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Fred Donald Ayres, 1906–1970


The mountains meant a very great deal to Fred D. Ayres, who was Professor of Physical Chemistry at Reed College when he died last summer at his home in Portland, Oregon. His wife Angela and son Fred continue to reside in Portland. He had left a good job as a chemist in Akron, Ohio, some thirty years earlier to move west and settle in a region where the mountain wilderness is more accessible.

Extremely modest of manner, he was enterprising and aggressive in the mountains and not easily deterred by technical difficulty, being especially quick on steep rock. Nevertheless, the fixing of a rappel or setting of a piton was done with every caution and he carefully considered the condition of the weather and terrain, turning back when it was rash to proceed.

His first mountains were the Tetons and he returned to them over and over again where he made a number of difficult new routes and first ascents of various pinnacles. By way of example, on August 5, 1932, he ascended Middle Teton and South Teton, and traversed from Cloudveil Dome to and including Nez Perce, all solo, while making first ascents of the intervening pinnacles. On August 21, 1934, he and Fritiof Fryxell made the second ascent of the east ridge of Grand Teton direct from Jenny Lake (without bivouac), carrying a small sack of cement, a sledge hammer, and the bench mark which they set in the summit. With his sister Irene he made the first ascent of Rock of Ages and a number of other climbs.

Many summers were spent in the Canadian Rockies, Cascades, Alps, and Andes and his climbs were legion and of all types, such as Robson and Alberta in the Canadian Rockies, and three first ascents, Salcantay, Yanapaccha and Chekiacraju, three second ascents, and a new route on Huascarán in Peru.

Over the years he introduced many students and others to climbing and no one could have been a more effective or less patronizing mentor. One simply learned to jump to the camp chores because otherwise Fred would have done them all. No sloppy coiling of the rope or dubious belay was permitted.

His many other interests included archaeology (he made rubbings of the carvings of Chavín de Huántar in Peru), botany (he wrote a monograph on the Puya Raimondi), astronomy (he ground his own telescope lens), photography (his collection of color slides is the most remarkable I have ever seen), history (he ran Garcilaso de la Vega to ground in Salamanca, Spain, where he was a student), teaching (he also taught in Europe and Peru), poetry (he could recite Coleridge by the yard), chemistry (he collected gases from the fumaroles of Mount Hood which he laboriously analyzed), and a long list of others. Whatever he did, he did well and with technical accuracy and thoroughness. In consequence, if one learned how to get him talking, evenings in a small flapping tent high on some hill or glacier could be interesting indeed. And among my most vivid personal recollections is a picture of Fred balancing along the knife-edged snow and ice summit ridge of Mount Alberta, like a tight-rope walker, but without his ice axe, for he had left it behind to belay the hand-line safeguarding our retreat.


(The following was taken from a letter from Fred Ayres’ sister to the Editor.) Fred and I were always very close. He was my wonderful big brother and had always sort of “looked out” for me. He was my brother, yes, and more than that; he was a friend, a traveling-, camping-, hiking-, skiing-companion. Those days of climbing; the long back-packing trips into the mountains and the desert and canyon country; navigating back-country desert roads by direction instead of road sign; repairing washed-out roads; taking pictures; examining rocks, flowers, old ruins and artifacts; rationing food and water when these got low — all of these and many more I treasure in memory. I treasure his concern for me: “Well, we’d better rope up here,” and the time this quite literally saved my life. … I hope the tribute written about Fred contains something about what he was, as well as what he did. I hope it mentioned his kindness, consideration and concern for others, and his uncanny ability to detect the needs or limitations of those who were with him. I think his pack was always as heavy, if not heavier, than anyone’s. But doubtless those who climbed with him know all these things. I am glad that you, and so many others, loved him for his prowess and for his goodness.