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The Humans Behind Superhuman Feats

Nearly two decades in the making, The Climbersa recently released book by Jim Herrington, chronicles the faces of mountaineering icons. Published by Mountaineers Books, the black and white portraits of these mid-20th century luminaries reveal relatable human traits like “obsession, determination, intellect, and at times, frailty,” states the press release.

The men and women captured by Herrington, who include Fred Beckey, Gwenn Moffat, and Riccardo Cassin, among many others, scaled mountains around the world using the sport’s first gear, now considered primitive, and excessive doses of wits, talent, and focus. These early legends have provided inspiration to generations of climbers.

Between photographing rock-n-roll giants and other stars, Herrington went in search of the rugged individuals recorded in The Climbers. “Music, photography, climbing…this trilogy of enthusiasms remains to this day,” writes Herrington in the introduction to the book. This is where Herrington also recalls anecdotes of meeting his mountain climbing heroes, like his surprise at the spartan furnishings of Don “Claunch” Gordon’s one-room apartment that he had lived in for 50 years. Gordon once walked 35 miles from his home to the base of Mount Si in Washington state, reached the summit, then walked halfway home before resting in a field for a little sleep. Gordon sometimes climbed with Fred Beckey, who Herrington describes as “the original quintessential climbing bum.” Beckey holds the record for the most first ascents than any other person. When Herrington met with him 2015, he was 92 years old and still climbing.

As Andrew Travers from the Aspen Times describes the images of the aging climbers who accomplished extraordinary feats, “there’s something in their eyes that Herrington is able to capture — an intensity, a sense of calm, a surprising sensitivity — that underscores their humanity and their indomitable spirits.”

-Sarah Stacke

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