J. Alex Maxwell 1910–2007
J. Alex Maxwell, better known as “Lex,” was born in Yakima on July 26, 1910 to Mary Murphy Maxwell and Alexander James Maxwell.
His first job after graduating from the local community college was as a bookkeeper in a local bank, followed a few years later by taking the same position at Yakima Federal Savings & Loan in 1936. He retired there in 1972 as the president. He remained on their board until his death in 2007. His only time away from that institution was for three and a half years during World War II, when he served as a captain in the Air Force. He was married to Mary Burns, his wife of 71 years. They had five children, and many of his trips were with his family, whether hiking, climbing, or skiing.
Lex’s impact on mountaineering in the Northwest will be remembered long beyond his lifetime. He is best known locally for the authorship of his local hiking classic Hither, Thither and Yon. He was also referred to as a “noted mountain chef” with his famous “Glue Stew” before the days of instant freeze-dried foods. The recipe is one of those selected for the book Gorp, Glop & Glue Stew (reprinted as Beyond Gorp). Lex climbed in Mexico, the Rockies, the Tetons, the St. Elias Range, the Bugaboos, the Olympics, and, of course, throughout the Cascades. Among his first ascents are: Ulrichs Couloir (July 1933) and the West Ridge (August 1935) of Mount Stuart; Northeast Face of Little Tahoma (August 1959) and South Face of Kay’s Spire (September 1956) on Mt. Rainier; the Southeast Face (June 1956) of North Peak in the Stuart Range; and the West Ridge (July 1963) and South Klickitat Glacier Icefall (July 1962) on Mt. Adams.
Lex, the first Washington member of the American Alpine Club outside of the Seattle area (1958), was one of the founders of Central Washington Mountain Rescue in Yakima, in about 1953. In addition to training local climbers in rescue techniques, Lex went across the Cascade Mountains to the monthly board meetings of Seattle Mountain Rescue (MRC in those days) representing the embryo group in Yakima. Then he would come back to Yakima and pass on the information he had picked up. Going to the meetings involved a 300-mile round-trip evening drive over Snoqualmie Pass, famous for its many feet of snow each winter. He was almost always at the fore of mountain rescue missions in the Eastern Cascades.
In his “History of CWMR,” Lex wrote: “Our early needs were many-fold. We had to train our personnel in techniques of evacuation for injured people, in first aid, in teamwork and how to cooperate with the civil authorities as well as other rescue units. We needed money to buy bergtragas, litters, ropes, first aid supplies, climbing equipment and radios. We raised the money, we trained our people, and it was long, hard, and sometimes thankless. Yet along the way, a call for help would come and as everything cranked into gear, it gave a new stimulus to our efforts.”
Lex was a leader in most of the business and civic organizations in Yakima, both during and after his active business life, but when a call for a rescue came, he would drop whatever he was doing to go out into the field, whatever the weather or the time of day, to help whoever was in trouble.
Lex had a lifelong interest in skiing and won many slalom events as a ski racer. This led to his involvement in developing the American River Ski Bowl between 1936 and 1940. He also helped in the construction of the hut at Camp Schurman at 9,500 feet on Mt. Rainier. He wasan avid skier who had a hand in discovering and developing the White Pass Ski Area and impressed his children by ascending Mt. Rainier with the express purpose of skiing down it. He hiked the mountains with his wife, family and friends until he turned ninety-five, a goal to which we can all aspire.