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Harold L. Pinsch, 1917-1999

HAROLD L. PINSCH 1917-1999

The mountain rescue community, and in particular Olympic Mountain Rescue (OMR), lost a strong advocate and well-respected friend with the passing of Harold on August 30. Harold was a really unique person; no one but he would become interested in mountaineering and sign up for formal training in such madness at the age of 45. In spite of being a bit long of tooth at the start, he quickly made up for lost time, compiling an excellent climbing record and providing a major contribution to the Northwest mountain rescue scene for a span of roughly 20 years.

It didn’t take long for Harold to jump square into the climbing scene, and he was equally enamored with the separate joys provided by either rock or snow. While his home range, the Olympic Mountains of Washington, drew much of his attention, his adventuresome nature took him to places like the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, the Tetons and Wind River ranges of Wyoming, the Selkirks and the Purcells in Canada and Mt. Shasta in California. His first love was obviously the Sawtooth Range, as he returned to that majestic area time after time, accompanied by his wife and an ever-changing assortment of climbing associates. He accomplished a number of first ascents, mostly in the Olympics, and there are not-so-fond memories of brush crashes in the rain while trying to reach some of these places. His most notable ascents were undoubtedly his pioneering work in the Valhallas (a hard to reach sub-range in the Olympics) and the difficult Ptarmigan Ridge route on Mt. Rainier.

His love for climbing also extended to the teaching of others. He returned to his climbing “roots” at Olympic College, where he was an instructor in the Winter and Intermediate Climbing classes for several years and drilled into legions of budding climbers the fear of wearing wet blue jeans and hypothermia. He was a longstanding member of both the AAC and The Mountaineers. However, I believe that his finest hours were achieved in the mountain rescue forum.

My first recollection of Harold was “this old guy” sitting in the front row at one of our OMR meetings. In those years long past, everyone past 30 looked old, and at 45, Harold seemed ancient. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this guy was going to be a force in the unit. At one time or another he probably held every office in OMR and was on the main team in regard to actually participating in rescues. I will never forget the call from Harold at 2 o’clock one morning as he, in quick order, sang reveille and then invited me on another middle-of-the-night mission.

However, his big contributions were the two terms he served as OMR Chairman and his work in both the Washington Mountain Rescue Association and the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA). Harold was quite a visionary and on his watch catalyzed the Unit into embarking on some really interesting actions. Included were: purchase of the Unit’s first truck, joint practices with Olympic National Park, establishment of OMR as a United Way Agency, OMR publication of The Climber’s Guide to the Olympic Mountains, establishing a mountaineering equipment sales activity and, notably, his leadership in hosting one of the annual MRA meetings. In those days, OMR was a small, somewhat out-of-the-way operation, and successful hosting of this meeting was viewed as a pretty big deal. Harold was respected by all, and no one was pleased when he finally retired from OMR as he approached the age of 70.

I knew Harold as a valued climbing companion, a tough and resourceful rescue associate, but mostly as a good friend. His loyalty, keen intellect, sharp wit and fun-loving manner made him exciting to be around and I, and certainly others, am honored to have been his friend.

I would like to thank Lois, his enduring wife of 58 years, and two daughters, Pat Harrington and Joyce Magnusson, for their support in preparing this reflection.

Harold, rest in peace. We will miss you!

Keith Spencer