The death of Jim Madsen


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Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Dec 10, 2009 - 09:42pm PT
If any of the people who knew Jim post on ST, it would be good to hear something about him besides his tragic end. He had a lot of friends for good reason.
Camster (Rhymes with Hamster)

Social climber
Dec 10, 2009 - 09:48pm PT
Thanks for this .. another sad story. Not sure what the learning/moral is, but there is always something. Maybe it's just be more careful.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Dec 10, 2009 - 10:06pm PT
I was grateful to be out of the valley when Madsen died. At that time he was the best climber in the country; it wasn't even close who was second.

I'd like to add that Dick and Jim did the 2nd ascent of the South Face of Watkins. This after our debacle the previous spring.
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 11, 2009 - 12:27am PT
Roger, you ask if there was a connection between Madsen's death and a lull in Valley climbing. There was, and the biggest reason was that he was not there. Jim had climbed more grade VI's in a shorter period of time than anyone ever had as well as doing some of the hardest free climbs in the Valley as well. He was obsessive, strong, and talented. I never heard him talk about wanting to be the best climber, but I did hear him talk about wanting to do the biggest and hardest climbs he could find. The routes on El Cap that he and Kim Schmitz were knocking off one by one in record time he said were practice for the five thousand foot walls he wanted to do in Patagonia. But, alas, we all found out he was no unstoppable force.

We the young ones thought of ourselves as the younger generation. The older generation, Robbins, Kor, Pratt, etc. were not even ten years older but we tended to look up to them and thought of them as the better climbers. There certainly were some great accomplishments here and there from the younger generation, but overall it wasn't even close to the rise in standards and opening up of the big walls that preceded us. Even Bridwell, talented as he was, never really broke through until the next generation came and he teamed up with them. Jim Madsen was the exception, but just as he was breaking through, he died.

Trad climber
Dec 11, 2009 - 01:36am PT
Here in Washington, whenever I would do one of Madsen's routes thru the years, I would always wonder....who was Jim Madsen and what happened to him? Just vague stories and rumors of a legend. These posts kind of bring it full circle for me, thank you.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 11, 2009 - 02:02am PT
Roper's portrayal of Jim Madsen isn't as accurate as it might be.
I found Jim to be quite reflective and calm much of the time.
He instantly became my friend and looked me up when I arrived in
the Valley one season. He brought me several presents, and we
strolled through the Valley and had great conversations. He must
have come across, though, at times as frenzied. Not really so.
He was the first to cross the line in a more full way from pitons
only to the use of nuts, and that greatly decreased the time on
climbs. I had done the West Face of Sentinel faster than he, in June
1967, and that was not an effort to go fast, with my 17 year old
partner, and then soon after I did what was then the fastest
ascent of the Nose, again not trying to go fast in that hot June
heat, Jim did the Nose in a day less time, in part because of his
growing ability and speed, and his raw physical power, but also
the improving equipment. He and Dalke did the Upper Yosemtie Falls
route, as I recall, that grade VI done by Royal and McCracken, and
those two fired up that wall quickly. Jim had all sorts of questions
for me about bouldering and free climbing. I think he was on the verge
of wanting to become a serious free climber, instead of the speed
demon on big walls his reputation was fast becoming. I liked that
guy so very much. He was just simply pure and beautiful and a really
good climber and good man. I have the memory I was there when he died,
but it's possible I had just left or was just about to arrive. Somehow
or other I was near it all, though, and it touched me very powerfully.
There were various stories about what he said at the moment the knot
slipped through. One was, "Here goes," which made sense. He was about
to swing side to side (pendulum) and get another rappel anchor going.
That's the comment that first reached me, although then others began
to crop up....

Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Dec 11, 2009 - 11:55am PT
Morning Dick,

Thanks for the note. That is a powerful piece of the puzzle of what happened in those years between the earlier 60s climbers and the 1970/71 seasons.

It always seems a bit mysterious to me why certain periods seem to take off and some sort of slacken—there always seem to be good climbers around, but something has to happen to cause them to push into new methods or terrains. Or course climber’s tastes change and with changing tastes some areas are more favorable than others. But the 1967 to 1970 period in the Valley always seemed to me to be an oddity. There were really good climbers in the Valley during that time, not the least of which were Bridwell and Schmitz. The fading of the earlier generation, the names you mention, is easy to see as the sum of the individuals moving on to other things in their lives. And, it easy to see the affect, in the 1970/71 season, when Barry Bates, Mark Klemens and Peter Haan shook up the place with hard free climbing, all of which caused/allowed Bridwell to come into his own as the Valley impresario.

From a historical perspective, Madsen’s position in the Valley as the strongest young climber with a vision and drive probably would have been the piece to drive climbers to push the envelop—whatever that special communal catalyst is—and his death, as you confirm, would have just as easily have created a void that didn’t get filled until Barry and Mark showed up and Peter took off his belay.


Social climber
Dec 11, 2009 - 01:00pm PT
hey there, dick, jan, (chuck and chris) steve and anyone else...

say, i wish i could you give you all some kind of special hug right now, as to these very sad memories.... :(

god bless your hearts this day...
thanks for helping others, as you share this...
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 11, 2009 - 02:52pm PT
Sorry I dissed my own generation. I just realized my mistake when I was reminded that Beck made the first one arm solo ascent of Starr King.
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 11, 2009 - 03:23pm PT
Once again people comment about times they weren't part of,
and thus the sense is off somewhat, but neither Jim or Kim S. was
much focused on free climbing (Kim, yes, in years to follow).
They were big wall climbers. As I said, however, I think
Jim was really at a point where the idea of free climbing
had begun to peak his curiosity, and had he lived I imagine he might
well have done some wonderful stuff. But the biggest part of his
whole career was about going up the walls fast and strong. Jim
was part of a strong Northwest cadre, several of whom were better
free climbers than Jim. But he simply was a force, somewhat like
Kor, full of energy and love for life. It's wrong to say he
played much of a roll in the free climbing scene of those years,
pre '70 or post... He often told me the free climbers were an
inspirtion to him.... His temperament was a bit different...

Thanks, Dick, for your thoughts.


Trad climber
quaking has-been land
Dec 11, 2009 - 05:02pm PT

"Jim was part of a strong Northwest cadre, several of whom were better
free climbers than Jim."

Who might those Northwest climbers be (have been?)??
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Dec 11, 2009 - 05:22pm PT
Hey Dick, maybe you could remind us of Eric's one-armed ascent of Mt. Starr King.

Edit: Oops, I missed the thread on Eric's recovery methods: One armed solo ascent of Mt Starr King

Regrading Pat's swipe
Once again people comment about times they weren't part of, and thus the sense is off somewhat
, I respond here: Ebs & Flows; Booms & Busts: Valley FAs 1954-1980

Crestline CA
Dec 11, 2009 - 05:52pm PT
MMmmmm a long time ago... I remember feeling so sick when I learned of the death of Jim.... A few years later, in 72, Bob Norris and I were up for giving the Dihedral a go and went to Pratt for some beta... he just shook his head and said.... "you should go do something fun, like Snake Dike, and forget about the Dihedral". We went anyway and bailed after 4 in really cold conditions.... It was 1992 before I went back, this time with the remarkable Brad Jarret, who comfortably hauled me up most of the the route. I was an Eastern climber when Madsen died and like JStan said, it really hit us hard, as we followed the Yosemite scene with great interest and building ambitions. Madsen was already a legend to many of us. Gone but never forgotten.

Social climber
Salt Lake City
Dec 11, 2009 - 06:29pm PT
Thanks, Dick for remembering Madsen. I went to Peru with Kim and Jim the summer before his death. We had a fine time. After his fall I tested a single overhand knot and a six biner break. The knot will pull right through.
Dick Erb

June Lake, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 11, 2009 - 08:32pm PT
One time a bunch of us were sitting around up in the boulders behind Camp 4, and we got to talking about nightmares. Some guys described some pretty weird and frightening stuff they had dreamed.

Then Madsen starts talking, "I was hanging in a hammock on a wall up in the Cascades. I was soaked and cold. Masses of wet snow kept sluffing off the wall above filling my hammock with snow. The wind was howling and-"

"Wow," I interjected. "I've never had a dream that bad."

"No. This is where I was when I Had the dream."

Social climber
Across Town From Easy Street
Dec 11, 2009 - 09:00pm PT
I remember Mom telling me this story for years, about how completely shocked the Yosemite climbing scene was that this could happen to someone so vibrant.

It's actually good to hear some clarification about this after so many years, I was under the impression there was no knot at the end of the rope.

But that is probably third-hand information over 40 years old now...

Thanks, Erik Wolfe Borghoff

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Dec 11, 2009 - 09:33pm PT
Who might those Northwest climbers be (have been?)??

I think Masta is being coy.
I nominate John Marts, the Hargis boys, and Al Givler; dem boyz waz baad.
I only climbed with Marts and Givler but I've not seen many better. Not many know of Marts but he was smoooth. Masta and Timson came on very shortly thereafter.
Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Dec 11, 2009 - 10:50pm PT
Here's a measure of how strong Jim was. For a reason which is dim, many of us in camp 4 had to move to new campsites. One group had a car apart with the engine out and were in despair as to how to move the engine. This was a 327 (those of you who were hot rodders will recognize this). Jim came over and asked "Where would you like it moved to." He picked it up and carried it to the new site.

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Dec 11, 2009 - 10:52pm PT
Thanks for posting this. Can't have been easy. But all of us (well, many of us anyway) greatly appreciate all the recollections, whether good bad hilarious informative wild or tragic, of the 60s and 70s climbers who post here. Thanks.

It is striking how lasting and widespread the impact of this accident has been. It happened right about when I started climbing, and I've always been wary about rappel descents because of this and other incidents. We like to talk about the "lesson" to be learned from one or another accident, in this case that a single overhand isn't a stopper knot, but that isn't really the core lesson. Instead, it's that a climbing accident profoundly affects everyone in your immediate circle of family and friends, and to some extent the whole community, for many years to come. Dave Roberts's Moments of Doubt considers this thoughtfully but without resolution (or, arrives at the conclusion that there is no resolution, and for many, no getting over a friend's or family member's accident, ever).

It's worth remembering every time you consider not backing something up or replacing a grody-looking rappel sling or checking a knot or clip or re-placing a piece that wasn't quite as secure as you hoped. Sure, there are many climbing risks that are nearly impossible to control, but also many that are, and we owe it to everyone around us, especially our non-climbing family and friends, to be sure that we eliminate the latter whenever we can.

Edited to add, right after posting: Holy crap, Eric!
Patrick Oliver

Boulder climber
Fruita, Colorado
Dec 11, 2009 - 11:44pm PT
Yes, I was about to say, Mastadon, you could start with
Mead Hargis, one heck of a fine climber... I don't really
want to compare any of them, because each was unique and
different, but those guys from the NW were indeed some of the

Jim had ferocious strength yet struck me as gentle as a lamb.
I remember arriving in that campground over near the Apron.
They were renovating Camp 4 or some such, and so we got
relocated. Madsen heard I had arrived and promptly searched
me out and brought me a bag of goodies as a welcome
present. I recall a long walk we took through the forest. We
didn't talk at all about climbs...

I don't remember anyone who didn't like Jim.
Messages 21 - 40 of total 98 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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