On June 9, Ray Warburton of Bishop, California, died while descending the North Couloir on Mount Humphreys, a prominent peak above the area that he’d summited several times through the years by multiple routes. Ray, 59, may have been struck by rockfall, which was heard by climbers on the nearby East Ridge. Ray leaves his wife, Lesley Allen, and their two children, Augie and Lacy, ages 9 and 8.
Inyo SAR, who recovered his body, stated: “Ray was a well-known and respected Eastern Sierra community member, father, husband, friend to many, and mountain person.”
Ray led an exceptionally adventurous life, and stories of him are legendary. He trekked through Africa, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, climbed extensively in South America, and was an expert on climbing and skiing in the Wind River Mountains, Wyoming, where he worked with the Forest Service in the 1980s. Ray was a surveyor by trade and lived in Jackson Hole for much of the 1980s and 1990s before moving to the Eastern Sierra in 2001 with Lesley.
I first met Ray around 1985 or 1986, when I was a youngster in Jackson Hole. Although only a few years older than I was, he was already a veteran backcountry skier, climber and adventurer. Over the years we connected for climbs in the Tetons and Wind Rivers, and our first big trip together was an early ascent of Rainbow Wall at Red Rocks in the mid 1980s years before it was bolted as a free climb. I was leading the last pitch and nailing a refrigerator-sized block when the whole thing collapsed, crashing thousands of feet below past Over the Rainbow Ledge, where we’d slept the night before. Thankfully I was on the far left end of an arching pitch, and when I fell I swung free of the carnage, and nothing touched Ray either. I looked over at him (now at my level but about 50 feet away), and there he was, crazy wiry hairdo, with huge alarmed eyes and a big smile on his face.
[Also Read El Cap Free Timeline]
Another time in Yosemite Ray and I tried the North America Wall on El Cap, my second attempt. We were pumped and charging, but on one of those early A3 pitches, perhaps around pitch 5, Ray took a big whipper, falling off some stacked angle pitons and smacking his arm—breaking his wrist, we later learned. We kept going but by about pitch 15 his wrist hurt so much he couldn’t even pound out pitons anymore—so we bailed. He felt bad but in hindsight he showed a crazy amount of toughness. Pretty typical of Ray—he had lots of inspiration and was willing to put himself out there to experience wild adventures. I had many other fun times with Ray, and most of the memories include a lot of laughing and giggling.
Ray-Bones—I called him that for obvious reasons, he was maybe 125 pounds soaking wet—was a big music fan and was not afraid to dance wildly wherever and whenever he heard his favorite bands (specifically not the Grateful Dead!). In the 80s I was a hardcore Deadhead and he schooled me, broadening my appreciation to some of the new stuff at the time: The Clash, Pixies, X and The Replacements were always blaring on whatever crappy car stereo he had at the time. Ray was always looking for something new, whether it was climbing, skiing, sailing or music.
Ray was an integral part of a brotherhood of scrappy Teton adventurers, all whom have countless stories of their exploits with Ray, most of which include big backcountry climbing and skiing trips, loud music and lots of laughter and goofing off. And whippers (notice the trend?). These close friends include Teton legends like Marty Vidak, John Jakubowski, Keith “Skeeter” Cattabriga and Jay Pistono. Researching “Ray stories” from those guys for this obituary made me realize there are just too many tales to document in this space, but a particularly on-brand “Ray” story stuck out from Pete Quinlan:
“We blasted to the City of Rocks in his ol’ beater Cadillac (gas was cheap then) with a keg of beer in the trunk and the Pixies crankin’ in the deck. Spent half of the last day giving away beer so we could return it empty. He definitely knew how to enjoy himself … and others. He was always way psyched, upbeat and super silly but could also be seriously focused.” And tough.
The last time I saw Ray was in Yosemite Valley a few years back when we climbed a fun route on Higher Cathedral Rock. At the time we’d both transitioned on a good bit and had become fathers, clearly resetting our priorities. Ray loved being a father and was devoted to his family.
Ray was always smart, thoughtful, quick to laugh, and known to ask: “One more lap?” His laugh was infectious. Man, that guy had energy. RIP, buddy.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help support Ray Warburton’s family.