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John R. Hudson, 1946-1969

JOHN R. HUDSON 1946-1969

I first got to know Hudson driving across the country in June, 1966. He had hitchhiked to my place with his entire gear in his Kelty, and we went West as fast as we could in a doubtful auto – we had to get to Yosemite before the hot weather. Driving toward the sunset beyond the desert, John sang, “When you’re lost in the rain in Juárez, and it’s Eastertime too.” Sitting on a curb eating trashburgers in Carson City, it was summertime again too!

John was already a great mountaineer with many fine new routes, usually done with Art Gran, and he did much pulling on the rope on the climbs we did together. John could be annoying to follow, because he was so natural, it was hard to believe he was so good. If he did a lead with no protection and shouted down from the top, “What a great pitch!”, you could expect trouble. But if he paused before a move, did it singing, “O Mama, can this really be the end, to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again,” and then said, “Sorry I took so long, it wasn’t that bad!”, you knew you had little hope.

We went to the Bugaboos, where John, Ants Leemets and Dick Williams did the first ascent of the south face of Snowpatch, while four more of us did the standard route. We had a joyful reunion on the summit, with cavorting and handstands. Later, seated in a row, the seven of us glissaded from the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col.

1967 was a great summer. A1 DeMaria and I met John in Jasper after his return from Mount Deborah in Alaska, one in a long series of fiascos. To speak of someone’s debacles might seem unkind, but John’s record was such that he could afford a few. To avoid their mention would be to omit something dear to him. Hudson delighted in fiascos, talked of fiascos, imagined greater fiascos and made the word part of our vocabularies. His successes have been well recorded; it is unfortunate that the only real account of a fiasco is found in the pages of this Journal (Fitz Roy). Whether this love of the debacle hid the disappointment of failure or bespoke a joy of just being in the mountains, win or lose, I could not say.

We went to Robson and failed to find the Wishbone Arête. John and I did do the Kinney Lake route on the fourth of five cloudless days, with much step-chopping and a bivouac in a bergschrund. Four hours in the sun on a ledge above the icefall the morning after, eating, planning and dreaming, are among my happiest. After a rainy day of indecision in a coffee house in Jasper, we went to the Ramparts and made the first ascent of the west ridge of Geikie. John made 16 miles of packing through swamps a pleasure. Rainbows, a bivouac in a hailstorm, in the early morning traversing a knife-edged ridge on an island above the clouds, getting lost on the descent – what a great life it was. Then, how good that Calgary stock ale tasted in Banff. Later we returned to Yosemite and did the Snake Dike on Half Dome, the accidental first ascent of Gollum, a one-pitch pile of rocks at the base of El Capitan, and the Chouinard-Herbert route on Sentinel. No matter what he was on, he never treated a route as “just another climb.” Returning from two days on Sentinel, John and I discovered we had 43 cents between us. What a splendid time we had deciding to buy a pint of ice cream, a trash pie and a candy bar.

In January 1968 John went on a cruise on an oceanographic research ship, but we wrote and planned fiascos. He recommended the east face of Bugaboo, of which he and Pete Geiser had made the second ascent. When I climbed it, high on the face we found a set of ledges, one of which was 8 by 2 feet, flat, with a vertical drop of 1000 feet on two sides, and a foot-wide ledge just above with a perfect crack – in short, an ideal bivouac ledge. I could image John’s joy at discovering this ledge and humming to himself, rolling rocks and watching the storm clouds go by. This was the perfect place for one who was more a part of the mountains than anyone I have known, one whose greatest gift was to teach us how great the mountains are to live in.

I had meant to talk to John about the bivouac ledge when I next saw him, but the opportunity never came. Word from Peru reached the Valley in September that John had been killed when snow collapsed while he and Roman Laba were scouting a new route on Huascarán. What a great time he and Roman must have had in Patagonia, Bolivia and Peru prior to the accident!

The reality of John’s death hit me when I was looking at Sentinel, even if Sentinel still did look the same. Of course there will be more summers in the mountains, and the trashburgers and Calgary Stock will taste as good, but somehow everything will be older and more serious.

Joseph Kelsey