American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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George W. Martin, 1901-1970

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1971

GEORGE W. MARTIN 1901-1970

It was twenty years ago when I met George Martin. By that time, I had acquired some of the deep love for the mountains that we all know but knew few of the rules governing travel there. This inadequacy was to be corrected, but only through the efforts of George Martin. Today, literally thousands of his ex-students would echo this chain of events as related to themselves. For though one of George Martin’s greatest loves were mountains, his greatest love, aside from family, was educating and inspiring the young. He was an educator in Bremerton, Washington for 36 years. He attained positions as vice-principal of Bremerton High Schooland later was Registrar of Olympic College — a position he held for 18 years. He retired in 1966. He held a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Washington.

In 1948, George found himself dedicated to broadening the college curriculum to include mountaineering and associated outdoor education. The reason? Bob Thorson, Student Body President of Bremerton High School, had recently fallen to his death in the Olympic Mountains. George knew that the beautiful, beckoning peaks to the west would lure others, as they had lured Bob; others as unprepared for mountain travel as Bob had been. George knew that mass education was the only way to avert future tragedies. This view was not accepted by all, however. There were those in community leadership and the media who thought climbing should definitely be discouraged, especially after the death of Thorson. Ultimately, the School Board decided the issue in favor of George, and mountaineering became part of a college’s curriculum.

George was a humble man, never seeking glory from a peak. Yet, he was supremely self-confident. On the mountain, just the sight of him climbing was inspiration to continue. This was George: A chunk of iron — with legs, spirit and humor. It was in the mountains where his superlative qualities as a teacher and leader were so evident. He had an uncanny ability to imbue everyone in the party with his own great confidence and perseverance. I recall many occasions in the Olympics with George: Mountain rescue practices, survival exercises, climbing course outings; our milieu so grim that I couldn’t even see George. But I could hear him! His great, hearty “YO HO!” could be heard often, no matter what deafening sounds Nature mustered. He warmed the spirit on the coldest day. My only concern on occasion: How soon would one of those heart warming jubilations trigger an avalanche upon us!?

Shortly after initiating the basic climbing course at Olympic College, he organized courses in rescue and survival, advanced climbing, basic and advanced campcraft, and skiing. The campcraft classes, especially, have gained nationwide recognition for their uniqueness and scope. Not only do these classes provide instruction in botany, zoology, geology, meteorology, astronomy, climbing, camping and survival, they do it where it all happens — in an open-air classroom called Olympic National Park.

A teacher’s success can be measured, in part, by the subsequent accomplishments of his ex-students. Some of his multitude of students have gone on from Mount Washington, Mount Olympus and other locals, to climb things like Bugaboo and Snowpatch Spires, Robson, Waddington, the Willis Wall of Rainier, McKinley and many others. Those places have felt his influence. As an insurance measure, George was instrumental in founding the Olympic Mountain Rescue Council, where he remained activein missions and administration for many years. Following his retirement in 1966, George traveled widely. He climbed in Europe and hiked in the foothills of the Himalayas; visited Japan, India, and many countries in Africa and the Mid-East. He wrote for national publications, published outdoor handbooks and maps, and lectured on many subjects. His lectures were usually enhanced by some of the thousands of slides he had taken on his travels.

George W. Martin left this world as he had lived it — advancing the cause of knowledge. On the evening of September 1, while presenting the Mountain Rescue Council film, “By Nature’s Rules,” he was stricken by a coronary. In spite of a promising rally, he passed away September 7.

For a man who never sought the spotlight, he indeed directed its light – illuminating the way for thousands – thousands who will miss him as much as I.

Richard A. Pargeter

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