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James Goodwin, 1910-2011

James Goodwin, 1910 – 2011

Jim Goodwin died on April 14 in Lake Placid. To the rock and ice climbing community, he was a pioneer. But to those who knew him, especially the hundreds who joined him as children to hike Adirondack trails, Jimmy Goodwin was much more.

Jim Goodwin saw himself principally as a guide, a status he treasured not for the money but for the shared joy. Fortunately, his career began before AMGA. Jimmy tacked a notice on the bulletin board at Interbrook Lodge, in Keene Valley, when he was 11 years old. At 50 cents a day for trips to Porter Ledges and a dollar for Giant Mountain, he had lots of takers. His rates jumped when he began guiding the states highest peak, Mt. Marcy. In 1922 it cost two dollars to hire a seasoned 12-year old for a trip up Marcy. After at least 200 ascents, Goodwin wrote that Marcy had become “a holy symbol” for him. In 1995 he joined the extended Goodwin clan, children and grandchildren, for a commemorative hike. Jim considered his 1935 winter ascent of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden to be one of his most significant climbs. Earlier, a winter ascent of Gothics caught the attention of John Case, who summered in Keene Valley. Case showed Goodwin the ropes, allowing him to make several ascents in the American and Canadian Rockies in the 1930s, ascents that gained Goodwin admission to the AAC. When the nation entered WWII, Goodwin signed up for “the ski troops,” later the 10th Mountain Division. He recalled that he had then “rappelled three or four times…and driven three pitons.” His AAC membership, however, got him the job as a climbing instructor, first in Colorado and later at Seneca Rocks. As an instructor he was superb.

In 1944 Jim and his wife, Jane, shared a cottage at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, as the Face of a Thousand Pitons was earning its name. After he was called into battle as a medic, the 10th stormed Riva Ridge and took Monte Belvedere in Italy. The campaign was costly to Allies and the Germans alike, and Goodwin was proud to have paid little attention to the color of the uniform when attending to a wounded man.

After the war, Goodwin resumed his teaching career at Connecticut’s Kingswood School.

In 1947 Goodwin offered Fritz Wiessner an instructor’s spot in the newly formed Adirondack Mountain Club rock-climbing school. After the 1938 K2 tragedy, Wiessner s aura was tarnished to some in the AAC. But a fortuitous 1966 meeting on Indian Head, at Ausable Lake, between Wiessner and past AAC president John Case changed that.

Goodwin and Trudy Healy (who was researching the first rock guide for the Adirondacks) were on Wiessner’s rope when they converged with Case and partner. It was a stem corner, declared Case. No, it was a layback, said Wiessner. It wasn’t quite an argument, but neither was it friendly. Case proceeded to reinforce his claim by elegantly bridging the dihedral. Then Wiessner grabbed the edge of the crack, put his feet on the other wall, and cruised up behind. Healy and Goodwin laybacked. Goodwin invited all back to his cottage for a beer, and the tension ebbed. Wiessner later accepted an honorary membership in the AAC.

Goodwin brought people together by putting himself in the background. He’d carry two packs, if that would make a boy’s day easier. If a youngster dropped a mitten, he would run back to pick it up without the troop noticing. He found more meaning in designing and cutting a trail than in putting up some high-end rock route. In fact, he’d often apologize for a climb, perhaps describing it as “a damned-fool thing to do.”

Jimmy Goodwin, after 101 years in this world, has gone to the next. But he’s alive in the hearts of generations of Adirondack mountaineers who know that singing makes a trail shorter and that Spam makes life richer. They know that their boots will eventually dry, even after a week in the rain in the Sewards, and that there’s more joy in giving someone a skill than in flashing it for others to see.

He leaves two sons, Peter and Tony (trail builder and editor of ADK’s Trails of the High Peaks) and five grandkids.

Tony Goodwin