American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

John L. J. (Jerry) Hart, 1904-1986

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

JOHN L. J. (JERRY) HART 1904-1986

John Lathrop Jerome (Jerry) Hart, President of the American Alpine Club from 1970 until 1973, died April 27, 1986 at his home in Laguna Niguel, California at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife Jane, his three children, Dr. Kate Zimmerman, Sally Whiting, and Jack Hart, four grandchildren, his brother Stephen H. Hart, a member of the American Alpine Club, and his sister Margot Hart Tettemer.

Jerry was born in Denver, Colorado on August 15, 1904 of a pioneer Colorado family. He was admitted to Harvard University at the age of 15. After graduation from Harvard he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship and obtained three graduate degrees at Oxford.

In 1929, Jerry was admitted to the Colorado Bar and practiced law for many years in Denver where he was a senior partner in the firm of Holland and Hart together with his brother Steve. He was active in many clubs and civic organizations and was one of the founders of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research located in Boulder, Colorado.

Jerry was a pioneer Colorado climber. His interest in mountaineering began before he was ten years old at the family summer home in Buffalo Creek, Colorado. He first taught himself, then his brother Steve, the art of climbing. In September 1922, Jerry planned to make the first ascent of the East Face of Longs Peak but his proposed route was climbed by Professor J.W. Alexander of Princeton a few days before Jerry, Carl Blaurock, Dudley Smith and other friends made it. He also made early ski-mountaineering ascents of various peaks in the Rockies. Jerry was an early member of the Colorado Mountain Club and Editor of its magazine, Trail and Timberland. In 1925, at age 20, he wrote the authoritative classic on Colorado’s mountains, Fourteen Thousand Feet, A History of the Names and Early Ascents of the High Colorado Peaks. He prepared a revised second edition, which was published in 1931 and reprinted in 1972. In fact, Jerry was so synonymous with Colorado mountaineering that the author of a juvenile pot boiler, Climb to the Top, called his wise adult counselor “Mr. Hart.” One suspects this name was not picked at random from the Denver telephone directory.

Jerry’s mountaineering interests went far beyond the borders of his native state. He did winter climbs in Huntington and Tuckerman Ravines on Mount Washington, rock climbs in Wales, and various climbs in the Alps including a traverse of the Grand and Petit Dru with Sir Douglas Busk, guided by two of the most famous alpine guides of all time, Armand and Georges Charlet.

Besides being an active climber, Jerry was a student of mountaineering literature and a collector of mountaineering books. He amassed a significant mountaineering library which he donated to the University of Colorado Library where they form the foundation of that institution’s mountaineering collection.

He was a charter member of the Harvard Mountaineering Club and the “Honorary Secretary” of the Oxford Mountaineering Club. He also belonged to The Alpine Club and the French and Swiss Alpine Clubs as well as the Groupe de Haute Montagne. He joined the American Alpine Club in 1925, dropped out in 1938, but rejoined the Club in 1949.

Jerry had the misfortune to preside over the affairs of the American Alpine Club in an era in which such matters were conducted at an unprecedentedly high decibel level. He did a remarkable job as president while constantly being criticized by those who did not understand what he was doing, as well as by those who did understand what he was doing. But he always retained his sense of humor. I still have memories of leaving yet another board meeting in which the air had been filled with everything except chairs, and after the inevitable discussion of what had just hit us, Jerry would begin to regale me with another one of his amusing stories from a seemingly inexhaustible store. For it was a tribute to his great decency and integrity that even his most vociferous critics were very fond of him. The most recent tangible expression of this affection was at the last Club dinner in Denver at which Jerry was awarded the Angelo Heilprin citation for service to the Club and American mountaineering. It was the first time the award had been made posthumously.

Jerry made many contributions to American and international mountaineering, but his greatest contribution was the establishment of the exchange program between Soviet and American mountaineers and obtaining permission for American mountaineers to climb anywhere in the Soviet Union. It took Jerry and his wife, Jane, years of unremitting effort and numerous trips to the Soviet Union to accomplish this, but Jerry’s ingenuity, perseverance, and diplomacy did it; the first U.S. delegation of climbers went to the Pamirs in 1974. Undoubtedly, it was this experience that led to his interest in promoting world peace which he pursued so avidly in recent years.

During many years of close association with Jerry, the most indelible incident I experienced with him which best showed his character, enthusiasm, and zest for life, took place not in the mountains, nor in the boardrooms of alpine clubs, but in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It turned out that this Rhodes scholar, prominent lawyer, distinguished citizen, and staid elder statesman of the mountaineering world, was a track-and-field nut. In 1968, he flew out from Denver to Los Angeles to watch the final tryouts for the United States track-and-field team which was going to compete in the Mexico City Olympics. Jerry insisted that my wife and I join him, so the three of us sat in the large crowd in that vast stadium watching the confusing spectacle on the field while Jerry tried to explain some of the finer points to us. Suddenly a crimson sweatshirt could be spotted in the swarming array of athletes below us. Without warning, a “Yea, Harvard” blasted past my ear, rolled across the field, seemingly bounced off the opposite side, and came back at us. While I struggled to regain my composure, a thousand faces turned towards us and began to grin as the solitary Harvard contestant stopped dead in his tracks, looked up, and smiled. The mood in the crowd seemed a lot lighter after that. So perhaps the best way one can sum up such a remarkable person as John L. J. Hart is in a variation of that simple cheer— Yea, Jerry.

Nicholas B. Clinch

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