Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
Cigarettes always part of his climbing gear
JIM Bridwell, a paisley-clad climber who pioneered new routes up some of the world’s most formidable rock faces, including the prow of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite Valley died on February 16 at a hospital in Palm Desert, California. He was 73.
He had liver and kidney failure from hepatitis C, his wife Peggy Bridwell said.
Bridwell made historic climbs in the Alaska Range near Denali and in the Andes of Patagonia and in 1982 was part of an expedition that became the first to circumvent Mount Everest, trekking 483km around the mountain and over some of its 6 096m sister peaks.
But in a five-decade climbing career, he was most associated with Yosemite National Park, where in the 1970s he led a group of climbers that dropped acid while bouldering and idolised the strength of Bruce Lee and the psychedelic rock of Jimi Hendrix. They called themselves the Stonemasters. A more fitting name, climber Lynn Hill joked, was the “stoned masters”.
While Bridwell and his circle blazed through prodigious amounts of low-grade marijuana, they also established themselves as some of the world’s most intrepid climbers, devising new routes – and setting speed records – on the rock domes and spires that have made Yosemite the Mecca of American climbing.
Bridwell notched 100 first ascents in the national park and was 30 when he performed his signature climb, scaling the so-called Nose of El Capitan with his friends
John Long and Billy Westbay. The 884m ascent was once considered impossible and, even when it was first scaled in a siege-style expedition led by Warren Harding in 1958, the climb took 47 days.
Bridwell and his partners, complementing their store of ropes, nuts, pitons and water with packs of cigarettes, completed the ascent in 15 hours, smoke breaks included.
An affection for birds of prey fuelled his interest in mountaineering, resulting in a nickname, the Bird in about 1964. – Washington Post