AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Leonard A. Kalal, 1919-1996



The embodiment of the spirit, the joy, all that is wonderful in mountaineering—that is the persona of Leonard Kalal, remembered by his many friends in the mountaineering community at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

He was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, to Joseph and Anna Jirik Kalal, graduated from Christian Brothers High School in Glencoe, Missouri, and St. Mary’s College, Winona, Minnesota, then taught high school mathematics in Chicago and at Boys Town, Nebraska.

During World War II, he worked at the national nuclear laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was here that Leonard and the mountains found each other, and a lifelong bond was formed.

He then had an assistant professorship in philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, did some graduate work at Stanford University, and worked with Dr. Jonas Salk on the development of the oral polio vaccine.

Further graduate studies, and his love for the mountains, drew Leonard to the University of Colorado in Boulder. With a masters degree in physics, he taught at the University of Colorado, then at Eastern Washington College, then returned to CU to complete a doctorate in the Philosophy of Science.

In the late 1950s, Leonard became Head Guide of the Mountain Recreation Department of the University of Colorado, a summer program that was started in 1920 to give the large numbers of students attending the burgeoning summer programs at the university a safe and rich experience in the high country of the Rockies. Under Leonard’s superb direction, the program flourished for 25 years, with an unblemished safety record, and giving memorable and meaningful experiences to thousands.

Leonard’s easygoing and philosophic style of leadership always kept the program on an even keel. Should mishaps arise, such as the breaking down of a university truck bringing supplies, or a sudden summer snowstorm, or a route traversing a long scree slope, Leonard would smile, and shrug, and declare, “This, too, is mountaineering!” And his followers would take heart, and follow, ungrumbling.

Always a highlight on the weekend trips was the Saturday night campfire, with frivolity and song for hours. Leonard’s repertoire seemed endless, starting with the usual American camp songs, then into countless German folk and drinking ballads, and some English, Russian, Latin, Norwegian, Hungarian, Spanish, and other folk and religious songs thrown in for good measure!

Dr. Kalal taught philosophy for many years at the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, until his retirement in 1989. A lingering illness robbed him of the strong, lithe body that took him “with grace and alacrity” to so many summits, leading so many loyal and loving followers. He leaves a legion of mountaineers, who learned to respect and honor the mountains, and to pass on this sacred legacy to others.

Al Ossinger