Tom Walter was climbing toward the southeast ridge of Mount Foraker after two days on the Pink Panther route. Tom, Colby Coombs and Ritt Kellogg were climbing quickly, anxious to finish the route in worsening weather when from out of the mist above an avalanche struck. It ripped the team off the face, hurling them down 1000 feet, where they were stopped by a snag of the rope. Tom and Ritt died in the fall. Colby was lucky enough to survive, seriously injured, and incredibly he rescued himself from the face.
Tom Walter was a natural. He was a student and an educator of mountaineering. He learned and developed his trade over 17 years, beginning in the mountains and valleys near his family’s home in California. He was drawn to the remote ranges all over the world. A natural climber, he moved over rock, ice and snow with equal speed and skill. His intellect and experience not only led him to beautiful mountains and unclimbed faces but also to explore the fine line between safe and unsafe, an art at which he became excellent.
In Pakistan in 1987, Tom made the first ascent of the Ogre Stump and the second ascent of Gama Sokha Lumbu with longtime friend, Tony Jewell. On the same trip, he and I got close to the summit of Latok I. In Nepal in 1988, Tom teamed up with Andy Selters, climbing two new routes on Cholatse. He also climbed in India and South America, but for many years he called Alaska home. In Alaska, I was lucky to make the first ascent of Alaska Angel and the Four Horsemen in the Revelation Mountains with Tom. He did a new route with John Bauman on Mount Hayes and more recently he, Phil Powers and I did the first ascent of McKinley’s “Washburn Face.”
Winter ascents, waterfall ice, skiing. Tom took to the wilderness as the preservation of the human spirit. He was active in conservation, but it was through education that he made his impact. As an educator in the National Outdoor Leadership School and the University of Alaska Pacific, Tom brought people to the mountains, to the summits of Aconcagua, McKinley, Marcus Baker and many others. Tom’s students saw a brilliant, strong, honest and comfortable man. Whether in violent mountain storm or peaceful arctic sun, Tom was a level human being, free of predudice, bent on progress. He will be missed by his family, his wife Lisa and all who knew him.