This past week, on February 12th, Jim Bridwell passed away in Palm Springs, CA at 73. There are some great articles written about his legacy, including Rock and Ice (for climbing enthusiasts) and New York Times (more of a mainstream article).
My personal story about Jim is spending an evening with him around 1999 and listening to an old fashioned slide show (I’m talking actual photographic slides in a slide projector, remember those?) of Jim recounting some of his recent years epics and especially some recent good times out in the field. I had been back living in the Bay Area after spending 16 years in the entirely-too-flat American Midwest and was actively seeking to catch up on all the adventure I had missing out on ever since leaving Northern California in 1980.
So, here Julie and I were at the quaint and, somewhat, relic-from-the-past Western Mountaineering store in Santa Clara on El Camino Real (which doesn’t exist anymore, long ago destroyed by the growth of REI and other slick stores of the current era) to check out the current sale they had (they need to pay the bills, right?) and their slide show presentation by famed climber, Jim Bridwell.
Let me be honest, at this point of the game, I had no idea who this man was. He walks in looking like today’s all-too-familiar dirtbag chic look. To this day, I’m still enamored with these sandals he was wearing that amazed me. They seemed to be hand made and decoratively crafted with rope. His physical appearance, but more actually how he carried himself and spoke, just exuded confidence, free-ness, and — honestly — a guy who just doesn’t give a fuck (in a good way). I knew nothing about his history, the stories around him, and his accomplishments. And, even, before his slideshow started, I somehow could sense all of those things swirling about him.
I don’t remember now how long the slide show ran, maybe an hour plus, but I remember the good sized crowd of 30 or so were pretty much quiet during the entire presentation. The only exceptions where some “ahhhs”, “ooohs”, and laughter inspired by Jim’s pictures, storytelling, and cutting wit. I loved it.
One of Jim’s area of climbing accomplishments is the Alaskan canvas. He had some great tales and pictures that will never leave me about his incredible & harrowing climbs, such as the Moose’s Tooth. Climbers like Jim and their experiences have been a clear part of what draws me to the hills. That raw and intense passion for natural places and to gratefully express your creativity and energy out there. We’ve gone on since to try our own hand at mountaineering, rock climbing and exploring the sacred wild places out there and remain stoked to experience much more around the world.
See you, Jim. Thanks for the courage and the inspiration!