Joe Puryear

Damn, this doesn’t get any easier. Guess somehow I wish that it did, or maybe I thought that it would.

I’m not talking Election Day, sick as I am of the ads and incessant bickering, though I hope everyone votes. Sorry for the political dive, but I’ve got a point and a connection here: Too much of the problem with today’s world is the feeling of hopelessness. Who gives a fuck, right? I mean, corporate influence, power, dollars, rule all. Seems like nothing has anything to do with doing right or helping each other. Easy to just tune out.

So we do what we can when we have the chance, and try to help in real ways. (And yes, I voted, too.) You can be nice to the person next to you. You can help the person who needs help.

We can help bring Joe home. Joe Puryear, a friend and one of the most accomplished alpine climbers and adventurers of recent years, died last week while doing what he loved in remote Tibet. His climbing partner, David Gottlieb, last saw Joe with a huge smile, flashing the thumbs-up sign before going ahead (they were unroped at that point, on easy ground) to scout the route on unclimbed Labuche Kang – but David then rounded a rock outcrop and saw where a cornice had broken off. Joe was gone.

Joe was a star in my book, one of many I looked up to: intelligent, humble and unassuming, funny and unbelievably accomplished. He was more of the unheralded type, seemingly disinterested in hype. Not unwilling to share his adventures in words and photos, though – he’d just do it refreshingly, without ego. And yet the guy ripped it up in the Ruth, sent all over the Alaska Range, rampaged the Desert, and did three major first ascents of previously unclimbed peaks in Nepal in the last two years.

Joe (L) and Mark Westman -- Mark: "Early Morning Spire, summer of 1996. The days when filthy white long johns and tights were cool. To us."

I first met Joe and his longtime climbing partner and dear friend Mark Westman, another unheralded badass, in the Ruth back in 2000. I’ve kept in touch with both, seeing them here-and-there over the years, and I’ve relied on them for key info for the AAJ. Joe wrote the definitive guide to the Ruth Gorge for the 2006 AAJ – did it for free, as do all AAJ contributors – and later published his phenomenal guidebook, Alaska Climbing.

I really admired Joe, even though I didn’t know him all that well. I have a memory of him and Michelle near the Kesugi Ridge trail in Alaska back in the early 2000s, after one of my trips, I can’t exactly recall the details, I guess I’m getting old, not sure if they picked me up hitchiking or if we just ran into each other or what. I think it was soon after they’d met, but I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter, really. But they were lovely, and they married on the Ruth Glacier in 2004. Michelle wrote about Joe the other day. It’s beautiful because such openness and love doesn’t find us every day; the lack of regret, lack of bitterness, and the genuine appreciation of someone who lived fully. Of course the irony is always the same: the very thing that helped make him who he was, who we loved, also took him away.

Joe and Michelle at their wedding reception.

Anyway, I don’t know where I’m going here. I just know that nothing in life, no matter how short, is more precious than living beautifully, but my heart aches for Michelle. She and some of Joe’s family are traveling to Asia to bring Joe’s ashes home. It’s expensive, bringing him down, cremating him, the travel, and if you can help even just a little (I did), please consider it – if you can’t, you can’t; most of us don’t have much, but maybe we can skip a beer or marg or meal to help out, or just help anyway and toast that beer or marg to Joe, and send our love to Michelle and his family.

Here’s the link, with the donate button on the upper right:

And let’s remember these words – Mark Westman wrote them the other day, thinking about Joe:

“Do that one last pitch together. Have that beer. Stay a little longer. Say what needs to be said. Cherish your friendships and every last ounce of life. My alpinist friends, watch every step, and don’t ever lose your fear in the mountains.”

Joe Puryear, RIP. Photo by Mark Westman.

5 thoughts on “Joe Puryear

  1. beautifully said. I think even if we didn’t know Joe, it was easy to connect to his spirit through his writing and photos and know he was someone who loved life and loved to share it. His passion inspired so many, and I hope people answer the call for help in bringing him home.

  2. “So we do what we can when we have the chance, and try to help in real ways.”

    The first time I got to sit down and hang out a bit with Joe was after he and Max rallied up from Leavenworth to Mt. Stuart’s trailhead to come ‘rescue’ myself and two other overdue friends. They were just getting to the trailhead as we did, and it meant a lot to see Joe there, “helping in real ways” without a second thought.

  3. Kelly,

    Thank you for this post and all the help. Tore me up a bit, but I can still smile. I do remember picking you up that day on the Parks Highway.

    Joe’s send off was truly amazing, and everything went smoothly. I am continually surprised and amazed by how beautiful people can be.

    So many good memories. Best to you in 2011.


    • Thank you, Michelle. There is no question that you are part of what helped make Joe such a beautiful person. Thank you. And all the best in 2011 and beyond.

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