American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Jules M. Eichorn, 1912-2000

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2001



Sierra pioneer Jules Marquard Eichom, a 66-year member of the American Alpine Club, died February 15 after a climbing career that left his name indelibly etched on the Range of Light. Born in San Francisco on February 7, 1912, he was the son of German immigrants who pushed him, as a youth, in two directions that set his future. Frail in childhood (and gracefully handsome as a mature man), he learned to walk up Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County and was encouraged to study music. His first piano teacher was a perfect match: Jules, a teen, knew nothing about playing piano and had as a teacher Ansel Adams, in his early 20s, who had never taught the subject. Jules earned money for his piano lessons by washing Ansel’s prints in the photographer’s bathtub.

Ansel introduced Jules to the real mountains on the Sierra Club High Trip of 1927, when Jules was only 15, and they remained life-long friends. Ansel used raking light to highlight Jules’ striking features in a 1930s portrait featured in the 1963 Sierra Club/Nancy Newhall tome Ansel Adams Volume I: The Eloquent Light.

Jules climbed several peaks in 1927 and more in 1928 and 1929, but in 1930 Jules and I teamed up for four seasons of climbing everything in sight. During this period, Sierra climbers began to learn modern rope work and the proper method of belaying.

On the 1930 Sierra Club High Trip, we left the main party for several days and went backpacking together. By camping at timberline above Lake Italy, we could climb Bear Creek Spire, Mt. Abbot, and Mt. Dade. Other summits were Turret Peak, Mt. Darwin, The Hermit, a new route on Mt. McGee, and the first recorded ascent of what would become Mt. Mendel. The second ascent of Devil’s Crags followed, as did climbs of Middle Palisade and Mt. Sill, followed by the first traverse to North Palisade, and the first ascent from the west of Mt. Winchell. It was the only time I tried fishing, and it was only because we needed trout to add to our food supply. Jules had many skills, including camp cookery.

This pace continued, but the high point came in 1931, when Francis Farquhar invited us to join him with Norman Clyde and Robert L. M. Underhill to participate in the Palisade Climbing School, including the first ascent of Thunderbolt Peak, which got its name in an electrical storm. There were blue sparks coming off our ice axes and fingers. Jules was the last man off the summit area.

The East Face of Mount Whitney, on August 16, 1931, was a climb that forged a life-long linkage. After a series of climbs that summer, the team moved to Whitney and glassed the formidable face, picking a route. Underhill was 42, Clyde 46, Jules and I 19. The accomplishment was a mountaineering milestone.

Jules was taller than I am, courteous and cooperative but tenacious. We considered ourselves co-leaders and when the two of us were climbing, we would alternate leads to save time in changing belays.

We were together only a few times after 1933. That year, we participated in the search for Walter Starr, Jr., who died on Michael Minaret. A new book, Missing the Minarets, by William Alsup, gives many of the details. Starr’s father later provided a scholarship for Jules at the University of California, Berkeley, and he graduated in 1938 with a degree and credential in music. For 35 years, he taught music in the Hillsborough School District.

Jules then became a pioneer Yosemite Valley climber. With Richard Leonard and Bestor Robinson, he made the first ascent of the Higher Cathedral Spire on April 15, 1934. He led the Bathtub pitch, shared a lead with Leonard using a new German technique—direct aid— and solved a crux pendulum by placing a piton sideways. The first ascent of the Lower Cathedral Spire followed on August 25, 1934.

In 1935, Jules was with Bestor Robinson, Richard Leonard, David Brower, Jack Riegelhuth, and others on an attempt on Mt. Waddington in British Columbia. In 1961, he climbed Mt. McKinley in Alaska. In the summers of 1940 and 1941, Jules was a national park ranger at Yosemite and, in effect, was the first climbing ranger to give instruction and participate in rescues. His two great loves were music and the mountains. He climbed with the same verve as he played the piano.

Jules was proposed for membership in the American Alpine Club in 1933 by Francis P. Farquhar and Norman Clyde. He served on Board of Directors of the Sierra Club from 1961– 67. His service coincided with that of Ansel Adams, as mine had earlier (Ansel was on the Board from 1934 to 1971). Later, Jules was a conservation activist in San Mateo County. He organized summer trips for boys to the High Sierra and employed his old friend Norman Clyde to assist him.

Jules was married three times. He has 11 children and step-children. At the time of his death, there were 18 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. His wife of 18 years, Shirley Lyhne-Eichorn, cared for him in his final years and arranged for two memorial services, one in Redwood City and one at Big Basin State Park in the redwood grove that bears his name.

Two peaks in the High Sierra are named for him: Eichorn Pinnacle, the spectacular west summit of Cathedral Peak that Jules and I first climbed on July 24, 1931, and Eichorn Minaret, which we called Third Minaret, first climbed by Jules and me with Walter “Bubs” Brem on July 31, 1931.

Glen Dawson, with Cameron Burns

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