Gary Hemming


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 10:45pm PT
Gary Hemming Tahquitz Rock first ascents

The Error 5.6, 1952 G. Hemming, J. Gallwas, B. Lilley, G. Schlief
X-Crack 5.7 A4, 1965 M. Powell, F. DeSaussure, G. Hemming
Red Rock Route 5.1, 1953, D. Wilson, G. Hemming
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 10:55pm PT
Gary Hemming in Mountain

Hemming, Gary: obituary notice, illus, 6-9; illus., 18-31

Tenderini, Mirella; letter Hemming Biography; 101-49

Hemming Biography
from Mirella Tenderini
Dear Mountain,
I am currently gathering information to compile a biography of the climber Gary Hemming who died in 1969, and would welcome any information or recollections readers might have. Please contact me at 22040 Piani Pesinelli (Como) Italy.
Mirella Tenerini

Social climber
Dalian, Liaoning
Jun 4, 2012 - 11:02pm PT
Wikipedia says he died of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound." I didn't know this.

Suicide or accident?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 11:19pm PT
From Mountain 18 "Mountain Interview: Royal Robbins"

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 11:40pm PT
In the American Alpine Journal (though the search URL seems to be unavailable)

Hemming, Gareth H. 1955: 149, 1964: 81-85, 236; obit. 1970: 222-223

Jun 4, 2012 - 11:47pm PT
he died of a "self-inflicted gunshot wound." I didn't know this

My understanding was that he went behind the climbing ranger cabin at Jenny Lake and shot himself. Before that, to me he seemed like a disturbed person. I could be wrong, since it has been so many years and I didn't really know him.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 4, 2012 - 11:59pm PT
Noted Climber Gareth Hemming Shot to Death
page 38, The Greelye Daily Tribune, August 7, 1969

In MacIness' book "The Mammoth Book of Mountain Disasters"
page 78 is an account of the rescue off the W. Face of the Dru, with a description of Hemming (p81) and an account of his activities on the rescue.


Social climber
No Ut
Jun 5, 2012 - 12:04am PT
The night Gary died he picked a fight with my brother, Mike, who was guiding for Exum at the time. Mike was much bigger than Gary and held him down until Gary calmed down enough to allow Mike to let him up. I don't think it was too long after that that Gary shot himself. Mike said there was no fued between them, Gary was disturbed and just looking for the biggest guy around to fight with. It wasn;t much of a fight, according to Mike he just controlled Gary who was raging.
Dom, I'll put you in touch with Mike if you'd like the story first hand.


Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jun 5, 2012 - 12:47am PT
To continue the literary references, the book We Aspired---The Last Innocent Americans by Pete Sinclair has, I believe, some material about Hemming. Sinclair was a Teton ranger at the time Hemming visited the Tetons and during the time that Hemming killed himself.

Hemming climbed in the Gunks a bit (Hemming's Pinnacle in Lost City is named for him.) A number of the old Vulgarians knew him: Dick Williams, Jim McCarthy, Claude Suhl, Roman Sadowy, Peter Geiser, and Art Gran are all around (but Art seems to be permanently incommunicado).

A reminiscence of Claude's about Hemming can be found at
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Jun 5, 2012 - 12:58am PT
Dom Green

Trad climber
Sheffield UK
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 5, 2012 - 10:07pm PT
Hi Ed, Thanks for the archive, some of those Mountain articles I haven't seen. I'm most grateful.

Jogill, I remember some years ago your recollection of a reckless stunt of Hemmings on a deck at a party at Jackson Lake Lodge and a recommendation to get Pete Sinclair's book, which I did - thanks again

Everyone, both on the thread and messges - thanks so much, I really appreciate the help

Allen Hill

Social climber
Jun 5, 2012 - 10:55pm PT
Have you talked to Larry Ware?

Edit. I just reread your post and see that you did speak to Larry. I'm just finishing up a film on The Club Vagabond and Hemming has come up from time to time. I have a couple of good stories on film from Annie Haston, Kor, and a few others. Not sure if I can help though. Glad you hooked up with Larry. I'm always amazed nobody seems to know who he is and what he's done.

Jun 5, 2012 - 11:58pm PT
. . . a reckless stunt of Hemmings on a deck at a party at Jackson Lake Lodge

I can't recall what was being celebrated, but several climbers got drunk and Hemming, I think, was doing a series of cartwheels down the length of the deck, when someone stepped in front of him before he went over the railing to the asphalt below. I walked out on the group, they were so wasted.

[Edit: I removed comments heavy drinkers on ST might find offensive!]
Mighty Hiker

Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 6, 2012 - 01:14am PT

Gary Hemming’s death has ended the career of a climber widely believed in Europe to have been among the best in the world. Less well known here - all his important climbs were in Europe - he had close to the same reputation in the community of American climbers. Although not a member of the AAC, his great record makes it appropriate to publish this obituary here.

He started climbing in the early 1950’s at TahquitL Rock while living in southern California. He soon met John Harlin, then at Stanford, and, while working in the San Francisco Bay Area, began climbing with him and others from the Stanford Alpine Club in Yosemite. He and I first met on a trip to Mount Rainier in 1957 that included John and Hobey DeStaebler, that was designed, in John’s words, to teach us ice climbing techniques “suddenly,” in preparation for a trip we made later that summer to the Battle Range in the Selkirks.

Gary was uneasy and unhappy in the United States and a trip to Europe was the start of a new life for him in an environment freer, for him, of the restraints he sensed so acutely. He climbed in England and then in the Alps, attended the University at Grenoble sporadically, and tried to complete the aspirante guide course in Chamonix in 1961, failing in this
for his refusal to dispose of a magnificently unruly beard. He climbed from time to time with Americans and began to eye the very important climbs. He made an attempt on the Walker Spur in winter but was forced off by a particularly ugly storm. This was a climb he completed late in the summer of 1961, the first American ascent of the face. It was a route that fascinated him and several years later he spent some effort in planning a solo ascent to be completed in a single day. It was possibly beyond his powers and the attempts depressed him.

He introduced Yosemite climbing techniques to the Alps starting with a fine new route on the west face of the Petit Dru and, in 1963, with Harlin, Tom Frost and Stuart Fulton, completed a route of great difficulty on the south face of the Fou that had turned back some of the best European climbers. He completed spectacular solo ice climbs on the Aiguille Verte - the Coutourier Couloir - on the north face of the Triolet.

In the late summer of I966 two Germans were trapped on a ledge on the standard route on the west face of the Dru. Gary stepped in to lead the rcscuc expedition and received enormous publicity for his skill in carrying out the rescue. It is not common for Americans to lead French rescue groups ~ it has happened perhaps just this once.

He climbed with strength and with style and, as his technique improved and his experience increased, he was able to carry out a succession of ascents that made him as well known as any American climber in Europe excepting only John Harlin. As the years passed however, the inner struggles that his friends observed surface from time to time in moody withdrawal or violent outbursts became increasingly intense and finally were too overwhelming to be controlled. When he died, in the Tetons, where some of his earliest climbing was done, it was by his own hand.

Henry W. Kendall
From American Alpine Club Journal, 1970, page 222.

Wasn't Hemming awarded the Legion d'Honneur for his role in the Dru rescue?

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Jun 6, 2012 - 02:20am PT
I knew Gary Hemming pretty well and have posted other stories about him on this forum. He was a greater man than most will ever glimpse an understanding of.

He was a major influence on me as a teenager ten years younger. He was one of the only people in my entire life that i have really been able to talk to with full understanding.

He gravitated towards climbers and climbing (along with poets and philosophers), but found people myopic to a maddening degree. We were a lot alike on levels that most people never think about. People thought he was mad, when really he was just extremely frustrated by an inability to get through to them on his level of understanding. He did not handle this frustration well.

The game of climbing was rather too small for his ability level in life. He could have driven the sport ahead by decades, but was not motivated to do so.

I think some of our other climbing heroes push through incredible feats of climbing in order to find themselves. Gary had no need of that. He tossed off wild climbing performances just to illustrate a point of philosophy, such as his crazy dash up and down the Aiguille Verte Couloir.

While I tend my frustrations by withdrawing alone into wilderness; Gary would confront people he cared about with furious energy.

I wish I had been there to talk him down.

I know that his suicide was just such an outburst of frustration; and a demonstration that a living body is a cloak that can be shed or acquired like any other set of clothing.

And, all too typically, people still didn't get the message.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Jun 6, 2012 - 10:23am PT
from the internet with some photoshop cleanup:

Dom Green

Trad climber
Sheffield UK
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 7, 2012 - 06:14am PT
Thanks Peter for the picture, that came out great!

Thanks Tom, Pierre Mazeaud and Larry Ware spoke in similar terms about his essential spirit (not really about his climbing) - just a sensitivity that exposed him to the turbulence and insights of life in the same measure.

Thanks mighty Hiker - I have seen Royal Robbins obituary but not Henry Kendall's. I checked the lists for Legion d'honneur, but I couldn't see his name.

Allen - your film sounds great - a great subject. I have had a fair bit of email contact with Larry, he's been so helpful, he has flown under the radar , he isn't interested in self promotion though.

Thanks everyone, this is so helpful

Chris Vandiver

Trad climber
United States
Jun 8, 2012 - 02:37am PT
Two good sources for Hemming insights may be Herb Swedlund and Joe Kelsey. Herb may still reside in Jackson Hole, Wy. I'm not sure where Kelsey is.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Jun 8, 2012 - 05:31am PT
Dave Dornan and Rick Horn are two more from Jackson in that era. I believe Rick
still lives in Jackson and Dave lives in Michigan now. I'm sure other people can
supply their addresses.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Jun 8, 2012 - 11:01am PT
Hey, Chris...good to "see" you here! Been a few years. Hope all is well.

Kimbrough and Wilson are a couple of guys here in SLC that might have some history.

Court Richards too? Montana I hear rumor. Swedlund in/near Twin Bridges?

Great stuff.
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