Bill Denz-Bold Beyond Belief- NZ's Mountain Warrior

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guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Original Post - Feb 21, 2012 - 11:26pm PT
Bill Denz-Bold Beyond Belief, NZ’s Mountain Warrior

Flying into Kathmandu in the fall of 1983, I was excited that we could rendezvous with my old friend Bill Denz who we hadn’t seen for years. Oddly enough we were now living in NZ and he was living in the states.
Reading through an issue of the New Delhi Times, I sadly came across the news that Bill had recently been killed in an avalanche on Makalu.

I had met Bill in the mid 70s at Mt Cook on my first visit to wonderful New Zealand. We hit it off well and I suggested if he ever ventured into the realm of Americaca, to look me up in Santa Cruz. I ran into him in Camp 4 years later and reiterated my invite. A week later, he appears at the front door hobbling on crutches from an injury on Tis-sa-ack.

This is a marvelous book. Certainly geared to his legendary ascents in New Zealand but Paul Maxim had done an excellent job on his exploits afield: Yosemite, Alaska, Patagonia and Nepal. Seven Classic routes on El Cap, an early ascent on Tis-sa-ack, numerous ascents in Alaska including the first ascent of Kichatna Spire-East Face and his legendary 13 attempts to solo the Bridwell-variation of the Compressor route on Cerro Torre.

Bill was a friend, compadre and soul mate. We shared many good times and adventures and underneath, bereft of his often macho outer image he was a Teddy Bear. I often though it was a runner up between Doug Robinson and Bill Denz as to who was the real Checkered Demon.
Only history will tell.

The book is available from: Top of the World Book-Mountaineering and Polar Books: http://www.topworldbooks.com A great resource by the way, whose owner Greg Glade will go out of his way to accommodate you. Now that is a novelty for a change from a bookstore owner.

Credit: guido
Credit: guido
Credit: guido
NZ Alps
NZ Alps
Credit: guido
Credit: guido
Credit: guido



ms55401

Trad climber
minneapolis, mn
Feb 22, 2012 - 12:08am PT
I knew him only by the Compressor solo. Seems he has the deal-with-whatver-sh#t-comes attitude necessary for hiking big hills.

thanks for the backstory
Gene

climber
Feb 22, 2012 - 01:31am PT
Didn't Bill Denz take the carburetor from the infamous compressor on CT?
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Feb 22, 2012 - 01:34am PT
My Kiwi P.O. Wall partner in 1980, John Dale, could never say enough about the man.
Sadly, I never got to meet him, but felt I knew him anyway.

Thanks Guido.
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
Feb 22, 2012 - 02:01am PT
I gave Bill a ride over to San Jose from Santa Cruz c. 1980. We discussed what it took to survive in Santa Cruz back in those days and listened to Ram Dass meditation tapes in the car riding back over the hill. Bill thought it was hilarious that one of the meditation leaders on the tape was named 'Soma'. Bill mentioned in passing that S.C. was full of "earth mother" type women. That's about it. Bill Denz passing through. Oh yeah, we also smoked some hash oil in a little glass pipe. Almost unbearable!
martygarrison

Trad climber
Washington DC
Feb 22, 2012 - 09:05am PT
Bill Denz, somewhere below the black cave on NA Wall
Bill Denz, somewhere below the black cave on NA Wall
Credit: martygarrison

Bill and I climbed NA wall in 77. The dude was a true hardman.
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Feb 22, 2012 - 09:38am PT
Denz was just an amazing climber and person. I tried to follow in his footsteps but his boots were too big for me. The day he died I was repeating one of his solos, the Denz variation on the Caroline Face on Mt Cook, and came back to Mt Cook village and when I heard the news I just balled my eyes out...

He was truly an inspiration.

Soloing the south face of cook with two jam jars of water, was one of my favourites... Don't need no sinking water bottles...

Thanks for posting up about the book.
Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Feb 22, 2012 - 10:22am PT
Thanks Guido for starting this thread. Denz worked for me for a couple of months back in the late Seventies during one of those phases when he was staying in Santa Cruz. There was a whole nest of climbers there that he became connected to, Russ McLean being the most prominent of them and with whom he did Tis-sa-ack (after his prior, thwarted attempt on it resulting in injury when a big flake peeled off above the Zebra).

As these were the days when Bill was taking shape both as a first class international mountaineer and as a man----he was in his late twenties then, he of course had his detractors and besides, he was a smart, difficult and powerful character raised by a widowed mom as he emerged from his unique difficult youth. Here was a climber whose body was not the type one associated with world class climbing but by dint of his “Denz Option” persistence, forged himself into someone quite a bit beyond the pudgy little youth he had been. It was quite amazing to watch from the sidelines, this transformation and of course often enough, it wasn’t the prettiest. Even more compelling however was that just prior to his demise, he had finally found the love of his life and was preparing to settle down in NZ with her and reset his sights professionally to become an accredited guide there and probably a father as well. It had been quite a journey for him, as Guido says, and at its apparent summation, he left us.

The tragic Makalu accident was a bit peculiar in that it was a fairly basic and predictable slab avalanche however deadly, taking place in fine weather. He was with a partner and Denz was questioning the stability of the slope just prior to its fracture. It took days for everyone back in New Zealand to get the news.

I really recommend Paul Maxim’s book. Not only is it one of the best mountaineering books out (in English) in many years but it is also terrifically well researched and surely will become the definitive biography of the man. It is extremely well bound and has a generous amount of photography in it as well, also well reproduced.









survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Feb 22, 2012 - 11:34am PT
Come to think of it, Bill was the main inspiration for John Dale to be in the valley climbing big walls in the first place.

So I can kinda thank Bill for our ascent of the PO, in a way.....
roy

Social climber
NZ -> SB,CA -> Zurich
Feb 22, 2012 - 03:24pm PT
Hi,

It's great to hear of Bill Denz again. I started climbing in the mid to late 70s in the NZ Southern Alps and Bill Denz was already a legend there at the time. We would hear of his exploits but sadly I never got to met him.

Thanks Guido for posting about the book - I'll order it tonight.

Cheers, Roy
Reilly

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Feb 22, 2012 - 03:42pm PT
What is it with those guys down there? Huffing dried sheep poo must turn you into
a badazz rather efficiently judging by the number of badazzes that have come
out of that tiny population.
survival

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Feb 22, 2012 - 05:16pm PT
I see Nick Craddock on the partner list. One of the first N Zealanders I met.
Won't even mention how THAT came about....

I also didn't know that he had climbed in the AK range with Scott Woolums,
hmmmmmmm, curiouser and curiouser....
John Mac

Trad climber
Littleton, CO
Feb 22, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Denz pretty much passed the baton to Nick...

Roy, we must know each other?
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 22, 2012 - 10:17pm PT
Big Bill Denz Bump, aka BBDB.
OR

Trad climber
Mar 22, 2012 - 10:32pm PT
Guy was an amazing alpinist. I heard many a story about Denz from my ex gf's father, John Armstrong, who was a mate of Denz in the Dunedin/Mt cook climbing scene in the 70's.
MMCC

climber
New Zealand
Mar 22, 2012 - 11:36pm PT
I'm unworthy of such an august thread so will confine myself to Bruce Kay's post above: the doctor was probably Dave Fearnley, another arch-badass from the kiwi badass factory, who left a host of routes around NZ that require circumspection and courage, and some sort of ability to be reassured by half-out, bent carrot bolts. Don't worry, there are plenty of crappy climbers here too.
Lovegasoline

Trad climber
Sh#t Hole, Brooklyn, NY
Mar 23, 2012 - 01:47am PT
Denz was way before my era, but IIRC didn't Greg Child write a chapter in one of his books called 'The Denz Option' (I believe the book is Postcards from the Ledge as per the excerpt in the OP). Earlier on in my climbing I devoured climbing literature, hungry to read about the sort of adventures that still awaited me. Although many of the details are lost to memory, I still recall the vibe of that Denz story, the aborted FA on EL Cap, the insistence on boldness, the temerity, and the stubborn persistence.
Exciting fukking stuff.
giegs

climber
Tardistan
Mar 23, 2012 - 02:07am PT
Postcards from the Ledge.

http://books.google.com/books?id=v18HOmSk5FsC&pg=PA108&lpg=PA108&dq=%22the+denz+option%22&source=bl&ots=wH7ummtf7J&sig=E91IAZ0Wo55A4OiMHpdAsrDNzIw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zxFsT7SaD8ewhAfm5_WOBw&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22the%20denz%20option%22&f=false

Not sure if that'll work, but it's easy to find searching for "Denz Option". Good read.
martygarrison

Trad climber
Washington DC
May 17, 2012 - 09:36am PT
I received my copy from Paul yesterday. Exceptionally well done. The letters to mum really add a real flavor to the book. A great read.
Bruce Morris

Social climber
Belmont, California
May 17, 2012 - 03:42pm PT
I forgot to add one more word-of-mouth anecdote I'd heard about Bill Denz:

Zappa Dave Austin once commented that Bill was the "stubbornest human being he'd ever met".

Says a lot, doesn't it?
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