American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Harry Hoyt, 1924-1997

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

HARRY HOYT 1924-1997

Harry Hoyt was bom June 20, 1924, in Grinnell, Iowa. Since he suffered from asthma, he was sent as a teenager to the YMCA Camp Chief Ouray near Granby, Colorado, where he became a counselor and developed his love of the mountains. While there, he made his first of many ascents of Longs Peak in 1941. He then went to the University of Colorado, where he obtained his undergraduate degree in physics and remained for a further year as a teaching assistant. During these summers, he served as an instructor and guide for the university’s Mountain Recreation Department. His ascents during that time included many climbs of Longs Peak, including Alexander’s Chimney and Stettners’ Ledges and many others in the Colorado Rockies and the Tetons.

Harry received his Ph.D. in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1953 and immediately accepted a position as staff member in the Theoretical Division at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Harry remained active at the Laboratory until shortly before his death. He displayed a talent for devising computer programs to solve difficult technical problems, ranging from the propagation of shock waves though layered media to the detection of fraud in the patterns of Medicare billing. He was also greatly respected as a mentor of less-experienced colleagues. For this role, he developed a somewhat curmudgeonly manner, and used it to good advantage to help his colleagues distinguish hype and speculation from knowledge.

Harry was one of the founders and prime movers of the Los Alamos Mountaineers, organizing and leading instructional courses and technical climbs for the club. He also participated in some of the summer outings organized by the Alpine Club of Canada and there met the Swiss guide, Eddie Petrig. Subsequently, Harry did a number of long classic Zermatt climbs with Eddie, including the Marinelli Couloir on Monte Rosa and the West Ridge of the Taeschorn.

One of Harry’s favorite activities was climbing in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado in the spring, often over Memorial Day. Many of these mountains have poor rock, so we liked to go there early in the season when there was plenty of snow on which to make the climbs. We would drive as far as possible, then backpack, perhaps a few miles, to camp in some neat place like Yankee Boy Basin or Silver Pick Basin—often among the ruins of old mines or mills. Around daybreak, Harry was always among the first up to light a fire and start breakfast cooking. Since his asthma continued to bother him, he would also use an inhaler at this early hour and cough and snort to clear his lungs for the day’s climb. Then we would set off to climb some little-known peak such as Teakettle, or Gilpin, or Vermillion.

On one of these trips, after two days of wonderful climbing, we spent the night in a campground just north of Ouray, Colorado, before heading back to work. As usual, Harry was up early, starting a fire and clearing his lungs. After the rest of us had emerged from our sleeping bags and were eating breakfast, some other campers came over and expressed concern. They asked if we had heard the bear in the campground. They had heard the bear around dawn, coughing and snorting something awful; they thought he sounded old and cross and they worried that he might come back again…

We miss you, old bear.

George I. Bell

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