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Allen B. Hamilton, 1920-1980



Allen B. Hamilton was killed in a climbing accident at Devils Lake, Wisconsin, on May 10, 1980. Although A1 was 59 at the time of his tragic fall, he had been climbing for only eight years, having been introduced to the sport by his son Bruce. It was fascination at first sight. And those eight years of climbing were intense, packed with adventures and filled with the enthusiasm which characterized all aspects of his life. Aside from the twenty or thirty weekends A1 usually spent at Devils Lake each year, mountaineering took him to the Cascades, Sawtooths, Devil’s Tower, Big Horns, the Wind Rivers, Tetons, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juans, and the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Andes. It even took him to his own laboratories, where he had been Chief Stress Analyst of the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors and made stress tests on ropes, slings and climbing hardware. His enthusiasm for a good climbing challenge only increased as the years went by. Indeed, his love of a good challenge was symbolized by his “Grudge Book,” a well worn Devils Lake Climbing Guide, in which he kept a prominently displayed list of “grudge climbs”—climbs he couldn’t make. At the time of his death, A1 had “forgiven” most 5.8 grudge climbs on his list.

Although A1 was well-known by most Devils Lake climbers, his most frequent companions were members of the Chicago Mountaineering Club, of which he was a climbing leader, program chairman and a member of its board of directors. Aside from his wife Ruth and their five children, it is the members of the CMC who will miss him most, for A1 was not only an excellent climbing companion but also a beloved friend of warmth and compassion, of intelligence and sensitivity, and of great dry humor. As for me, hardly a Friday has passed since his death in which I haven’t felt compelled to go through our corny routine: “Al, this is Jack. I’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do, but I can be forced to go to the Lake.” Al’s answer: “What time do you want me to pick you up?” My response: “6:00.” Al’s retort: “I’ll be by at 5:00. And make certain you’re ready, since I can’t afford to lose an hour of climbing!”

John D. Gorby