Mayor of the Gunks Appreciation Thread

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Todd Eastman

climber
Bellingham, WA
Aug 23, 2014 - 09:50pm PT
Who's stealing all the years?
rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Aug 23, 2014 - 10:47pm PT
I met Kevin in the mid-sixties. He would have been maybe 16, and I perhaps 22. He came over to my house, and we immediately became engaged in a friendly rivalry over holding fingertip front levers on the doorjamb of my bedroom. Just as Kevin was about to surpass my best effort, the doorjamb exploded with a loud crack, spewing plaster and wood splinters into my room and the hallway on the other side. Kevin landed on his back on the floor. My mom came rushing in from another room and was horrified to see Kevin on the floor, covered in plaster dust, and the door frame in shambles. Kevin was lying still. His lips started to form a sentence, but his mouth was full of plaster dust. I leaned close. Spitting out debris, he managed to croak, "I think I'm entitled to a do-over."

Well, my mom was having none of that, so I eked out a draw in that contest. But a few years later, he had another chance, as documented in my account of our triple lever attempts at http://www.supertopo.com/climbers-forum/996070/The-Saga-of-the-Triple-Lever-A-Trippy-Report. Readers of those adventures will recall that Kevin absorbed a lot of punishment, and with great cheerfulness and even enthusiasm at that.

Kevin got into endurance sports after he tired of superhuman strength (not that he ever got weak, mind you), and used to roller ski from Gardiner to Kerhonkson on Route 44-55, a hilly road with some very sharp turns. On one of these epic runs, a motorist hit him and knocked him twenty feet or so into the woods at the side of the road. He got up and skied home.

Here's a shot of Kevin on Matinee, still well-regarded today and I'm told perhaps undergraded at 5.10d.



The shot is from the sixties (as you can tell from the rack), but what is notable is the hard hat---nobody wore hard hats in the sixties. There was however a reason. Kevin had, at that point, taken two ground falls onto his head. One was on a very poorly protected climb called Sultana, a climb I never hear about anyone leading nowadays. I'm not sure about the other one. The point of the hard hat was to protect the delicate cliff base environment from Kevin's head, which had been wreaking havoc on the local ecology and the Preserve had had enough.

Seriously, Kevin did suffer from those impacts. He developed epilepsy and had several grand mal seizures. In one notable one on the subway in New York City, Barbara had an epic wrestling match with him trying to keep him from swallowing his tongue. Some dark times followed for Kevin, his climbing was constrained by the concern about seizures, he was working at an awful job as a bellhop at the Nevele, and he began to drink heavily.

Then one day he said that's it, and never took another drink. This change wrought a much more substantial one: the seizures simply stopped and never recurred. Kevin was back in the game and better than ever, and I think that was the period of his life that most people know about and remember now.

And so it appeared that Kevin was indestructable, stronger than plaster, wood, staircases, rock, and the very ground beneath the cliffs. But of course it turns out that we are all terribly fragile, and no one knows, as they set forth each day, whether they are destined to return. The Matterhorn that day was in terrible shape, with lots of icing. Kevin and Barbara decided to retreat, I think perhaps after witnessing an accident to another party. A rappel anchor failed---mercifully Barbara was not clipped to it as well---and Kevin was lost. Lost to Barbara, lost to his vast network of friends who loved him, and lost to those of you who never had a chance to know what a wonderful human being he was.

Years ago I was bouldering on the carriage road, an activity which was at the time solitary and without pads. I fell from a move, and was startled to feel myself gently guided to a soft landing. Kevin had come up behind me unnoticed and unannounced, and provided a spot when I most needed it.

It is close to a half-century since my house and I fought Kevin to a draw in the doorjamb front lever contest. My bouldering days are over, but I still manage to make it up some climbs. Living as I have near the same climbing area for fifty years, I inevitably repeat routes I did many years ago. The holds are the same, even if the fingers crimping them are wizened, and touching them provides a wormhole back to the experiences of days long past. Caught in the reveries of an aging climber, I often think of Kevin, now eternally unnoticed and unannounced, yet in my mind's eye still grasping the same rocks he loved and shared with such graciousness and charm. This thread brings a touch of Kevin back to life, for all of us, whether we knew him or not, to celebrate.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Aug 24, 2014 - 10:40am PT
Some photos from Harvey Arnold's collection.


Kevin and Harvey in the Needles, 1981

]
Steve Wunsch and Kevin working the protection, 1978


Fantastic portrait, 1977


Kevin and Barbara Devine, 1981


Kevin and George Willig, 1978
mongrel

Trad climber
Truckee, CA
Aug 24, 2014 - 12:49pm PT
Partly to keep this thread in our attention, and partly to fill in a small historical tidbit alluded to by rgold, one of Kevin's falls, this would have been March or maybe April 1969 (first trip to the Gunks of the spring), was from Strictly from Nowhere, which at that time anyway was sometimes used as a superior start to Shockley's. I wasn't right there at the moment, but the detailed statements afterward were that he arrived at the p.1 ledge and stood up, and the block constituting the ledge just slid right out of the crag. Having no pro close by, he went 70' to the ground and landed sitting down (a rare position for him to be in as we have seen), clonking the side of his eyebrow on a pointy rock between his legs and breaking a transverse process or two, just from musculature overstressing the doorjamb, so to speak. But otherwise hardly damaged, in good humor right from the first instant to his discharge from the hospital a couple days later (probably someone slipped staff the word to please keep him from going out climbing again for at least a few days). His bright and enthusiastic nature was of course completely undiminished and he was back on the rock later that spring, if I recall. I never knew about the seizures, but unless you witnessed one or heard from someone who did, for sure he would never have brought it up.

I can't say I recall if he was in the habit of wearing the JB helmet already or not in 1968-69. But that's a historical fragment I'm pretty sure of (most of the details, anyway). First of at least five groundfalls I witnessed (or nearly so) in the Gunks, mercifully none resulting in anything worse than a broken wrist or leg, and some (from 95'!) in virtually no injury at all.
MH2

climber
Aug 24, 2014 - 07:42pm PT
Worthy tributes. Thanks.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Aug 24, 2014 - 08:37pm PT
Wow thanks for the great posts. Did he do a lot of mountaineering?
jstan

climber
Aug 24, 2014 - 10:02pm PT
I visited Kevin in the hospital after the second fall. It was quite serious I thought and the epilepsy began then.

On another note take a look at the photo from an earlier post.

Kevin did not just listen. He was fully absorbed when listening.

Very rare talent.

steveA

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
Aug 25, 2014 - 04:44am PT
I am glad this thread has re-appeared. Kevin was a great guy, and a good friend.
richross

Trad climber
Aug 25, 2014 - 05:19am PT
Kevin on the first pitch of Psycho in Eldorado Canyon, 1977.

Credit: richross
guido

Trad climber
Santa Cruz/New Zealand/South Pacific
Aug 25, 2014 - 09:47am PT
Wonderful thread, especially enlightening slice of the Gunks and the East. What a pleasure to see the input from some of the characters from that era. More!
Bob D'A

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Aug 25, 2014 - 10:01am PT
On my first trip to SD to visit Kevin and Barbara with my wife and son we went up to their apartment, they were baking bread and the temp inside had to be at least 85 degrees and Barbara was wearing a down jacket.

I did a early repeat of Roadside Attraction and had to leave a number one friend that Kevin was going to retrieve for me, after going back three days later the friend was gone...I thought forever. I met Lew Hoffman who spend time in the Needles bouldering in the GOG one day, he invited down to the San Luis Valley and I went with Bob Murray early summer 1984, Lew was trying a crack and left a number one friend in...I led the crack, did the FA and got back my friend that I left in the Needles...small world indeed.

That picture of Steve and Kevin is on PR..and a "crack n up" is the piece being weighted down with stoppers to keep it in.
Bob D'A

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Aug 25, 2014 - 10:21am PT
My mind has always been a little stronger than my body and at times got me into trouble in the Gunks. I did a early repeat 1977 or 78 of a route called Tomorrow, Tomorrow on the Slime Wall. We used a Crack N Up to protect the crux at about 30 feet up, Kevin, Barbara and I laid siege and by bad timing or bad luck I got pass the crux only to watch the piece wiggle out and fall down the rope, a little panic set it and then I told Kevin to catch me as I thought about down climbing/jumping to the ground rather than falling out of control...Calmly Kevin told to reach up for bucket, I reached and the bucket was there, I survived and made it to the anchor, I ask Kevin how he knew a bucket was there, with that little smirk of his he told he didn't, he just didn't want to catch me.

I did some of my best run out hard climbing with Kevin...he could make you feel like you could climb anything at anytime. Most positive person I have ever met in the climbing world...period!
avue

climber
Aug 25, 2014 - 12:24pm PT
It is amazing how long it has been. I remember when he told me they were going over to the Alps and I wished them the best.
Great thread as well - brings back so many memories of those days. The entourage of climbers that would go to all the climbs not only for the climbing but the whole social atmosphere. Each often taking turns trying to get the gear higher, so that someone would get have the guns to get to the belay. I was lucky to have shared many climbing days and memories whether at the cliff or in the restaurant.

Paul Niland
wayne burleson

climber
Amherst, MA
Aug 25, 2014 - 12:42pm PT
Backed off the Matterhorn last week and thought a lot about this thread the whole way.
Now re-reading it in a restaurant in Lausanne... Wonderful writing by Alan and Rgold...
I never met Kevin but felt his influence through my Gunks and Boston friends.
Bob D'A

Trad climber
Taos, NM
Aug 25, 2014 - 01:39pm PT
One of few people I know who had a thousand or more best friends. :-) Special person he was.
richross

Trad climber
Aug 25, 2014 - 04:28pm PT
Barb looking cool.

Credit: richross

Kevin on Athlete's Feat.

Credit: richross
richross

Trad climber
Aug 25, 2014 - 08:05pm PT
Barb

Credit: richross

The thin start of Country Club Crack.

Credit: richross
Oldfattradguy2

Trad climber
Here and there
Aug 26, 2014 - 07:41pm PT
Rich and Rich,

Thanks for the great pics and stories. Kevin was the first "famous" climber I met, pretty awe inspiring for a teenage kid hanging in the gunks every weekend.

Watching the community rally around Barbra after he died set a standard for myself and others. It's the standard I use to compare any other community that I have ever been part of.

I used to get to enjoy watching him race the chairlift on his skating skis at Bellarye during my stint back at grad school in the Gunks in the years right before he died.
donini

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Aug 26, 2014 - 07:58pm PT
Kevin and Barb...the real deal.
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
Aug 26, 2014 - 08:21pm PT
Credit: mike m
Credit: mike m
Credit: mike m
Credit: mike m
Some excerpts from Touch the Sky about Vertigo.
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