Lonely Grave in the
One summer day in the late 1990s, Dom and I were climbing an unnamed
peak near Kearsarge Pass in Eastern Sierra. Dom, I guess, had checked his
collection of topo maps, and had decided that this particular peak would
be a great goal for a day hike. But as we finally
approached the top, something that couldn't be seen on a topo map
became apparent. A short class-3 pitch lay between us and
the summit. We were so close, and yet so far away!
At that time we didn't have any experience with class-3 scrambling.
We considered our options, and then courageously continued up.
We were rewarded in more than one way: The excitement about
the successful climb, the beautiful view from the top, and
a rusty old
cigar box hidden under the summit rocks. And in the box, a small
notebook, with the following comment on the first page:
Very few other signatures followed Clyde's note,
probably no more than one or two every few years.
This summit apparently was not a particularly popular destination.
We were surprised that the peak was not named the way
Clyde had wanted. Perhaps he didn't tell anybody his wish?
USGS maps mark the peak only by its elevation,
but for us, this was Snow Crown Peak from now on.
[followed by a date, which I no longer remember; H.G.]
I name thee Snow Crown Peak.
I had seen Clyde Minaret near Mammoth Lakes many times earlier,
and knew it must have been named for some legendary old Sierra explorer,
but I really didn't pay much attention to the Sierra history at that time.
Suddenly, this person from the legends became real and present. It didn't
matter to us if this really was Clyde's handwriting, or more likely just a
copy of his earlier original
The mere fact that we were here at the
top that Clyde had once considered a worthwhile goal elated us. For a
moment we forgot that we still had to do our class-3 descent on the way back.
In the next few years I learned a lot about Clyde. Unexpectedly,
he came back into the focus, this time via the Rettenbacher story.
Norman Asa Clyde, the eldest child in Charles and Sarah Clyde's family,
was born in Philadelphia, in 1885. His father, Charles, who probably
didn't get much formal education in his youth, but was eager to learn, began
taking private lessons in classical literature and theology in about 1879.
His mentor and teacher was David Steele. Charles became
ordained to the office of the ministry in Steele's Reformed Presbytery
(RP) congregation in 1883. In the year in which Norman was born, his father
got involved in a bitter conflict with his
After Steele's death in 1887, Charles Clyde became an itinerant minister
with no settled congregation, preaching in various places
in Pennsylvania and across the midwest.
Charles took care of his eldest son's early schooling,
and Norman learned to read Latin and Greek at a young
In 1897, Charles, his wife, and seven children, moved
to Lochiel Township, Glengarry County, Ontario, where Charles began serving
in the local branch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA).
They settled, took Canadian citizenship, and
Norman and other children began attending the regular public school.
Two more children were born in Lochiel. Contrary to the
frequently repeated statement that Charles Clyde had died in 1900,
the entire family, including the father,
was still there on March 31, 1901, during that year's Canada
However, that autumn Charles fell ill from pneumonia and died
on December 7, 1901. The family then moved back to
Pennsylvania, where Norman enrolled in Geneva College at Beaver Falls,
and graduated in classics in 1909.
I recently wrote to the school to see if they had any information
about Clyde. Mrs. Kae Kirkwood, Archival Librarian at the
College, did some research and found that Norman was first mentioned in
school's records for 1906/07 school year.
(However, the records from 1905/06 are lost
or misplaced, and he might have actually enrolled a year earlier).
Mrs. Kirkwood also unearthed the following gem:
During his student years, Clyde was one of the editors of
the school newspaper The Cabinet, and served
for several years as assistant local editor,
exchange editor, and Adelphic Literary Society editor! (The latest
function may suggest
that he was also a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity on campus).
No wonder that he later turned into a prolific writer.
Clyde is registered in the University of Wisconsin 1910-1911 Catalogue
as a graduate student in Letter and Science for the summer session of 1910
(p. 642). He is also listed in the UC Berkeley Catalogue of Officers
and Students for 1911-12 ("Clyde Norman, Beaver Falls, Pa., A. B. Geneva
College 1909, graduate student in Social Sciences, [address] 2529 Dwight
way, Berkeley, [phone] Bkly 4474"), and in the UC Berkeley register of
students in the summer session of 1912.
|Norman Clyde, probably during his
student years at Geneva College. From
Geneva Magazine (Fall/Winter 2000), reproduced with permission.
His name was first made known to general public when several major
newspapers picked up the Associated Press wire report
about Clyde's record setting climb of Mt. Shasta in July 1923.
Apparently, Clyde climbed from Horse Camp to the summit in "three hours and
seventeen minutes", thus "breaking a record that had stood for forty years".
One of the papers that brought this information was Los Angeles Times.
This newspaper kept its readers well
informed about Clyde throughout the rest of his life. I found more than
forty Los Angeles Times articles that had mentioned Clyde
and his mountaineering related experiences between 1923 and 1963.
But long before the Shasta record of 1923, which launched his public career,
Clyde's name was mentioned
in an article that had nothing to do with climbing or mountains.
In a Sunday issue of Los Angeles Times from June of 1915, we can find
a brief description of his wedding.
In a simple ceremony, in a small house on West Mountain Street in
Pasadena, Winifred Bolster became his wife! (Winifred died in 1919).
The complete list of Clyde-related articles can be found in
Appendix B. Although Clyde was a major
figure in the history of the Sierra Nevada, his
comprehensive biography yet remains to be written and published.
If you want to learn something about Clyde, you have to rely on one of
several shorter texts about his life, scattered in various
(often hard to find!)
I have tried a different approach here.
What follows is a view that an avid reader of
Los Angeles Times might have gotten of Norman Clyde, over the course
of forty years.
Two months after the Shasta "record",
Los Angeles Times of September 16, 1923,
brought an "exclusive dispatch" with the subtitle "Thirty-six Mountains
Scaled by Man on Vacation". The article
introduced Clyde as "36 years of age, a small-town schoolmaster of Weaverville,
, and a member of the Sierra (a mountaineer) Club
of San Francisco". Actually, Clyde was 38 years old at that
time. Throughout his life, Clyde's habit was to mislead the reporters
about his true age.
The accomplishment that the article refers to
was Clyde's climb to 36 peaks in as many consecutive days,
including eleven first ascents, during the summer of 1923
in Glacier National Park, Montana. Not too bad for a "man on vacation"!
In the following years, several other of Clyde's climbing successes were
described in various Los Angeles Times articles. For example,
his ascent in 1928 of Mt. Robson, the highest
peak in the Canadian Rockies, was declared to be "one of the most difficult
climbs in the
However, one major event in Clyde's life from that era
would remain undisclosed to the
readers of Los Angeles Times for the next 36 years.
Only in the 1960s, the reading public would find out that Clyde, in spite
of his mountaineering achievements, had been
fired from his teaching job in 1928. At that time, Clyde was a high school
teacher and principal in Independence, Owens
Valley, California. Here is a brief description of the event that led
to Clyde's dismissal, taken from an article in
the Sunday issue of Los Angeles Times of September 22, 1963:
"His teaching career ended suddenly on Halloween in 1924
[the event happened in 1928, not in 1924. Clyde was first
hired in Independence during the summer of 1925; H.G.]
Clyde fired a revolver into the air, according to his
recollection, to turn some young pranksters from school property. Although
no one was hurt he was discharged from his job. From then on his home was
One consequence of this event was that Clyde
could now fully pursue his passion for mountains, free
of the confinements and social obligations related to his teaching job. But
it also meant that he would from now on have to rely on his writing,
lecturing, and guiding abilities to earn enough for his food, shelter, and
equipment. This would probably explain how Clyde's name ended up in
the advertisement section of Los Angeles Times
and other local papers in the spring
of 1929. In a paid ad, the popular
Switzer resort in Upper Arroyo Seco, Angeles National
was inviting the public to a lecture by "noted mountaineer and writer"
Norman Clyde. For the visitor for whom
mountain tales were not the most favorite
pass time, a soprano and a pianist would be at hand to provide additional
entertainment, hinted the ad.
Several other lectures and courses by Clyde were mentioned
in Los Angeles Times during the early and mid 1930s,
and many more probably didn't make it to the newspaper.
Clyde was also submitting his
photos of mountain scenes to newspapers and periodicals.
One such identifiable "filler"
photo appeared in Los Angeles Times in April of 1935, but there
could also have been a few more unsigned ones. Each little honorarium was a
big help to this man who no longer had a steady job.
Guiding tourists was another way for him to earn income.
Clyde was, for example, presented to the readers of Los Angeles Times
as a fishing expert (which he really was), who
could lead parties of sportsmen and fishermen to remote
Sierra lakes with abundant supplies of fish.
|Norman Clyde gives talk at Switzer's Resort, in Upper
Arroyo Seco (Angeles National Forest) on May 11, 1929.
The ad appeared in Los Angeles Times and other local papers.
All those secondary functions did not keep Clyde from his main activity:
climbing unconquered peaks and finding new, ever more challenging
routes to mountain tops. In 1929, a Los Angeles Times article said
that Clyde was "the only man who has climbed all of the California
mountain peaks over 14,000 feet high", but the article didn't
elaborate on when this feat was completed. On August 16, 1931, Norman
Clyde, Glen Dawson, Jules Eichorn, and Robert Underhill, were the first to make
an ascent to the top of Mt. Whitney via the East Face route.
Los Angeles Times was a little late in reporting this
spectacular climb. It only informed the readers about it in 1937, but
better late than never. In spite of such occasional tardiness in reporting
by the paper, its readers could still get the idea that Norman Clyde
was an exceptional mountaineer. For example, in an
article from 1932, Clyde was called "one of the best known mountaineers of
the West", and two years later, in 1934, he was described as a "veteran of
more than 600 mountain ascents".
The more Clyde's climbing skills and unparallel familiarity with the mountains
became known, the more frequently was he called upon
to search for missing persons in the High Sierra. Sometimes his help would
be sought by the family of a climber or hiker who didn't return at a
scheduled time. In other cases he was summoned to a rescue mission by
forest service officials, or just happened to be near an
accident scene and willingly helped in the rescue efforts.
Los Angeles Times reported six search and
rescue/recovery missions between 1929 and 1950, in which Clyde had played a
role (see Appendix B),
but that was probably just the tip of the iceberg. For example,
Clyde's participation in the Rettenbacher search was not mentioned in
Los Angeles Times, and there were probably many other occasions
when Clyde's help in mountain searches had simply
not been registered in the newspaper. One story
that attracted a lot of attention in the early 1930s was the
disappearance of a young boy, Howard Lamel, on Mt. Whitney.
One day in July of 1930, Howard had left the Mt. Whitney
trail to explore the mountain on his own, and never showed up at the meeting
place where his father and brother had waited. In the following days,
airplanes and more than 100 forest rangers and volunteers
participated in the search for the lost
Norman Clyde joined the search at the request of the boy's father.
Clyde and Robert Evans eventually found the boy's body high on the cliffs
on the east side of the mountain. Three years later, another young man
didn't show up for a meeting with his father in a mountain lodge.
The missing man's name was Walter Starr, Jr.
The compelling story of Starr's disappearance is
well presented in William Alsup's book
Missing in the Minarets. Several articles in
Los Angeles Times were devoted to the Starr case, and in three of
them Clyde was mentioned. Readers learned that he was the one who had
discovered the body after an eight-day search,
then helped with the burial. Clyde apparently stayed
in Mammoth Lakes after the burial, and, according to the newspaper,
talked about his search in an evening lecture at Tamarack Lodge
in early September of 1933.
By 1934, Norman Clyde's career had reached its peak.
In January of that year, Lowell Brodgart published a long article about
"These Strange Peak-Grabbers" in the Los Angeles Times'
Clyde is mentioned several times in that
report. It was Brodgart who, without hesitation, named Clyde
"the best known mountaineer of the West". Several months later, Ed Ainsworth
called Clyde's first ascents of ten of the Devils Crags (with Dave Brower
and Hervey Voge), "the most remarkable mountaineering feats ever
accomplished in the United States".
On Monday, July 23, 1934, the Rettenbachers were getting ready
for their trip to the Sierra, and probably couldn't wait for
the working week to end.
Their first destination was to be Tuolumne Meadows, in Yosemite.
On that same Monday, some eighty miles to the south of Yosemite,
a USGS surveyor, Jim Murphy, had disappeared on Outlook Peak. A search began.
Jim was a federal worker, and two Army bombers were used in the
search together with ground crews, but no trace of the missing man
could be found. According to Los Angeles Times
of Thursday, July 26, Norman Clyde and his climbing partner
from Mt. Whitney's East Face and El Picacho
del Diablo, Glen Dawson, had been asked to
come down from Tuolumne Meadows
to assist in the search. From a followup
article in the newspaper we learn that Murphy's body had been found by members
of his own Survey party the next day. There is a possibility
that Clyde and Dawson were immediately informed
about the tragic ending of the search, and didn't have to leave Yosemite
after all. A day or two later, Anna and Conrad Rettenbacher
arrived at Tuolumne Meadows. Did their path cross with Clyde's? If Clyde
was still there, were the Rettenbachers aware of his presence? No doubt,
they had heard of the legendary climber, and perhaps would have hoped
to meet him one
A week later, the Rettenbachers themselves became
the subjects of a massive search. Los Angeles Times printed two
wire service reports about the Rettenbacher case, but Clyde was not
mentioned in them.
Unknown to Los Angeles Times readers, Clyde's and the
Rettenbachers' stories had briefly overlaped that summer.
For Clyde, it was a sad event quite similar to many others that he had
witnessed. For the couple, it was the end of the road.
Less than eight months after the Rettenbacher accident, Norman Clyde found
himself in great peril. This dark episode from his life began early in 1935,
when Clyde and his friend and occasional climbing partner
William Dulley were wintering at Andrews Camp in the High Sierra.
Nothing unusual for Norman Clyde. Since he didn't
have a permanent dwelling at that time, when fishermen and hikers left
with the first snows, Clyde would frequently spend winters as a paid
caretaker at vacant mountain resorts. Andrews Camp on Bishop Creek was one
ATRIBUTES USED TO DESCRIBE NORMAN CLYDE
IN LOS ANGELES TIMES, 1923-1963
school teacher of Weaverville
member of the Sierra Club
country school teacher
Norman Clyde of Independence
noted mountaineer and writer
the only man who has climbed
all 14,000+ peaks in California
member of the American Alpine Club
experienced mountain climber
one of the best known
mountaineers of the West
one of America's foremost
Norman Clyde of Bishop
former superintendent of schools
Inyo county school teacher
mountaineer of the Sierra Club
an author, and a climber
of many record-breaking feats
the best known mountaineer of the West
expert Sierra Club mountaineer
veteran mountain climber
widely known for his exploratory
trips on high
Norman Clyde of Lone Pine
famous mountain climber
veteran Sierra Club mountaineer
mountaineer Norman Clyde
one of the oldest and most skillful
of the guides in that area
legendary High Sierra figure
It is known that the snow cover was well
above normal during the winter of
but Dulley and Clyde didn't mind: Both were fond of
During the stay in Andrews Camp they had already made several mountain
tops together. On Saturday, April 6, they decided to take food,
sleeping bags and
heavy bed blankets and do another skiing trip over the Sierra crest, from
the east to the west side. The weather forecast,
Clyde would recall later, was favorable.
(How/where did he get the forecast? A battery operated radio?
But he was right, and that weekend's forecast was one of the great blunders
in the history of the Weather
The depth of the snow, according to Clyde, varied from five to thirty
feet. About half way up Piute Pass the wind had swung to the southwest
bringing heavy clouds and a fresh fall of snow. At about 4 p.m.
they reached the pass at 11,428 feet (3,480 meters), then went down the
other side, about a mile below, where they spent the night in a makeshift
camp. The next day it was snowing heavily and they remained there.
On Monday morning, August 8,
the storm was still raging and nearly three feet of new snow had fallen.
They scrapped their plans for further exploration of this region,
and decided to return.
Although Clyde had suggested waiting another day, Dulley thought they could
negotiate the ten miles back to Andrews Camp without running undue risks.
They started the trip back at 9 o'clock in the morning.
What happened next is described in an article in Los Angeles
Times from June 5, 1935.
The climb on skis to Piute Pass through the fresh soft snow was
exhausting, but they made it. It was only downhill from there.
However, the wind was heavy and snow was falling again. About half a
mile below the pass Clyde had to wait because Dulley had fallen behind.
When he finally caught up, he didn't complain or show indications that
anything was wrong. About a mile further, Dulley was out of sight
again. Clyde waited for him at Piute Lake. This time Dulley said he had
had two falls on this section of the trail. They continued together, but
as they struck a field with very soft snow, Dulley veered from Clyde's trail.
Clyde made it to Loch Leven Lake, but by now the wind had doubled in velocity.
"One could not see more than fifty feet and the force of the blizzard was
such that at times I had to prop myself on my ski poles to prevent being
blown over", explained Clyde later to a Los Angeles Times reporter.
Clyde continued slowly, calling his partner frequently, but Dulley was
nowhere in sight. Clyde was still several miles from the relative safety of
Lake Sabrina road. The blizzard seemed to increase in intensity.
It was impossible to go back and search for Dulley. "I figured", said Clyde
to the reporter, "that Dulley, if in trouble could throw away his heavy
pack and follow me without it or crawl into his sleeping bag
and remain there until help should come on the following day".
By that time, Clyde was in big trouble himself: Cold and wet, exhausted, and
no longer feeling his fingers and toes.
At seven in the evening he stumbled into a miner's cabin near
Lake Sabrina, where he spent the night.
|Clyde leading Virginia Adams up the east face of Mt. Whitney,
Photo by Dexter Richards, Jr. From the collection of Dennis G. Kruska (posted with permission).
The next morning was clear and cold. Clyde went back alone over the
trail. At the lower end of Loch Leven Lake he found Dulley's
An autopsy later disclosed a stroke caused by "high altitude, plus cold and
exhaustion". Frost bites on Clyde's hands didn't last long, but his frozen
toes wouldn't heal. Two months later the situation got so bad that Clyde
had to travel to Los Angeles and seek medical treatment in a hospital. He
was met there by the newspaper reporter who then retold the story in the
article entitled Blizzard Tragedy Told by Frozen
Survivor. However, there was one thing
that Clyde didn't tell the reporter. I have had this newspaper clip
in my posession for quite a while,
but only when preparing this Web page did I realize what was
missing in the article. The day of the tragedy on Piute Pass trail,
April 8, 1935, was Norman Clyde's fiftieth birthday!
A lingering question remains:
Would they both have died had Clyde stayed with his distressed friend?
Would they both have survived? You
From other sources, we know that
a month later, Clyde was in the mountains again, and well enough to make eight
more first Sierra ascents during that
Several years later,
in September of 1937, Los Angeles Times reports
of another Clyde climbing success. This time it was his ascent of
Kinnerly Peak, the "highest unscaled peak in Glacier National Park". Clyde
was with three other Sierra Club mountaineers, Ed Hall, Richard K. Hill,
and Braeme Gigos.
In 1939, Norman Clyde's alma mater, Geneva
College, awarded him the degree of Doctor of Sciences in
appreciation of his mountain writings. This got reported to the readers of
Los Angeles Times by Ed Ainsworth in his daily column "Along El
Camino Real". In the war years, and during the early post-war years, Clyde
was mentioned a few more times in the newspaper. In 1942, he found
the wreckage of a crashed Army bomber on the south side of Birch Lake.
A photo-report from 1948
shows him guiding a group of tourists up the Palisade Glacier. In 1950,
Clyde was mentioned in yet another search mission, for two missing boys,
Christopher Reynolds and Stephen Wasserman, who disappeared on
|Chronological distribution of articles about Norman Clyde's
climbing days, published in Los Angeles Times between 1923 and
The last article about Clyde during his lifetime was published in the Sunday
edition of Los Angeles Times on September 22, 1963. This is a
warmly written account of Clyde's fifty years of rambling the High
Sierra, with a nice picture showing him at a Bear Creek camp, enjoying his
morning coffee. It was clear from the article that Clyde continued
to act as a guide to private parties on mountain hiking trips
well into his seventies.
I couldn't get permission from Los Angeles Times to
reproduce the article or the picture, nor could I get the name of the
reporter who wrote the article,
but it was somebody who deeply respected Clyde and his
In the last decades of his life, Norman Clyde
settled in a simple ranch cabin near Big Pine, and lived there of a small
county pension. He died two days before Christmas
He was 87 years old. I have been searching for his obituary in Los Angeles
Times and other major California newspapers, but couldn't find anything.
Was an obituary published? Perhaps
The world had changed significantly since the days when
Clyde first stepped into the Sierra mountains. At the time of Clyde's death,
the heroes of the day were reaching for far higher goals:
America has landed a man on the Moon just a few
years earlier. Compared to such spectacular successes, the life
(and death) of an old High Sierra climber and explorer might not have
looked important enough to new generation of newspaper editors.
Among the documents found upon Clyde's death,
some material was apparently related to the Rettenbacher accident.
This is now cataloged as
"The Vanishing of the Rickenbackers",
in the collection "Norman Clyde Papers, [ca. 1928-1945]", BANC MSS 79/33 c,
The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
It would be interesting to see if this folder contains more than just
from the Examiner, mentioned in William Alsup's book.
(Note also yet another spelling variation of Anna and Conrad's last name!)
It is known that Clyde kept a day-to-day diary ('Field Notebook')
during his most productive climbing years. William Alsup used
Clyde's diary entries from the summer of 1933 to reconstruct some events
related to the Starr search. According to Alsup, the Field Notebook was in the
possession of Clyde scholars David Bohn and Mary Millman. If the Notebook
also covered the summer of 1934, we would be able to reconstruct Clyde's
steps between July 27, 1934 (search for Jim Murphy), and August 15, 1934
(when he joined the Rettenbacher search),
and perhaps even find Clyde's more detailed account of the
Rettenbacher accident. Unfortunately, I was not able to get in touch with
either of the two scholars. It would be wonderful to have
this valuable resource about Clyde available publicly one day.
When asked to sum up his fifty years of lonely rambling through the Sierra
mountains, without many of the basic commodities that most of us
consider necessary to carry on with our lives,
Norman Clyde said to the Los Angeles Times reporter in September 1963:
I sort of went off on a tangent from civilization
and never got
I doubt if there was any bitterness or regret in his voice.
What happened on Banner Peak?
If you have any comment about this part of the Rettenbacher story,
please drop me a line at
indicates that more information is available in the