. As the fall semester went on and academic workloads increased, our numbers at team practice gradually thinned, but Mitch was always at practice and never hesitated to push himself. He was always there to run laps on our roped wall, pump out bouldering intervals, and crush core workouts.
When our spring competition series appeared on the horizon, all the work from the previous months began to show. Mitch stood on the podium several times and even displaced many of our more experienced climbers.
Mitch also excelled outside of climbing. He graduated with honors from Winona High School and was competitive in tennis, cross-country, and Nordic skiing. He continued his education at Minnesota State Southeast and graduated with honors with an Associate of Arts degree in 2017. While a student there he completely refurbished a previously totaled Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, which became his pride and joy. After a six-month sojourn in Denver with his fiancée, Jessica, living, working and enjoying his favorite state, Mitch returned to college, attending the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, to study horticulture.
As the spring progressed and the Midwest thawed, the stoke was high to get on real rock. Mitch had climbed outside as a teenager, mostly at the Sugarloaf in Winona, and was eager to go again. On weekends, we swapped belays at Barn Bluff and Interstate State Park in Minnesota, and eventually began discussing plans for a multi-day excursion after final exams. After much deliberation we decided on Colorado as our destination. I had been there over spring break, and Mitch longed to return. Early on Friday morning we met up with our friend Hunter and began the long drive to Fort Collins, arriving late in the evening. After spending the night in a hotel and gorging ourselves on the continental breakfast, we decided to spend the first day of our trip in the Poudre Canyon. The start had all the makings of a great trip; fantastic weather, few crowds, and loads of energy. Mitch joined me on top of the route East of Eden (5.9) and simply said, “That was awesome.” He was never a man of many words, but it was obvious he had a wonderful time. It is bittersweet, but I am thankful that some of my last memories of ustogether are some of my fondest.
He is survived by his parents, Jennifer and Jeffrey Halberg; brother, Lance; fiancée, Jessica Erbe; and grandparents, Judy and Dick Langenfeld, and Delaine and Laurie Halberg.
Another obituary for Mitch, from ABC News, can be found here.
Bob Dergay, 48, May 18
Pete Davis gives the following update:
A memorial was held on October 5 in Bob’s former hometown of Durango, Colorado. The service was informal, as Bob would have wished, and he would have been very happy to see the large turnout of old and new friends and family there to celebrate his life. Several climbing parties descended on local Durango crags prior to the memorial. We loudly called on Bob and channeled his incredible energy.
Friends and family divided up his rack and ashes to be used or spread across the vast Western landscapes and crags that Bob frequented. Thus far, one route has been put up in Bob’s name—The Dergaynator (5.10+), by Greg Miller and Winston Voigt. Others are guaranteed to come.
Below is the obituary published at the time of his death.
Robert “Bob” Heathcote Dergay, 48, died May 18 after a fall from the Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon while free soloing.
Bob began climbing in the early 1990s after moving from his hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, to Durango, Colorado, to attend Ft. Lewis College. Climbing quickly became his passion, and the cliffs and mountains seemed both home and an outlet for his intense energy. Bob was larger than life, at over 6 feet and 200 pounds, with a booming voice.
He cut his teeth at East Animas, Ophir Wall and the Black Canyon in Colorado and on desert towers in Colorado and Utah. In the winters he would climb ice in Eureka, Colorado, with many laps up Stairway to Heaven and Gold Rush. Bob was a highly skilled free climber and soon gained a reputation as a bold soloist. He was once heard saying, “Look how big I am, you think you need to weigh me down with a rack and rope?!” He was a solid partner in all the disciplines of climbing, and climbed for the love of it, the friendships, and the joy of being outside.
For the past 15 years he was a resident of Boulder and a mainstay in the Boulder climbing scene. On any given day you could find Bob, with or without a rope, running up a Flatiron, pulling down in Eldorado Canyon, or doing “quick” solo lap on Hallets Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bob was the real deal, a climbers’ climber with no patience for spending time on petty things like the latest gear or fashion trends of the climbing world. He had a smile and big words of encouragement for just about anyone he came across. His fashion sense was perpetually stuck in the 1990s. He could be seen sporting a 25-year-old, faded North Face rain jacket, the only one he owned, Teva sandals worn with rag wool socks, and cargo pants with huge pockets stuffed full of all of his essentials for long days in the mountains because he hated wearing a backpack.
Bob was slightly stubborn, did things his way and couldn’t care less about what others thought. He had a strong moral compass and let others know his opinion. He was kind and positive, a true friend to many. Late one evening in Eldorado Canyon he noticed a pair of headlamps high on the descent for the Redgarden Wall, and after yelling back and forth to the lost climbers he ran back to his home, gathered warm clothes, headlamps and snacks, and set off to assist the climbers down the dangerous descent slabs. He shrugged off his efforts as just a normal evening and simply what climbers do for each other. … [Read the full obituary here]
—Pete Davis and Chris Adelman
Ben Walburn, 46, May 10
Rifle 1998: I had just moved to Colorado, I could barely speak English, and I was desperately looking to meet climbing partners. Another Polish guy and I greeted two guys from Boulder, one of them steaming with frustration after yet another fall from the last move on the notorious face-slapper In Your Face. Big muscles, metal-rocker long hair, and a resolution in the voice indicated that the guy was strong. He was pissed off, too, but his eyes sparked with psych and humor. Trying to discern words in his rant, I didn’t dare say much with my broken English, just nodded a lot, sure that the route was going to fall next try. My knitted brow must have caught the bro’s attention, as he suggested that I go straight to the route for a proper Rifle baptism. I loved it. That was the attitude I was expecting at the Mecca of sport climbing. I made sure to remember the name: Ben.
Two weeks later, on ledges below the Diamond, the biggest alpine wall of the Rockies, I easily recognized his face, blond ponytail and rant. My friend and I arrived too late and were sacked by sluggish teams ahead. Ben was seething with invectives after some jerks cut in line in front of him and his partner. His presence alone solidified my previous conviction that he was some climbing king of Colorado, a bad-ass “total” climber excelling in sport, trad and big wall. I was thrilled that the king remembered me too. We wailed that a perfect day had gone down the gutter, joked and bailed from the wall, but our paths merged for good. Ben, as I discovered, enjoyed sharing the rope with as many friends as possible. He was to become my best friend and partner for many shenanigans.
Rock climbing was Ben’s religion. His favorite way of practicing it was by placing gear on the walls of Eldo. He was an incredible climber but never sought to be the best, preferring high mileage on good stone over a high score on whatever site. He climbed 13b on both sport and trad routes but he didn’t care to push it further, he simply loved to climb and wanted to be solid at it, just to be able to send more good routes. Two months before his death from stage-4 cancer, he could still on-sight 12a. Being a very humble person, he would hate if I listed his many accomplishments but I know he would not mind if I mentioned one—Freeline (5.13b R) at Rincon Wall, a top personal win over depression and self-doubt.
Ben moved from his native Massachusetts to Colorado in 1996 with the sole purpose of being able to climb more. To make it possible he started a flooring business. That craft was in his genes, passed from his family along with skiing genes. He always managed to create windows in his busy schedule in order to go to his beloved Eldorado Canyon. He was incredibly good at both: woodwork and skipping work to go climbing.
Once, between some climbs, he made the stairs that I now climb every morning in my house. I asked him to cut risers with precision so I could slide them in later by myself. He said, “Dude, I can cut them to the millimeter, trust me,” and he cut them exactly to the tenth of a millimeter. That staircase is one of many of his pieces of art and a one-of-kind gift from Ben. By then, I already knew to trust Ben’s words. He would joke a lot, laugh effusively, and even worry about small things but he would never over-color, self-aggrandize or lie. Always sticking to the truth, deep inside, he was a very sensitive person reacting instantly to everything that looked wrong to him. He would get into a conflict by telling someone what he was thinking rather than hiding the feeling. With his Masshole temper, this translated sometimes to yelling at people being late on green lights, especially if it was for texting. A few times, one word too many torpedoed a relationship. But Ben’s integrity and sensibility made him a unique character in a large community of climbers. His reliability and receptivity attracted people like a magnet; everyone wanted to climb with Walburn. It was also no secret that Ben was an even bigger artist than rock climber or carpenter. When he took a guitar into his hands, no one could really understand why he would prefer to be on rock 10 feet above an RP than rock on stage for ten thousand people.
One day at a campfire, with a few IPAs in the system, Ben recalled that he had met two Polish climbers many years ago in Rifle, and one spoke good English and the other spoke none but was eager to climb, nodding and smiling a lot albeit stupidly. I told Ben my side of the story. We almost rolled in the fire from laughing.
Above anything, Ben was a man of good karma, and his battle with a rare form of cancer drew a huge family of friends who were there for him in the final months of his life. (See this testament by a young climber, Trevor Smith, born without his right arm below the elbow. Ben mentored the youth, who is now a competition paraclimber: “Without Ben Walburn,” Trevor writes, “none of it would have happened.”) Besides uncountable belays Ben gifted us all with an understanding that dying has a meaning too, and one can accept it with dignity when one’s integrity is in place. Hundreds of people loved Ben for being just Ben, a pal with a great sense of humor, a solid partner for yet another pitch before dusk. In the end, Ben never finished In Your Face, but who cares when one touches the heart of others with the power of love and sawdust.
Ed Drummond, 73, April 23
Ed Drummond, an English climber of considerable notoriety, died in California earlier this year. He had long been in poor health, having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years earlier. Despite his disability he continued to climb and be active almost until the end.
Ed arrived on the scene in the U.K. during the era when Joe Brown, Don Whillans and Peter Crew were ascendant. He put up many new routes in the Avon Gorge, England, and at the sea cliffs of Gogarth, North Wales; those at Gogarth include the famous Dream of White Horses and The Moon, which are considered in the same realm as the iconic Cenotaph Corner, Llanberis Pass.
Ed attempted to design a grading system to bring order to the British grades of “Diff,” “V diff,” “Severe,” and “Extremely Severe,” but in general his views did not go down well with the leading lights of the day.
He was an outsider. In 1967, as written in an obituary for Drummond on UKClimbing.com, “If you wanted to test yourself against the best, there was really only one place, North Wales, and one crag—Cloggy. You climbed hard, you drank hard, and and you partied hard.” You also did not indulge in self-promotion (other people did that for you). Edwin Ward Drummond, with an upper-class accent, already married and with a son, a non party animal who favored eating dates while climbing, did not fit in with working-class Britain.
He was a strong, bold climber but very slow. In 1967 he made the second ascent of The Boldest, the most feared route in Wales, on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu (Cloggy), but it took him three days. He then offered to guide people on the route for £6, which in Britain at that time was a lot of money (it would have bought 20 pints of beer). Joe Brown quipped when he heard about the offer, “Not bad, £6 for three days’ work.”
Also in 1967 Ed climbed the Great Wall, the other hardest route on Cloggy, as documented in a lyrical, original essay in Ken Wilson’s classic compendium Hard Rock, of 1974. Drummond in his writing often made up words or devised surprising uses for them. “Now the crack grins for two sweet nuts,” he wrote of the last moves. “Elephants bounce past trumpeting. … Then the crack shuts up and it shut me up until he said there was a peg behind a hidden flake to the right. After that parabola there’s just a human sucker move with a ledge after, just lying there waiting for you to stand on it. Pancake hearted, I plopped a fist in five feet above, just as my feet skedaddled. I’m not usually lucky.”
He took on leading climbers like Pete Crew and Martin Boysen, and although they were critical of his style they praised the quality of his routes. He unfortunately blew his horn too hard, such as claiming that a new route like The Strand at Gogarth would not be repeated for many years, and of course someone like Al Harris would appear and stroll up them. The Strand was in time recognized as a brilliant route.
In 1968 Drummond and Dave Pearce created one of the great British climbs: A Dream of White Horses assures his immortality. (Having been guided on that route, I can assure you that even following it is the most terrifying thing I ever did in my climbing days.) In 1970, with Oliver Hill, he climbed the mind-boggling 1,000-foot face of St. John’s Head, just adjacent to the Old Man of Hoy on the island of Hoy on Orkney. The Long Hope took him and Oliver Hill seven days.
This route was climbed free by the great Dave MacLeod in good style in three and a half hours and is the subject of an excellent film, “The Long Hope,” by Paul Diffley and MacLeod.
In 1972 Ed climbed Arch Wall on the Troll Wall, Norway, in an epic 20-day ascent, subject of another great creative essay, “Mirror, Mirror,” published in the original Ascent and republished in its “best of” 50th anniversary issue. (Ascent is now produced by this company, Big Stone Publishing). He wrote of a hanging bivy below the summit wall:
“All that night, while a white moon sailed over our shoulders, we perched on our haul bags and cut off the blood to our already damaged feet, too exhausted to know. Sharing our last cigar while the nerves in our feet were suffocating to death, we shone in our hunger and smiled a while.
“As soon as I put my weight on my foot in the new dawn I knew I’d had it. Hugh’s foot was an unspeakable image, and I had to tell him when his heel was grounded inside his boot. He could hardly have his laces tied at all and I was terrified that one of his boots might drop off.
“All that day the feeling was of having my boots being filled with boiling water that would trickle in between my toes and flood my soles. Then a sensation of shards of glass being wriggled into the balls of my feet. And upon each of my feet a dentist was at work, pulling my nails and slowly filling my toes. Then nothing but a rat-tatting heart when I stopped climbing. I would tremble like water in a faint breeze. I knew it was hypothermia. We had had no food for three days. Maybe it was two.”
In 1975 Ed left the UK for California and Yosemite Valley. He had made his bones in Europe and now decided to take on the big walls. He sought out and was somewhat rebuffed by Royal Robbins, but Royal being a gentleman tolerated him to a degree and did climb with him. In many ways being in Yosemite was Drummond’s best move: California, after all, is the land of Hollywood, and self promotion is a way of life; he was an eccentric but charming Englishman; and he could climb, was brave, and came with a large dollop of self belief. Ambitious, Ed targeted a solo ascent of the North America Wall, spending 14 days and nearly dying from hypothermia in the attempt; he was rescued by Werner Braun, who was lowered hundreds of feet in a storm to reach him. This event may well have been a turning point for Ed, who had been saved by the bravery and selflessness of others, and he acknowledged them publicly in a letter to the Yosemite Park Service. He did eventually climb the North America Wall and was the first Brit to solo the Nose of El Capitan.
Ed moved to San Francisco, embedded himself heavily in the poetry scene, and became a climbing activist, achieving international notice for protest climbs on Nelson’s Column in London, the Statue of Liberty and many others. His causes were fighting apartheid, achieving peace, and seeking racial justice. He also became a performance artist and would climb a metal triangle on stage while reciting his own poetry.
In the early 1990s he developed neurological issues, causing his limbs to shake and trouble with balance. Facing Parkinson’s, he continued to climb and hike, and involved himself with his children and their offspring (Drummond was married and divorced three times). He was able to travel to Britain in 2016 and was filmed hiking on Hoy to visit the site of his greatest climb, The Long Hope. Ed became increasingly disabled, and then ill as well with cancer. He endured for years but had to be admitted to a nursing home, where he died last spring.
See another obituary here, in the New York Times.
Hansjörg Auer, 35, April 16
Hansjörg Auer was born February 18, 1984, in Zams, Austria. Although he was an Aquarius, he ironically had an irrational and at times comical fear of water, which was only outdone by his equally laughable and more spastic arachnophobia. On April 16th, Hansjörg’s life and pursuit of climbing was cut short when an avalanche caught and buried him and his partners, David Lama and Jess Rosskelly, on Howse Peak, Alberta, Canada.
The third of five children, Hansjörg was raised on his family’s farm in the Ötztal Valley. Before he’d even reached the age of 10, he had summited a 3,000-meter peak with his older brother Matthias in their home valley—in winter, no less. By Hansjörg’s own admission, his athleticism growing up was far from obvious. Once he realized his talent for climbing and alpinism, he pursued it with tenacity, intensity and urgency.
Back in 2005, I was an undocumented, aspiring and sometimes sputtering former comp climber living in Innsbruck, Austria. That was the first time I heard of Hansjörg. Our mutual friend and fellow Ötztal native, Heiko Wilhelm, had gone to Rocklands, offseason, in December, with Hansjörg and some other Ötztalers. Heiko marveled at how Hansjörg had no concept of a rest day. Even with gritty sandstone, hot conditions and muscle-wrecking moves, Hansjörg climbed every day.
The following year, 2006, Hansjörg free soloed the classic Tempi Moderni (“Modern Times”), a 6c+ (5.11c) route of 27 pitches on the Marmolada South Face, in the Dolomites. Though the ascent didn’t earn him widespread fame, people started whispering about him and his feat in Tirol climbing circles, with admiration aplenty.
I remember how in 2007, on a rainy Spring Saturday, the editor in chief of Klettern (Germany’s largest climbing publication) rang my roommate, Gerhard Hörhager, a legendary climber in his own right, and asked if he could verify an unconfirmed report about a young mountain guide from Ötztal free soloing The Fish Route. Geri turned to me and asked if I’d heard of Hansjörg Auer, as the story sounded far-fetched. We gave our trusted source, Heiko, a call. Heiko unequivocally confirmed Hansjörg’s feat.
Via Attraverso il Pesce, commonly known as “The Fish,” is also on the Marmolada’s South Face. The 37-pitch route, named after a large fish-shaped pocket on the 20th pitch, is graded 7b+ (5.12c) and is a feather in the cap for anyone who manages to free it. Hansjörg’s free solo you couldn’t script. He had never even freed the whole route previously. He’d tried the route for a bit in 2004 and hadn’t done all the pitches clean. The day prior to his free solo he rapped and rehearsed the crux pitches alone.
Heiko Wilhelm says: “When Hansjörg was climbing on a rope, he was sometimes very quick, even a bit hasty, in his movement. But when he free-soloed, something changed; for him there was something sublime about the situation. He would climb with stoic calm. He was deliberate in every single movement, as he climbed meter by meter.”
For at least a couple of months, Hansjörg’s achievement was the talk of the town in the German and Italian climbing media. Two German climbers on the Marmolada that day had snapped a photo that verified his feat, but that was it. In the ensuing furor, every big-name photographer in the region asked Hansjörg if he’d go back to The Fish and let them capture some shots of him. He shunned all their requests and went back with his brother Matthias and close friend Heiko to get the shots.
Hansjörg carried the momentum from The Fish, and although he was at times afraid to admit his wish to be a professional full-time climber, he used it to do just that. It was around that time that our paths began to cross regularly, and our friendship blossomed. Also around this time Hansjörg began teaming up with one of my closest friends, and perhaps one of free climbing and alpinism’s most underrated achievers, Michael “Much” Mayr.
The three of us would climb together almost weekly, and Much and Hansjörg went on to make numerous bold first ascents. There was never a dull moment. Once the three of us were stopped on the Croatian border and subjected to a strip search after Hansjörg spilled all of his chalk. I also had the pleasure of belaying Hansjörg when he climbed his first 8c+ (5.14c), The Dark Side, a Much Mayr FA on Tirol’s China Wall. On that occasion, in typical Hansjörg fashion, at the final crux, he skipped a draw and inadvertently wrapped the rope around his leg. Anyone else would have said “Uncle!” and grabbed the draw, but Hansjörg pressed on for the redpoint. Such moments and acts of optimism and defiance defined Hansjörg. Right around this time, with his younger brother Vitus, Hansjörg managed an FA of his own on the Marmolada, an 8b (5.13d) they named Bruderliebe (“Brotherly Love”).
In 2012, Much and Hansjörg upped the Marmolada ante with the first free ascent of the bolt-less L’ultimo Dei Parucadutisti, which weighs in at 8b+ (5.14a) and is still unrepeated. Right up until Hansjörg’s untimely passing, these two forged a collection of diverse first ascents across five continents. Nearly all of this duo’s work up until now remains unrepeated.
In 2015, Hansjörg and Much went to Alaska and pulled off not just a new line, but the very first ascent of Mt. Reaper, via a 750-meter route they dubbed Sugar Man (M7 85° A1 750m). Much says they were tent bound for three days, waiting out weather, and constantly shoveling out snow: “Hansjörg had this ability to make you forget where you were and all that discomfort. We’d discuss and bicker [about] every possible topic like an old married couple. Farming, childhood, politics, books, music … Asaf Avidan’s “Reckoning Song” played on repeat, and the chorus—‘One day baby we’ll be old, think of all the stories that we could have told’—stayed stuck in our heads. Once we were done and down, we both agreed that we had pushed the envelope a little too far.”
In remembering Hansjörg, one also has to mention his achievements in the Himalaya, starting in 2013 with the first ascent of Kunyang Chhish East, carried out with the Swiss ace Simon Anthamatten and, once again, Hansjörg’s brother Matthias. The three tackled the southwest face of this 7,000-meter peak with technical difficulties up to M5. The ascent was followed by a 2017 first ascent of Gimmigela East (7,005 meters) with a fellow Austrian, Alex Blümel, and a solo first ascent of Lupghar Sar West (7,157 Meters) in 2018. For the latter, Hansjörg won a Piolet d’Or in 2019, posthumously.
During Hansjörg’s wake, as we reminisced over too much wine and beer, Matthias spoke of the special intuition that he and Hansjörg had when they climbed together. “Climbing with Hansjörg was the most natural thing,” he said. “We’d climb in all conditions and bad conditions when we were young. It didn’t matter how long it took, we wouldn’t stop until we reached the summit.
“It was in this style and with this fervor, that when Hansjörg was 19 and I was 21, we summited the Eiger Norwand.”
His non-mechanical zest and irreverence stayed with Hansjörg throughout his illustrious climbing career, and were among the things that made him so lovable. His heart was always on his sleeve, and he never masked his vulnerability. Hansjörg was always loyal to himself, his girlfriend Tatjana, family, friends and the valley where he was raised.
Jess Roskelley, 36, April 16
Clint Helander gives the following update:
In the months after Jess’s passing, his friends and family continued to search for answers and closure. His father John made several long trips up to the base of Howse Peak to recover gear as it melted out of the snow. Jess’s sister, Jordan, joined him for some of these long excursions to look upon her brother’s final great accomplishment and commune with his memory. In late September, his friends and family organized JessFest, a climbing competition in Spokane, Washington. The outdoor event, held at Jess’s favorite local crag, Deep Creek, was full of the type of fun he so embodied. All proceeds raised will go toward installing a toilet, picnic shelter, table and some type of memorial.
Below is the obituary we published at the time.
Rare is the man who can balance strength with humility, intense goals with selflessness, and high-level alpinism with a stable life in the city. Jess Roskelley, 36, who died April 16 on Howse Peak, had mastered all of those traits and more.
Jess grew up in Spokane, Washington, to Joyce and John Roskelley. Although his father was perhaps the strongest and most prolific American mountaineer of his generation, Jess only took up climbing after high school. For two years he worked as a mountain guide on Mount Rainier. In May 2003, he and his father summited Mount Everest. For seven years, Jess was the youngest American to have stood on top.
In the ensuing decade, Jess became a master welder and developed his own love for rock, ice and especially alpine climbing. For eight years, he divided his time between work on Alaska’s North Slope and climbing trips around the world.
Where his father had made a name for himself as a strong and accomplished high-altitude Himalayan climber, Jess developed a reputation as a gifted technical climber, especially on steep ice. For years, he and Ben Erdmann were a force, whether in reaching the summit of Cerro Torre in Patagonia, attempting Annapurna in Nepal, or establishing countless first ascents in Alaska’s forbidding Kichatna Spires.
It was through his accomplishments in Alaska that I first heard of Jess. On a trip to Patagonia in 2015-2016, we became fast friends.
We were in separate teams of mutual friends, but I was instantly drawn to him for his humor and confidence. Our two teams celebrated on the summit of Fitz Roy, and the conversations Jess and I shared showed great promise for future adventures.
For years I had dreamed of attempting the first ascent of the south ridge of Mount Huntington in Alaska. The effort would require a special partner, and my list was short. I cold called Jess. After asking his wife, Allison, he quickly said yes. In eight days on that tormented ridge of cornices, ice and stone, we forged something stronger than friendship or partnership. We became linked as brothers. Jess became my closest friend, my confidant, my favorite everything. We worked together in Colorado, climbed in Canada and talked incessantly.
After years of hard work and sacrifice, Jess was welcomed onto the elite North Face athlete team. Gaining other sponsorships as well, Jess became less dependent on welding and earned a substantial part of his income through gear development, teaching clinics and flying around the world attending high-profile climbing events. … [Read the full obituary here]
David Lama, 28, April 16
Though known the world over for his climbing accomplishments, David Lama was a chess player who liked the Sicilian opening; he was a cook, with a nearly professionally equipped kitchen; and he was a fisherman who traveled to the Maldives for weeks at a time to fish, alone. He and I would also hike around the rivers near Innsbruck for hours together, with rods made of salvaged plastic water bottles around which we had wrapped the lines, searching for fish. When we had two fish, we went back to David’s flat where he cooked an elaborate, experimental meal.
We had a lot of intense discussions about risk, statistics and death. David was a thoughtful person and loved pondering complicated topics. Thinking hard often yields simple conclusions, and his was this: He didn’t want to rely on luck to survive—but accepted that in the mountains, bad luck could mean disaster. On April 17, 2019, the disaster happened. David died in an avalanche on Howse Peak in Canada, together with Hansjörg Auer and Jess Roskelley.
Of his 29 years in this world, David spent almost 20 in the limelight: first as a rock climbing prodigy, then as the new kid in the conservative town of alpine climbing, and soon after as one of the most skilled alpinists in the world.
Anna Stöhr, who was on the same climbing team as David as a child, remembers: “In our kids climbing group we called David ‘Fuzzy’ because he was by far the smallest boy, and ‘Fuzzy’ means small in our Tyrolean dialect. However, he was not small when it came to ambitions. From a very young age he was convinced that he would be a climber when he grew up. He was also not small in terms of dedication. As a young boy he would prefer to go climbing during our training camp in Arco when all the other kids, including myself, just wanted to jump into Lake Garda. When he dropped out of school in his teens to pursue his climbing career it was hard to understand his decision. I did not dare to think of climbing as a job or career path, but Fuzzy knew from the very start that climbing was his destiny.”
In 2000, he became the youngest person to climb 5.13b, when he redpointed Kindergarten, Osp, Slovenia. From 2004 to 2010, he left his mark in competition climbing. More than his success, David’s legacy on the competition circuit was his climbing style. He was ahead of his time with his fluid, dynamic and confident movement. He climbed the way he lived: as it felt right to him, without hesitation.
Kilian Fischhuber remembers the years they shared on the World Cup circuit: “You could have so much fun with him, sometimes with dear consequences. We’d win a World Cup one weekend (him first, me second) and get kicked out of semis next weekend just because of a stupid bet (which he’d win), a crazy party (which he’d stage), or because he simply didn’t bother. …[W]e missed out on some medals, but these couldn’t match the good times we had.”
David traveled to Patagonia for the first time in 2009 to try to make the first free ascent of the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre. He came up short, but he also received a lot of negative feedback for bolts that his film crew placed. At the time he was an outsider in alpine climbing with little knowledge of its history. Afterward, he decided to catch up on that, and took responsibility for the bolts—not because they had been his decision, but because they had been put in for his film. In the end, he free climbed the line without the bolts—they were removed shortly before his ascent—in January 2012, succeeding in his goal of the first free ascent of the Compressor Route.
A few years ago, David and I drove to the Dolomites together to climb the classic Tempi Moderni on the 3,000-foot south face of Marmolada. We met a few friends of mine the night before and had pizza. The confidence with which David announced that we’d neither get up too early, nor miss the gondola to get down from the summit, could easily be mistaken as arrogance or cheap talk. But he knew what the day would bring, and saw no reason to approach it any other way. At the parking lot, he put four quickdraws, a few cams and six slings into the backpack. The climbing went by fast. His confidence, proficiency and most of all love for the mountains was on full display. When we neared the top our feet hurt so much that we slipped out of the heels of our shoes for the last pitches. This made for some interesting moments on the slabs, which David navigated in a very “dynamic” way, not letting some pain in his feet get in the way of a laugh. Despite his wisdom, there was a childish joy about him in the mountains.
David was an outlier in many regards. He rarely felt pressure from outside expectations. Important decisions, such as retiring from competition climbing or figuring out his path as a professional alpinist, came with a consideration and tranquillity that guided him in all aspects of life. When he quit competition climbing because he preferred climbing mountains, he recognized that his talent in that world was more important to others than to himself. David thought about the big picture, and lived as he saw fit.
A few years ago, I had to choose between spending a weekend with my then girlfriend, or climbing a winter route with David, which had been the original plan. I didn’t choose the winter route. It was the one time that I experienced him annoyed. He told me that I wasn’t committed enough. In his eyes, this was the worst way to be. He was a loyal friend, though, and didn’t hold a grudge against me for long, thankfully. David aspired to always be fully committed in his undertakings, and filled this maxim with life.
Since his first expedition to Lunag Ri in 2015, David was more and more drawn to Nepal, the home of his father. In 2015 and 2016, he’d attempted the mountain, one of Nepal’s highest unclimbed peaks, with Conrad Anker. After Anker suffered a heart attack on their second attempt, David set out to try it alone. Sharing a climb with someone was essential to him: the feeling of pushing on for a shared experience rather than a summit was important to him. But his climbs were linked to the partners he had attempted them with, and he didn’t like switching partners. “He started this journey with Conrad, so I think he wanted to finish with Conrad. It wasn’t possible though, so he decided he would do it alone,” his mother, Claudia Lama, told Rock and Ice in an interview in Poland last September.
About a year ago, David returned and did the first ascent of Lunag Ri. He climbed a very difficult wall by the easiest line, which was what he looked for in alpine climbing. A few weeks after, he climbed the comparatively mellow Cholatse with three close friends from Austria. When he returned, David said that both ascents had been equally important in making the trip outstanding.
David is survived by his parents, Claudia and Rinzi, and his partner, Hadley Hammer.
Kyle Roseborrough, 45, April 14
Kyle Roseborrough regularly climbed 5.13s, sending 100 of them in 2016. On his last climbing trip he was close to sending 5.14; but on April 14 this beloved husband, father, son and friend died in a tragic accident in Leonidio, Greece, while climbing at Crash of the Titans with his wife, Aimee. The cause of the accident appears not to have been conclusively determined.
Kyle Joe Roseborrough of Bend, Oregon, was raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and began climbing in the mid-1990s in the Organ Mountains of Las Cruces and Yosemite Valley, California, then exploring up-and-coming destinations like Hueco Tanks, Texas, and Kalymnos, Greece. Over time, he expanded his exploration to other climbing destinations around the world, including Germany, Turkey, Cuba, Mexico, France, Italy and Monaco. He even had a Residencia for Spain that allowed him to explore numerous locations throughout the country.
On May 27, 2001, Kyle married the former Aimee Loewenstern. They have two daughters, ages 7 and 12. The pinnacle of his nurturing spirit was the love he had for his family, with whom he was traveling in Greece. He was always introducing the girls to new experiences and fostering their passions: Hazel learning wushu and taking Spanish immersion, and Ella skydiving in Greece and having a tesla coil for candles on her birthday cake. He even learned to cook “not because it was his passion but because he wanted to show his girls that eating healthy can taste incredible,” says Aimee. And, as the girls got older and interested in climbing more, he noted “pretty soon they will be in the rotation.”
Kyle was deeply inspired by the outdoors, loved challenging himself, and thrived when encouraging others. … [Read the full obituary here]
Aidan Cameron Silitch, 17, March 21
Aidan’s father, Nick, said it best when addressing the overflowing crowd at his son’s funeral: “It is an impossible task to distill a life with so much promise into words.”
A full-time lover of the outdoors, Aidan divided his time between New York City and Dublin, New Hampshire, where he could often be found on the lake, on the trails, or skiing nearby. Aidan died tragically in a ski mountaineering accident on the North Face of the Aiguille du Tacul in Chamonix, France.
As a climber, Aidan was remarkable. He took challenges in stride and smiled through … well, most of them. His admirable qualities as seen in the climbing gym poured into all realms of his life. He had an uncommon ability to accept everyone he met. He was extremely opinionated, but, as his father put it, “able to grasp all sides of an issue and, while firmly committed to his own ideals, sought to understand the views of those opposed and to understand that those perspectives were also valuable as collectively we seek to define a path forward.”
As Aidan once put it, “You may not like what people are saying, but you have to let them say it.” His level of acceptance and his desire to learn were rare for someone his age.
Traditionally, the teachers are to provide the lessons, but as his climbing coach (at The Cliffs in Long Island City, New York) I learned as much from Aidan as he did from me. He taught me that it didn’t matter if you had chocolate all over your face. He taught me that on the first day of any school break, alarm clocks just simply don’t go off …. It wasn’t just his rotten luck or irresponsibility, but science. He taught me to be brave and fully myself. He taught me to apologize, to love fully, to keep pushing, to cry, to fight back, and to work at being patient. He taught me that Lady Gaga was boss, and to fully appreciate a well-made croissant.
Aidan was kind and bright, insanely funny, a sincere soul and a great friend. He was passionate about climbing and resolute in his desire to improve. Climbing did not come naturally to him, though you would never know it by watching. He worked hard, had lofty goals, and shared his ever-growing motivation with every member of our Vikings team. He was especially supportive of the growth and development of his peers and had patience that many of us continually strive for. He had a soft spot for the underdog and wanted everyone to feel included.
To quote his teammates, Aidan is: an inspirer. Effervescent. A luminous starfish. Fierce. Generous. Whole-hearted. Courageous. Encouraging. Passionate. Uplifting. Helpful. Kind, warm, caring funny. Magnanimous. Compassionate. Confident. Brave. Supportive. Glamorous. Dedicated. Fighter. “Aidan is what we want to see in a person.”
Please visit https://aidansilitch.com for more information and/or to donate to the Team Aidan Foundation, set up by the Silitch Family to honor Aidan’s spirit of adventure and love of climbing by providing opportunities for kids who may lack the financial means to further their competitive climbing careers.
Pat Trice, 65, March 1
Patrick Trice tragically departed his life in his hometown of Troy, Alabama, due to a severe asthma attack. Pat pursued both rock climbing and mountaineering for many years, gaining ascents of the Matterhorn, Eiger, Mont Blanc, Mount Robson, the Grand Teton, (Black Ice Couloir), Mount Assiniboine and El Capitan. In the 1990s, he spent several seasons in Yosemite at the “The Center of the Universe,” a.k.a. the parking lot by the Yosemite Lodge, where he earned the nickname “Alabama Pat” and slept in the bed of his truck under a big wooden slab to keep out park rangers.
Pat had many talents and an eclectic career. He worked at the headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society from 1972 to 1976, becoming a skilled brickmason. He pursued a musical career, playing in the Tristate Community Orchestra, Troy Symphony, Northwest Florida Symphony, and the Orchestra of St. Andrews Bay, frequently as a concertmaster and substitute violist. Pat drove in 36 states as a trucker, using a CDL acquired at Reid State Technical College in Evergreen, Alabama. He had a basic paramedic certification from Wallace Community College in Dothan, Alabama.
He participated in the 1980 New York and 1985 Boston marathons; he held a race-walking record in Southeast Alabama for five miles; and he was second in the 1980 Paperchase 5K, clocking 18:03. One desire was to attempt to swim the English Channel.
At the time of his death, Pat was in the process of completing a “green home” (a decades-long project) in an area of the Troy region where he had hunted and fished in past years.
In the last decade of his life, Pat did his very best to honor his commitment to serving Jehovah God through his faith and spiritual work. Pat will be dearly missed by his family and friends, including his spiritual family in Troy, Alabama. He is survived by his mother; Anne Trice; his sisters, Tina Outlaw (spouse: Joe Polakoski), Tara Osterberg (Tom Osterberg) and Frances Trice (Donald Cheung); his nieces and nephew, Tiffany Mulder (Jeff Mulder), Zoe Cheung, Alexandra Cheung, Zachary Dutton and David Polakoski; and his great niece and nephew, Addison and J.R. Mulder. We miss Pat dearly each and every day.
Julian Zanker, 28, February 24
Stephan Siegrist adds the following update:
I am writing this while I am sitting in the plane back to Europe after a great trip in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field.
Half of Julian’s ashes were spread over the Eiger onto the North face. The other half was buried on a small mountain where he is from.
Nicolas Hojac and Lukas Hinterberger, two young Swiss climbers, and I climbed Cerro Cachet—a mountain that was only climbed twice before. We brought a little Julian with us (see picture), and we left him on the summit, a place where we are sure he would be happy.
We did the first ascent of the East Face. Julian was supposed to be with us on this expedition. We named the route Un Hommaje a Los Amigos Perdidos (“An Homage to Lost Friends”) in his honor.
Below is the obituary published at the time of Julian Zanker’s death.
It was in the mountains that Julian Zanker loved so much that he found himself again on February 24, with his friend and climbing partner, Tobias Suter, climbing the Heckmair Route on the North Face of the Eiger—the most formidable wall in the Alps. This infamous testpiece is known for chossy rock and unreliable gear, but the team had every reason to be confident. Zanker was a 5.13 climber, and had many ice and alpine experiences under his belt. He began working his way through the ramp after leading the ice chimney, and it is believed (he was out of Suter’s line of sight) he slipped there, falling about 20 meters. Suter felt tension in the rope and fixed the line so that he could move around and see what had happened. Looking around the corner, he saw Zanker on the end of the rope and shouted to him, but there was only silence. A rescue team soon responded and pronounced the 28-year-old Zanker dead.
Julian Zanker was born in 1990 into a loving family of outdoor-enthusiasts. He grew up in Switzerland and knew from a young age that the mountains were his happy place.
“His deep connection with nature and the mountains was expressed by many hiking and soon climbs with his mother, Carla. On the summits he often looked up the birds and started to dream about flying. He directed his vocational training after his great idols Ueli Steck and Stephan Siegrist: He became a carpenter,” wrote Zanker’s family on the late climber’s website.
Stephan Siegrist, in an email to Rock and Ice, remembered him well: “Years back, before I had even met Julian, I received an email from this young aspiring climber who was also doing his apprenticeship as a carpenter, like I had done. He wanted advice on how I had made climbing my profession and was keen to pave his own way to a life dedicated to his passions. At that point I never would have imagined he would later become one of my climbing partners, let alone such a good friend.”… [Read the full obituary here]
Tom Ballard, 30, Between February 24 and March 5
Tom Ballard, son of the late, immensely talented mountaineer Alison Hargreaves, in his short life accomplished an unfathomable amount in the world of rock, snow and ice. He gave much to mountaineering and to the people who were lucky enough to be close to him, to those who could enjoy his silences and his quiet smiles.
Tom was with his mother on the Eiger’s North Face—she was pregnant with him when she climbed it in 1988. Twenty years later, in 2009, on that same difficult wall in the Swiss Alps, Tom hinted at the great things he was to do in the mountains when he established a new free route, Seven Pillars, solo.
But it was in the winter of 2014-2015 that he left his real mark. Tom climbed the six great North Faces of the Alps—Cima Grande di Lavaredo, Pizzo Badile, Matterhorn, Grandes Jorasses, Petit Dru and the Eiger. He was the first person to do so in a single winter.
After that, he experienced newfound fame and attention. I remember helping him compose lectures and presentations about his exploits. At first he was reluctant to talk about his own feats. But he came alive in front of the crowd: He transformed, enchanted them, and would share himself and his adventures with simplicity and passion. He shared intimate reflections about being high up on a face or alone in his tent; it thrilled those who had the pleasure of listening to him. Afterward he would return to his solitude, his privacy, his fascinating silences.
After the six north faces, Tom left marks in other areas, too. He was an exceptionally talented dry-tooler, and established the hardest dry-tooling line in the world, A Line Above the Sky. The climb was in a massive cave Tom had discovered and developed for dry tooling, on the slopes of the Marmolada, and named Tomorrow’s World. A Line Above the Sky was the first D15 in the world.
Tom climbed hundreds of routes in the Dolomites and elsewhere in Europe in his three decades. Toward the end of his career he began looking to the higher mountains. He did one expedition to Pakistan in 2017. He and Daniele Nardi tried Link Sar.
In December 2018, Tom traveled to Pakistan, again with Daniele Nardi, to try to complete the first winter ascent of the Mummery Spur on Nanga Parbat. It had never seen an ascent, and had been descended only once, by Reinhold Messner and his brother Günther in June 1970 during a desperate descent on the Diamir side after climbing the Rupal side. Tom and Daniele died in late February while climbing the route.
Tom was constantly looking for personal and intimate mountaineering goals: His biggest dream was to climb K2 in winter.
Tom left a legacy of climbing alone in the mountains. He climbed in his own style, without trying to please or appease anyone else. Recalling the great climbers whose steps he often sought to retrace, he once wrote: “I think of many important people, mountaineers of the thirties and forties. They too had little money, they climbed with the minimum indispensable, they did great things with very little. So, it doesn’t matter what you do, but what you managed to do with what you have.”
Tom will be remembered as a man who was ahead of his time with the things he did in the Dolomites and the Alps. He climbed in the cleanest way possible, even when it made the climbs more difficult. He explained, “It’s not worth doing things that don’t require commitment. If it’s all easy, what’s the point?”
Daniele Nardi, 42, Between February 24 and March 5
Daniele Nardi, 42, born in Sezze, in southern Italy, in 1976, disappeared on the Mummery Spur, Nanga Parbat, at the end of February 2019, with his partner Tom Ballard. After a final call on November 24, radio contact with Nardi and Ballard was lost.
Sezze is just 60 kilometers from Rome and the closest mountain to the city is Semprevisa (1,536 meters)—hardly the training ground for a future Himalayan climber of Daniele’s caliber. Each summer growing up, Daniele spent time in the Alps, and it was there, climbing on and around Mont Blanc when he was 13 years old with his brother Claudio, that he learned to love the mountains. He and Claudio called themselves the “Rolling Stones.” Back home, Daniele began climbing in Gran Sasso, three or four hours away by car from Sezze.
In 2002, Daniele tried his first 8,000-meter peak, Cho Oyu. Though he did not summit, it marked the beginning of a string of other successes on 8,000ers.
Daniele climbed Everest in 2004 (with supplemental oxygen, for a scientific expedition on climate science; the expedition installed the highest weather monitoring station in the world, which beams down realtime climate data to the international scientific community); Shishapangma (8,027 meters) in 2005; Nanga Parbat (8,125 meters) and Broad Peak (8,047 meters) in 2006; and K2 (8,848 meters) in 2007. On K2, he lost a climbing partner, Stefano Zavka—a traumatic and defining time in his career.
Having climbed five different 8,000ers, Daniele next dedicated himself to trying more technical routes. He attempted a new mixed ice and rock route on Bhagirathi III (6,454 m) in 2011. Though he did not summit, turning back at the final ridge because of dangerous and challenging snow conditions, he was recognized and honored by the Central Italian Alpine Club, and the Italian Academic Alpine Club honored him for his Bhagirathi III climb. Daniele also tried a new route on Ama Dablam, in Nepal, and opened a new route on Monte Rosa, in the Alps.
But the mountain that occupied more of his time and energy than any other during his life was Nanga Parbat. His connection with the mountain began back in 2008, when he started dreaming of climbing it in winter. Later, after his first attempt in 2013, he learned the story of Albert Frederick Mummery and became even more invested in the project. Mummery was a climbing pioneer far ahead of his time: in the summer of 1895, he tried to climb the 8,126-meter Nanga Parbat “by fair means”—as opposed to the heavy expedition style used still many decades after—an unbelievable challenge for the time. Daniele fell in love with the story and the ideals it represented. The Spur—a visionary line following a rocky rib straight to the summit of Nanga Parbat—became his “dream route.”
In the winter of 2013, Daniele and I tried to climb the Mummery Spur together. Daniele was a pragmatic and strong manager. He always seemed to have everything in control. “Just live the life you love. Mountain freedom!” was one of his mottos . We set a new highpoint on the route, reaching about 6,450 meters. Though we didn’t finish the route, we were happy as kids to be climbing such an awe-inspiring line. Our laughter filled the mountains that winter.
Daniele returned to Nanga Parbat in the winters of 2014, 2015 and 2016, but still did not reach the summit.
In the winter of 2018-2019, Daniele returned once more, this time with Tom Ballard, a strong young alpinist from the UK, with whom he had tried to open a new route with on Link Sar, Pakistan in 2017.
Daniele and Ballard disappeared before they could finish Daniele’s dream line. But he was surely happy to be climbing—the Mummery Spur always put Daniele in a state of pure joy. Though overlooked by others, it was a line that gave meaning to his life. There was nothing he wanted more in the mountains than to return to that route until it was done.
Daniele was more than just a climber: he was also an ambassador for human rights around the globe, supporting various projects in Nepal and Pakistan. On his expeditions, he brought with him flags that were signed by over 20,000 Italian students in solidarity with the local populations.
Daniele was someone who helped push the sport, and inspired new perspectives in winter mountaineering. He had a fierce determination to achieve his goals, and he tried to climb in the best style he could.
From my time with Daniele, what I will remember most is his big grin and that compassionate glint in his eye. Every time I bivouac in the mountains under the stars, and feel the fresh air on my face, I will think of him.
Steve Perry, 47, February 5
Steve Perry and Andy Nisbett, who were lost together winter climbing in the Munros of Scotland, were regular climbing partners in recent years. Steve introduced Andy to the new-route potential at Ben Hope, scene of their last climb, about six years ago when they first met. At that time, Steve had done some climbing but in just a matter of a few years he was beginning to establish himself as a leading winter climber and had turned his hand to hard rock climbing, too. Julian Lines, another climbing partner, takes over this part of the story, saying that Steve’s utter drive and keenness outweighed his lack of experience, in helping Julian to climb a project on the Dubh Loch that finally became Margrathea at E9 7a. After an unlucky fall on Duntelchaig crag near Inverness, Steve was barely out of his plaster cast when he made an ascent of Elisha Grays at E5 6b.
Last winter Steve managed to climb his new winter project, Shape Shifter (Grade VIII, 8) with Helen Rennard and Andy Nisbet. Prior to acquiring his lust for winter and summer technical climbing, Steve completed a seven-and-a-half month walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats via every 3,000 footer hill in England, Wales and Scotland. He then took on and finished the winter 284 challenge, covering 1,500 miles and 450,000 feet of ascent as he summited all the 284 Scottish Munros in a 121-day push.
Stephen Perry was a true all-around mountaineering enthusiast. He dedicated himself to finding wild and fabulous adventures in Scotland’s most magical and remote places. He always had a million and one plans and dreams on the go. He is survived by his three wonderful daughters, Adele-Alice Simpson Perry, Grace Schieallion Peach-Perry and Scarlet Aurora Peach–Perry.
Andy Nisbet, 65, February 5
Sandy Allan, who penned an obituary of his friend Andy earlier this year, adds the following thoughts:
Andy knew the infinite locations and all the intimate secrets of our Scottish winter climbing venues. There is a hardly a Scottish winter climbing crag that does not have an Andy Nisbet route on it. His routes are so prolific that there is hardly an experienced winter climber who had not climbed with Andy. This vast array of interesting routes, from easy to the most very technical, gave Andy an iconic status as Scotland’s most proficient and enthusiastic winter climber.
Below is the obituary that was published following Andy Nisbet’s death.
Andrew Nisbet was my best friend in the world and my closest climbing companion since the late 1970s. Andy, as he was more commonly known, was the icon of Scottish winter climbing. He was also an active summer rock climber and alpinist, and had several expeditions to the Himalayas and first ascents in India under his belt.
Andy had notched up well over 1,000 first ascents over 50 years of exploratory forays into the Scottish hills. He had boundless enthusiasm, encyclopedic knowledge and—with his big flaming red beard and friendly manner—was the embodiment of Scottish winter climbing.
He was a pioneer and documenter. Andy spent much of his life voluntarily recording, with exact detail, new routes for the Scottish Mountaineering Club and the Scottish Mountain Trust, of which he was a former president and the current editor of new-route information.
While Andy loved climbing all over Scotland, his preferred climbing area was probably the Grampian Mountains, known locally as the Cairngorms, and he made his home in Boat of Garten. His favorite crag was probably Creag an Dubh Loch. Vertigo Wall, Goliath and the Rat Trap were several of his early successes that went on to become legendary climbs.
Andy was responsible for pioneering and pushing the grades, establishing some of the first Scottish grade 7’s and 8’s, and Mort on Lochnagar, one of the first Grade IX’s in Scotland. Even as an older climber he was still climbing at a very high standard, melded with the rock and ice of the hostile arctic-like Scottish climbing environment.
Andrew was born on May 23, 1953 in Aberdeen. His father, Professor John Nisbet, was a wartime intelligence officer and educator. His mother was a zoology lecturer. After Aberdeen Grammar, Andy studied biochemistry at Aberdeen University and completed his PhD, but abandoned academic life in favor of winter climbing and worked as an outdoor climbing and mountaineering instructor. His father introduced him to the hills as a boy, and he completed his first round of the Munros (282 different 3000-foot peaks of Scotland) as a teenager. … [Read the full obituary here]
Andy Harvard, 69, January 16
Andrew Carson Harvard died peacefully on the morning of January 16, 2019, after a decade-long battle with Younger Age Onset Alzheimer’s. His final days were spent comforted by phone messages from his extensive network of colleagues, climbers, classmates and friends.
Andy was born in New Orleans on July 29, 1949. His family moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he attended Hopkins School. Many of the friendships formed there remained with him through the rest of his life. Andy’s love of water, wilderness and the mountains were ignited by the adventures he shared as a Boy Scout. He became an Eagle Scout at age 14 and continued to draw upon lessons of leadership, team building and mentorship all his life.
During his Dartmouth College years (1967-71), where he was a history major, he became deeply involved with the Dartmouth Outing Club and its subsidiaries—Ledyard Canoe Club, where he and his close friend Todd Thompson were the first recipients of Dartmouth’s Ledyard Medal; and the Mountaineering Club, which elected him president in 1970. That same year he was among a small group of Dartmouth climbers who traveled to Peru to participate in a relief mission following an earthquake, and went on to Bolivia to scale 20,892-foot Illampu and 19,974-foot Huayna Potosi.
Following graduation, Andy worked for the U.S. Forest Service in Vermont and then enrolled at Boston University, where he earned a JD in 1979. He was admitted to the Alaska, Washington, New York and Federal Bars. That was after being a Timber Management Contractor for the USFS in Vermont, an oilfield roughneck in Prudhoe Bay, and a river guide, co-founding the first rafting company in Nepal.
He was involved in major Himalayan expeditions in Nepal, India and China, including Dhaulagiri, Nanda Devi and Minya Konka. It was on the Nanda Devi expedition that Willi and Jolene Unsoeld’s daughter—named Nanda Devi, after the peak itself—died in a tent with Willi and Andy high on the mountain. In 1980, Andy did the reconnaissance for a new route on the east side of Mount Everest. He then became a member of the American team that attempted the 6,300-foot Kangshung Face in 1981. The team returned in 1983 and put four members on the summit, completing the most difficult route on the highest mountain in the world. … [Read the full obituary here]
—Kathy Harvard and Jed Williamson
Feature image photo credits: (Top Row, Left to Right) Clint Helander, Justin Colquhoun, Blair Speed, Louis Arévalo, Glenn Robbins; (Middle Row, Left to Right) Courtesy of Paula Crenshaw, Artem Vasilyev, Brad Gobright, Forrest Schwab, Courtesy of the Anderson Family; (Bottom Row, Left to Right) Heiko Wilhelm, Suresh Nepali, Ryan Rex, M. Ferrigato, Sasha Turrentine.
“Climbers We Lost in 2019” was compiled by Alison Osius, firstname.lastname@example.org, and Michael Levy, email@example.com.