Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

News

Mark Powell, Warren Harding’s Partner on Early Attempts on the Nose, Dies at 91

Mark Powell passed away yesterday, July 2, at age 91, in California.

Lock Icon

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All-Access
Intro Offer
$3.99 / month*

  • A $500 value with 25+ benefits including:
  • Access to all member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Rock and Ice, Climbing, Outside, Backpacker, Trail Runner and more
  • Annual subscription to Climbing magazine.
  • Annual gear guides for climbing, camping, skiing, cycling, and more
  • Gaia GPS Premium with hundreds of maps and global trail recommendations, a $39.99 value
  • Outside Learn, our new online education hub loaded with more than 2,000 videos across 450 lessons including 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers and Strength Training for Injury Prevention
  • Premium access to Outside TV and 1,000+ hours of exclusive shows
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

Mark Powell, a climber from the Golden Age of climbing in Yosemite, passed away at 91.
Mark Powell in April 2016 at his home in Los Angeles. Photo © Jim Herrington. Visit http://www.theclimbersbook.com/.

Several that were there have called Mark Powell the best free climber of the 1950s, in California anyway. He was also the original dirtbag climber, eschewing the comforts of job, home and wife and devoting himself full time to climbing, practically unheard of at the time.

Powell was the first to live in Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley for an entire season and over that summer of 1955, and the summer of ’56, he put up fifteen bold, attention-getting first ascents. One was Arrowhead Arete, a seven-pitch 5.8 and a hard lead for the era.  Nowadays of course a climber of his talent would have sponsorship, fancy gear, probably an Instagram page. And even though his leading-man looks got him an extra role in a Hollywood movie or two he chose to live a hand-to-mouth existence—fully committed to climbing. A true dirtbag before there was a word for it.

In 1957 he led several of the early pitches on the infamous first ascent of the Nose route on El Capitan with Warren Harding but while on a break from that, and while climbing another route, he took a fall that severely broke his ankle. It took a long time for him to be rescued and brought down from the rock, meanwhile an infection set in which gave him problems for half a century. With a fused ankle he managed some notable ascents after the accident but it ultimately shut down his extremely promising climbing career. After many years of suffering he finally and recently had the foot amputated. Many have speculated on the climbs that he could have led through the ‘60s and beyond and the further impact he would make on climbing but it wasn’t to be.


Jim Herrington is a photographer and author of The Climbers, a book of sixty black-and-white portraits of early-to-mid 20th Century mountain climbing legends. The book, published in October 2017, won the Grand Prize at the 2017 Banff Book Awards, as well as the Mountaineering History Award.


Also Read

Dee Molenaar, Last Survivor of Legendary 1953 K2 Expedition, Dies at 101