Raffi Bedayn, 1915-1982

Author: William Putnam. Climb Year: N/A. Publication Year: 1982.

RAFFI BEDAYN 1915-1982

A son of Sarkes Bedayn, the food merchant of San Francisco, Raffi took up climbing in the mid 1930s. He soon became one of the leading rock-climbers of the Sierra Club and made his mark in the company of such luminaries as Bestor Robinson, David Brower, Dick Leonard and Jack Arnold. His reputation in climbing circles was nationwide a decade before his carabiners were distributed worldwide.

Raffi’s first non-Californian climbing was on the 1936 attempt on Mount Waddington, a trip organized by his associates contemporaneously with that of the first-ascent party, but not as fortunate, although given first chance on the peak. In the fall of 1939, a Sierra Club party made the first (white man’s) ascent of Shiprock in the New Mexican desert, and Raffi was the strong anchor and belay man. The next summer found him in the Bugaboos for the first ascent of Snowpatch, which had turned back the even-then legendary Fritz Wiessner in 1938. He served with distinction in World War II as a climbing instructor at Seneca Rocks and as a line officer in the 86th Mountain Infantry in Italy. After the war, he made fewer outstanding ascents, devoting his considerable energies to the construction and scrounging business he operated in the East Bay Area. The natural demands of raising the four children presented to him by his admirable wife Barbara were a further drawback to sustained absences on the rocks; but they all became skiers.

The famous Bedayn carabiner first appeared shortly after the war. A product of necessity for sustained high-angle climbs, as he knew only too well. Pricing of this item and quality control were not based on normal marketplace standards but rather on that characteristic which won Raffi such a warm place among us, service to the climbing community.

Raffi served the American Alpine Club with the same enthusiastic vigor he applied to every task. After some years as the godfather and confessor to the denizens of Sunnyside (Camp IV) in Yosemite, he joined the Board in 1972 and served for six years. His unflinching candor, ready smile and constant willingness to work showed in this facet of his life with the added grace that only one of exceptionally large heart can muster. At the time of his retirement, he received our first Angelo Heilprin citation for his exemplary service to the Club.

After leaving our Board, Raffi turned his energies to the California Blacksmiths Association and became its guiding light. Indeed, at the Celebration of his Life, there seemed to be as many smiths as climbers. But the secluded and delightful home in Orinda, whence their children have now gone, remained a transient hotel for visiting alpinists and other strays from all over the world. The warmth and generosity of the host, aided by the calm incisiveness of his wife, made every moment memorable.

His terminal illness was known to close friends for over two years, but it was nothing to him—the same groaning truckloads of gifts and groceries, the same overstrong handshake, the same hearty welcome for an old “horse’s petoot.” It was very hard not to love Raffi Bedayn.

William L. Putnam