James Thomas Madsen, 1947-1968

Publication Year: 1969.



On October 16 Jim Madsen was killed in a fall from the top of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. He died attempting to help his friends who were temporarily stalled by storms on the Dihedral Wall. They were in no danger, but Jim did not know this and lost his life in an effort to find out.

Jim Madsen was one of the most shining of a brilliant new generation of young American climbers. His strength, his size, his appetites, his energies, his passions, they were all on a gargantuan scale. The chief passion was climbing, and when he climbed, he concentrated all his energy and strength into an effort that I can describe only as awesome. The results of this marriage of passion, energy, strength, and discipline bordered on the inconceivable. He climbed some of the hardest rock climbs in the world with speed that I, for one, would have thought impossible. I did not know Jim well, but the two short climbs we did together left a deep impression on me. One of these was the Twilight Zone, one of the hardest of the Yosemite crack climbs. Madsen had already given the lie to the abiding concept that crack climbs are a small man’s preserve. But he was all the wrong size for the zone. I watched in stunned admiration as he fought his way up that terrible, slippery crack. I have never seen greater tenacity. He would not give up. Again and again he found the strength for tremendous efforts to gain a few inches. It seemed he would either make it or burst his great heart in the attempt. He made it.

And that, to me, was Jim Madsen, a child of the Gods, innocent, bursting with life, an enormously vital young man cut off in the full bloom of his strength. Spontaneous, capable equally of fierce, evanescent rages and warm generosity. He was the stuff of which heroes are made. And he loved the beauty of the mountains.

Royal S. Robbins