American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Landon Gale Rockwell, 1914-2003

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Landon Gale Rockwell 1914-2003 Landon Gale Rockwell, known to virtually everyone as “Rocky”

(including his very own mother; I asked him about that once) died peacefully at his home in Clinton, New York, on March 5, 2003, after an active and well-lived life.

Rocky was born January 3, 1914, in New York City and grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1935 with an A.B. degree in English and then studied politics at Princeton, where he earned an M.A. in 1938 and a Ph.D. in 1942. His service in the U.S. Navy during World War II included commanding a submarine chaser.

Starting in his early childhood, his family vacationed in Keene Valley, New York, and he grew up hiking and scrambling in the Adirondack Mountains. As an undergraduate, he worked summers as a hut boy at the Dartmouth Outing Club’s summit hospice on New Hampshire’s Mt. Moosilauke. Several times a week in June through August, he toted loads of up to 120 pounds of food and laundry up the 3,300-foot elevation gain to the summit. In the summer before his senior year, he served as hutmaster. In winter he skied all over the White Mountains, including many epic ascents and descents in whiteouts and ferocious winds in the Presidentials.

After teaching stints at the University of Cincinnati and Williams College, in 1950 he joined the faculty at Hamilton College, becoming in 1955 the James S. Sherman Professor of Political Science. He taught Constitutional Law and political theory until his retirement in 1979; his scholarly works were published in the Yale Law School Journal, Cornell Law Quarterly, Vermont Law Review, American Political Science Review, The Journal of Politics, and the American Educator Encyclopedia. Residing in Clinton, New York, just a few steps from the Hamilton campus, he was also within easy driving distance of the Adirondacks, where he built a sturdy second home in Keene Valley. The living room’s picture window perfectly frames the view up the Johns Brook Valley, with Mt. Marcy in the center.

He was proud to be nominated for membership in the American Alpine Club in 1941 by Jack Durrance and Nat Goodrich.

While he climbed extensively in the Alps and Canadian Rockies from the 1930s through the 1970s, his “home range” was always the Adirondacks, which he knew intimately in all seasons. He was the first to explore the new slides on Giant Mountain following the tumultuous thunderstorm of June 29, 1963. Perhaps his favorite Adirondack route was the Trapdike on Mt. Colden, which he climbed dozens of times, in summer and winter. In his eighties and no longer able to take to the trails, he would nonetheless drive around after thunderstorms looking for new slide tracks [“slides” in the Adirondacks are where bare granite is exposed on the otherwise forested mountainside; they can suddenly appear after a landslide—Ed.]. He took up canoeing at about age 80, eager to keep getting outdoors.

Rocky served as an unofficial ambassador for the Adirondacks, starting in the 1930s when he brought fellow Dartmouth students for a “vacation” from the White Mountains; later he introduced Hamilton College faculty and students to the region and helped countless strangers along the trail. He admired Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’s vigorous protection of the First Amendment as well as his mountain writings, and successfully invited him to visit the Adirondacks.

He derived a great deal of pleasure from intellectual pursuits. On a warm summer day you could find him on the summit of Gothics for hours, studying The Advance Opinions of the Supreme Court (because he wanted to stay current for his Constitutional Law classes) and The Oxford Book of English Verse “since Gothics is kind of a poem of rock and trees and light and air, and it’s rather nice to read a poem while you’re sitting on one.”

Apart from mountaineering and skiing, Rocky loved classical music, The New York Times, and peanut butter.

Rocky is survived by his wife, Heidi; two children from a previous marriage, Sandra and Winthrop; three grandchildren; and scores of friends. Every one of them misses him every day.

Robert A. Forrest, AAC

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