American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Lara-Karena Bitenieks Kellogg, 1968-2007

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2008

Lara-Karena Bitenieks Kellogg 1968–2007 Lara Kellogg died last April in a fall she suffered while descending Mt. Wake in Alaska’s Ruth Gorge. She was two weeks shy of her 39th birthday. News of the accident immediately fanned out across her vast network of friends in Seattle and beyond. Sadly, her husband, Chad Kellogg, was one of the last to know. A lone horseman carried word of the accident involving Lara to his base camp in China’s Qionglai Range, but he had to hike out to Rilong to receive the full report of what had happened. Days before her death, Chad and his partners, Joe Puryear and Jay Janousek, had summited an unnamed 18,900-foot peak in the Chang Ping Valley. They subsequently christened it Lara Shan— Lara’s Peak [p. 435].

It was Lara, not Laura—something new acquaintances tended to get wrong. Her parents were Latvian immigrants who settled in working-class West Seattle. Her father, Robert, introduced her to the mountains at age nine with a foray partway up Mt. Rainier. Even more than most Seattleites, she loved that mountain. She loved mountains, period. Still, she didn’t become a climber until her mid-twenties. By then she had been a bike messenger, a bike racer, a kayak guide, a snowboarder, a skateboarder, but not a climber. That changed quickly. After she got a job at Marmot Mountain Works, a Seattle-area climbing shop, she started disappearing every chance she got. Along with her legendary dogs, Greedy and Chavez, and various partners in crime, she started ticking off classic climbs in the Cascades, the Olympics, the Coast Range, the Sierra. I was privileged to be an occasional sidekick. One of the finest memories of my life, in fact, is topping out on North Dome with Lara as the full moon rose over Yosemite.

After I moved to San Francisco, I saw Lara less often. She always made a point, however, of swinging through town on her way to the Valley. I was trying to make my way as a journalist then, and Lara was trying to make a go of climbing. She was succeeding, too, landing guiding gigs with Cascade Alpine Guides and Mountain Madness, and a stint as a climbing ranger on Rainier. Her adventures became farther-flung. Postcards started arriving from distant corners—Nepal, Peru, Alaska. She was out climbing harder and harder routes. Among theaccomplishments that studded her climbing resume were the Ferrari Route on Alpamayo, Tangerine Trip on E1 Capitan, the West Ridge of Mt. Hunter, and the first ascent of Luk Tse in the Nyanchen Tanglha Range in Tibet.

Lara never called attention to these feats, choosing instead to shower kudos on poor low- landers like me. I remember she called me from some airport on the way back from Nepal and she wanted to congratulate me on an article I landed in Smithsonian. I was like, “Wait, didn’t you just climb Ama Dablam?” But, no, it was all about me. I was the cool one. She was that way with everyone.

Lara’s development as a climber was mirrored by her development as a scientist. When I first met her she was a college dropout, but she soon re-matriculated and finished her degree, eventually enrolling in the masters forestry program at the University of Washington. Work she did on spatial analysis of forest fires was published posthumously in a peer-reviewed ecology journal.

Lara always believed she would die young, and she lived life accordingly. Her days started early and ended late, the waking hours a whirlwind of non-stop action. Somehow she managed to fit in more friends, more adventures, more laughs, more of everything than the rest of us could ever manage. And when I picture her now, she’s cloaked in an aura of positive energy— a sun the rest of us merely orbit.

According to all reports, she was apprehensive about the trip to the Ruth Gorge. Some friends read it as stress, others as something more ominous—a premonition of doom. Who knows? All that’s certain is she’s gone. Gone, but never forgotten.

Her Latvian grandmother used to plead with her: “Lotty, don’t go to the mountains, Lotty. You’re nothing in the mountains.” But of course, she was always something special—in the mountains and out of them—something very special indeed.

Pat Joseph

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.

Comments