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Finally Met Legendary Climber Jim McCarthy

Jim McCarthy and I visit at a roadside cafe in Ridgway in mid-July.

I finally met legendary climber Jim McCarthy a couple days ago in Ridgway. I was over in western Colorado doing some research for an article and camping on the back forty at my sister Frances' pocket farm near Olathe. She said, as many times before, "You need to call Jim and get together with him. He wants to meet you."

Frances has known Jim for quite awhile since she goes down to his house every couple weeks and gives it a thorough cleaning. "He's a really nice man and he knows everyone that you do. We were at a party at his house a couple weeks ago and everyone there knew you." Okay, okay, I told her, I'll call Jim. And I did.

Jim McCarthy is a climbing icon. His past partners, dating back to the 1950s, are a who's who of world climbing: Layton Kor, Royal Robbins, Yvon Chouinard, Don Whillans. The list goes on and on as do Jim's achievements. He's a past president and now honorary president of the American Alpine Club. He was the first climber to be on the cover of Sport Illustrated (October 20, 1958), a shot of him dangling from the big roof on the first ascent of Foops at the Gunks in New York. The only other climber was Jeff Lowe after the FA of Bridalveil Falls.

He did the first ascent of the Arctic big wall Proboscis in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in Canada's Northwest Territories in 1963 with Kor, Robbins, and Dick McCracken. "Layton almost killed me on that climb," he told me. Layton had led around an edge high on the route and, out of sight of Jim, took a fall. Jim was belaying beneath a roof and the force of the fall yanked him up, cracking his helmet against the roof. Not feeling well, he ceded the belay to Royal.

Jim said I was about the only one of the 1970s Springs cadre that he hadn't met. "That was a really talented group in Colorado Springs," he said. "There haven't been many places with so many good climbers that did so much." Jim told me stories about climbing with Billy Westbay and Doug Snively in Estes Park in the mid-70s, and meeting Jimmie Dunn, Mark Hesse, Dan McClure, Earl Wiggins, and others of our merry band.

We talked for about three hours and I promised I would give a ring next time I was back in the neighborhood. We still have a lot to talk about....

Jim McCarthy aids across the big roof on the first ascent of Foops in the 1950s. John Stannard later free-climbed the eight-foot roof after five days of work in 1967.

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