Seeking Memories of Jim Baldwin


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Social climber
West Linn OR
Dec 21, 2009 - 11:48am PT
I met Jim when he first arrived in the Valley.

Jim and Ed Cooper showed up in the early part of 1962 in Yosemite. Roper and I were living in Camp 4 and Beck may have been there, too. Jim and Cooper had done Sqaumish to great publicity and were in Yosemite to cement Cooper’s fame. They had a ton of gear in an incredibly messy car and decided on doing the mostly overhanging route on El Cap which became known as the Dihedral Wall. Cooper was instantly unlikeable, not because he was an interloper in the Valley going up on a big, new route, but because he was unlikeable. But Jim soon became a guy we enjoyed talking to and greeting with a “Hey Baldwin”, and he in reply a “Hey Amborn”. In our conversations Jim soon saw the position of many of the valley climbers and told me he didn’t exactly agree with Ed, but he was along for the ride. My family has a Canadian branch and I always got a smile out of Jim with an “Eh?”

The Dihedral climb went slowly (7-8 months?), and in the interims in the spring when they came down for re-supply we had many long afternoons by the fire in the Lodge due to rain storms blowing through, or in the bar where we would chat. As I mentioned in another thread, Roper had money and was in the bar a lot drinking Sloe Gin Fizz’s. Jim usually had a beer which he nursed for exceedingly long times. I had no money and was under age so I sat around listening. One thing Jim said I recall was directed at Roper who was telling us he was going solo up the Arrow Chimney to get Irving Smith’s hardware (No one would agree to accompany Roper). Roper goes into that story in some detail in Camp 4, but Jim said, more or less summing up our feelings, “Don’t you think that’s a little ghoulish, Roper?” I particularly liked that because it was a good use of words, but it didn’t stop Roper. Jim was also one with whom I would stand in the Lodge Gift Shop and read the comics about super heroes. Not for the literature, but they were quite entertaining and creative. Jim was a reader of books, a quiet, gentle person. During the time I lived in Camp 4 in the Valley I did not climb with Jim as I was interested in non-aid climbs and he was pretty much taken up with Cooper’s venture.

Your uncle was a fine man, and with friends like Glen Denny, Joe McKeown (Guido on Supertopo), Frank Sacherer, that says it all. Bill Amborn
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 21, 2009 - 07:56pm PT
There is a Jim Baldwin Memorial award, created in 2008. It is presented during the Squamish Mountain Festival each year, "to the climber or team of climbers who display boldness, innovation or significance in the climbing of a new route in the Squamish area".

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Dec 21, 2009 - 09:39pm PT
I can't add anything except that I hope you share your presentation of this awesome gift with us after it happens. Best...
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 23, 2009 - 07:27pm PT
There is hope for more stories about Jim Baldwin from his friends. Some naturally are cautious about posting such things on-line, and perhaps some stories should stay part of oral history. But rumour has it that there are possibilities, so I thought I'd insert a place-holder.

Plus we're all looking forward to Christina's report on her surprise for James.
Mighty Walker

Topic Author's Reply - Dec 23, 2009 - 10:31pm PT
Hi Everyone,

Before I log off for a few days away from the glowing box I wanted to say thanks again for all of your contributions. I've printed out all of your posts, emails and pictures and will report back on how my surprise was received.

It may interest some to know that Howe Sound Brewery has named a bitter after Baldwin and Cooper (;. Never tried it. Maybe Ed has.

Talk to you all after the holidays. Warm wishes,


Social climber
Dec 24, 2009 - 11:01pm PT
Well, here I go, late again. Sorry Christina.
The last time that I saw Jim was at the Greyhound station in Seattle. Twice a year a few friends would drive Jim to Seattle for his spring and fall visits to the Valley. Hitch-hiking on the free-ways was illegal in Washington, but still allowed in Oregon and California. Jim would catch the bus from Seattle to Portland, and then hitch to the Valley from there. Our trips weren't totally altruistic, as we would combine them with a visit to REI, located in a very small space above the Green Apple restaurant, where we could stock up on soft iron pitons. These were the only ones available outside of the Valley at the time, and they only lasted for a few routes. This was still a few years before the formation of MEC, Canada's answer to REI. Before he left, Jim and I agreed to meet up in the Valley for a month or two in the fall. Unfortunately this meeting never happened.
After getting over the shock of his death I resolved to go to Yosemite anyhow. Upthread Guido has used the words "outsiders", "jealousy" and 'territorial imperative". At the time locals were not all as welcoming as they might have been. I think they were worried that some newcomer might claim that their 'hard' routes were really 'easy', and sometimes a mild form of 'hazing' occurred. Of course they had nothing to fear from me, as I made their easy climbs look hard! I arrived at Camp 4 in the dark, and pitched my tent under the closest tree. In the morning another young climber wandered over, and the following conversation took place:
"Where you from?"
"Did you know Jim Baldwin?"
"Yes, he was a close friend".
"Welcome to the Valley, man. Want to share a camp-site?"
As Bill A has said, Jim was a quiet and gentle man. Being a friend of his granted me instant access to most of the regulars in C4. The warm welcome which I and other Canadians later received was a direct result of Jim's popularity, and is an important part of his legacy. He was a climber's climber, and always humble about his achievements. I think that he would rank having a beer named after himself at the top of his list! How do you beat that? I can see him chuckling away, between swigs. He was a good friend. I have a photo of him climbing at Squamish, in my living-room.
Cheers, Jim. H.
Keeper of Australia Mt

Trad climber
Whitehorse, Yukon , Canada
Dec 25, 2009 - 02:11am PT
I never knew Jim Baldwin but a late life intersection with climbing and Squamish connected some dots. My career was in archaeology (pointy rocks and such) and unbenowst to me I hung out with a bunch of climbers through the 60's and 70's (mostly Calgarians such as Don Gardner, the Howard sisters and others- who were pioneering routes on the Yam and other locales in and about Canmore). I wasn't into climbing then as I lacked a vehicle to get to the mountains and had never learned to ski. I made a couple of random excursions into the mountains and climbed some modest peak with a few friends on one occasion. Jim was studying archaeology out at UBC under the major domo of BC archaeology - Carl Borden (very German!). Borden and his students were working on reconstructing the native history of the Fraser River Delta and the Fraser Canyon. Borden named a prehistoric occupation phase in his Fraser Canyon sequence after Baldwin (the Baldwin phase). Borden had a legendary assistant (ex Brit) who was into climbing in the mountains so Jim's connection with the UBC program was probably a pretty good fit. My first field season in archaeology was a 3 month stint on the Queen Charlotte Islands with a former Borden student , Knut Fladmark who was doing his doctorate at U of Calgary where I was doing an undergrad degree. In any case, Jim and I never connected but he sounds llke a great bloke and we likely would have created more than a few dead marines with lots of good stories.

Jim probably would have taken great delight in one of the legendary moments of a slightly later Canadian Archaeological Association annual meeting. About 1973 Simon Fraser University in Burnaby hosted the meeting. Borden was
scheduled to give one of his stirring (ultra starchy)presentations just before lunch one day of the meeting. Usually there might be a couple of dozen archaeologists in the audience (probably mostly rehabbing themselves from the preceding action of the night before!) - shortly before Borden started reading his paper as the last one before lunch - people started filing into the lecture hall - and they kept coming. Borden was energized - never before had any of his talks garnered such attention! The hall ended up being more or less filled up - and he was in his glory! He finished and the people stayed so he sat down. Then a member of the student union came on stage and introduced a featured noon hour lecture - a lady and her dog. It was the Happy Hooker and her German Sheppard. All of the folks had come into the hall to hear her well advertized oral presentation and NOT for Carl Borden's discussion of prehistoric activities in the Fraser Canyon! Borden was thoroughly deflated but despite his German heritage probably had a few laughs as we did. Borden's students still have a good laugh on that one as will Jim when he beams in on Supertopo!
Quaff a draft for Jim and the other good people who have gone before us - during this xmas season. Look after each other and live life well.

Seasons greeting to the Supertoponians.

Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 25, 2009 - 01:13pm PT
Jeff/Hamie: Did Jim Baldwin study archaeology? That seems to be what Jeff is saying, but it's not clear.

Social climber
Dec 25, 2009 - 05:11pm PT
Yes, Jim was an outstanding archaeology student. Prof. Borden was apparently quite disappointed when Jim decided that climbing was more fun than studying and digging. The fact that one of the occupation phases is named after him confirms his academic ability. Jim had quit UBC by the time that I first met him, but there was an interesting carry-over from his student days. In the early 60s many students would carry their books around in polished brown brief-cases. Seemed like a good idea at the time, since it rains constantly in Vancouver. This was decades before back-packs became a universal fashion accessory and statement. Sounds pretty nerdy today, but pretty cool BITD, if you could afford one. [I never had one, but should have, since I was studying Commerce!] Jim had the brilliant idea of using his old brief-case to store and carry his hardware. It was always comical to see him approach with his pack in one hand, and his brief-case in the other. When another individual left UBC someone commented "We will miss the friendly 'clink' of his brief-case", referring to the bottles inside. In Jim's case we miss the friendly 'clank' of his! When you heard that clank-clank sound, you knew it was time to get your game-face on.
After leaving UBC Jim's life revolved around climbing. He was the first full-time recreational climber from Canada, but not the last! The Grand Wall was like his master's thesis, and the Dihedral was his doctoral dissertation.
There is a full page photo of him leading the notorious expanding flake pitch on the west face of Sentinel, on page 137 of 'Beyond the Vertical', Layton Kor's great biography. The text also describes his 2 falls, when the expanding flake expanded.... Unfortunately this book is both scarce and very expensive.
Jim's legacy now includes a Baldwin beer, a Baldwin award for excellence in climbing, and a Baldwin archaeological phase. Our Renaissance man!! Who'da thunk it, eh? Proud to have known you, Jim.-------H.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Dec 25, 2009 - 07:01pm PT
There is a full page photo of him leading the notorious expanding flake pitch on the west face of Sentinel, on page 137 of 'Beyond the Vertical', Layton Kor's great biography. The text also describes his 2 falls, when the expanding flake expanded....

Jim Baldwin on the notorius expanding flake, Sentinel West Face. <br/>
Jim Baldwin on the notorius expanding flake, Sentinel West Face.
"Can be rated A.1 or A.5, depending on whether the climber pops."
Credit: Layton Kor
Keeper of Australia Mt

Trad climber
Whitehorse, Yukon , Canada
Dec 25, 2009 - 08:10pm PT
Hamie nailed it. The archaeology work would have been in the early 60s out near Yale where Borden was working on his Fraser Canyon sequence. I will have to ask Fladmark and some others for more specifics on his academic initiative. Al MacMillan, recently retired from SFU and who also was an early Borden student would have known him also. Borden started work in BC in the early 1950s and is considered the Father of BC Archaeology. His archaeology was an early add on to his initial UBC responsiblity for teaching German as I recall. Sort of an amateur archaeologist who moved into the vacant niche of teaching archaeology. I think Moira Irvine was the lady who ran the lab and managed Borden's collections. I think she may have passed away a few years back as I tend to recall an obit published somewhere and which indicated her passion for mountaineering in the coast range.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 26, 2009 - 12:28am PT
Moira Irvine (1941 - 89) was editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal from 1974 - 86. She was quite a character, and something of a climber and mountaineer. She got a bachelor's degree in anthropology from UBC in 1962, which must be how she met Jim Baldwin. Her obituary says she spent much of her career as an assistant and then factotum to Professor Borden. I remember visiting Moira occasionally at UBC's Museum of Anthropology, usually to do with reporting on climbing at Squamish. She was the only woman I've ever met who smoked a pipe.

Borden is considered "the father of British Columbia archaeology".

Better yet: "Jim Baldwin, who has accompanied Borden on several field trips, has organized a small field party and is conducting a salvage excavation in the remaining portion of an originally large site on the outskirts of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. He reports considerable progress." (From Society for American Archaeology "News and Notes" 1955 - when Jim would have been 17.)
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 26, 2009 - 02:32am PT
The site in Prince Rupert which Baldwin excavated - as a 17 year old! - is now known to archaeologists as the Baldwin Site. It was the site of a Coast Tsimshian village that was partly destroyed by construction of the railway, and World War II defence installations. The site was later excavated more thoroughly.

Jim also did some early climbing and mountaineering in the Prince Rupert and Terrace areas, but I don't know how much is recorded. I'll see what I can find out.

Oddly, my father was stationed in Prince Rupert in 1945, and probably at least visited the Site. He met Jim in the early 1960s.
Keeper of Australia Mt

Trad climber
Whitehorse, Yukon , Canada
Dec 26, 2009 - 07:24am PT
If Baldwin ran his own small project up in the Prince Rupert area there may be a resulting report on file with the BC Archaeology Branch in Victoria as reports were required in fulfillment of permitting requirements. Would be interesting to read what Jim might have written about that work. That Rupert work would definitely have been some of the earliest in that area - only later to see the big efforts of George MacDonald of the then National Museum of Man (morphing later into the Canadian Museum of Civilization). His Rupert project was underway around the time I was absorbing lots of water (and beer as an underage in the
Skidegate pub)over on the Charlottes. At the end of the summer and after spending an extra week on the island due to a missed ferry ride to Rupert, we drove back down to Vancouver and I went out with Fladmark to Borden's lab - I was pretty young and don't recall too much about the encounter with Moira excepting she was wearing khaki shirt and shorts! 3 rain soaked months digging on the Charlottes certainly reworked your visual acuity and observations! I suspect there was a lot of grit to that lass as Borden was known for being highly structured and so on.
As a slight aside, this climbing thing cropped up a bit later on in my early career when I hooked up with another Calgary grad student, Bryan Gordon for a couple of months in the Thelon Game Santuary in the Barrengrounds of the NWT. Gordon had done an undergrad degree in Chemistry at U of Washington and he used to regale us with stories of climbing Mt. Rainier and so on. He was into regular rock in addition to the alpine stuff. A few years back after I had gotten into this late life divergence of climbing I decided to give him a call at the Canadian Museum of Civilization where he worked. We had a great chat on climbing since he had also climbed at JTree and Squamish (also Peru and some other places). His son was into climbing and they were doing Deidre but got rained out and bailed. Despite modest talent I have managed to get up that one along with Banana Peel and Sickle so we had a good connection on all of that.
We ended up hooking up a year or so later and spent a day climbing on the Erdley Escarpment across from Ottawa in the Gatineau when I was in the east. Bryan was no longer actively climbing at that point.
It is interesting how in ones life there are intersections, divergences and reconnections with people - like eddies in a river at a times.

Despite a rather late start in this game, I was glad to see a couple of grizzled, white haired Aussie lads climbing hard when I was in Tinbeerwah in Queensland a few years back. Thinking about guys like Baldwin is good motivation - "In the Shadow of the Chief" is a great flick that captures that era.

I will see what info I can find buried in the memories of some of my more ancient archaeologist colleagues - about Baldwin and will pass along anything noteworthy.
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Dec 26, 2009 - 10:21pm PT
An excerpt from Dick Culbert's "A Climber's Guide to the Coastal Ranges of British Columbia" (1965):

Polywog Mountain (circa 6,000') stands above the highway between mile 29 and 31 west of Terrace. The peak itself is not difficult to reach, but the 3500-ft. face of slab granite above the highway was climbed in 1958 by C. Mair and J. Baldwin, and required 10 1/2 hrs. with direct aid on the upper portion.

The peak is about half way between Terrace and Prince Rupert. Fascinating that they were doing such things there, in 1958. Prince Rupert was then a fairly remote place, mostly fishing and railway oriented. The ability to do such climbs in 1958 suggests climbers determined to somehow acquire the needed skills and equipment, which must have been a formidable task. I wonder how and when and where Jim got started climbing?
Keeper of Australia Mt

Trad climber
Whitehorse, Yukon , Canada
Dec 27, 2009 - 02:47am PT
Definitely some interesting questions surrounding how he got into climbing in the first place at that time and in the Prince Rupert-Terrace area to boot - of all places really. Maybe he spotted that Terrace area crag on his way in and out of his Rupert archaeology work. But it speaks to some earlier accumulated climbing experience - was he working on his climbing trade earlier in Squamish before going north - his gig with Cooper on the Grand Wall was 1961. Probably not a lot of blokes doing this stuff in this area at that time so he certainly was in the vanguard to be sure.

This is the note in Chic Scott's "Pushing the Limits - the Story of Canadian Mountaineering" pg. 241:

"During the late l950s and early 1960s Jim Baldwin was a leading figure
in Coast rock climbing. He began his climbing career on his own at Prince Rupert. Later, while studying anthropology at the University of British
Columbia he discovered the tremendous potential at Squamish and made many new routes including the first ascent of the Grand Wall (1961). This monumental undertaking went a long way toward popularizing rock climbing in the area.
Baldwin was a gregarious man who made a quality drinking companion. Steve
Roper wrote, "Baldwin with his darting eyes, full beard and sensuous lips,
looked and acted like a satyr and the sensual stores he told about his sexual escapades - obviously true because they rarely rebounded to his credit - caused us to reconsider our ideas about "conservative Northwest climbers."

Jim made the first ascent of Dihedral Wall on El Capitan in 1962. With Ed Cooper he laboured many months on the project, and eventually reached the summit with Cooper and Glen Denny. It was early days in Yosemite Valley and the climb was a tremendous achievement for this small town Canadian kid.

In June, 1964, Baldwin was killed in a fall while descending the east face of Washington Column. His death at the early age of 26 was a tremendous loss for Canadian climbing."

There is a good pic (Cooper photo) of Baldwin leading on the Dihedral Wall- pg, 331

Scott has a nice account of the Dihedral Wall climb pp. 331-333. His final words on this climb: " Dihedral Wall , one of the hardest climbs of is kind in the world, was only the third route to be climbed on El Capitan. Baldwin had come from nowhere, and in a few short years had progressed to the leading edge of North American climbing. Had he not died in a climbing accident just two years later he would certainly have
made many more contributions to big wall climbing."

So he was climbing at Terrace at the age of 21 but where and when did he really get into climbing - I mean Rupert is really nowhere as Terrace lies to the east - and it seems unlikely he gained the interest out of the blue there. There must be earlier roots/routes lying to the south - it would interesting to sleuth this out. Moira may have been a source of knowledge but that is now unavailable. Jim would have known her from being in and out of Borden's classes and labs. I wonder if some of Jim's relatives have any insights into it. Kevin McLane's guide indicates that

"... in the 1940s, members of the Alpine Club of Canada and the BC Mountaineering Club engaged in forays to the crags around Murrin Park, driving along the rough road to Britannia from the ferry dock in Squamish." and " ... Les McDonald and Jim Baldwin's ascent of Peasant's Route,... in 1958 when the highway to Vancouver was finally completed."
(pg. 52). So Baldwin was climbing in the area prior to Beckey et als first major route of "Squamish Buttress" which went up in 1959. I wonder
if Jim hooked up with the Alpine Club or BC Mountaineering Club folks forays out to the Squamish area via maybe Moira and others- prior to 1958. And then one thing led to another.

What do you think Anders? Does this sound plausible? Maybe Les Mcdonald is a good source?
Keeper of Australia Mt

Trad climber
Whitehorse, Yukon , Canada
Dec 27, 2009 - 03:47am PT
The tansitioning from archaeology student to itinerant climber would not have been a big thing in those days and for many years later!. Two sides of one coin really connected by common threads of a passion for liquid nutrition, honed and challenging ladies, lots of strenuous physical activity with rock, dirt and such or honed and challenging ladies, amazing natural settings, extreme foraging for the essentials of human existence (excepting water at Squamish) and so on. For three months (digging holes -one being a two metre pit down 23 ft., pancakes every morning including one presentation that featured a embedded typical slimey NW Coast slug) I got paid a big goose egg. We on occasion scavenged deer meat from road kills and developed a strategy of sending the most nubile damsel on our team down to the docks with a couple of bucks and a mission of liberating some serious Pacific salmon from itinerant local fishermen and using a uni credit card for anything under the sun - the climbing lifestyle is not all that much different so it would have been a slam dunk for Jim. Double Jack or Apple Jack was cheap and could deliver a bit of a whallop at a price we could afford. Archaeology field camps would have been minature Camp 4s complete with their own complement of strange and exotic creatures.
Jim would have been at home in either setting for sure.

Dec 31, 2009 - 03:56pm PT
From James Baldwin (the second),
All I can say is a massively thankful wow to you all! I am completely blown away by the flood of responses from Jim’s contemporaries and the climbing community as a whole. I was shocked at the variety of great stories coming out after so many years.

As some of you might know, the Baldwin family has never been good at discussing the past and, as you all might imagine, Jim’s passing was extremely hard on the family. My father (Don) was only a year younger than Jim, and I expect that to be the reason for his unwillingness to delve too deeply into the subject. He was never secretive about it, but he certainly wouldn’t volunteer information.

My folks getting ready to move from Prince Rupert inspired Christina’s (Mighty Walker) query into Jim’s past. In clearing out the house my father passed on me Jim‘s hand written Yosemite climbing notes. Inside was a list of numbers and addresses for Jim’s climbing contacts. So many of you are listed there. That got Christina thinking about what else she could find in hopes of making a gift of it for me. You can see why I fell hard for her. Amazing lady.

My interest is, of course, hard-wired into me (namesake and all) as is my love of climbing. I have been climbing things since birth and perhaps that is how Jim started as well. When I started on real rock in the early 90’s there was only a fledgling climbing community in Prince Rupert. They had just started to develop a set of viable routes on good granite at a site along the Skeena River. I can’t imagine that in the 50’s and 60’s climbing was even in anyone from PR’s crystal ball. I would love to know what inspired Uncle Jim to make that intuitive leap.

Thanks to you all once again for filling in the gaps and making this an amazing Christmas season full of lasting memories. Happy New Year from the Baldwin family and myself!

James Baldwin
Roger Breedlove

Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Dec 31, 2009 - 04:50pm PT
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, James.

Is there any chance that your uncle's climbing notes inlcude routes that he did in Yosemite?

Dec 31, 2009 - 05:20pm PT
Hi Roger,

Yes indeed. His notes begin with a list of climbs and their grades he completed in Yosemite and Squamish, as well what appears to be the start of a essay on tackling the Dihedral Wall. It ends off with a completed 2600 word essay on climbing pioneer John Salathe. It looked to me like he probably had plans to publish both pieces.

The coil bound note pad also had pockets containing folded loose-leaf notes including Jim's climbing contacts and a list of Yosemite climbs hand-written on a piece of Yosemite Lodge note paper. Very cool.
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