Tom Higgins


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Tamara Robbins

not a climber, just related...
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 21, 2018 - 02:23pm PT
I’ve been asked to share very sad news about Higgins. He died this morning, and his wife Nancy could use all the support we can give her. Those who were close to them, please reach out if you can. You may email me for contact information at, those with my phone feel free to call.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
The finger of fate, my friends, is fickle.
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:26pm PT
Awful news, Tamara. My condolences to you and to Nancy and all of Tom's friends and climbing partners.

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:39pm PT
I can't believe what I just read.

One of the greats. Rest in Peace, Tom.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:39pm PT
So sorry to hear this.
Just a few months ago, he shared some stories and photos from doing the first ascent of Shake and Bake at the Pinnacles.

Trad climber
Twain Harte, California
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:50pm PT
What a great photo, Clint. Thanks for posting it over here.

Trad climber
San Francisco
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:51pm PT
So sorry to hear this horrible news. Was in Pinnacles on Monday and was thinking about some of the routes he put up there. RIP Tom...
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:55pm PT
One of the greats, RIP

Love this story he wrote and had on his website as a memorial to Bev Johnson

I knew Bev from climbing with her some in the 70’s. We did a number of short crack climbs in Yosemite. She had an infectious energy, raw power and determination on the rock which I much admired. I also loved how she handled being a woman climber when there were few and when lots of men were threatened by the thought of a woman entering their prized mostly male sanctuary. She entered the holy place without knocking and blasted around with such confidence and verve it made all the chauvinism look utterly silly.

I have not told the following tale anywhere because it is hardly my proudest moment or hers (I can’t find any writing of hers on the climb either), but Beverley and I did Astroman in the early 80s, nearly coming undone in the process. I was determined to get it free within my old traditional standards of few falls, no hangs and starting over after falls from free stances or pitch starts. I was still in rebellion against style transitions of the day and prone to occasional mad proselytizing on the subject. Beverley respected my desire and knew about my stylistic warring but mostly just wanted to do the climb however we did it. Off we went.

All went well until the Enduro Corner. Beverley tried to lead it but half way up got tired and started hanging for rests. She was angry at herself the more she rested. I was quiet at first, and then in a rising pissy mood protested, “NO AID.” She told me to f*#k off. I said we should rap off if we couldn’t do it in good style. She challenged me right back saying something like, “Let’s see you do it right.” Now I was wildly fired up to give it a go, just the mood I needed looking back on it. Down she came and up I went. She was grim faced but I ignored her. We should have talked it out but didn’t. When I was about a third of the way up the corner, she told me she wouldn’t hold me if I fell and I’d just have to start over. “Fine” I yelled back. The camaraderie we had established over several climbs together was falling apart. I found there were a few edges on the right wall allowing rests here and there and managed to get near the end of the corner without a fall before the crack opens up. Suddenly a batch of swallows burst out of the crack into my face and off I went, screaming. Before I could say anything, Beverly, true to her promise and the very rules I touted for the climb, lowered me away to start again.

At the belay ledge I looked at her and said, sheepishly, “It wasn’t my fault!” She looked at me with her soft but penetrating eyes and slowly started to smile, then laugh. Our temper tantrum melted away thanks to her good heart. She, unlike me, was looking beyond the climbing to its meaning for two people who loved the walls. We sat and laughed for several moments. Then, looking over to Half Dome starting to turn golden she slapped my leg and said, “You’re a f*#ker!” I said back, “I know.” I remember that interchange like it happened yesterday. I guess it was what I needed, because I got the corner next try and Beverly followed it with only one fall and rest, and was fine with it.

Social climber
Butterfly Town
Mar 21, 2018 - 02:59pm PT
Tom was one of the "regulars" at Stoney Point on weekends during the 1962-1972, more or less, era. I am SO SADDENED by this news and will need some time to take it in. I last saw Higgins at Tom Gerughty's Memorial where he gave a beautiful slide show of Gerughty's climbs. I'll probably post more later...

Condolences to Nancy, his wife, and their daughter, Bonnie Kamps who, with Bob Kamps, was SO IMPORTANT in his life, and all others who knew him.


When Russ phoned with the sad news, we both cried and spoke softly, remembering our early climbing origins at Stoney Point where we transformed ourselves and each other from boys to men, growing outward, if not upward, toward tiny holds and mountain summits, both within and beyond our grasp.

A short while ago, I spoke with Nancy, Tom's wife, and she was very present and clear as she spoke about the challenges Tom faced in his recent days and weeks. Considering the circumstances, seems to be doing quite well while waiting for their daughter to arrive from out of town.

A couple of photos of Tom as most of us knew him best, handsome and smiling while enjoying his connection to the rock and himself.


Sport climber
The Big Wide Open Face
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:02pm PT
If people only knew how hard those routes Tom at put up Tahquitz, back in the 60s, in junk shoes. Try and climb the last pitch of Jonah in lug sole shoes and you're looking at 5.12 for sure. And run out as hell.

All of us Stonemasters followed Tom's footsteps, along with Kamps and Powell and all the rest. But Tom was a special talent.

Sorry to all concerned.
wayne burleson

Amherst, MA
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:06pm PT
Very sad. He was always one of my heroes.
His web-site has lots of his writing and photos.
the goat

north central WA
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:13pm PT
Always thought if it's a Higgins route, be prepared. RIP Tom.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:17pm PT
Of the recent passings, this is the one that got me crying. Condolences to family and all our community.


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:23pm PT
I let out a cry that frightened my wife. Tom and I weren't close friends, but we shared a friendship with Bob and Bonnie Kamps and Pat Ament and found ourselves the same places over the years. We are part of a generation (technically more like three generations) that has been shedding members, both famous and not, for the last ten years, and I find the loss of one of the tribe often seems surprisingly personal, perhaps because our adventures were part of the same era and that era disappears as we do.

I had heard about Tom's struggles with back pain. He is now, finally, at rest. My sincerest condolences to Nancy and to his friends and folks like me, who felt a deep connection even without the bonds of a personal friendship.

Social climber
Mountain View/Boulder
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:29pm PT
I knew Tom mostly through my work as President of Friends of Pinnacles.
Tom was always up for coming down to the Pinns and helping to spread the
word about what a special place the Pinnacles was for climbing. He
participated in a number of special events we worked with the NPS to

Also, I worked with a number of climbers, including Clint, to rebolt a
lot of Tom's Pinnacles's climbs. Tom was very grateful for this work
and every few years a check would show up in the Friends of Pinnacles
mailbox from Tom with a note of thanks.

Most recently, as Clint posted upthread, I contacted Tom to see if he
would write a piece about the FA of the Pinnacles Classic Shake and Bake.
His prose eloquently captured the spirit of that historical moment though
penned 41 years after the first ascent.

Obviously, we needed photos and Tom was gracious to scan his archives
and digitize them. We responded to his generosity by asking for more

Of course, none of this even begins to describe the impact that Tom's
climbing and his writings had on the general climbing community. He was
at the leading edge both in his climbing exploits and describing them for
his fellow climbers in such prestigious periodicals as Ascent and the
American Alpine Journal.

As with his landmark climbs his writings are still held in high regard
and referenced many, many years later.

RIP, Tom.

ps - in his later years Tom did a lot of road bike riding. I think it's
time to go out now and log a few miles in his honor.

Monument Manor
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:45pm PT
What a shame...his excellent essay "Tricksters and Traditionalists" was an influential treatise on first ascent climbing style!

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:48pm PT
So sorry to hear this, condolences to all Tom’s friends and family.

Tom was already a living legend when I started climbing in the late 1970’s. My friends and I actively sought out his routes in Tuolumne, because we knew those routes would be full value.

Social climber
Wise Acres
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:48pm PT
RIP Tom!
life is a bivouac

Trad climber
Mar 21, 2018 - 03:50pm PT
It's with tears that I type this that well up so many memories flashing in and out of view... The sandstone that first brought us together, oatmeal and little more on our first bivowacs, fear and challenges on Tahquitz' granite we all worked so hard to master. I'm just so sorry We fell out of touch...
My deepest condolences to Nancy and their daughter, Alanna.
Russel McLean

Mar 21, 2018 - 04:00pm PT
This stunned me. I used to meet with Tom, Bob Kamps, Mark Powell, Rich Goldstone, and others in August in the Needles of the Black Hills. I would sit back and watch Tom and Bob carefully work their way up some forbidding spire, tip-toeing on tiny nubbins, always in control. A beautiful thing to observe.

My condolences to family and friends. RIP, Tom.

(Bonnie Kamps is not his daughter)

Big Wall climber
Mar 21, 2018 - 04:07pm PT
My deepest condolences to Tom's family. He left us a legacy of magnificent routes put up in impeccable style. He was also a class act.

His writing was always spot on, top quality stuff.

R.I.P. Tom
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