Norman Clyde and Life on Mountain Trails

Norman Clyde taught, read, guided mountain climbs and rescues.  “Norman Clyde still guided parties into the Sierra into the 1960s, when he was in his seventies. In the 1950s and 1960s, he lived by himself at the old Baker ranch-house on Baker Creek near Big Pine. Because he was trained in the classics, Norman Clyde loved to read books in Latin and Greek. At the Baker ranch-house, Clyde had thousands of rare classical books. At age 80, he was still sleeping outside the ranch-house on a mattress and sleeping bag, as long as it was fair weather.”

The above photograph on the cover of the magazine, Climbing, I have kept since a friend of mine, Mark Garlin, gave me the magazine in 1972.  Norman Clyde died later that year, December, 1972, at the age of 87.  I have kept the magazine at my ready shelf since that time because of my love of climbing mountains and the presence of strength and fortitude in Clyde’s face and posture.  Despite age, he has tools of his love and trade beside him:  rope, ice axe, and rucksack.

When I have climbed mountains by way of trail and path, not rope nor ice axe, I have met young and old, educated and not, rich and poor, and men and women who love the outdoors and the challenge of a good climb.  Without fail, those that are on the trail take an interest in the columbine and rushing waters and all the conifers in high country.  Oh, the trees: ponderosa pine, spruce, juniper, pinion.  There is learning in the austere mountain trail that is both external and internal.  In the external, one sees and usually identifies geological formations, the topography, the magpies and jays, and the trees.  Internally, the lessons run deep and are formative, even in old age.

Norman Clyde in the photograph above was in his eighties.  The perseverance in his climbing is found off the slopes in building strawbale compounds (as my good friend, Jimmy Henley, was doing at the time of his death in his seventies), performing the arts, climbing trees as a trimmer, and pursuing goals in getting a degree.  If ever you think you are too old, think of Norman Clyde on the front cover, the mountains behind and the tools of his adventure about him.  Clyde will climb until his body fails.

As I wrote, I keep Clyde’s photograph on my ready shelf.  If he can climb at his age, I can hike and build fence and mountaineer at my age.  As I climb in the high country, three questions arise:  What am I doing here?  What should I do?  And, how do I know?  The answers are simple and complex.  I am hiking.  I am hiking.  I know I am hiking in this moment at my pace, walking among the trees, hearing birds, seeing and hearing rushing waters, touching ground, seeing the sky as I meet others on the trail.  Those are my three answers.  In a sense, those are everyone’s answers.  Until our bodies fail.   Norman Clyde, front cover, Norma Clyde, front cover….


Photograph of Norman Clyde by David Hiser.

Quote in first paragraph from Wikipedia, “Norman Clyde,” accessed Aug. 23, 2016.

The three questions in the last paragraph are derivative from my course in philosophy at University of Texas at Austin, 1961.  On the Philosophy Department’s website page (at least a couple of years ago) those questions were posed in a slightly different way.

I climbed with Mark Garlin, my friend who gave me the magazine.  He lectured at the Air Force Academy in the 1970s on climbing and survival in the mountains.




Filed under Adventure, Juniper, Recollections 1966-1990, Recollections 1990-

7 responses to “Norman Clyde and Life on Mountain Trails

  1. Jack, you are right about Jimmy’s perseverance. More than once he cited his “persistance” as the key to finishing the building process, no matter how long it took. I am trying to channel that perseverance as I work to finish it in his name. C

    • Yes, he had a drive to accomplish what he started. I know you will finish the work and it will be artful and stunning. I could see that when I was there and in the photographs you have posted. Take care and know you are always in my thoughts, Caralee.

  2. I really enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing the history about Mr. Clyde.

  3. Your three questions are apt: ” What am I doing here? What should I do? And, how do I know?” They fit nicely with something I said recently to a friend: “I will turn 70 this year. I expect to have twenty more years, give or take. I do not intend to waste them on the boring, the irrelevant, or the stupid.”

    I may not climb mountains, but I have plans. And I’m passing this on to two climbers who stop by my blog. One lives in Montana, and rehabbed a knee replacement to get bath on the mountain trails. The other is in the Alps, right now. They’ll both appreciate this post — as did I.

  4. Kristen Davenport

    Hello, lovely post. The house pictured belongs to my brother-in-law, my sister, and his family. We are growing vegetables out back- winter squash, potatoes, and this fall an acre of garlic. Feel free to e-mail me and stop by next time you’re around. 🙂

  5. Kristen, thank you. I certainly will stop by for a short visit. I am still looking at property there in the Llano San Juan area. You are growing so many wonderful crops there. I will definitely check in with you and am interested in the variety of crops you are growing. My daughter and son-in-law have a place in Taos so I have many reasons to relocate there.

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