Dick Dorworth at City of Rocks, 2010
I met Dick Dorworth in the 1970s in the Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming. I’d hiked in to the Cirque with big plans and two other girls - Anne Marie Rizzie and Linda Covert. I say “girls” intentionally, since we were teens, and college students.
Dick was guiding a client and had his wife and son with him. After the client, wife and son left, and my two friends departed early, Dick asked me to climb with him.
In my second summer of climbing and leading, I still felt new to the ropes. But, I figured, with a professional climbing guide, what can go wrong?
However, Dick wasn’t planning on climbing an easy trade route. No, he’d been eyeing an as yet unclimbed line on the North Face of Mitchell Peak (12,482′.)
N. Face of Mitchell Peak
Photo by Jason Funk
We started up early in the morning. Dick led the first pitch, which he’d climbed before on his first attempt on the face (with his client, I believe). At the belay, he pointed up and said,
“Just follow that corner until you reach a good ledge and then belay.”
I was a teenage girl. This was by far the biggest, and scariest, wall I’d ever been on. And the longest route I’d ever been on, by far. I also was used to climbing with my father, and doing what he told me. So I grabbed our nuts and hexes and climbed up the corner until I found a ledge to belay from.
We climbed about four pitches until the weather looked very threatening, and a Dick’s urging, we rappeled down.
A few days later, armed with a waterproof parka I’d borrowed form another climber, we started up again. After the first four pitches, we entered terra incognito. Dick led the next pitch, and at the belay, pointed up again.
“Just head up that flake,” he encouraged me.
I was even more nervous. Here I would lead an unknown pitch on an unclimbed route, with no idea of difficult it was. My habit of climbing up anything that someone told me I could do stood me in good stead, and I led the next pitch, which wasn’t too desperate.
We’d now climbed 6 pitches, with the angle and climbing difficulties easing off. However, the weather and nightfall more than threatened, as black clouds boiled up from behind the wall and thunder grumbled in the distance. Dick headed up quickly, and we reached the summit plateau it got dark and all hell cut loose.
Luckily I was wearing the borrowed parka. Dick found an overhanging ledge we crawled under, as hail pounded us and wild lightning strikes lit up the summit.
I’d never been in such a storm in such an exposed place.
“Are we going to make it?” I quavered, sure that we’d be forced to spend the night up here, and not at all sure that we’d survive it.
“I know the descent.” Dick reassured me. ” I f we can find the gully, I know were the rappel anchors are. We carried no headlamps - I didn’t own one, and headlamps in those days were big, clumsy things.
Once the brunt of the storm eased, we crawled on hands and knees toward the edge, looking for rappel anchors during the brightest lightning strikes.
Somehow we found the anchors and commenced rappelling. After numerous raps on soaking ropes, from which streams of water ran down our arms, we reached more crawlable terrain.
Eventually, close to midnight, we spied a roaring fire. Our friends, knwoing we were out there, had built an enormous bonfire to help light our way back to camp.
We happily crawled in next to the fire to dry off, and eat some lunch and dinner.
Dick named our climb ‘the book of Ecclesiastes’, perhaps to commemorate out trial by water and fire.
This year, my friend and mentor, Dick Dorworth, was nominated to the Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame for his world speed record and his many books and articles.