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A Climber We Lost: Richard Leversee

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.

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

Rich Leversee, 63, January 12

The renowned climber/adventurer Richard Leversee passed away on January 12, 2022, in Morro Bay, California. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Cari, who died in 2017. Leversee, born in 1958, was 63 at the time of his passing.

In his freshman year in high school, Richard signed up for a basic rock-climbing class offered at an outdoor shop in Pasadena, California. He had previously escaped the trappings of city life by backpacking; but mere hiking into the mountains was not adventurous or challenging enough to hold his attention. Climbing seemed like a logical next step to more exhilarating outdoor escapades. Richard was hooked after his first climb, and climbing became his “religion and the climbing community was his tribe,” as he was fond of saying.

Richard Leversee deep in his beloved Sierra, on the Angel Wings, Sequoia & Kings Canyon. (Photo: E.C. Joe)

While still in high school, Richard “discovered” the Needles and Dome Rock, world-class granite climbing venues near his family’s cabin in the Sequoia National Forest, and became inspired. The next several years were spent honing his skills at the Needles, Dome Rock, Hermit Spire, and other crags in the Kern Canyon and Western Divide area of the Southern Sierra and putting up a long list of new routes. Just a few of his works that stood out were: the Needles—White Punks on Dope, Imaginary Voyage, The Light Side; Dome Rock—Saucer Full of Secrets, Lighting’s Hand, Close to the Edge, Windjammer, The Spectrum, and Future Times.

When I met Richard in the spring of 1978, he was living in the family cabin at Camp Nelson, was 20 years old, and already had several El Cap routes under his belt. I had been climbing off-and-on just two years, was 10 years older than him, and had no idea that I was meeting the person who would teach me how to climb with enthusiasm and courage. He taught me the basics of aid climbing, how to drill and place bolts effectively, and how to “read the rock.”

Richard’s role models were bold climbers like Layton Kor, Royal Robbins, Fred Beckey, John Long, and Jim Bridwell; he emulated them in his passion, style of climbing, and quest for adventure. He believed that climbers who put up new routes should possess a fundamental knowledge of climbing history in order to contextualize their own ethics and efforts. He embraced “clean” climbing and believed that first ascentionists should use a minimum of bolts or fixed pins, utilize as many of the natural features as possible in order to minimize the impact on the rock, and keep the challenge and adventure in the climb. Future Times and White Death on Dome Rock are great examples of Richard’s bold, minimalist approach, epitomize his style, and are considered very runout by todays standards. A couple days after our first climb together, Richard came by the construction site where I worked and handed me copies of Big Wall Climbing, Basic Rockcraft, The Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra, and A Climber’s Guide to Yosemite Valley, and said, “You need to read these.”

Richard Leversee
Richard Leversee as a young man. After a paragliding accident, he left climbing and other outdoor sports behind and became a practitioner of the healing arts. (Photo: Sally Leversee Collection)

He would soon share his extensive knowledge of the history and adventure of the Kern River area by writing a climbing guide to Dome Rock in 1980. He then co-authored, with E.C. Joe, the first rock-climbing guide to the entire area, the Stonemasher Rock Climbing Guide to the Kern River Canyon and Environs in 1983.

Soon after, Richard left the area to go to school and become an English teacher, but his heartfelt passion for climbing adventure and the outdoors led him instead to a “dream job” as a sales representative for Chouinard Equipment, later Black Diamond, which afforded him many more opportunities for backcountry adventure.

For the next 13 years “on the road,” Richard would gain a reputation as a highly accomplished rock climber, ice climber, skier, snowboarder, photographer, and Sierra adventurer. He eventually got tired of living out of a duffel bag and lugging boxes of gear around, and settled down in Truckee, California, with Cari, the love of his life.

In 1987, Richard survived a “life-changing” paraglider crash that put him in the hospital for two weeks and caused him to suffer severe, chronic pain for years. The accident and subsequent pain would be the catalyst for him to finally give up his outdoor endeavors, study the healing arts, and become a massage therapist focused on “holistic…body, mind and spirit” healing as per his website. He made his life’s purpose giving better health to others.

Even years after he’d quit climbing, Richards passion for backcountry adventure never waned. If one engaged him in conversation about his exploits, he was immediately sparked. His face would brighten with a smile, and his voice would inflect with the joy and enthusiasm of the days when he was planning some major first ascent in the High Sierra.

He leaves behind a trove of first ascents, explorations, and plans for climbs he never got to.

One of his most frequent climbing partners, E.C. Joe, summed it up: “There were many timeless adventures we had shared, labeled by mere route names, grades, and ratings. The adventure was what Richard cherished the most.”

Doing a handstand on top of the Warlock, the Needles, Kern River Canyon, California. (Photo: E.C. Joe)

We will miss you, Richard Leversee.

—Patrick Paul

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