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Bruce Allan Carson, 1951-1975



Bruce Carson died on September 4, 1975. He fell through a cornice on the summit of Trisul, a 23,362-foot peak in the Indian Himalayas. Falling through a cornice is not a common way to die in the Himalayas. Climbers are much more often frozen in storms or crushed in avalanches. Yet Buhl died in the Himalayas by falling through a cornice, and so, probably, did my friend Mick Burke, after reaching the summit of Everest alone in October 1975. But at least Buhl and Burke were at or past the prime of their climbing careers. Bruce, in spite of his numerous accomplishments, was still near the beginning of his.

Bruce was a true mountaineer, with a deep passion for climbing. He was also an unusually brilliant rock climber, who could draw the line fine without getting flustered. On the occasions when I climbed with him, I was struck by the natural grace and coolness with which he led the hardest pitches I was capable of following. But Bruce’s rock climbing was distinguished by far more than technical virtuosity. He had a creative touch and a self-assurance which set him apart from other experts. He had insight. He early saw the possibilities of hammerless ascents of existing big routes in Yosemite, and carried them out, sometimes alone, sometimes with partners, in the best possible style. Examples of this are his Yosemite ascents of the Rostrum north face, Rixon's Far West, the Nose of El Capitan, the south face of Washington Column, and the Chouinard-Herbert route on Sentinel Rock, the last two solo. All these were not only done without driving pitons but without even taking hammers. This purity of concept and execution informed everything Bruce did.

But his outstanding accomplishment on rock was his solo, hammer- less ascent of the west face of Sentinel Rock. It was enough that this was Bruce’s first grade six, enough that it was the first solo of the respected route, but that he should deepen the adventure by leaving behind what had formerly been the Yosemite big-wall climber’s indispensable weapon, the hammer, was one of those flashes of genius which combine courage and insight in a flare of illumination and spark achievements which are extraordinary, even transcendent, the sort of illumination of genius which makes possible such masterpieces as the Bonatti Pillar.

Yet Bruce was primarily not a rock climber, but rather a mountaineer, and in his short career had already climbed in the mountains of New Guinea, the Pamir, the Yukon, and the Andes before meeting the fatal cornice after reaching the summit of Trisul in the Indian Himalayas.

Bruce had an unusual combination of sensitivity, practicality and strength. I have never met anyone with such a diamond-hard core of integrity. Yet he was gentle and self-sufficient, coming and going as he pleased.

The poignant thing about Bruce’s death is his youth. He had the character and qualities which assure success in life. He was what a man should be: strong, gentle, good. With so many villains in the world, it is sad to lose a hero.

Royal S. Robbins