Sunday, January 22, 2006

A tribute to John Carr

John Carr on top Sawtooth North, February 2005
This is becoming all too frequent and painful.
I got word Friday that fellow Glacier Mountaineering Society climber John Carr of Shelby had died at home. He was only 52.
This was the third GMS climbing companion of mine who has died in the last two-and-a-half years.
Jane Edwards of Berkeley, CA died last fall, and her father, J. Gordon Edwards of San Jose, CA died while climbing Divide peak in Glacier in July 2004. J. Gordon was the patron saint of Glacier climbers and 84 at the time of his death from natural causes. Jane had followed in her father’s footsteps and had a leadership role in this climbing society. She was in her 50s, like John Carr.
I was more likely to climb and cross country ski with Carr than the Edwards because of John’s proximity to Great Falls.
Along with his wife, April, I’ve had wonderful times I’ll always remember.
Although I had first skied with John not long after the Carrs moved to Montana from their native Texas, things picked up accidentally.
About seven years ago I was skiing solo up Waldron Creek in the Rocky Mountain Front near the Teton Pass Ski Area northwest of Choteau when I picked up some tracks and thought I could easily catch the person in Front of me. WRONG. John was such a conditioned athlete that I could catch him only when he was taking a break beneath the bowl at the turnaround.
It was great to find someone as crazy as me who would ski into Waldron bowls alone.
Since then we had trips like the Floral Park Traverse from Logan Pass to Lake McDonald via Hidden Lake, Sperry Glacier and Comeau Pass, the High Porphyry backcountry ski in the Little Belts, several Marias Pass to Glacier Park Lodge ski trips, a South Fork of Two Medicine River loop ski, Sawtooth, Mount Frazier, Cave and Ear mountain climbs in the Rocky Mountain Front, West Butte climb in the Sweet Grass Hills, and a memorable winter ski to Kintla Lake requiring a crossing of the North Fork of the Flathead River in hip waders.
We could count on seeing the Carrs at the annual Banff Film Festival opening in Great Falls.
This was a guy with a great sense of humor who once left his card at the top of Mount Clements offering the finder free dental work at his dentistry practice. When I heard it was there I climbed the mountain and got the card, but never cashed in.
He was only half joking when he talked about the Hi-Line Backcountry Ski Association that swept the Autumn Creek trail in Glacier, making sure the sometimes difficult-to-follow trail was properly marked during the winter.
He determined that the perfect climbing food was Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll that is sweet, energy-filled and doesn’t melt in your pack. He’d hold up the bar for display when photos were taken during GMS sanctioned climbs. Then he would send the photos to the company suggesting that it send samples as a reward for promoting the brand. He scored free nut rolls this way.
Carr would make me laugh when he described his cross country skis as “dogs” that would “bark” as he worked the backcountry.
That sense of humor translated into an annual party honoring his Texas heritage at his home that included prizes like Lone Star beer for those who could answer Texas trivia questions while sampling his excellent chili. He brought out all those hidden Texans living up on the Hi-Line.
I enjoyed his occasional needle while writing a column for many years at the Great Falls Tribune. He once got into it after writing a letter to the Choteau Acantha lamenting the loss of Katy’s Wildlife Refuge when that bar changed its name.
John (and April) was an accomplished mountain climber who scaled Glacier’s six highest peaks over 10,000 feet.
I enjoyed finding his name ahead of mine in peak registers when he would beat to a particular mountain top. He took to leaving new registers that we climbers love.
Life won’t be the same without John’s slow Texas drawl to spice up our flat middle American group-talk, or his wit to keep us on our toes.
I know he struggled with darkness, but to his friends he was a bright light who can’t be replaced.

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