Stimson Bullitt, at age 79, A climber's Inspiration

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The following article appeared in the American Alpine Club’s American Apline News, April 1999 and was written by Sean Courage. For a related article see Gerry Bloch climbs El Capitan at age 81.

While some people approaching 80 find going to the mailbox an adventure, Stimson Bullitt fulfills his appetite for adventure by ticking off classic alpine climbs and ice climbs, primarily in the Washington Cascades not far from his home. Bullitt is an inspiration to his climbing friends and partners. He should be an inspiration to any climber, no matter how old or how young or how buried in work or how poor or how far from the mountains. Stim proves that there's no place for excuses: If you want to climb, then climb, and don't let anything stop you. Bullitt certainly doesn't.

Last summer, Stim, who didn't start climbing until he was 50, added significant classics to his list of impressive ascents: the North Ridge of famed Cascade "nine-thousander" Mount Stuart (5.7 Grade IV), and Dreamer (5.9+ PG Grade III+), a route on Green Giant Buttress. Bullitt has also climbed Mt. McKinley (at age 62); the Cascade classic, Forbidden Peak; Canada’s Mount Sir Donald, one of the "50 Classic Climbs;" the Snow Creek Wall classic, Outer Space (he led the crux pitch at age 73); and Papa Woolsey at Joshua Tree (.10b at age 78), and these committing routes in the Cascades: Bonanza Peak, Prusik Peak, Mount Challenger, and the North Face of Shuksan.

"Climbing for me comes down to pure enjoyment," said Bullitt--enjoyment of the wilderness, enjoyment of the body, enjoyment of challenge. I started climbing at age 50, as an experiment, and the appetite grew with the feeding."

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bullitt continues to excel after getting a late start climbing. The scion of a old Pacific Northwest family, Bullitt previously made his mark in other ways. He has authored several books, including the highly acclaimed volume, To Be a Politician, of which The New York Times said: "...offers us intellectual fare so vascular and alive that if you cut into a single word, the text bleeds."

Bullitt is a true renaissance man. As the chief executive of KING television in Seattle, Bullitt made history in the late ‘60s by going on record as opposing the war in Vietnam well before it was fashionable. He also made history by instituting a program of minority hiring, well before affirmative action became popular. More recently, in his position as director of Harbor Properties in Seattle, Bullitt, an avid skier, has spearheaded the acquisition of several ski areas to add to his company’s ownership of Stevens Pass Ski Area.

Climber Jim Wickwire, a frequent climbing partner of Bullitt’s in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, remains, like most people who know of him, in awe of Stim’s drive. "Lawyer, author, renaissance man, Stim Bullitt's commitment to the climbing life is remarkable," Wickwire explained. "I'll never forget our two expeditions together to Mt. McKinley, the first in 1978 with Bill Sumner, the second with Stim alone in 1980. We weren't successful in reaching the summit, but he was a marvelous companion. In the many stormbound tent days we had, our discussions ranged far and wide: literature, history, politics, music, culture, and sharing anecdotes about some of the amazing people we'd encountered over the years.

"Despite his acute disappointment from our two attempts, Stim was not to be denied the summit of McKinley. He went back a third time in 1981; he was successful with Sumner and Shelby Scates. At the time Stim was 62.

"My most vivid memories of Stim, though, have been following him up a few short rock climbs in recent years. Here he was, twenty years my senior, leading me up pitch after pitch. It was all I could do to follow him.

"I was astounded to hear last summer that he'd climbed the north ridge of Stuart with a much younger companion. At the time Stim was 79! Not difficult by today's rock climbing standards, Stuart's north ridge is nonetheless a demanding climb with lots of exposure. His solo climb of Rainier a couple of years before was also memorable.

"What is it that keeps this man going? My guess is that a big part of it is that he is a person who does not rest easily on past achievements. More than most, and particularly for someone at his stage of life, he is always looking ahead to the next challenge, climbing or whatever. His zest for the mountains is unparalleled."

Since he began to focus on technical rock climbing 13 years ago at the age of 66 (after a decade and a half of mountaineering), Stim hasn’t looked back. Neither his age, nor family, nor social, nor professional commitments, which remain significant and which he manages to balance in an enviable way, have kept him from the mountains or diminished his desire to climb.

With a physique that would surely allow him to kick sand in the face of any beach blanket bully, and frequently causes young women to gawk in disbelief, age has not inhibited Stim’s ability to climb or do anything else. Those who don’t know Stim might expect to see him confining his adventures to neighborhood strolls or weekend drives in the country, or similar tame pursuits, but don’t be fooled.

We first met four or five years ago while he was honing his skills in an indoor climbing gym, then we frequently crossed paths while climbing in the Cascades and at local crags. With each encounter, I found myself in awe not only that he was still "at it," but also of the intensity at which he climbed.

His tenacity is clearly visible especially if you’ve seen him take the drop while on lead. Once, as I approached Grand Central Tower at Peshastin Pinnacles, I looked up to see Stim "whip" on the formidable bulgy crux of Lightning Crack (5.9+). Normally, I would have been shocked that someone’s grandpa had just "gone big," but I knew instantly that it was Stim. And anyway, he was a very young 75 at the time. Stirred, but not shaken, Stim saddled back up without hesitation. There was not the slightest indication that he was going to take the required standing eight count that his belayer and the various onlookers were expecting. If Stim has ever been frightened in his life, it hasn’t been while he was on lead. The common remark from all his climbing partners is that the man has no fear. Some believe Stim places protection only to prevent his climbing partners from becoming frightened.

Lack of a partner has never been much of an obstacle for Stim. It was early November 1998 and a half foot of snow had settled over the Central Cascades when I ran into him near Washington's Snoqualmie Pass. Undaunted by the conditions, he was on his way to solo The Tooth (5.6 Grade III).

Although always inspired by his attitude, achievement, and perseverance, it was then that Stim’s inspiration impacted me most heavily. Stim’s climbing resumè includes an impressive quiver of solo ascents (over 30) many of which were accomplished when he was in his 70s. The solo climbs list includes - Rainier and Hood in 1996, Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Adams, Sahale Peak, Jabberwocky Tower, Sloan Peak, Mt.Thompson, Mt. Daniel, and Liberty Bell (Overexposure route).

With his comprehensive list of solos, some might consider him a risk taker. But, everything Stim does is well thought out and calculated with the necessary steps taken to minimize risk. He is the first to tell you that soloing may be perceived as irresponsible. But, his feelings are mixed, mainly due to his enjoyment of the mountains and strenuous use of the body, as well as the inherent challenges and self-testing that soloing brings.

Stim is easily identified as the elderly gentleman with the pleasant disposition and cheery smile. However, the dead giveaway is the well-worn Purple Rain T-shirt given to Stim by his daughter because, as Stim says, "I liked the movie." You Can’t Stop Running Water.

So, what’s next on Stim’s climbing hit list? Eldorado in a day? Ptarmigan Traverse? First free ascent of "City Park"? Solo winter ascent of Rainier? Actually, Stim’s climbing objectives for the next year include the classic remote and alpine NE Buttress of Goode, various Joshua Tree and Red Rocks climbs, and some climbing in Icicle Creek Canyon.

When questioned about future climbing goals, Stim response was quite simple, "just continuing to climb and having fun." But Stim, how long can you keep at it? "You must inquire of my body; it will decide."

You got to love this guy, he’s what climbing is all about.

 
Backcountry_Resource_Center--Paul Richins, Jr.
www.jps.net/prichins/backcountry_resource_center.htm

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