American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Stimson Bullitt, 1919-2009

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2010

Stimson Bullitt 1919–2009

Stim Bullitt, by his own admission, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he spent the rest of his life trying to live it down. Being delivered to school in his mother’s Rolls Royce, he would lie on the floor and beg the chauffeur to drop him off a block away so that his classmates would not see him arrive in this ostentatious manner. While a student at Yale, he joined the varsity boxing team, “so that I could compete with the poor black boys from Harlem, man-to-man.” When taking the train home to Seattle, he declined his mother’s preferred accommodations, a Pullman car. Instead, he would “ride the rails” in cold, dirty cattle cars with hobos, whom he respected (“They were not bums, they were hobos!”).

It is small wonder that his love of nature, combined with his spirit of independence, resulted in enthusiasm for climbing. Stim’s exposure to the outdoors of the Pacific Northwest started with family outings and the Boy Scouts. Later he took his own children on hiking trips, but it wasn’t until he turned 50 that he discovered the joy of actual mountaineering. Still later came the thrill of climbing hard rock, which eventually made him a legend.

He was in his sixties when he climbed Denali—on his third attempt. He teamed with Fred Beckey for first ascents of peaks in the Coast Range of British Columbia. When he couldn’t find climbing partners, he would not hesitate to solo routes—routes normally done by roped teams. It was just the expedient thing to do. He found his true passion in climbing hard rock, savoring multi-pitch routes on Liberty Bell, Slesse, Squamish Chief, and Mt. Sir Donald, to mention but a few. One indoor climbing competition included a “Masters” division for anyone older than 50. I was 54 and was proud to get third place. Stim got first place, at 74.

When his stamina for carrying heavy loads started to wane, he focused on sport climbs. Always pushing himself to the limit, he sought routes that were aesthetically attractive. One such route, Illusion Dweller, is rated 5.10b. At the age of 83 he led this classic. Patagonia ran a full-page photo showing Stim struggling up the final move. “Alex, this is one of the happiest days of my life,” he declared with a boyish grin when he finished the climb. This accomplishment inspired climbers all over the world. “This gives me hope that I may still climb when I’m 83,” I often heard young climbers say when they realized I was there to belay Stim.

Stim was a lawyer until his mid-seventies. For a time he was president of King Broadcasting Corporation, a communications conglomerate his mother founded. Nevertheless, this president of the largest television station in the region disdained watching television. He was a prolific reader and writer. One of his proudest moments came when he heard that his name was on President Nixon’s “enemies list,” an honor earned for his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. He made most of his many millions through the real estate development company he founded—rebuilding inner city areas of Seattle and expanding ski resorts in the Cascades.

He strongly believed in helping rectify social and racial injustices and contributed most of his considerable wealth to such causes, often as an anonymous donor. He co-founded the Bullitt Foundation, which is still addressing the conservation needs of America’s wilderness and mountain areas. True to his principles, he made sure that he was broke (or nearly so) when he died, sitting in his house in view of the mountains he loved.

Alex Bertulis

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