Clifton H.W. Maloney, 1938-2009

Publication Year: 2010.

Clifton H.W. Maloney 1938–2009

Clifton H.W. Maloney, 71, an investment banker and a long-time member of the New York Section, perished at a high camp on Cho Oyu on September 25 after reaching the summit the day before. He thus became the oldest American to summit an 8,000-meter peak and probably the oldest person to have reached the summit of Cho Oyu. His last words before falling asleep, never to awake, were “I’m the happiest man in the world. I’ve just climbed a beautiful mountain.” Dozens of his friends, who had been following his progress via daily Internet reports from his guide Marty Schmidt and who were about to celebrate his triumphant return home, were plunged into shock and disbelief. Clif was more than an exceptionally fit and able climber, with all the Seven Summits except Everest under his belt, but a force of nature, always good humored, sincere, loyal, and seemingly indestructible. With his 96-year-old mother still very active, he also had the genetic components. A few weeks before, both of us were attending Bob Streets 70th birthday party in Colorado Springs. Not content just to take in a great party for his old climbing partner, Clif took the occasion to climb Pikes Peak with a 50-pound pack. I tagged along with my five-pound rucksack, but he matched me step for step. This was not surprising, for Clif, a 20-times-plus marathoner, was consistently at or near the top of his age group in the New York City marathon and as fit a contemporary as I’ve known.

His memorial service in New York was jammed with friends, from not only the climbing community but also from the world of business and government, including Bill Clinton. It was a marvelous service, but perhaps the most authentic remembrance was a memorial hike and reception a few weeks later in the Hudson Highlands, where Clif would assiduously train. Present were 30 or so of Clif’s AAC buddies, along with his wife, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and their two daughters. At the reception afterwards, at the Galligan home, we felt he was still with us, enjoying his usual glass of Heineken’s after a good workout and talking about getting ready for his next climb.

In her touching remembrance of her friend Clif’s passing, Susan Schwartz raised some of the existential questions that a sudden, unexplained death of an ostensibly fit climber inevitably raises: “Some of us climb, I believe, as a way to bring order and control to our personal universe. But climbing has a way of yanking hard on our chain to remind us that there is a limit to how much we can control. At some point, no matter how stubborn, talented or hard working we are, we step out of our world of personal control and into one of cosmic caprice, whether it be Everest, Cho Oyu or cancer.”

Philip Erard