Lisa Hechtel, R.I.P.
Posted by sibylle in women, Germany, Eulogies, Europe (Thursday June 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm)

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With my mother in the European Alps

This will be the hardest eulogy I’ve ever had to write: that of my mother, Lisa Berta Hechtel.

My mother lived a great life, a full one, and enjoyed  a long life, but she still left us too soon. I cry, as I write this, and wish I had spent more time with my parents while I still had the opportunity.

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Lisa Hechtel as a young woman

I knew Lisa Hechtel only as my mother, and we take our parents for granted — until we no longer have them. Since her passing, countless people have written to me to share how much they loved my mother, and how much they will miss her presence in their lives.

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An early climb with my parents

My mother always put her family first - she followed my father on his climbs, belayed him, and then seconded the route. She never took credit for her many accomplishments - climbing big mountains in a time before most women climbed.

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My parents on a climbing trip long ago

After I was born, she usually accompanied my father on his trips, cooked for every one while camping, and often hiked to the base of the climbs to bring food for my father, while taking care of me.

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Lisa feeding her family in the Schwaebische Alp

I still use the little tin tea kettle
She once told me: “When you were little, Richard needed a climbing partner,  so we tied a rope around you , and tied you to a tree while we were climbing.”

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Early climbing trip in Germany

None of the photos in their albums show me tied to a tree — most show my mother carrying me, holding me, and feeding myself and my father.

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Lisa getting me a  drink

She taught me to ski, and helped my father take me climbing, while still helping to take care of her own mother, and her niece, and her many friends.

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Another early climbing trip - as I got bigger, the mountains got bigger, and harder.

As I look through the early photos, I have so many questions  that I never had a chance to ask  - so many things I never knew about.

After I grew up, and left home, my parents trekked in Nepal - but I’m not sure when, or where. They climbed Kilimanjaro , climbed in New Zealand, and numerous other places around the world. I wish they’d told me more about their trips - but I was far away, in Colorado, living my life and raising my own son.

My parents trekking in Nepal
And I  hope that my mother’s many friends will read this, and  share their memories of their times together.

My father, Richard Hechtel, and the Peuterey Integral
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Eulogies, Europe (Sunday June 19, 2011 at 9:53 am)

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Richard Hechtel (l) and  Günther Kittelmann (r)

This Father’s Day, I want to remember my father for the things   most enjoyed - reminiscing about his climbs.

In 1953, my father and Günther Kittelmann completed the first ascent of the Peuterey Integral - the complete Peuterey ridge on Mt. Blanc.

The Alpine Club Guidebook describes this climb as “the longest and probably the most difficult traverse of its kind in the Alps. There is more than 4500m of ascent over all types of terrain and in magnificent situations” (Alpine Club Guidebook by Lindsay Griffin.)

Even today, the climb is described as one of the hardest and most committing climbs in the Alps.

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At the Col de Peuterey

My father  describes this climb in his book, The Merry-Go-Round of my life: an Adventurer’s Diary.

The climb starts in Italy and covers more than 4,500 meters of technical climbing.

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Kittelmann on the south ridge of the Aguille Noire

Jonathan Griffith  filmed a great video of this climb, which shows the length, magnitude, and exposure of this epic climb. Watching this film impressed me what a great climb my father had done.

Sadly, he has passed and cannot watch this film himself. Nor can I tell him  how I miss him; miss climbing with him; and wish he could do one more climb with my son and me.

Remembering Chris
Posted by sibylle in Yosemite, Eulogies, California (Monday May 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm)

Eight years ago today, on beautiful sunny day in Yosemite Valley, Chris Hampson and I set out to climb on Lower Cathedral Buttress.

It was the last climb of his too-short life - only 25 years old, Chris that day fell over 100 feet to his death.

We started the day full of joy and enthusiasm. Chris and I had climbed a longer, much harder route on Middle Cathedral Buttress  (the Kor-Beck) and were going  to climb Overhang Bypass to look at Overhang Overpass.

A short  way from the car, I noticed I’d forgotten my helmet.

“D*&%, I forgot my helmet! I’ll go back and get it.

Chris  dissuaded me, saying that on this easy climb we wouldn’t need helmets.

We decided to simul-climb, both moving at once, on this easy route (one 5.7 pitch, and the rest easier). When I finished the long traverse left below the roof (the ‘Overhang Bypass’), and then started up to the left of the roof, the rope caught in the crack at the roof’s edge, forcing to stop and belay.

I placed gear, and belayed Chris up to me.

“Can you give me another cam?” I asked. “I want to beef up this anchor.”

“Hold on a sec,”  he replied. “I want to enjoy this view.”

Chris stood below me and the roof’s edge, with Bridalveil Falls roaring down to the depth in all its glory almost right next to us.

After placing another cam, I tied all of our anchor points together and tied myself in to one center point.

“There. Now we have a bomber anchor that will hold anything,” I said, satisfied with my heavy-duty belay anchor.

“Yeah, but we won’t need that today,” Chris replied.

From here, we’d climbed the hardest pitch. A ramp diagonalled up and left, past some trees, toward a long ledge crossing the wall above us.

“I’ll head up to the ledge and traverse right once I reach it. I won’t place much gear to avoid rope drag,” Chris explained.

I sat at my belay, slowly paying out rope, as Chris climbed up the ramp and disappeared around the corner. I continued paying rope out slowly as he moved up, out of sight.

Suddenly, I heard a shout.

Over the waterfall’s roar, I could barely make it out. Was he telling me he was up? Was it a shout of triumph at reaching our goal?

Then,  an indeterminable time later, I felt a jerk on the rope. Then nothing.

He must have fallen.  But he wasn’t shouting, and I couldn’t see him around the corner.

I sat for a few minutes, wondering what to do now.

Miraculously, Bob, a climber I knew who worked with Tuolumne Search and Rescue, appeared below me, soloing the climb.

“Bob, my partner fell and I can’t see or hear him.”

Bob soloed up the easy ramp to the tree above Chris.

“Chris, can you hear me?” he yelled.

“Yeah, I can hear you, ” came Chris’ reply.

“Where do you hurt?” Bob asked.

“I hurt all over.”

“There’s a ledge just above you.  Can you try to climb to it?” Bob asked.

“Yes, but I can’t see very well.” came Chris’ response.

Bob climbed back down to me, now using my sling that had been around the tree to tie himself in to the rope leading from my belay up to the tree.

“I’m going down to get SAR. Your friend has a life-threatening injury. Get yourself free from the belay and climb up to talk to him.” Bob told me.

Bob left, looking shaken and nervous about down-climbing the route unroped.

I slowly, methodically, and carefully, changed my tie-in from the end of the rope, to a prusik. After double-checking the system, I climbed up along the rope, now fixed between the anchor, and the tree below which Chris hung. It was maybe 70 feet to the tree, along an easy ramp. Once at the tree, I saw Chris hanging below me at the end of his rope.

“Chris! Try to climb up tot he ledge, and I’ll pull in the rope as you move up.”

However, Chris could not climb up. At 6′5″ and 215 pounds, I could not pull him up. We had only one rope with us, so I couldn’t rappel down to him.

Even if we’d had two ropes, I’d have to do a single rope rappel, and I still don’t know how I would move 215 pounds.

“Hang in there, Chris, ” I shouted. ” YOSAR is on the way.

It seemed like an eternity. The sun moved, and our shady ledge came into direct sunlight. I got hot, and Chris got hot.

Then things got worse. He started moaning and shouting in pain.

I jumped up and down, waving my arms wildly, to the YOSAR personnel I saw below. If they would only get here sooner.

Keith Lober and Lincoln Else, two park rangers I’d worked with, arrived.

“Is that tree good?” Keith asked.

“No.” I was forced to reply.  “I wouldn’t trust it.”

The tree was small, and half-dead. It might hold the weight of three people, and us hauling, but then, it might not.  I’d already looked around for good cracks, and there were none.

Keith placed several bolts over another lifetime.

Finally he descended.

Lincoln was on radio.

Chris had stopped screaming.

“I’ve got bad news for you, ” said Lincoln. “Your friend is dead.”

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Andrea Lawrence, winner of 2 Olympic gold medals, RIP
Posted by sibylle in skiing, Eulogies (Thursday April 15, 2010 at 10:22 am)


Andrea Lawrence with poet Gary Snyder

Last summer, as Tristan and I parked by the gate that bars the road to Soda Springs, near Tuolumne Meadows, a car drove up to the gate. A frail-looking older woman with white hair got out, opened the lock, and pulled off the heavy chain that loops over the posts. Using a cane, she walked slowly back to her car to drive through.


Accustomed to helping my mom , was recovering from a total hip replacement, I ran over to close the gate.

“Are you going to hear Gary Snyder?” she asked. “Would you like a ride?”

After grabbing our water, we rode  with Andrea Lawrence to Gary Snyder’s poetry reading.


Tristan chatting with two-time Olympic gold Medalist Andrea Lawrence

After the reading, at the sumptuous feast prepared by the organizers, we chatted more with Andrea Lawrence, who had been a supervisor of nearby Mono county, home to Mammoth ski area.


When we asked Andrea if she was a skier, she said yes, she’d skied all of her life. When we mentioned that we skied, and that Tristan had raced, she said that she too had raced. A little more conversation revealed that she first raced in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, and later Andrea won two gold medals in Oslo in 1952.


So much for the frail old lady!


She invited us to visit her in Mammoth, which, sadly, we failed to do. I recently read Andrea Lawrence’s obituary in Ski magazine, and realized we’d missed a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to speak at more length with one of the former greats of skiing. Since Tristan plans to pursue ski racing, it may have been a rare opportunity for him


Craig Luebben memorial
Posted by sibylle in Eulogies (Thursday September 17, 2009 at 8:38 pm)

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John Sherman, Lynn Hill, and Tristan

Several weeks ago I wrote about Craig Lubben’s tragic accident. Since then, we went to Craig’s memorial at the American Mountaineering Center in Golden, Colorado.

I thought I’d post a few photos of some fo the folks there to pay Craig and his family their respects.

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Film maker Rob Raker and the beautiful Lynn Hill

I had a chance to speak with Craig’s widow, Silvia, from Italy and we shared memories of climbing in Finale Ligure.  It’s so hard to speak with the parents, children and widows of my deceased climbing partners.

The hardest time I ever had was when I had to explain to Chris Hampson’s mother how, and why, Chris had died when we climbed together in Yosemite, but I was fine. I hope I never again have to meet with one of my climbing partner’s parents to tell them that their child is dead.

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It’s been a tough year, with three good friends who died in climbing accidents already. I only hope that’s it for this year, and maybe next year too.

A sad day in the climbing world
Posted by sibylle in Eulogies (Monday August 10, 2009 at 8:46 pm)

When I got home today, I read that Craig Luebben was killed in the Cascades. Craig was not only a great climber, but also a husband father, mountain guide, and inventor of BigBro tube chocks. He authored numerous books on climbing and was previously on the  Board of Directors, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).


I didn’t  expect Craig to be killed. When John Bachar died climbing last month, it did not surprise me, since John soloed so many climbs that I did not think it unlikely that he would   fall to his death sooner or later. But Craig mostly climbed in the U. S., and mostly on rock, using a rope, so I gave him a good chance of survival.Plus, he had a wife and young daughter, and in my experience, many parents climb more conservatively.

After reading the shocking news, I walked out into the living room.

“This is not a good year,” I said.

My son  turned and looked at me. “Who died now?” he asked.

How sad, and what a statement about our passion, climbing, and the lives of our friends, that when I say it’s a bad year, or day, my son doesn’t ask if it’s money, or my job, or the economy  - but immediately asks the obvious:  who died now.

I wonder if that’s the right reaction for a teenage boy, that when I say it’s bad news, he immediately thinks it’s death. Of course, there have been a lot of deaths  lately. In June, our  good friend Micah Dash disappeared  in China. I first met Micah in 2001, when I lived in Yosemite’s Camp 4 on the SAR (Search and Rescue ) site next door to Micah and Amelia’s tent cabin. Tristan, then 10 years old, spent a month there with me, and looked up to climbers like Micah and Craig Luebben.

He’d gone to Micah’s birthday party at Indian Creek, and as he learned to climb harder, was excited to know so many of the country’s top climbers. Now, he’s learning a sad reality of life: it is so very, very short.

I learned this truth early, since my father was also an avid mountaineer. I learned to love climbing when my family and I joined him in the mountains, and I learned to love the high places that he loved. And I learned that there’s a price to pay for our joy and for the beauty: it may take our lives. Yet I never felt that I would give up climbing because it was dangerous. After Tristan was born, I gave up climbing in the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and I gave up climbing ice in the Canadian Rockies, Europe,  and similar places, but continued to climb rock throughout the world. I missed ice, and the spectacular beauty of high mountains, but I loved to rock climb, so that was ok.

I wonder if some climbers can’t limit themselves to  rock, with a rope, and feel caged by those boundaries and  must continue to push themselves  on harder, and more dangerous terrain?

People always say, “He died doing what he loved”, but to me, that’s not as good as living doing what we love. I  hope that my friends who are  climbers will find a way to joy in the mountains that allows them to survive to climb again, and to enjoy more days with their friends.

Alpinist 25 - the Silver Issue
Posted by sibylle in books, films, photography, utah, Yosemite, Eulogies (Saturday January 3, 2009 at 8:13 am)


And the last issue

Shortly before Christmas, an unknown group bought Alpinist Magazine for $71,000. Originally on the block for as low as $30,000, I’m glad they got this much and hope to see a magazine published again, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

However, while everyone still thinks the poor economy may get worse, it may be difficult to find investors to support a new publication.

There’s also the question of business model —Alpinist published a high-quality magazine with few ads, hoping to support it with subscriptions.

Dougald Macdonald, editor of the American Alpine Journal, provides an shrewd analysis of why Alpinist didn’t survive.

Though considered the best climbing magazine in the world, readers were unwilling to pay for that quality.
“It never attracted nearly enough readers to turn a profit,” said Macdonald. “Climbing and Rock & Ice . . .  deliver . . . what readers and advertisers want to see”

“Alpinist executed the limited-advertising, high-subscription-price, “reader supported” business model, it simply didn’t work in the tiny climbing market,” Macdonald concluded.

I’m particularly anxious to see Alpinist or a related magazine resume publication. I wrote a story for issue 25, originally titled “Bev’s and my Grand Adventure”, that appeared as yet another incarnation of “Walls Without Balls.”

The editor asked me to write about Layton Kor, Alison Sheets, and my first ascent on the Rainbow Wall in Red Rocks. I’d started this story when the editor told me that Alpinist would fold..

Perhaps I can write it for the new magazine.


James Welton obituary
Posted by sibylle in Eulogies, Idaho (Monday November 3, 2008 at 3:22 pm)


James Welton on Wheat Thin, City of Rocks

I met and climbed with James this June in the City of Rocks, Idaho. After his sudden, tragic death recently, I wrote a quick story about him on my blog.

I got so many responses to this, and questions and comments from people who knew him that I decided to post another obituary.


James on Wheat Thin

When a friend dies, at first I feel like there’s nothing I can do and I’m terribly sad and try to reconnect with friends still living. However, in this case, I thought that I could share some photos I took of James so that other friends of his would have those photos to remember him by.


James leading Wheat Thin


Every person I talked to told of how kind and helpful James had been, and how positive and enthusiastic he was. He will be missed. I’m glad people who read my earlier post found it helpful.

I wish I could do more.

James Welton, R. I. P.
Posted by sibylle in Uncategorized, Eulogies, Idaho (Tuesday October 21, 2008 at 10:17 am)

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James Welton climbing at the City of Rocks, June 2008

Last June, Tristan and I were climbing next to three other climbers in Castle Rock State Park. We next wanted to climb the route they were on. One of the climbers, James Welton, asked if we wanted to top-rope the route, using their ropes.  All three climbers were very friendly and we teamed up with them to do another route around the corner.
That evening, they invited us to visit at their campsite and plied us with homemade pie and other delicacies. The next day, we climbed with Jim, James, and Tara again. Tristan wanted to climb difficult routes that my shoulder wasn’t ready for, and James Welton also wanted to climb harder routes, while Jim and Tara were happy on easier climbs and I needed to baby my shoulder’s injured supraspinatus tendon.

We had a great time climbing with the three of them, and hoped that we would meet up again, either at the City of Rocks or another area.

Sadly, we won’t have that opportunity. Today Jim Barnes sent an email that James Welton tragically died a few days ago in a climbing accident at Zion National Park. When I look at our climbing photos from last June, James looks like such a happy, vibrant, person. He seemed very competent and safe, and not one of the climbers where I thought, “He won’t last long.” He lead Wheat Thin at City of Rocks using only passive gear (stoppers and hexes) rather than cams, a sign of an experienced climber who knows how to place protection gear.

I’m always sad to lose climbing partners. I try to learn from their mistakes, and I do my best to enjoy the climbing partners that I still have.

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