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Niels-Henrik Lapain Anderson, 1947-1973


The dream of Niels Andersen to climb the major north faces of the Alps was tragically shattered on the Matterhorn when he and Warren Bleser fell descending the Hörnli Ridge in storm. Last seen on the north face in mid-day on June 21, it is not known whether Niels and Warren completed the face climb or traversed to the ridge in an escape from the upper face. With a full awareness of Niels’ fierce determination, I like to think they made it.

Niels was in the forefront of a new breed of American climber: one equally adapted to the most demanding climbs on rock or ice. A veteran of Yosemite and Squamish rock, Niels had turned increasingly the past three years to difficult ice climbing. His most remarkable achievement was the ascent of the east ridge and upper north face of Alaska’s Mount Huntington—one of the world’s magnificent ice fangs. In 1971 Niels had organized a group of climbers from the University of Washington to attempt Huntington’s unclimbed east ridge. An avalanche nearly wiped out the expedition before it got on the mountain. Niels wanted to continue the climb but a majority of his companions were against it. With a new team he returned a year later to complete the route, surely one of the hardest Alaskan climbs yet made. Incredibly, Niels and his companions were able to climb the mountain in ten days—far less time than the two previous ascents.

Throughout the winter months of 1972-73 Niels and I planned for a summer expedition to Alaska. I was keenly disappointed when he told me he had decided to go to Europe instead. We both left Washington State the same day in June, he bound for the Matterhorn, Eiger, Grandes Jorasses and the others, I for the Fairweather range. For over two hours the night before we had talked of our hopes for the summer and parted with high expectations. Niels was also to have been one of two American representatives to the Rassemblement International in Chamonix, the biennial gathering of climbers from many countries.

Niels was a superb alpinist, but more, he was an exceptional young man and a good friend. He leaves his parents and sister, Birgitte. One of the more poignant memories I have of Niels was when, on a late night return from a climb, he expressed joy and delight about his father’s involvement with climbing. They had both gone through the Mountaineers’ basic course and thereafter continued to climb together in the mountains. Niels was proud of his father’s commitment to mountaineering, as I’m sure Mr. Andersen was of Niels’.

It is difficult not to be bitter about Niels’ loss. Of partial solace to his parents, sister and friends, however, must be the realization that Niels died doing what most mattered to him: a hard alpine climb in which he pitted his considerable abilities against the rock, ice and storm.

James Wickwire