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Heather L. Paul, 1970-2005

Heather L. Paul 1970-2005

The most touching part of Heather Paul’s memorial service occurred near the end. A nurse and several physicians she had worked with came to the podium and paid tribute to an aspect of her life that we mountain comrades had wondered about.

Over 300 friends gathered on a perfect Jackson Hole summer day, at a ranch at the foot of the Tetons. Heather had died few days earlier from a fall while descending Cloudveil Dome.

Family and friends reminded us that Heather moved to Jackson Hole after graduating from ASU in 1992 because of the beauty, the people, and because, she discovered while working a summer job, it felt like home. She arrived with energy, enthusiasm, and athletic talent, credentials as a bicycle racer, and an urge to become proficient as a climber, but timid about venturing into the mountains. She never expected to climb the Grand Teton.

Subsequent speakers filled us in on Heather's achievements during her Jackson Hole years—three new routes in the Tetons, four in the Wind Rivers; old classics like Blackfin, Serendipity Arête, Italian Cracks; ski descents of Wister, Apocalypse Couloir, Pinocchio Couloir; the 2003 North American Randonée Series woman’s champion; car-to-car marathons to and from the Wind Rivers’ Fremont Peak in eight hours, Downs’ Mountain in 14. Her first 11 climbs of the Grand were by 10 different routes.

Everyone had stories of meeting her hurrying along a trail—on foot, on skis, on a bike. One friend related how she checked caller ID before answering early-morning phone calls because it might be Heather, whose infectious enthusiasm would have them out in the hills whether she was up for it or not. Another painted an image of Heather far more evocative than a list of her accomplishments—skinny bare legs, huge pack, blond hair, bouncing along the trail. Paul Horton, her longtime partner, summarized Heather: whatever the activity, she was thrilled just to participate, just to be there. Heather’s close friend Nancy Johnstone simply remembered her as epitomizing the meaning of friend.

Among the tributes to her energy, I heard an untruth. Someone related how on the Sunday before she had climbed the Grand, then gone directly to work. Not so. She had descended from the Grand and, with a few hours to spare, had stopped by a cookout I was having at my cabin, then worked all night.

When it seemed that Heathers mountain life had been fully memorialized, a nurse came to the podium and spoke, then a doctor, then others. A year before Heather had completed her nurses training and gone to work at St. John’s Living Center. We mountain comrades had wondered how someone with her energy coped with geriatrics. We needn’t have worried. Jackson doctors tend to travel—one was a Physician Without Borders—but they couldn’t escape Heather. Each described her concern for her patients, the passion she put into caring for them, the urgent e-mails and calls to their pagers that found them half way around the world. It turned out that they knew Heather as well as we did. Her most fundamental attributes—the impulse to do the right thing the right way, the ability to connect with others, and the generosity of spirit—touched everyone.

Joe Kelsey