A man ever known for rugged looks with a macho mustache in bell bottoms attire is Jim Bridwell, an American rock climber, and mountaineer. One particular photograph that immediately flashes in your mind at his thought is where Jim, Billy Westbay, and John Long pose for a click in front of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Renowned for rising the criterion for alpine climbing, big-wall climbing, and free-climbing, he was born on July 29, 1944, in San Antonio and died on February 16, 2018, at the age of 73 in Palm Beach, California from a brief liver and kidney illness that arose out of Hepatitis C virus. Mr. Donald, Pilot in the Second World War was his father and mother Miriam Boxwell, an occasional painter. He always wanted to tread the path of father?s footsteps but chose not to fight with fellow human beings when a war broke in Vietnam. He later went on to pursue Psychology.
His penchant for mountaineering started with birds. He used to observe their ways and flying patterns and their environment. He was nicknamed as ?Bird? for his love towards high mountains and raptors. He started his mountaineering journey in 1965 in Yosemite Valley, an era which gave an opportunity to mingle with prominent climbers like Warren Harding and Mr. Robbins. This experience made him the torch-bearer of mountaineering for the future generation. ?
His first debut with climbing was from Camp 4, where he used to interact with climbers beyond his age and explored paths untraveled. He became the founder of Yosemite national park rescue team ? YOSAR and led many path-breaking operations that later became a guide for saving operations. He made most of the prominent ascents across the world but more significantly in Alaska and Patagonia and created unbreakable records. His zeal and passion made a writer out of him that led to several stories being published in the topmost magazines and newspapers.
Known for having made a history with nearly 100 First Ascents in Yosemite Valley, he broke his ribs and bones several times during his journey. Despite all this, he was never deterred and continued with his passion. ?His attitude towards challenges in mountaineering had earned commendable spirit from fellow climbers who chose to move ahead in positive essence.
Usually, climbers have huge bags filled with various items towed up behind them. However, Jim used to carry a backpack with a cigarette pack and water bottle to distribute the same among them. This would give goosebumps to the first time climbers on their first journey.
Bandanas and Paisley shirts, headbands to lock their hair, the dress code for a climber made an indelible mark in the minds of people. One particular photograph in front of El Capitan where Jim, Billy Westbay, and John Long pose for a click till date is known to be a huge hit. This particular expedition in 1975 was signaled as a great accomplishment in that era where they climbed the entire mountain in a single day. The same was covered in seven days by Royal Robbins, a well-known climber?s team in 1960.
His experience with a 1000 mile trek with Jim Slade and Long for a 43-day trek in Borneo is considered as an interesting tale of expeditions. The whole journey comprised of leech infested path where he got a tattoo done from a village head. He consumed a roasted lizard and became victim to an intestinal parasite that had grown to the size of a hot dog by the time he reached home. It is said that Jim actually ate it when it made his way out.
Jim was never a commercial mountaineer who was interested in making money. He always looked for passion among fellow climbers and supported them to complete their tasks. He and his team almost lived in the campgrounds smoking marijuana, drinking, and playing music. It is known that an airplane crash in Lower Merced Pass Lake, in Yosemite in 1977 helped in acquiring few thousand pounds as it comprised of marijuana pot. His team saved the cargo, smoked few and sold the remains.
His notable ascents till date in Yosemite national park, Alaska and Patagonia are many. Few of them include Northeast Buttress, Higher Cathedral Rock, Yosemite, CA, USA, Entrance Exam, Arch Rock with Chris Fredericks and Larry Mar, South Face, Pumori, Nepal with Jan Reynolds and Ned Gillette, Mont Blanc,?French Alps with Giovani Groaz, Cerro Torre, 10,000 foot mountain in Patagonia region of South America along with Steven Brewer, Moose Tooth with Mugs Stump in Alaska, a 300 mile expedition around Mount Everest along with four other Americans and many more to the list.
Though Jim was a reputed climber in attacking most daunting routes, making sharpest and daring pitches, he was unable to make a big mark as like many others. This is due to his style where he demanded not to do any pre-homework while marking any expedition and only to face it. This actually did not make him part of noted expeditions for which his mountaineering skills were a right fit including Mount Everest expedition lead by Dan Larson in 1985.
Jim always set new standards in free climbing that paved new ways for climbers. His style and?mannerisms shocked many and were followed too. He is survived by his wife Peggy Bridwell and son Laytor who was named after Layton Kor, reputed mountaineer. It is known that he worked as a ski guide and took menial jobs leaving behind his family in pursuit of mountaineering adventure. He always saw mountaineering as a form?of emancipation rather than a task assigned. A hippie and a renowned climber, Jim Bridwell will always remain in our hearts.