Joe Puryear killed in Tibet


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Oct 27, 2010 - 02:54pm PT
Joe was one of the great ones. He had the rare combination of possessing amazing talents and being just a great guy. Its hard to accept what happened. He just had so much great energy.

Joseph Puryear on the first ascent of Goldfinger on The Stump.
Joseph Puryear on the first ascent of Goldfinger on The Stump.
Credit: Chris McNamara

I met Joe when he approached me to publish his Alaska book. I had never been to AK so Joe proposed a trip. It was one of the best climbing trips of my life. Partially because we got to climb so much. Partially because we just had a great time hanging out in the spectacular Ruth Gorge. We climbed a bunch of routes and a new climb Goldfinger but also just had a great time goofing off. He had mastered the art of big and long climbing trips: climbing hard is just as important as having fun when the weather is bad.

Here is a video slide show from the trip

After the trip, I was fired up to get the book done. Mainly, it was because Joe was even more obsessed than me on creating a really detailed and informative guide. In fact, a few months into the editing I was starting to slack off on the layout. Joe called me out on it and proposed he finish the layout. He didn't have much design experience, but I bought him a copy of Indesign, gave him a few pointers and he was off. Within a few months, he knew more about layout and design than me and the book actually got done! After finishing Alaska Climbing, he went on to start a design business. He combine a quick grasp of design with his amazing photos in Sherpa Gear Catalogs.

Joe climbed a ton of technical peaks and brought back incredible photos. you can read stories and see his images on his web site.

One of my favorite trip reports i have ever read is his I Love The Desert TR that he posted here on SuperTopo. That photo essay really captures how much he loved climbing, the outdoors, sending, and sharing.

I will miss Joe a lot. We didn't get to hang out nearly enough but I always loved riding along through his trip reports, stories and photos.

Sending my best thoughts to his amazing wife Michelle who shared many adventures with Joe and was a gracious host for our Alaska trip.

Once the shock wares off I'll post some more stories and photos. There were just so many!

Joe Puryear near the Ruth Gorge Alaska
Joe Puryear near the Ruth Gorge Alaska
Credit: Chris McNamara

Joe Puryear on the way out of the Ruth Gorge.
Joe Puryear on the way out of the Ruth Gorge.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Joe Puryear on the Ruth Glacier with Denali in the background.
Joe Puryear on the Ruth Glacier with Denali in the background.
Credit: Chris McNamara

Joe Puryear and a large stove board below the Cobra Pillar Mt Barille,...
Joe Puryear and a large stove board below the Cobra Pillar Mt Barille, Ruth Gorge Alaska
Credit: Chris McNamara
Captain...or Skully

Big Wall climber
Transporter Room 2
Oct 27, 2010 - 02:59pm PT
I never met Joe, but I'll miss him all the same. I've heard quite a bit about him. That guy got around!

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Oct 27, 2010 - 03:17pm PT

My condolences to Joe's family and friends.
Like Todd Gordon said, his post about desert climbing on
the taco stand was one of the best.

Ice climber
Happy Boulders
Oct 27, 2010 - 03:53pm PT
this is horrible news
my condolences to his friends and family.
great pics Chris

Trad climber
The Illuminati
Oct 27, 2010 - 04:11pm PT

Toyota Tacoma
Oct 27, 2010 - 04:30pm PT
This is horrible news. I hope his family can find peace, and that his partner can return safely and begin putting it all back together. He was one of the Tribe, for sure.

Oct 27, 2010 - 04:36pm PT
So saddened to hear this. We met Joe in the Bugaboos in '03, a great spirit. All best wishes to his loved ones.

Oct 27, 2010 - 04:54pm PT
Sad(news), great(list of climbs), hilarious(thanks, ryanb).

Thank you, SuperTopians.

Trad climber
Leavenworth & Greenwater WA
Oct 27, 2010 - 05:16pm PT
Patrick Sawyer

Originally California now Ireland
Oct 27, 2010 - 05:39pm PT
My condolences to family and friends.


Social climber
Oct 27, 2010 - 05:40pm PT
What a terrible thing to come home and read.

"Itís snowing. All the climbers are huddling in the lodge or lingering as long as possible in the cafeteria over cups of coffee and tea. It is all so familiar to me. Iíve done so much spacing out in the past years at different places in the world, different mountain ranges waiting for the weather to clear, to go back up, to get out of the tent and start to climb. Or putting idle time in some cafť in Europe or somewhere else along the way. Waiting for the weather to break in the far north, to be flown into some vast glacier range. There have been so many times like this, my mind wandering, to past experiences in my life, to friends long since seen, to future climbs. My imagination is a gift for my life. The climbs to do are creations to understand, not to be surprised. Experience has been my teacher as I have studied the mountains intenselyÖ I am so lucky to have such a life Ė to have such freedom - not the social and political but the freedom that is my spirit. I donít know where it comes from - the life has been from you - but what is the spirit? There are many climbers as I look around this room Ė all different Ė some restless, some new at the ďhangĒ in life. The drives are as different as the people. I am lucky to be able to sit in this room, in the fields, on the glaciers, on the wall. Itís empty and yet Iím full."

from this wonderful thread celebrating Mugs Stump

Social climber
State of decay
Oct 27, 2010 - 06:06pm PT
Dam, if I don't feel like a fighter on the ropes, covering my head, wondering where the next blow will come.
Very sad news indeed. Sounds like a simple misstep on the ridge line.
Joe's Alaska Guide bought a thousand tickets north and will continue to guide adventure there for years to come. Small consolation.
My condolences to family and friends.
I know alpinism is inherently dangerous, but I am really tired of losing brothers in arms. Enough for this year. Please. be careful out there folks.

Social climber
Bouncy Tiggerville
Oct 27, 2010 - 07:24pm PT
Damn. This is really bad news, Joe was a super solid dude with a great heart and spirit.

Really bummed about this news.


Gym climber
Victor ID
Oct 27, 2010 - 07:25pm PT
Damn, Joe we will miss you. It had been a while my friend but I will never forget your easy and quick smile. It says a lot about Joe that as a veteran climber he was always willing to take time to mentor or give a helpful word of advice to those with less knowledge like myself. Damn dude you were always so fast climbing. It seems unbelievable that gravity ever caught you. I learned a ton about speed and efficiency and fun climbing with you in Zion and Red Rocks. I feel fortunate that I got to do some route with you but mostly, I learned as you smoked us doing walls in a day - you solo. Laura and I would meet you back in camp, tired and you were relaxed and energetic - waiting with dinner started or an open beer. Fun, Energy, Mischief. I will go out and buy some tomato stakes (wands) tomorrow to craft a bow. It is a fond memory of mine returning to Denali base camp and shooting this massive creation that you had constructed. Michelle, I am so sorry for your loss. We met only once and briefly at that but know this: When Joe was away from you he spoke of you often and with admiration that was inspiring. Rest easy my friend. T

Trad climber
Oct 27, 2010 - 07:43pm PT
Whoa. So very sad.

I've really enjoyed poring over his SuperTopo creation Alaska Climbing, studying the pictures and topos, and dreaming about future climbing trips to Alaska -- and will be thinking of him every time I ponder another climb there.

My sincere condolences to his family, climbing partners, and other friends.
The Lisa

Trad climber
Da Bronx, NY
Oct 27, 2010 - 08:01pm PT
So sad to read this. My condolences to his family and friends and everyone whose lives he touched.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Oct 27, 2010 - 08:11pm PT
Very sad-what an incredible climber.RIP

Big Wall climber
Oct 27, 2010 - 11:17pm PT
bummer, that is quite a resume. so sorry for friends and family, he surely did live life in a large way. steve schneider

Social climber
Bouncy Tiggerville
Oct 28, 2010 - 08:13am PT

I received one of those dreaded phone calls early this morning with the news that my good friend Joe Puryear died while ascending Labuche Kang (7,367 meters, 24,170 feet) in a remote region of Tibet.
Joe was a former climbing ranger on Mount Rainier and one of Americaís elite alpinists. He joined the staff at Camp Schurman in 1996 with Mark Westman and Lara Bitenieks. They represented a new cadre of skilled climbers who together helped changed the way our climbing rangers did business and served the public for the National Park Service. For two years, Joe led the climbing rangers on the east side of Mount Rainier and participated in many difficult rescues. He was greatly respected for his climbing skills and ability manage complex situations both on the mountain and in the front country. Joeís talents led him to pursue a career in alpinism and along the way he authored books on climbing in the Alaska Range and in the desert SW of America. Most recently, he and David Gottlieb received prestigious climbing grants (Mugs Stump, Gore, and Lyman Spitzer) in order to ascend unclimbed peaks and frozen waterfalls in Nepal and Tibet.
I donít have a lot of information at this time, but the word is that Joe fell through a cornice. He was with David at the time, but David did not witness the event. He ascended the top the ridgeline after putting on his crampons only to find Joe's tracks leading to a broken ledge. Fearing the worst, he descended 1,500 feet to find Joe, who did not survive the fall, and shortly there after retrieved the sat phone enabling him to make a call to the US. David was alone at the time, but does have the help of one Sherpa at base camp. They are in a very remote region without rescue services and itís unclear what his next steps will be. For now, I am thinking about David as he descends the mountain back to base camp.
Once again, the Mount Rainier climbing community has been rocked with the lose of a wonderful friend and person. Joe was good friend with Lara, who died while climbing on Mount Wake in 2007 in the Alaska Range, and also with Charlie Borgh, who was swept to his death in an avalanche on Mount Delta Form in Alberta, Canada 2008.
Iíll send out more information about the accident, Davidís descent, and a memorial when possible. I have attached a picture of Joe as I remember him best, in the mountains and on top of his game.
Information about the expedition can be found at:

Mountain climber
Oct 28, 2010 - 08:22am PT
My thoughts are with you Ralph, his friends and loved ones.
Rest in peace, Joe.
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