Maverick mountaineer Jim Bridwell dies at 73

Jim Bridwell, a flamboyant – and, some say, reckless – climber who took daring routes in incredibly daunting mountains in Alaska, the Andes and, in particular, Yosemite National Park, died Friday in Palm Springs, in California. He was 73 years old.

The cause was kidney failure and hepatitis C, said his son, Layton, who set up a GoFundMe page last month to help cover his father’s medical expenses.

Mr. Bridwell was one of the central figures among the renegade mountaineers who populated Yosemite in the 1970s, a group that became known as the Stonemasters. Climbers hippies, they were sometimes called, because of their long hair, the loud music they played and the drugs they sometimes took.

If that’s what they were, they might have been the most physically fit hippies in the world.

Mr Bridwell’s most heralded achievement during this period came in 1975, when he, John Long and Billy Westbay became the first to scale the Nose – the prow of Yosemite’s enormous El Capitan – in a single daytime. By comparison, in 1960 a team led by Royal Robbins, another famous mountaineer, needed seven days to complete the ascent.

Years later, Mr. Long will reminisce about the first time he saw El Capitan, in 1970, and that historic climb five years later.

“If someone had told me, as I stood on the prairie after that first trip up El Capitan, that I would be climbing it one day in one day, I would have laughed in their face,” M wrote. .Length. “But that was before I met Jim Bridwell.”

James Bridwell was born on July 29, 1944 in San Antonio. Her father, Donald, was a pilot in World War II and later for Pan Am, and her mother, the former Miriam Boxwell, was a housewife who occasionally painted. The family moved when Jim was young, spending time in Japan, New York and Connecticut.

Mr Bridwell’s wife of 45 years, Peggy, said her interest in mountaineering began with birds.

“He got into rock climbing because he was fascinated by birds of prey,” she said, “and he used to climb to observe their habitat and flight habits.”

He started mountaineering around 1965, during what is sometimes called the golden age of climbing in Yosemite, when climbers like Mr. Robbins (who died last year) and Warren Harding were blazing vertical trails on rock faces once considered impossible to master. Exposure to these legendary climbers made Mr. Bridwell a leader for the next generation.

“He had climbed with Robbins,” said Dean Fidelman, a rockmaster who also made a name for himself as a photographer, in “Valley Uprising,” a 2014 documentary about rock climbing in Yosemite. “He had climbed with everyone. This passion and commitment was something we were looking for.

Mr. Bridwell taught younger (but not much younger) climbers who congregated at a site in Yosemite known as Camp 4. He was also one of the creators of the first official search and rescue team in Yosemite, offering his skills to park officials in exchange for a campground. And, in those brash and colorful years of the 1970s, when the Stonemasters were attracting media attention, he was fashion coordinator.

“Bridwell kind of dictated the dress,” said Dale Bard, a mountain climber who arrived in Yosemite in 1971, in a 2016 interview with GQ magazine. “When we were doing special routes, Bridwell would actually dress us. It was for photos, photo shoots, that kind of thing, to stand out, to look as rebellious as possible.

That meant loud shirts (although male Stonemasters were often shirtless) and colorful headbands holding back flowing locks.

Mr Bridwell was known to enhance his climbing experiences with hallucinogens.

“It was still back when we had good drugs — you know, psychedelics,” he recalled in the documentary. “There was a definite fearlessness that accompanies this release of personality.”

Yosemite climbers mostly lived in blissful poverty, except for a brief moment in 1977 when a plane carrying thousands of pounds of illicit marijuana crashed into Lower Merced Pass Lake, near 9,000 feet elevation. A group of Stonemasters came in and collected the cargo, smoking some and selling the rest. Mr. Bridwell, wrote Mr. Long, “acted throughout as a kind of ombudsman, director of shipping and director of logistics.”

Mr. Bridwell did not limit himself to Yosemite. In 1979, during a ruthless ascent that some climbers considered particularly daring, he and Steven Brewer conquered a particular route to Cerro Torre, a 10,000-foot peak in the Patagonia region of South America which, for climbers has been both challenging and controversial.

In 1981, Mr. Bridwell and Mugs Stump made the first ascent of the east face of Moose’s Tooth, an intimidating peak in Alaska. In 1982, he was among four Americans who completed what has been described as the first trek not up but around Mount Everest, a 300-mile journey that required ascending peaks like the 23,442-foot Pumori. .

However, Mr. Bridwell’s reputation for being indifferent kept him out of some major expeditions for which his climbing skills might have seemed suited.

“Bridwell’s attitude was not to predetermine things, but to pilot them,” Dan Larson, leader of a 1985 Mount Everest expedition, told Rolling Stone in 1986, explaining why Mr. Bridwell was not part of this group.

This prevented him from making mountaineering pay off. “There aren’t many people who have managed to fail for so long,” Mr. Bridwell told Rolling Stone for the same article.

He lived in Palm Desert, California. Besides his son and his wife, he is survived by a sister, Antoinette.

Mr Bridwell chronicled some of his adventures in a 1992 book, ‘Climbing Adventures: A Climber’s Passion’, written with Keith Peall. He has also written for magazines and worked as a stuntman on several films.

In 2015, Mr. Bridwell gave Palm Springs Life magazine a succinct explanation of all the thrill-seeking.

“Adventure and excitement are the two things that civilization lacks,” he said. “Danger keeps you on your toes.”