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chucK has passed away


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I  got terrible news today that our very own @chucK , a long time OG cc.com poster and moderator passed away in a climbing accident in the North Cascades last week.  I'm still processing this info myself and I'm a bit in shock, but I have got the OK to share a bit of information about Chuck Spiekerman's celebrations of life in case you knew him and want to attend.  His friends on this forum were many...he was at tons of CC.com events and was a very active climber.

This thread can also serve as our own memorial to Chuck so if you have any pictures to share  or stories to tell please post them up.

**PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS THREAD IS NOT FOR DISCUSSING THE DETAILS OF THE ACCIDENT.  POSTS TO THAT EFFECT, ALONG WITH OTHER THREADS ANALZYING THE ACCIDENT,  WILL BE DELETED FOR NOW.***  This thread is for celebrating @chucK not discussing what happened last week. There will be a time and place for that sort of talk, but especially since he was one of our own the discussion must not be an armchair speculation but rather about the facts as presented, and abstracted from personal judgements about people.  We will make a time and place for that, but it is not now.  Any discussion would be absent the facts anyway. There is value in discussing accidents so we all learn, or more often, we remember to remain alert and vigilant from absent mindedness in situations. Be careful out there.


The following information was passed along to me (the "I" is not Olyclimber).


I just reserved Denny Creek Campground for Aug. 22 (next Thursday).  Site 34.  Group Site accommodates 35 people and I think dozens of tents.  I plan to be there around 3:00 p.m. and setup up for a potluck.  We can tell Chuck stories, drink bear, barbecue, whatever.

The following day, those who are able will follow Bill and hike with Chuck’s ashes on a trail to the base of the climb that Chuck and Bill started three weeks ago.  Chuck said it was a 4 hr hike one way, Bill, if I heard him correctly, said it was a 5 hr hike.  Mary hurt her foot this morning.  If she is able, we will hike to the base of the climb and spread Chuck’s ashes.  If she is not able, we will do whatever she wants.  It is possible that we won’t have the ashes.  In which case, we will go anyway.


The main point is to get together, share each other’s company, and tell stories about Chuck.  If more than 35 people show up, they can sleep in their car, get a different campsite, whatever.  I am not going to micromanage who camps where or what the menu is.  I just want people to show up, grieve, and celebrate Chuck’s life.



This one will be sometime after UW reconvenes on Sept. 25.  We don’t have the venue yet.  Chuck’s work colleagues, including Kevin, are working on this.  This one will be more formal and better attended.  I envision a few speeches from behind a microphone, powerpoint of pictures of Chuck, maybe even a pastor, although I realize that Chuck wasn’t at all religious

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Very sad news.  I'll miss Chuck's sarcastic sense of humor, his brotherly teasing, his intelligence, and his adventurous and ready spirit.  I spent one of my all-time favorite mountain climbing days with Chuck when we climbed the full North Ridge of Mt. Stuart in a day, which was his idea and turned out great.  It was one of those days of alpine perfection.  We didn't see another human the whole day and we flowed up the route in the glittering sunshine.  I can close my eyes and recall a dozen moments from that day.  Memories that I have cherished to this day, but are now a bit heavier.  Thank you for that day!  I will miss you my friend.

NorthRidgeStuart 017.jpg

Edited by Alpinfox
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Man, pretty surreal. I didn't actually know Chuck through climbing (I'm new to the area), but was part of a weekly get-together with him to play boardgames. We'd chat climbing on occasion, but I had no idea he was such a fixture in the community. Brilliant dude who always seemed to just edge us out (seriously, he won constantly and it was frustrating). He'll certainly be missed and I'm bummed I didn't get a chance to climb with him.

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I first met Chuck in 2001 in the Blue Lake parking lot, waiting out a rainstorm.  We didn't do a lot of trips together, but the ones we did were good ones.  Here he is on the North Ridge of Sherpa in July (Ken Ford photo), leading what we thought was the crux.  He was a great guy; so sad that he's gone.




chuck on sherpa.jpg

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My first climb with Chuck was the East Buttress of Big Snow Mountain (1996) and the last was Argonaut (2016). As many of you know, Chuck had a penchant for writing detailed, entertaining trip reports. Chuck's TR for the '96 climb is appended below. These two climbs had their share of uncertainty, route finding on the rock climbs and descents in the darkness. Throughout these climbs our situations were always in control and composed. I can say I always felt as safe as one could or should feel in the mountains, thanks to Chuck. He was a great mentor for climbing and hiking.  Even on Argonaut, a 54-year old Chuck was as amazing on lead, leading a dirty off-route 5.10+ crux pitch that took us to the summit, as the thirty-something-year-old Chuck who taught a neophyte to climb in the 90's. And Chuck led that off-route crux after almost 11 hours of continuous and sustained hiking and climbing, and he did it in hiking boots. I have to take it back, Chuck was more amazing at 54.

I will fondly remember Chuck, especially on our climbs, our conversations to, from and during our hikes, and the places we all climbed together. I will miss his veiled "post climbing festivities" at many of the summits. I/we wish Chuck could have stayed with us longer. He was a wonderful friend and great outdoorsman. The world is dimmer without him.



East Buttress, Big Snow Mountain
TR by Chuck Spiekerman

The East Buttress of Big Snow Mountain is described in the Becky guide as "10 pitches on very firm granite, 5.7."  Sounded pretty good for an alpine climb in the Cascades.  I liked the sound of "very firm."  Last year I had gone hiking to Hardscrabble Lakes to fish and explore.  The East Buttress looms 1000 feet over Lower Hardscrabble Lake.  It looked big and steep.  I liked the sound of "5.7."

I had a window of two days.  My wife had flown to her parents in Minnesota with our 10-month old on Wednesday afternoon.  At 4:30 pm Saturday I was scheduled to fly to California to go backpacking with my father.  Wednesday night I packed and cleaned (I hate returning from a trip to a trashed house with food rotting in the sink) and got
to bed around 11:30.  I picked up Dave, a novice, but quickly learning, partner at 5:15 am.  We got gas outside of North Bend but were rebuffed in our attempts to buy beer since it wasn't yet 6 am.  I had been looking forward to drinking some ice cold beer stashed in snowfields at the base of the wall.  Oh well.  We got to the trailhead around 7am, shouldered our packs and headed up the abandoned logging road/trail to Lower Hardscrabble Lake.  I was at this point sorta happy that we were beerless.  My pack was heavy!  Quarter mile up the logging road there is an old abandoned crane, crumpled underneath a huge fallen tree.  There must be an interesting story behind that. The way up to the lake is pretty ugly as it makes its way through a clearcut wasteland (renewable resource, hah!)  but becomes nice near the lake.  After the lake is another kind of ugly.  Loose dirt on top of shifting boulders, the kind that is deposited by the avalanches and raging streams of winter, then perched precariously by the slowly melting snow.  We made it to the base of the wall by noon with only one short section of bushwhacking.  Our plan was to climb a few pitches on Thursday afternoon to try to find the route through the first section of roofs since the Becky guide was not too illuminating; "The first serious pitch leads to easier climbing above.  Higher, climb up and left around a slight corner to break through a steep section to a broad ledge system halfway up the buttress."  There is nothing snipped from this description. We found a good way up the first pitch and a good way NOT to continue from there.  We also found out that the granite was indeed solid AND clean, nice, but that protection was quite thin, not nice.  Micro-nuts were employed far too frequently for my liking.  I found 5.7 to be much more nervy when climbing on thin pro while quite far out in the wilderness.  We left an anchor and toprope on the first pitch for the next day.

Friday morning 8 am we began just south of the "snout" of the buttress (the dividing point between the SE and NE facing walls).  I found the most appealing route to the first belay to traverse right up a ramp to just past a left-facing dihedral (with no pro).  A thin crack at this point allows access up to a point where the aforementioned dihedral becomes a more gradual right-leaning ramp split with a giant, clean handcrack.  The day before I gained the same point by traversing right, past the first crack, to a more steep crack.  The first move on the 20' steep crack pulled over a bulge with finger locks then quickly allowed good jams followed by a welcome jug.  This crack was pretty
easy to sew up and probably goes at about 5.8+.

From the first belay we followed a corner up and slightly right then traversed across left at an undercling crack.  The blank (for 5.7) move gaining the undercling crack was protected by a #1 RP (but at least the placement was a perfect #1 RP bottleneck).  The undercling crack took good stoppers.  Too good, there is probably still a #4 rock sticking out of it.  The traverse puts you underneath a 20-foot high, 5-foot wide chimney that is formed by two thick granite fins.  There is a handcrack in the left corner and fun (read "easy") moves up this thing.  I belayed at the top of the chimney anchored by a #1 TCU and a cordelette twisted tight around a giant block.  The next pitch goes almost straight up (just slightly left).  The first move, getting up a steep 6 foot corner was sorta scary due to lack of protection and pretty good exposure.  After that, the angle dropped off significantly as well as did any placements for protection.  I placed a Lowe Tri-cam in a shallow flaring crack that I was not happy about.  I ran it out to near the end of the rope and set up a belay with 3 equalized micro-nuts and one bomber #2 rock.  Besides the iffy anchor, the belay was uncomfortable, somewhat slopey.  I think next time I'll look to belay earlier or try to traverse to a crack on the right.  The next  pitch was only about 100-120 feet so a lower belay point wouldn't slow you down. We brought no SLCD's bigger than a #2 TCU.  I think there were quite a few placements in which cams up to say a #3 friend would have been preferable to our assortment of Tri-cam's and Hexes.

The fourth pitch tackled the "steeper" section.  This was a fairly continuous slightly overhanging 10 foot wall.  I led a runout but gradual slab 40 feet up to directly underneath the wall where there was good pro.  Then I traversed right, over a 4 foot step and around a corner.  Solid jams around the corner and pretty good pro.  Around another corner is a 45 degree sloping ramp which forms a break in the wall.  This looked blank and protectionless.  The left side of the ramp has a block in a corner that you can climb onto then surmount the steep wall.  Above is a small tree for a belay.  We had now reached the "broad ledge system."  We stretched the rope over 3rd class terrain and had a quick lunch at 1 pm.

On the fifth pitch I climbed an initial 30 foot blocky section then ran along the large ledge right until the end of the rope.  This pitch would certainly not require a belay.  

Note: next time try doing a more ascending line rightward up blocky terrain to reach the base of an 80 foot left-facing dihedral just right of the buttress crest.  It looks like an interesting line.  It may be too hard or lead to nowhere but surely it can't be worse than most of what we did after pitch 6.  The right side of the dihedral is formed by a column with a top(?) so there should be a nice belay at top as well as rappel point if it blanks out after that.

At this point, time was a definite consideration.  The top didn't look too far away (foreshortening I guess). It seemed doable to get there and still leave an hour or so of daylight for the descent.  But, we would have to take the easiest way possible and that appeared to be right of the crest up ledge systems covered with scrub pines and heather.  For the sixth pitch I traversed far to the right to get to the base of a left leaning ramp/flake system, then up the system. This was some nice climbing with good pro (medium to big hexes mostly).

Pitch seven was the pitch from hell.  I had decided to belay at the top of the sixth pitch just below what appeared to be a large ledge since where I was there was adequate pro and usually once you pull over onto a big heathery ledge there is none.  Besides, I was pretty much out of rope.  Good thing I stopped where I did as on the next lead I found no pro over dirt/heather film on gradual rock for 50 feet.  Sufficiently wigged at this point I traversed far right in order to sling a tree even though the route went left. Heading back on route I found myself looking at a steep gully/dihedral with seemingly no pro.  I tried a number of alternatives but the left-leaning gully was the way to go.  It looked dirty but actually turned out to be nice climbing (solid stemming) with excavatable pro placements.  Unfortunately, the placements were all fairly directional (downward pull) and were ALL eventually yanked out by the rope pulling sideways from the tree at the far-right. No falls, luckily, and I groveled up to and straight through some large bushy junipers (good pro yeah!). I gave myself a very becoming slash across the upper lip. This pitch took a long time because of all the vacillating I did over route direction.  I'm not sure how I could do anything differently the next time except to run it out the 80 feet to the steep gully, where the pro would (probably) be good without the sideways pull.

Pitches 8 and 9 were forgettable grovels straight up through the juniper.  Good pro, quick easy climbing, but not very aesthetic.  We stayed just right of the crest.  When we did reach rock again, the rock appeared to be getting much lower in quality (lots of loose big flakes and blocks).  There is a particularly dangerous loose piece about the size of a VCR perched at the top of a 20 foot orange chimney near the top of the ninth pitch.

It's starting to get very shadowy in the valleys below (the wall we're on faces East) and I'm seriously worried about being benighted.  A spire marking the top of the buttress is now within a rope length of us.  We are under and left of it.  I know the walkoff goes right and decide to traverse underneath the spire to the right.  There is a nice ledge going underneath and what looks like a fairly gradual step to the top at the end.  The ledge is quite exposed, good feet but not much for your hands.  Pro is scarce.  I get to the end of the rope and find a nice vertical crack.  Oh no!  I cam my hand in the crack to test the stability and a totem approximately 1 foot in diameter and 9 feet tall shifts and grates!  I'm at the end of the rope, with only marginal pro 30 feet previously, so I'm forced to make do with two small pieces in a nearby crack and belay right next to the big scary loose thing.  I hope Dave doesn't fall.  It's a basically horizontal traverse with minimal pro, belayed by two small chocks.  He didn't fall.  Pheeew!

It is now minutes before darkness.  While belaying Dave up, I've been scanning the cliff bands to the North to memorize how to get down them in the dark.  Dave arrives at the belay.  We break out the headlamps, or try to.  Dave's lamp is deep in his backpack underneath the second rope.  Lots of cussing and fighting with the backpack and its contents while teetering on our little perch.  The strain is beginning to show on the unflappable Dave.

I've got a Petzl Micro and he's got the bigger Zoom.  Dave lets me take the Zoom since I'm leading.  I head out right on pretty good holds and, as usual, sparse pro.  It's basically one move at a time since darkness has completely descended.  About 30 feet out right and up I come to total blankness.  No way to continue to the passage up and off the wall.  Damn!  After much wallowing in self-pity I know I must downclimb back to the belay.  At the belay I propose that I go back across the hairy traverse and try to get up to the ridge-crest on the left of the spire.  Dave agrees and I head off.  Soon after I take off Dave yells that if this doesn't get us to the top we should call it a night.  This is probably prudent, but I sure don't like the idea of shivering on some little belay ledge all night.  I find more pro reversing the traverse and get to the top of a what was a balancy mantle.  No thanks, I instead continue left on heathery ledges with small trees for pro and come to a spot that looks like it will allow upward travel.  A few moves put me in a steep spot with no pro.  As I've done the entire climb, I scratch at anything that looks like a crack with my chock-pick.  This time I find a very thin crack and set a #1 BD stopper.  I remember the strength rating of this thing is something like 900 lbs and decide to aid the next move.  I fashion an aider out of my cordelette by tying it into three loops.  Fighting massive rope drag I step up the loops to gain a ledge.  A short traverse and I'm at the top!  It's not yet apparent that we can get around to the walk-down from here but at least this would be a much more roomy and comfortable place to bivy.

The trials are not completely over.  It turns out that my batteries died on Dave in the middle of the ledge traverse (the extra batteries nice and cozy at the base of the wall).  On top of that he almost pitched off when he tested a piece I told him to down climb from pulled. He told me later that when the rattly hex pulled out he was sure it was the end, but somehow managed to latch on to a nubbin.  After calming down, he brailled himself across the ledge to where I could illuminate his path from above.  He made it up the part I aided without "cheating" and we were both at the top!  We split our two remaining swallows of water in celebration.

Argonaut Charles at summit.JPG

Argonaut summit selfie.JPG

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wise sir do not grieve

it is always better to avenge dear ones

than to indulge in mourning

for every one of us living in this world

means waiting for our end

let he who can achieve glory before death

when a warrior is gone

that will be his best and only bulwark 

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Well shiet! My sincerest condolences to his family and close friends.

I did not know him well but ChucK and I climbed one day together. I was late driving from Leavenworth to Index (not untypical back in my 20's) 
We climbed a bunch of routes on LTW and then drove up to Static Point to climb "On Line" since I had never climbed it and always wanted to...

ChucK led the first few pitches in one or two leads and I led the crux pitch. It was so bloody hot I could not stick to the slab so I moved over to "Off Line" and finished the slab on that route. It was amazing climbing with such a great human. I will never forget the day I climbed rocks with ChucK. I still want to climb "On Line" as I have yet to go back that giant slab.

ChucK later told me it was one of the hottest day's ever in Seattle, the day we chose to climb Static Point in July of 2002 or 2003 or 2004? We both laughed and agreed it was worth it!

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Here are some oldies.   Some  Line Yo Mamma Don't Like in the Gunks in 1993 as well as the "middle queen" of the Three Queens in '93.   We climbed all those familiar peaks in the background, of course.  We had matching helmets, harnesses, rock shoes, fleece... soo sappy.  And, of course, we thought we were on the way to being such Badasses.      We made up our own online registry at REI in 93 because there wasn't such a thing back then.   Got Friends from Friends.   I had purchased the old red B2600 in 92 and had driven it out to New York for my post doc.   We drove it back to Seattle together in 94 ...took us like 3 (4?) weeks .... did a few climbs along the way.   I am not bothering to PS these images.   




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14 hours ago, JasonG said:

I am very sorry for your loss @mjemond, thanks for those memories.

The lessons and the good times are not lost.   In fact, the good times keep getting gooder.  And we teased each other, too.   On one trip to the Olympics, Chuck was telling me how he was going to "teach" me the major differences in consideration between the Cascades and Olympics.  He even sacrificed his "Favorite T-shirt" to demonstrate: it poured rain about 60% of the trip and was hot and humid for the remainder.   One night when it wasn't raining, he spread that shirt out over some branches to try to dry the sweat some.   You know where it ends ... inside some goats.   I will never forget the look on his face in the morning when we figured out what happened.   GumpyCat.  OMG, I am laughing right now.  So cathartic.     And I fell down laughing then.    GrumpyCat2  And then I was unconsciously humming Bill Grogan's goat on the trail back... GrumpyCat3    Eh, he had a hundred Favorite T-shirts.  No biggee, there.    

He never let bad stuff get him down, at least not for more than an hour.   I am working on figuring out how he did that.   He was happy every day, shared a lot, and dreamed of retiring early to the mountains.   He didn't suffer; that we know.   It is just we who have to figure out how to fill them gap.

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