My Friend, Vern Stiefel


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Trad climber
Corvallis, OR
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 11, 2006 - 12:42am PT
For those of you who knew him but have not yet heard, Vern Stiefel was found dead on Saturday near Smith Rocks. It appears that he committed suicide.

Vern was a talented and enthusiastic traditional climber most recently from Corvallis, Oregon. Formerly, Vern was a mainstay at Joshua Tree where he put up a number of bold first ascents.

There is so much more to say about Vern as his friends well know. He was a character in every sense of the word. I value the time we spent conversing during the long drive to Smith from Corvallis. I value the climbs we did and the climbs we tried to do. I miss him already ...

Vern Stiefel pictures


I've registered and am working on a website for Vern at:

to provide current information and to save the wonderful memories you've shared. The website will be up on Wednesday, December 13th.

Also, we have established a memorial fund for Tara and Quinlan at:

Vern Stiefel Memorial Fund
c/o OSU Federal Credit Union
PO Box 306
Corvallis, OR 97339-0306

Dec 11, 2006 - 12:49am PT
I'm sorry about that. It's tough to lose a friend.

Trad climber
Portland, OR
Dec 11, 2006 - 01:12am PT

Coming from SoCal... was just talking to a fellow 'transplant' about Vern...this is truly tragic!

I ran into him a while back at Smith...shared some quick some beta on the routes he'd been putting up in JT.

This really saddens me.

*FWIW: I know Vern had a lot of friends of on


Social climber
St. Louis
Dec 11, 2006 - 08:42am PT
More sadness. I too am sorry to hear of this.
Todd Gordon

Trad climber
Joshua Tree, Cal
Dec 11, 2006 - 10:31am PT
So sorry to hear this;.....Vern was one of the most motivated and talented climbers I have met......Very sad.

Social climber
No Ut
Dec 11, 2006 - 10:50am PT
Terrible news...I didn't know Vern but it hits hard when a fellow climber opts out prematurely. My thoughts are now with his family and friends. May you have strength and celebrate his life, and fortitude to navigate through your loss.

-Jeff Lowe

Boulder climber
Sick Midget Land
Dec 11, 2006 - 11:16am PT
Wow, I haven't spent a lot of time with Vern but I never would have guessed he would take this path. Peace Vern.
looking sketchy there...

Social climber
Latitute 33
Dec 11, 2006 - 11:21am PT
This has been a terrible shock to Vern's many friends and in particular to his family.

Few had Vern's boundless positive energy and passion. I am honored to have been his friend and deeply dispirited by his death. This is a grievous loss.

Here are a few shots of Vern:

The Woodshed, Split Rocks

London Calling, Echo Rock

Rule Britania, Echo Rock

Powered By Old English, The Valley of Kings

The Dunce Cap, North Wonderland


Trad climber
LA, Ca
Dec 11, 2006 - 01:37pm PT
Those are nice shots. Good to see.

This morning passes in stunned silence. I did not spend as much time with Vern as some here, but that which I did was always of the very highest quality.

I wish to express my most heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

Boulder climber
Portland, OR
Dec 11, 2006 - 01:43pm PT
Oh holy sh#t.

I met Vern for the first time this Fall (September, I think). He was a mentor to two of my climbing partners and taught them pretty much everything they know. I only spent a few hours with him at Smith Rock, then we all went and got some pizza down in Redmond. He struck me as a quiet but very thoughtful person; he didn't say much that night but it was great having him there.

Sh#t, I'm going to have to call Ryan and Brian to let them know about this...

Trad climber
Dec 11, 2006 - 02:04pm PT
So very, very sorry for your loss.

trapeze artemis

Surf City
Dec 11, 2006 - 02:04pm PT
I am stunned and saddened by this news.
Vern was an inspiration to many of us who knew him and called him friend.
My user name here on Supertopo is a nickname Vern called me.
My condolences to Vern's family.
I'd like to share a story about a trip to the Needles that Vern and I took, I'll cherish these memories.
If you've never seen anyone fall from 20 feet above their last piece of protection it happens amazingly slowly and absolutely terrifying.
A 20 foot runout above a bolt will lead to a 40 foot fall and that's without factoring in rope stretch or slack in the system (for the newbies). For example 5 feet above a bolt means a 5 foot fall TO the bolt and an additional 5 feet PAST it. Get it....your pro is below you (5 ft) and you fall below IT(5 ft) which equals 10ft.
Vern cruised the crux section....steep and thin, real thin with hard technical moves. At this point he's past the 4th bolt and really high off the deck. He's on easier ground and the climbing has been reduced to 5.10+ moves on glacier polished slopers, the angle has eased up a lot too. "Art watch me my feet are really insecure" Vern slowly creeps upward one foothold at a time. He looks solid.....I quickly glance at the rope to check the slack in the system, too little and I could pull Vern off the rock......too much and well...that would be bad.....very bad at this point. Vern once again calls out "watch me" (he says this every time he moves) I'm watching him really closely, I'm a bit nervous because Vern's a really good face climber and he should be on easy ground at this point but he seems a bit stressed. We've been doing some runout 5.11 face climbs all weekend often having to pull the crux before reaching the first bolt and this is the first route Vern seems a little insecure on.
Vern lifts his left foot and does a cross over step to his right.
He begins to lift his right foot in order to high step onto a hold up and right.
Vern's left foot pops and he falls onto his side and starts sliding down the rock.
Time slows down.
I'm serious, I had the same thing happen when I took a 15 foot upside down fall on Illusion Dweller.
Time has slowed down. I look down and to my left and realize I can jump down about 4 feet, so I do it.
I land and begin hauling in slack as fast as I can.......Vern reaches the beginning of the vertical section.
Shit! It appears as though he's going to land on the ramp that parallels the base. I've got the rope locked off but am still holding slack in my left hand (there's a lot left) Vern flys into the air and swings back to the bolt line.
The rope comes taut in my left hand and I release it catching Vern with my right hand locked off around my ass. Vern ragdolls at the end of the rope and I slam forward into the face as I catch the fall.
Vern lives.
The damage......Vern scraped up his ass and bruised/bloodied his elbow.
I've got a minor rope burn on my left hand across the base of my middle and ring fingers from not releasing the slack end of the rope quickly enough.
But I caught the fall and Vern lived.
Afterwards I clean/toprope the route, the runout section has 5.10a/b moves on incredibly polished slopers.
As soon as you place your foot and weight it your toes start to slide's like smearing on ice.
The same goes for your fingers......I find myself pinching crystals/pebbles in the face to stay on.
Huh.......welcome to Ice climbing in the Needles, next time we bring crampons.

I'll miss you Vern, Rest well.
Art Morimitsu

Big Wall climber
So Cal
Dec 11, 2006 - 02:05pm PT
I never knew him but some friends of mine spoke well of him. Very sad. Why do so many of climbing's personalities choose to end things like this? I was just in J Tree this weekend and his name came up. He will be missed.


Dec 11, 2006 - 02:34pm PT
You needed many things to climb with Vern.

Boundless energy to keep up with him, as I have never seen him tired.
An ability to verbally parry and thrust, as he enjoyed rousing exchange.
A steady belay hand because, as Art's story points out, he could be fearless and pushed his talents as far as he could.
If you enjoyed esoteric movies, that didn't hurt either.

And it never hurt to have fresh batteries in your headlamp, 'cause it was likely you would need them. Climbing never ended until the sun went down, which meant you'd see darkness before the car.

I don't know what ultimately preceded this tragedy. While not the closest of Vern's many SoCal compatriot's, I know that I regret not being able to help him in his hour of need.

I wish I could have lent you my headlamp Vern, because it seems as if yours went out just long enough for you to get off trail.

You will be missed,



Dec 11, 2006 - 02:55pm PT
Vern was a "temporary fixture" at Rockreation in Costa Mesa. He was a straight-up cat with a fine sense of humor. We had an ongoing, corny exchange about big-hair bands, which was the highlight of my arrival whenever he was present.

Vern had't been a climber very long--I believe 5 years or so by the time he was ripping up hard and heady lines everywhere. He was quite a natural climbing talent.

Our condolence to Tara, their child, Vern's fam, and all who knew him. Best regards to all my brothers and sisters at Rockreation who share in this regretful loss. Peace to Vern.
Mike Morley

San Luis Obispo
Dec 11, 2006 - 03:20pm PT
I am so sad and astonished to read this. Vern was truly as unique and genuine as they come. Brilliant, witty, and a gifted climber on top of all that. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife Tara and their family.

Last of the Gohegans (5.11d), Joshua Tree

This was my last email from Vern, dated Mar 29, 2006.



I assume you have checked out the beta for the routes Randy and I
established at Josh. Spirited Away is amazing!

Living in Corvallis is okay but too far from climbing. I like the
college atmosphere and enjoy interacting with many interesting people
but I really miss J-Tree. However, Corvallis is a great place for a
family. As always, there are pros and cons to the situation.


Trad climber
LA, Ca
Dec 11, 2006 - 07:05pm PT

That is such an awesome photo of Vern on Last of the Gohegans. Thanks for posting that. I will never forget that day when we all busted up to Indian Country. That was quite a group...

(edit) As I recall we were Vern, Mike Morley, Dave Evans, Bob Passerini, AJ, Tom Murphy and myself.

Vern will be remembered fondly for his indominitable spirit.

Mike Morley

Nederland, CO
Dec 11, 2006 - 08:35pm PT

AJ took that picture the day all of us were up at Indian Country. Even though it was almost 3 years ago, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Vern dragged me up that "Last of the Gohegans" route that I nearly pooped my pants on. I was so afraid he would fall before clipping that bolt and pull us both into the chasm below (note the look of desperation on my face in that shot). We also did that "Flamboyant Arrow" one that he and Bob had done a few months prior and some other stuff. What a great day.

Vern was talking about the "featherless peacock" that day and I found myself just the other day remembering that term and cracking up. He had such a great wit about him. He'll truly be missed.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 11, 2006 - 09:01pm PT
No! This is just unbelievable - 2006 has just been an incredibly hard year.

Vern was an absolute breath of fresh air for climbing at Beacon Rock in recent years. He'd come up and just storm around the place getting on all the neglected hard routes and sending with no fuss, no muss - just get on stuff and send. Seemed like the nicest guy as well the times I've talked with him. I've been preoccupied with healing my shoulder and doing the anchor replacement project for the last two seasons and had hoped to be able to try and hook up (and keep up) with him in the coming year. A real loss to us all and he will be sorely missed up in our little corner of the world.

I'm completely and utterly bummed by this news...
Darryl Cramer

Social climber
Dec 11, 2006 - 10:03pm PT
Vern climbed some of the more out of the way routes at Index. Once I asked him for feedback (guidebook)on ratings and he said he would get back to me. Usually despite good intentions things get in the way and you don't ever get a reply. I was very surprised when after a couple weeks I received several emails from Vern with well thought out corrections, suggestions and comments. His enthusiasm and excitement for climbing will be missed.
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