Bill Stall, who died November 2 at age 71, won two Pulitzer prizes with the Los Angeles Times. The first was a team prize, for spot reporting on the 1994 earthquake in Northridge, California. Stall won an individual Pulitzer in 2004 for his perceptive editorial coverage of complex governmental issues in California.
Bill was a watchdog voice on environmental issues, preservation in Yosemite, and other concerns such as minimizing snowmobile use in Yellowstone. He started climbing around Sacramento, mostly at Tahoe, Lovers’ Leap and Sugarloaf, in the late 1960s with his friend Gene Grake.
He and Grake traveled to Yosemite twice a year, joining the company of Warren Harding, Galen Rowell and Chuck Pratt.
In 1970, then reporting for the Associated Press, he watched the first ascent of the Dawn Wall, by Warren Harding and Dean Caldwell, on El Cap. He remembered that during their 27-day push, the climbers communicated by dropping notes down in film canisters.
There was a big controversy over whether they wanted to be rescued, he said from his home in Sacramento, two days before his death. The Park Service said they had officially asked for one. I knew that was not the case and I reported that in my article. The book Camp 4 by Steve Roper notes that the Park Service assembled a large rescue crew atop El Cap. [L]uckily, Roper wrote, an Associated Press reporter, Bill Stall, set the record straight: the Park Service had overreacted and even lied about who had instigated the rescue.
Stall, an American Alpine Club board member for six years, covered the Forest Service’s proposed ban on fixed-anchor use in its wilderness areas. In a 1998 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle, he wrote, The U.S. Forest Service has hardly been a model steward. The agency has tolerated overgrazing of its leased pasturelands, environmental damage from subsidized timber cutting, and degradation of pristine mountain meadows. Now, curiously, the Forest Service has gone to the other extreme.
Also that year he wrote an excellent unsigned Los Angeles Times editorial on preserving Camp 4 in Yosemite. He spoke to then Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt about its historic value, and even sent Babbitt a copy of Camp 4.
As incisive as he was, Stall was calm, thoughtful and gentlemanly, with as true a love of the environment as a sharp curiosity about world affairs. At the end he mailed in an absentee ballot for the Presidential election in case, as it happened, he didn’t make it that long.
Asked what climbing had meant in his life, Stall said, When you say freedom of the hills’, that says it all.
He died of complications from pulmonary disease.