Friday, June 11, 2010

A Tribute to Monty Smith

It was a late Saturday night in June 2002 when I arrived at the Pole Creek Trailhead near Sisters, Oregon. Our team of Mazamas were going to spend the night at the trailhead and then get an early alpine start to climb Middle Sister. Our car pulled into the trailhead just as another team of Mazamas had returned from their attempt to climb the mountain. They looked exhausted and worn down. I heard that they had a long day, just falling short of the summit when the Climb Leader made the call to turn around. I also learned that their Climb Leader was going to be the Assistant Climb Leader for our climb. We were warned that if he was too tired to climb early tomorrow, then our climb would be canceled.

That Climb Leader was Monty Smith and he was ready to climb with us the next day. Had I not been so new to Mazamas climbs I would known there was little doubt that Monty would have been able to join us. Monty had well earned reputation of being a strong and energetic climber. I did not have much of a chance to climb with Monty that day, because as we approached the Hayden Glacier my knee was bothering me and I needed to return to the trailhead. It was Monty that guided me over the snow back to the trail while the others continued onward. I was feeling lousy about potentially jeopardizing the climb, but there was nothing but positive chatter from Monty. As we covered the distance he competently used his compass to get me back to safe place. Once I was off the snow and on the trail he turned around, backtracked, and eventually caught up with the others.

Monty (far right) teaching ascending at Mazama Lodge, March 2005

Two years later I was accepted into the Mazamas Intermediate Climbing School. I applied in part because Monty was the leader of that class. It was Monty that showed us the ropes, recruited others to teach us, shielded us from the wrath of the Mazama Lodge Managers, and encouraged us along. He eagerly shared his knowledge with us with that same positive demeanor that I got to know on the slopes of Middle Sister.

Monty giving out instructions before Crevasse Rescue practice, May 2005

Monty was not only a climber and teacher, but he was a life saver. The Mazama 2003 Annual described how Monty helped save a team of climbers on the Moench in the the Swiss Alps. In addition Monty was active with Portland Mountain Rescue. Searching online one can find multiple instances where the Monty was involved in rescues on Mount Hood.

So it was a shock to learn that we lost Monty on June 5th. It grieved me learn that he had been suffering. The last time I saw Monty was at a lecture he gave on mountain weather for a Mazama climbing class. As usual it was well done and informative, I walked away better prepared to make decisions about the weather. Not only have I lost one of my teachers, but we all have lost a highly regarded role model. My deepest condolences to his family.

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