Gordon Williams, an Idaho climbing legend, passes.
FritzRay last edited by toby
My friend, high school classmate, climbing, & adventure buddy, Gordon Williams aka Stein Sitzmark, & on occasion, Imstein, passed away on Tuesday July 23rd at age 69 & 3/4. He leaves a lot of good friends & his loving family behind. Some of the folks on this forum know Gordon as a co-sponosr of our City of Rocks "get-togethers."
Gordon was trained to be a Registered surveyor but was also an artist by choice & inclination. Many folks enjoyed his keen wit& loquacious manner. He was interested in many,many things, but his photography has been a major achievement since the late1960’s.
We shared climbing adventures in Idaho’s Boulder, Pioneer & Sawtooth Mountains in the early 1970’s, during which time we co-founded the Decker Flat Climbing & Frisbee Club (DFC&FC). The name popped into my head on our way to Mt. Regan in the Sawtooths in 1970, when we needed to register our party at the Wilderness Boundary. We never had scheduled meetings or dues, but we did enjoy 4th of July group meets in the PioneerRange in 1970 & 1971, with about 20 friends attending.
June 1971, my photo of Gordon glissading “way too fast” on our way down from climbing the highest peak in the Sawtooths.
In the early 1970’s Gordon was active in attempting the first winter ascents of some difficult to climb in summer peaks in the Sawtooth Range. There were some setbacks, but he was integral in the first winter ascent of the difficult pinnacle, The Finger of Fate & a large peak with no easy way to the summit, Mt. Heyburn. Here’s my photo of Gordon & a friend Roxanna Trot, on a winter moonlight ascent of 10,891’ Boulder Peak near Sun Valley.
The DFC&FC became an Idaho legacy, mainly due to Gordon’s work in restoring Pioneer Cabin, a 1937 Sun Valley Company high mountain ski hut, which sets on a scenic ridge at the edge of the Pioneer Mountains. Here’s a link to an Idaho Public TV article on the cabin, which mentions the history. http://idahoptv.org/outdoors/shows/intothepioneers/pioneerCabin.cfm
Of course, it was a Gordon idea to paint the club slogan: “The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get” & D.F.C & F.C. on the roof of Pioneer Cabin. That outraged some, but has lasted until now, with occasional re-paintings.
Here’s a group of us at our 4th of July 1971 gathering. Gordon at left in the back row.
Gordon was active at rock-climbing & mountaineer through the 1970’s, but a near fatal accident on the Finger Of Fate in the Sawtooths gave him reason to mostly stop rock-climbing. I cooperated with Gordon in writing that story in 2013 & this seems a likely spot to share it.
Gordon’s Close Call.
In late July 1978, I hiked into Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with my friends Mark & Gail. We were off to do our favorite rock-climb, the Open Book route on The Finger of Fate. By 1978 I had climbed the classic 5.8 route a number of times and it had become normal for us to hike in, climb the route, and return back to Ketchum on the same day.
After the considerable hike & climb up to the base of the Finger of Fate, Gail passed on climbing and Mark & I started up the route. We were going “light & fast” with a single 150’ rope, minimal nuts & slings for protecting the familiar route, and no rainwear.
As Mark led the crux first pitch, clouds started appearing in the sky, but neither of us considered turning back. Unfortunately, the Open Book route has a view only to the East, and we could not see the approaching thunderstorm that was coming from the other side of the mountain.
I led the second demanding lead, and then Mark raced up the 3rd lead while the sky darkened. By the start of the 4th lead we could hear muted thunder in the distance. At the top of the 4th lead, light rain started falling. Unfortunately, the final lead up onto the summit-block of the Finger entails some difficult friction climbing that would now be impossible on the newly-wet rock.
We were suddenly in a bad fix. If we were able to climb the summit-block: we could do one rappel off the “back-side” of the Finger onto the top of a gully we could quickly down-climb, even in rainy conditions. It was unthinkable to rappel back down the Open Book route with our single rope.
As rain started falling more heavily and lightning lit up the sky nearby: we started to retreat down the lower-angled south side of the Finger. That side is broken by ledges & cracks, and we quickly decided we had a better chance of getting down that way in a storm. We were able to down-climb a ways, then we had to rappel a short vertical section. We put a nylon webbing loop around a convenient rock horn right at the top of the vertical area, then dropped the ends of the doubled climbing rope down, after feeding one end through the sling. That would allow us to pull the rope down after our rappel, for further use.
By now it was raining hard and lightning was striking nearby peaks with resounding booms. I attached the rope to my climbing harness, leaned back and started to rappel the vertical wall.
Suddenly-----I was falling free, still attached to the rope. I had time to realize something had gone very wrong, then the rope snapped tight, and I smashed into a ledge with my right foot as the rope stretched under my weight. The rope then rebounded, and I was left hanging, just above the ledge.
I was able to lower myself onto the large ledge, and then comprehend what had happened during my near disastrous fall. First off, I had a severely sprained right ankle. Mark was yelling down at me, and I was able to learn my fall had started when the wet nylon sling had slipped up and off the rock horn that anchored it. I had fallen about 20 feet before the rappel rope jammed into another crack and stopped me. Mark needed the rope back to get down to me, and it was raining hard with lightning all around.
Things were looking a little desperate for us, but I was able to climb/limp up towards Mark a little- ways. Mark tied other slings together with his belt, shoelaces, and eventually his pants to create a makeshift rope, and then dropped one end to where I could just reach it. I tied one end of the real rope to his makeshift rope and he was able to pull it up, un-jam it and finally rappel down to me.
It was still raining and lightning was all around us, but we worked our way off the mountain without further incident and re-united with Gail. Getting down from the Finger of Fate to the nearest trail entails two miles of off trail hiking. I ended up crawling down some of the steeper parts, Mark and a new friend, Brent Bernard, helped me with the rest. Then it was 1.8 miles of easy trail back to our vehicle.
So, we have been blessed that Gordon survived not only that 1978 storm & rappel failure, but he also graced us with his lively presence until now. Around the time of the accident he & Mark Sheehan had bought an old hotel/boarding house at the onetime mining town of Triumph a few miles southeast of Sun Valley. In the early 1980’s they remodeled it into two separate two-story homes, with lots of room for possessions & the range of woodworking machinery he had acquired. Gordon’s half of that project provided him the comfortable home he had lived in since then.
Gordon also became involved in white-water rafting in the 1980’s & survived many challenging river trips, including two Grand Canyon adventures. In 2016 we finally enjoyed a multi-day river trip with him, thanks to our mutual friend Chris Puchner. We loaned Gordon our “sportscar” raft & he navigated it down the large & sometimes scary rapids of Idaho’s Main Salmon River without mishap. Here’s Gordon photographing Mountain Sheep in a calm stretch of river.
Gordon could be a fun companion on any sort of back-country adventure, but he had done numerous strenuous hiking trips to Nepal too. Both his fellow hikers & Nepalis found him an interesting & delightful companion on those trips. Here’s my 2008 photo of Gordon & a merchant of Lo Manthang in remote Mustang, Nepal.
In this century, Gordon was a regular at City of Rocks gatherings he co-sponsored. He enjoyed the area & the interesting, mostly older climbers that attended our events, but he rarely climbed.
Part of the fun of being around Gordon was his rich imagination. His little plastic friend Piglet traveled many places with him & proved to fascinating to Gordon’s many female friends. Here’s Gordon at the City of Rocks sharing a drink with Piglet while my wife Heidi politely averts her gaze.
Although Gordon continued to work part-time, he was usually willing to go explore old mines or Native American rock art with us. This photo of Gordon was taken this spring as we were hiking back from an 1880’s mine we explored.
I'm already missing him.
@FritzRay Nice tribute here! Still need to finish reading it all thru. I have been to Pioneer cabin, bitd. All kinds of cool stuff written on the walls. One of which was from Mugs Stump, whom I actually climbed w/a bit at The City w/o realizing who he was at the time. Cool dude. Local rancher/farmer was up checking out the craggin' and climbers w/his son whilst I was prepping a Coffee & Cornflakes morning warmup. Inquisitive ten year old'ish kid. Mugs patiently answered his questions and gifted him an older, but stout carabiner for use w/his horse. I'll bet that kid treasures it to this day. Anyways, I left a tribute to him, somewhere on that wall. Fairly long, if easy hike in, iirc, about 9 miles?
Anwyays, good stuff
David Harris last edited by
Sorry to hear this Ray. May your memories keep his flame burning.
Marshall last edited by
Jeepers, Ray. I'm sorry to hear this! I encountered Gordon just a few days ago in the Camas County Courthouse, and he looked great, as usual. I didn't really know him except by reputation, only talked with a few times over many years, but was always kind of awestruck by his wit and subversive grace. He must have been a terrific friend, and I can imagine (I think) what you've lost.
I've mostly worked through my grief at Gordon's passing & I'm now celebrating his significant life, which would have ended in his rappel failure & 'big fall" on the Finger of Fate in Idaho's Sawtooth mtns in 1978. If you wish to believe that God spared him so Gordon could grace us with his fun ways for another 41 years, that works for me. She does work in mysterious ways.
Gordon with his girlfriend Loc Paw in the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar in 2005.
Gordon showing his latest distilled rum creation.
Gordon hiking a large sand dune in Idaho in 2017.
wakeandbake last edited by
Thanks for a touching tribute Fritz, a life well lived
toby last edited by
Marshall last edited by
I just remembered a cheery Gordon encounter. I think the first time I ever talked to him was at a party at Kim Anderson's house in Hailey. Don't remember when, but Bill Clinton was a thing then, either before or after the 1992 election, I suppose. Anyway, I was struck by his pleasant resemblance to Clinton -- compact hair, open countenance and bright eyes, engaging manner. So I said so: "You look like Bill Clinton, you know!" He grinned and replied, "Ah yes, but I inhaled!"
@Marshall! Gordon did several trips to Nepal for long treks in the late 90's & early 2000's. He had stories about various Asians, but especially Chinese believing he was Bill Clinton. After a while he would deny that he was Clinton & then smile & ask "do you want to be photographed with me."
When I did a long Nepal trek in towards Everest with him in 2005, he introduced me to his Sherpa girlfriend (one of several) in the Sherpa Capital of Namche Bazaar. She was very glad to see him, but then I got to meet her husband who ran another nearby tourist shop.
Gordon's Memorial is at the Sun Valley Botanical Gardens on August 11th, 4 - 6 PM. It's open to everyone.
Fritzray, Gordon, & Chris at about 17,500' on Goykyo Ri with a great view of Everest in the background. We were all high-school classmates in Hailey, Idaho in the mid-1960's.
Awesome times you "boys" had, eh? Mountaineering dreams were the forerunner for my passion for rock climbing. Came to find out that I do not do well at altitude. Even like 12-13K stuff. Think maybe I had mild case of HAPE/HACE as a kid during a family vacation to Colorado and driving up the mountain too fast that predisposed me to issues years later? Wasn't a matter of acclimation for me either as I once had a summer job were I lived at 10,500. Very physically fit at the time but still always winded by minimal effort. Maybe for the best cuz I climbed bunches of rocks and am still here.
Would be cool to go to the memorial. Haven't been up Sun Valley/Ketchum way in too many years now so it'd be a good excuse to get my arse in gear but would also be rather awkward seeing how I never knew or met Gordon. In any case: Respect for a life well lived!
FritzRay last edited by
I always wondered how I would do at altitude. By the time I went to Nepal in 2005, I had twice summited Mt. Rainier 14,400' or so, Both times I had a splitting headache & some nausea, which went away when we descended. I later figured out a lot of that was dehydration.
Our Nepal in 2005 trek, went well up to the little tourist-trap of Goykyo at about 16,000'. By that time, one of my friends was vomiting in the trail at about 15,000' & another was simply miserable with less overt symptoms. Our pals, who ran our small Idaho based trekking company & provided infrastructure like food, tents, kitchen, guides, agenda, & permits were great believers in diamox, which cured both sufferers overnight, with a lot of peeing during the night.
I had read about Cheyne–Stokes breathing, which is "respiration is an abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by progressively deeper, and sometimes faster, breathing followed by a gradual decrease that results in a temporary stop in breathing called an apnea. The pattern repeats, with each cycle usually taking 30 seconds to 2 minutes."
It is common at high altitudes & I got to enjoy it for two nights at Goykyo, since we caught about 3' of snow the day we got there. The next day was clear, but some snow had to melt before we could go up to 17,500' for a great view of Everest. Gordon, Chris, & I amused ourselves on a short hike up above the little settlement.
The next day, hiking up to about 17,500' for a great Everest view went fine, but I soon got cold up there, then was seized with a splitting headache. Happily, we went down to about 14,500' that afternoon & I woke up the next morning for our outside breakfast at 5 degrees f. feeling fine. Gordon standing at middle left.
@FritzRay During our hot afternoon today, I found a few more significant Gordon photos in my computer.
Gordon climbing on Rocky Point 2010.
A toast with Gordon to "Cheating Death." It was important for us to make that toast after every outdoor adventure. Since this was mid-winter 2010, we were cheating death by drinking absinthe.
After we started the Decker Flat Climbing & Frisbee Club on our way in to climb Mt. Regan in the Sawtooth Range in 1970, we soon adopted conservation values. In this photo Joe Fox & Gordon are stabilizing a dangerously loose boulder on the summit of Mt. Regan.
Chris & Gordon nearing the legendary North Raker in the Sawtooths in 2006. It is very rare that climbers make the ugly off-trail journey in to it. We did it, since we never made it to it when we were young. There is no reason to go there;)
FritzRay last edited by
I made a profound discovery today. In my first post on this thread, I mentioned I worked with Gordon in 2013 on a story of his nearly-fatal rappel failure on the Finger of Fate in Idaho's Sawtooth range in 1978. It turns out I posted the story I wrote about the incident.
Here's Gordon's much more introspective story, that he wrote after he found my story lacking in details about the actual fall.
Finger of Fate from the southeast.
A photo Gordon sent me of him at the crux of the 2nd lead of the Open Book route, where the jam crack ends under an overhang & climbers are forced right onto thin holds.
From Gordon: Starting down with feet spread wide I was leaning back perpendicular to the wall so my boots wouldn’t slip. Descending slowly and looking down for more foot placements I felt the line above release. Turning my head to look up, I saw the rope and anchor sling whipping against the sky above. My rappel anchor had slipped off the rock horn and I was accelerating in free fall with hundreds of feet to the floor… a dead man falling.
Instantly I understood this to be the end. There was no hope of surviving such a fall. Anxiety and fear disappeared. Perhaps I stopped thinking. Time did not compress or elongate. There was certainly no flipping through old photos or videos of past events… no life flashing by. This was the end of the film, the part where the screen goes blank.
I have no recollection of hitting the wall. It knocked the wind out of me. I came to my senses gasping for air, unable to get the first bite. It was a raw shock, being jerked from some quiet place back into my body. Everything was confusing. I was hanging upside down pressing lightly against the rock wall. Nothing made sense. How could Mark have caught me? My hands found the rope and I struggled to get back upright. Stepping onto a toehold produced sharp flashes of pain in my left ankle. It was broken.
Mark was peering down from the ridge. Raindrops were hitting my face. The situation was coming into focus. He hadn’t caught the rope. Instead, it had snagged on the rock face. My rappel brake was jammed. This had prevented my sliding off the end of the rope after slamming into the wall. I used one hand to loosen the brake while holding onto the wall. Easing weight onto the rope again, I rappelled to a ledge fifteen feet below. Off rappel, a flick on the rope set it free from the snag… first try.
Mark was stranded on the ridge and the threat of lightening was not yet past. He had to get down. We were too far apart to throw the rope back up so Mark rummaged into his pack for cord. He lowered it… too short. Next he pulls out his boot laces and tied them onto the cord. Altogether it reached and I sent the rope up. Mark set a new anchor and rappelled to my level. We followed the ledge system around the east side back onto the north face trying to find the top of the PT Boat Chock Stone route. We had enough gear to set two more rappel anchors and it would take five to get off the pinnacle. Several years earlier we had left slings retreating down the Chock Stone route. In spite of their age we hoped they might still hold our weight. They did.
@FritzRay Great stuff, Fritz!
Gordon's Tribute keeps getting better and better. Also a reminder that at the end of the day all we really have are good friends and the fond memories. Appears you are both rich men in this department. Indeed!
was-dar last edited by
Bump for a good tribute thread. I'll go back and read more (e.g. close encounter), but sweet writing Fritz. Effing-A: North Raker!!!!