Last evening we had a fun time at author Jon Waterman’s 50th birthday party. Jon is a prolific writerand explorer, as well as being the person who instigated my Wild Snow ski mountaineering history book.
It happened like this: Back around 1994 Jon landed the job of publications director for the American Alpine Club. He had a vision for a series of books he called “historical guides,” which were basically overview guidebooks with a ton of history included. He approached me with the idea and I signed on for such a book about backcountry skiing. Writing the book was much harder than I expected. At the time the ski mountaineering community was much less united and communicative, as the internet was just getting started. More, it turned out that three years is simply not enough time to research a history book about a subject that precious little had been previously written about (in terms of history). Nonetheless we persevered, Jon encouraging me to stick with the project and keep my focus, me fighting burnout and trying to stay focused despite slight distractions such as marriage. In the end Wild Snow got published, albeit the first edition could have used another year of manuscript review and fact checking (all was improved in the soft cover second edition), while Jon and I remained friends.
Jon and I met each other at Colorado Outward Bound in the late 1970s, where we’d both landed jobs as instructors, and ended up working a couple of courses together. We immediately knew we were brothers-in-arms as to mountaineering, and had a blast running around Colorado getting fit for future adventures (we ended up doing quite a bit of climbing and backcountry skiing together for years after). That year we did a memorable autumn road trip up to the Tetons, where we did a winter condition’s ascent of the Enclosure Couloir on the Grand Teton. Rather than the climbing, this trip’s highlight was when the dashboard wiring of my 1957 Chevrolet Coupe street rod caught fire, and we put it out by ripping the wires out of the dash with our bare climber tough hands, while parked in front of the Silver Dollar Bar (this occurred after visiting the bar, hence the ability to rip shorted wires with bare hands). Why the Chevy still ran after that I’ll never know. Move over Toyota?
At the party last night I enjoyed chatting with Chip Woodland, an ER doc in Vail who was one of Jon’s main climbing partners back in their day. More, Chip was one of my NOLS students in the 1960s, and his first peak climb was with me on Pingora in the Wind Rivers. Laughing, I told Chip that was like the blind leading the blind. Luckily we all survived.
Stories about the birthday boy: In mountaineering circles Jon is known for his somewhat animalistic practicality. For example, Chip related that during one of their climbing trips they were working out of motels. It was back in the days of smelly polypro base-layer, and they’d come back from each day’s adventures stinking to high heaven in their one precious set of long underwear. Rather than take the time to undress and wash the offending garment, Jon would simply jump in the shower with his poly on, wash it while he washed himself, then strip and hang the clothing to dry. Like I said, practical.
We congratulate Jon on making the half century mark, and wish him many more days of his incredibly full life.