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Dwight Garrigues Lavender, 1911-1934



From a full and abundant life Dwight Lavender was, in his twenty-third year, snatched suddenly by infantile paralysis. In September he had returned to Palo Alto, California, to continue his graduate studies in geology at Leland Stanford University. Of rugged constitution and always in the best of health, he succumbed suddenly at the local hospital.

Dwight Lavender was born on May 26, 1911, at Telluride, Colorado. Among mountainous surroundings he grew up and at an early age took an interest in exploration and climbing. So intensely and studiously did he follow his avocation that from his sixteenth year onwards he was recognized as the outstanding authority on mountaineering in the San Juan region—an extremely rugged area in southwestern Colorado embracing several hundred square miles of superlative and relatively unexplored mountain peaks. Of a methodical and literary turn of mind he wrote entertainingly and instructively of his many mountaineering adventures. He contributed extensively to Trail and Timberline, as well as to the American Alpine Journal and to the British Mountaineering Journal, and was serving as American Editor for the latter publication at the time of his death.

His diverting writings attracted to him many hardy souls who had a common interest in exploring virgin territory. With this material he welded a staunch, stout-hearted group which has become famous as the San Juan Mountaineers. This group has made over fifty first ascents of 13,000-ft. peaks in Colorado and Wyoming, and of this number Lavender himself participated in more than thirty.

Imbued with a love for the entire San Juan, Lavender nevertheless had his favorite mountain group. This was the Mt. Sneffels massif with its enticing surroundings of unclimbed peaks and pinnacles. Lavender led successfully the only recorded ascents of the great north face of Mt. Sneffels—one of the most awesome slopes of ice and rock to be found in the United States. Struck by the total lack of any reliable maps of the Sneffels region, Lavender determined to survey this area accurately. Thus came to successful fruition the San Juan Mountaineers Geological Survey which gave new and accurate elevations to Mt. Sneffels and dozens of surrounding peaks, and which recorded the existence of startling spires and pinnacles which will hold the interest of mountaineers for years to come. Another dream which Lavender vivified was the construction of the first mountaineering shelter hut in Colorado. This, a solidly constructed shack, is located so as to give easy access to the north face and pinnacles of Mt. Sneffels.

As a climber Lavender was all that could be desired. Levelheaded, courteous, congenial, quick-witted, and with a well-developed technical ability, he was superlative, be his position leader, second, or end man. His calmness in the face of emergency at least twice saved his parties from destruction and at other times contributed much to that unstrained feeling of cooperation which is so necessary for a successful and safe climbing party.

Of his long list of mountaineering achievements, the following, in addition to the Mt. Sneffels successes, appear to be superlatively outstanding: the discovery, naming and ascent of the westernmost 14,000-ft. peak in Colorado—El Diente; and, the first ascent of Jagged Mountain.

Lavender’s name is perpetuated in the Climber’s Guide to the San Juan, a 200-page book complete with maps and illustrations and in which are recorded exhaustively, original data on San Juan peaks and climbs.

C. C. L.