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A Climber We Lost: Dr. Richard Thurmer

Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

Dr. Richard Thurmer, Jr.  66, March 27, 2022

Dr. Richard (Rick) Thurmer, Jr. was a lifelong climber and adventurer whose love for the mountains drew him to all seven continents. He began climbing at age 12, when he summited Mount Whitney with his father. Rick spent the next 54 years as a dedicated mountaineer, traveling to the far reaches of the globe to summit the world’s highest peaks, always with a reverence for foreign cultures and landscapes. Rick lost his life during a solo ascent on the Triple Couloirs on Dragontail Peak in the Cascades.

Rick balanced his climbing passion with a 33 year medical career as a family practitioner and urgent care physician. He also had a full family life, raising three sons with his beloved wife, Allie. At the time of his passing, Rick and Allie lived in Washington State, not far from the Cascade range.

Rick and Allie met in 1978 and became close friends. For two years, while Allie was in the Peace Corps, Rick sent her letters and care packages.“I just loved his letters,” Allie said. “He could talk to me about anything. He was very open. It was a beautiful friendship that blossomed into our marriage.”

Dr. Richard Thurmer on the summit of the Matterhorn
Dr. Thurmer (center in yellow Jacket) on top of the Matterhorn. Together with his son, Ryan, and friend Victor Saunders, Dr. Thurmer climbed the Matterhorn from the Italian side on Aug 12, 2015, the 150th anniversary year of its first summit. (Photo: Ryan Thurmer)

After marrying in 1984, Rick and Allie loved to travel together, visiting places like Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Nepal. Though not a dedicated climber, Allie sometimes climbed with Rick on his expeditions, enjoying the landscapes, wildlife, and cultures of each region. Many vacations included climbing one of the 50 highest points in America together and they loved visiting the National Parks. 

“He insisted that we not wait to travel.” Allie said. “Some people wait until they retire, but they may not be able to travel or do what they’ve planned for. It’s better to just travel your whole life.”

Rick began his quest for the Seven Summits in 1974, when at just 18 years old, he became the youngest person at that time to have summited Aconcagua (22,837 feet), the highest peak in South America. 

During his many expeditions, if ever there was a person in need, Dr. Thurmer was sure to come to their aid. While climbing on Everest in 2010, Rick carried out a rescue of the young British climber Bonita Norris. Rick, Norris, and her sherpa all summited around the same time. Rick began to descend first, making it to the South Summit (28,700 feet), when he decided to stop and wait for Norris and her sherpa. 

As it turned out, Norris had fallen near the summit, injuring her neck, and was making extremely slow progress down the mountain. Rick waited for them for nearly two hours before they reached the South Summit.  The sherpa descended quickly to bring back help and more oxygen, while Norris’s condition rapidly declined. She began showing signs of HACE. 

Rick gave Norris one of his gloves as she had lost hers, and proceeded to shortrope her down the Hillary Step and almost all the way to Camp Four before help arrived. Rick also defrosted a vile of frozen Dexamethasone in his gloved hand for Norris. Rick returned to his tent after a continuous 25 hour push and suffered frostbite on his exposed hand. When Rick and Norris arrived at Everest Base Camp, Norris hugged Allie who was waiting for them and said Rick had saved her life. Upon returning home, Rick won two awards for his bravery, from the American Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of America.

“Bonita called me two days after he had passed,” Allie said. “She was so upset. Bonita said if it wasn’t for Rick she wouldn’t be here and she wouldn’t have her little girl.” 

In addition to  climbing the highest peak on each continent, Rick also climbed six out of the seven second highest peaks—a feat considered far more challenging than the more famous seven summits. Rick was especially proud of his ascent of Antarctica’s Mount Tyree (15,919 feet). He was the 12th person to summit that mountain. Rick loved climbing with his guide and long time friend Victor Saunders. They climbed 17 mountains together on all the continents, including Mount Tyree in Antarctica.

K2 is the only summit of the second highest summits that Rick did not reach. On an attempt in 2019, his team made it to Camp Three but turned back due to poor snow conditions. Resolute, Rick was planning on returning to K2 in 2022. He had his guide service and airline tickets booked. “He was training for that trip when he passed,” Allie said. “That’s why he was in the Triple Couloir on Dragontail Peak. He felt it was necessary to train at high altitude year round.”

Rick passed away while soloing Dragontail Peak. Near the top of the Triple Couloir, the snow sloughed under Rick’s feet sending him to the base of the Triple Couloir on the north face of Dragontail Peak.

“Solo climbing wasn’t unusual for him,” Allie said. “He’d done that for many years and felt that it was an important challenge.” 

Dr. Thurmer on Mt. Tyree, the second highest in Antarctica.
Dr. Thurmer was the 12th person to summit Mt Tyree, the second highest in Antarctica, 50 years after the first ascent. He brought his 12th man Seahawks flag and got a picture at the summit. Rick was, as usual, climbing with Victor Saunders in Antarctica. (Photo: Victor Saunders)

Hundreds of people attended Rick’s funeral. Allie described her home after Rick’s passing as looking like a botanical garden, with the innumerable floral gifts from Rick’s family, friends, climbing partners, patients, and other people whose lives he touched. He is survived by Allie; his three sons: Sean, Derek, and Ryan; and five grandsons.

All of Rick’s progeny are climbers. Rick taught Allie, his sons, and grandsons to climb and they shared many adventures together. “It didn’t seem to matter where we were, if there was something to climb he and the kids would climb it,” Allie said. Rick loved to say he was “Living the Dream.” 

Rick’s Obituary concluded with “We love you Rick and we miss you so much. You are still with us, just on a higher summit. Until we meet again.”

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.

—Bennett Slavsky