The “Father of Mountain Rescue,” Ome Daiber, died on April 2, 1989 in his 81st year. A member of the American Alpine Club since 1937, he was made an honorary member in 1976.
The story goes that young George Daiber went to the lunch counter in grade school and said to the cashier, “Owe me 25 cents so I can buy lunch.” The tale went all over school, and soon George was signing all his homework “Ome.” Later he had his name officially changed.
As an outgrowth of his interest in mountain equipment, with friends he founded Ome Daiber, Inc. and began producing a long line of equipment, much of it based on his own inventions and patents. These included the two-legged “Penguin” sleeping bag, the 29-point “Birdcage” crampon, one of the first with front points, “SnoSeal,” a waterproofing compound for boots which is still on the market, special ski mits for grasping the rope tows of the 30s, windproof parkas, a strong, string-laced packboard and the “Pak Jacket,” a sturdy coat with a large rear pocket and built with packstraps for converting the coat to a rucksack. His prolific inventiveness resulted in a string of several dozen patents.
In 1935 Ome was invited by Brad Washburn to join the National Geographic Society’s Yukon Expedition to map North America’s last blank spot on the Alaska-Yukon border. The group also included Bob Bates, Ad Carter, Andy Taylor, Johnny Hayden and Hartness Beardsley. They spent several winter months exploring and surveying the region. They made some of the earliest flights across the St. Elias Range and the first overland journey across its glaciers to emerge on the coast at Nunatak Fiord. Upon his return to Seattle, Ome with Amie Campbell and Jim Borrow made the first ascent of Liberty Ridge on Mount Rainier. This route, previously called “impossible,” was not repeated for twenty years, though it is now today one of the most popular unguided routes on Rainier and is included in Roper and Steck’s Fifty Classic Climbs in North America.
When Ome Daiber passed away, he was surrounded by his family. This unusual person of 81 years sadly did not have a befitting end to his great career. For five years he suffered immensely from diabetes, losing his eyesight and both legs and plagued by small strokes. As few patients in my memory, he never complained about his misfortune. All the time he looked to the future. Using artificial legs, his next aim was to climb Mount Si, and he convinced himself that this would be possible. Unfortunately, the condition of his ailments precluded his wish.
Ome was a man of strict moral standards, standards which he applied to his own life and expected in others. His standard of morality was not hypocritical. He lived by it. He saw things in black and white and had no doubts about them. He had an enormous sense of humor which helped him eliminate possible frictions. This was a quality that kept him from having enemies. Everybody respected and loved Ome Daiber. He was frank and clear in his relationships with other humans. He persuaded people to follow his way of thinking.
Ome’s wry humor is illustrated by a story told by a dear friend: “When I first met Ome Daiber in 1975, our family was descending the trail from Gothic Basin as Ome and his wife Matie were hiking in. As only Ome could do, he took one look at our two-year-old daughter and gave her the ultimate Daiber compliment: ‘Too bad you have such an ugly daughter.’ Matie’s ‘Oh, Ome!’ didn’t slow him down a bit. Without a moment’s pause, he looked at my wife and said, ‘It obviously isn’t your wife’s fault.’”
Though not a college graduate, his influence in the Pacific Northwest was enormous. He was a practical outdoor expert. He was an advisor to the 10th Mountain Division during World War II and they made him an honorary member. He gathered many other honors. He became an Eagle Scout early in life. He was one of the founders of mountain rescue in the United States, a co-founder of the Mountain Rescue Council. He worked as a rescue man and rescue leader without hesitation all his life, beginning long before the Mountain Rescue Council was ever formed.
In the greatest rescue undertaken in Alaska, namely the successful rescue of John Day, Jim Whittaker, Lou Whittaker and Pete Schoening after they experienced a severe fall on their descent from Mount McKinley in which Day and Schoening were badly injured, Ome was the ground organizer in Talkeetna. Ome coordinated the efforts of the Navy and Army together with Mountain Rescue of Alaska, Washington and Oregon to effect the final rescue.
In Seattle, whenever a rescue was going on, Ome, together with Matie, coordinated it or was the party leader in the field. His personality was so well suited to ease the possible chances of difficulties between the different government agencies, the sheriffs, police, Park Service and others that smooth cooperation was assured. It was a great deal due to Ome’s perfect contact ability that this cooperation became more and more solid. Today, Mountain Rescue organizations function all over the country in smooth, uninterrupted cooperation.
Ome’s wife Matie, though keeping in the background, actually was indispensable for his timeless, unselfish efforts, as she coordinated the calling system for mountain rescue. Ome was always ready to drop everything, work or pleasure, to be available for mountain rescue activities. He was tireless. He was never able to refuse the cause.
Ome was dedicated to the education of young people in the mountains. He gave numerous talks. Very often I had the pleasure of joining with him in such educational efforts. Ome brought many others into rescue. The people who worked with him are those who will keep the organizations going, but they will never overshadow his fame and his initial efforts.
We have lost a wonderful friend. I admired Ome Daiber and with you mourn his passing.
Otto Trott, M.D.