Tragedy Follows First Ascent in Nepal

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November 23, 2015 - Montana climber Justin Griffin died on November 14 while descending with Skiy DeTray from a new route on 21,463-foot Tawoche in Nepal’s Khumbu region. His life was celebrated this past Saturday at a memorial in his adopted home of Bozeman.

Griffin and DeTray spent their first few weeks in Nepal trekking into the Khumbu and working on construction at the Khumbu Climbing Center. They then spent November 8 to 14 climbing their new line on Tawoche’s northeast buttress, around the corner to the right (north) from the landmark Fowler-Littlejohn route (1995). Early in the morning on the 14th, they topped out the northeast buttress and decided they didn’t have the energy to climb up the crevassed and avalanche-prone slopes leading to the true summit; instead, they descended a snow gully to the east, downclimbing mostly unroped. Very near the bottom of the descent, Griffin slipped while climbing down a short, easy ice step and fell to the bottom of the face. DeTray was unable to revive him.

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Griffin, 35, grew up in Kentucky and lived in recent years in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Laura “Fats” Love-Griffin. He worked as an architectural designer and builder, and the two had recently purchased a horse stable and teaching facility for riders. They had a young daughter, Alice.

Griffin climbed extensively in Montana and elsewhere, with many first ascents, including a nearly 3,000-foot ice and mixed route on Barronette Peak climbed last February with Whit Magro.

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Kyle Dempster, another friend and climbing parther, said in an email, “In the 10 years that I've known Justin, he and I have climbed extensively in Zion and the Utah desert, made two trips to Alaska, did a 17-hour ascent of the Wild Thing (Mt. Chephren, Canadian Rockies), did a free ascent of the Lowe-Spark on Haystack Peak in the Winds, Logical Progression on Mexico's El Gigante, and tons of ice around Bozeman. This was his first trip to the Himalaya.

“I don't think Justin had a single enemy,” Dempster continued. “His warmth, consideration, and care for others were a solid reminder to never judge. His energy was fueled by copious amounts of coffee and temperated only after huge days in the mountains. His optimism when situations were less ideal made him a comforting and grounding climbing partner. He was a fantastic listener, and with a caring ear would politely inquire into how one was doing. This is what I will most miss, as his friendship helped me past some of the most difficult moments in my life…. Work hard, play hard, and love your family was essentially his motto. He lived well and is greatly missed.”

Sources: Skiy DeTray, Kyle Dempster, Alpinist.com, Bozeman Daily Chronicle