Mark Powell Passes
He may have been a dirtbagger at first, but he was college educated and was certainly working for a living during the time I knew him. He may have taught courses in geography at the junior college level as well as meteorology. I was a meteorologist in the early 1960s, so I remember that best. He was a very handsome guy, and was married at least twice (Beverly Powell Woolsey and ??? - I knew her but can't recall her name).
The ankle injury Mark incurred in Yosemite was an ongoing problem in his climbing, but he did well in the Needles where one stands on small nubbins consistently. Bob Kamps was his frequent climbing partner.
Many of those who set standards in the 1950s, particularly in California, are gone. Dave Rearick, 88, suffered a stroke six years ago and lives in a retirement home in Boulder. I chat with him weekly and am astounded at his memory for events and people that long ago. I thought I had met Dave in 1958, but he corrected me - we met in the Tetons in 1956 or 1957, roughly about the time I met Chouinard.
I don't know how to link posts from FB to here, so I'll just post this photo, which Bonnie Kamps posted on the supertaco refugees site.
Other than the image, her only comment was: "Mark Powells's progress report on the first ascent of the Nose."
So, here you go:
FritzRay last edited by
My condolences to his family & friends. My life is poorer, for having never met, or climbed, with him.
Most climbers who know anything about Mark Powell think of him as part of the first ascent of El Cap. A Yosemite climber. But he also climbed extensively on the bizarre towers of the US desert southwest.
One of my favorite climbing photos is of him, Jerry Galwas, Don Wilson, and Bill (the Dolt) Feuerer on the summit of The Totem Pole after their first ascent in 1957. It has been posted in many books and articles, and is readily available on the web, so I hope I'm not violating any law by posting it here.
Iconic, right? Cool dirtbag-looking climbers, refugees from the real world, doing what they do. Beatnik-era heroes, casually posing on the summit of a desert tower after a ridiculously difficult and dangerous first ascent. And maybe you think that they were probably pretty happy to find that little pool of water on the top, cuz they were no doubt thirsty.
But wait. Top of a desert tower. in Arizona, in summer. Pool of water?
Now I didn't hear this from the guy I heard it from, and you sure as hell didn't hear it from me, but...
...word is, that little pool may not have been there when they arrived.
Whatever. The climb, and the photo are iconic.
Last week I asked Rearick to refresh my memory of what he told me of his ascent of the Totem Pole. On top he and a companion were looking away when TM Herbert yelled behind them, "Whoops! I dropped the rope!"
toby last edited by
@jgill Heh.. Ah, the Games Climbers Play.... Probably no small amount of brief panic there.
On top he and a companion were looking away when TM Herbert yelled behind them, "Whoops! I dropped the rope!"
And when they turned around from fussing with their anchor, there was TM, sitting empty-handed at the edge of the summit. It was December, and they knew they were going to die. And then TM swung his legs back up over the edge -- with the ropes tied to his ankles.
Anyone who is interested in more about Mark Powell's desert tower climbs, or pretty much any desert tower climb done by anybody, should order a copy of "Desert Towers" by Crusher Bartlett.
It is maybe the best climbing book I have ever read. Great writing, great history (including a 5-page section on the Navajo viewpoint), fabulous photos (large format), lots of first-person tales... I reviewed it for the American Alpine Journal in 2011. Available through Amazon or Sharp End Publishing.
NickG last edited by
Sorry for your loss John. I am always amazed at what you guys and gals accomplished with such minimal gear! I can't even fathom abseiling with the dulfersitz ? on real cliff let alone a big wall!
I just talked with Dave. Mark had three wives: Beverley, Chris, and Mary. Mary passed away a few years ago. Mark was chair of the geography department at Pierce College in LA for a time.
Begrunt last edited by
Mark Powell was my Meteorology Teacher at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. He truly was a character, he made learning fun! I will never forget his shouting out a date and pointing at a student and saying "Solstice, or Equinox?" He was a classic!!