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Senior mountaineers led the way for rising stars

CLIMBING — Bill Fix and Joe Collins — two legendary Spokane Mountaineers — celebrated Joe's 89th birthday Sunday. They are especially known for taking a couple of young upstart climbers under their wings 50 years ago and launching them toward the top of the world. 

Fix and Collins were among the Spokane club's teams that made pioneering climbs throughout the region and especially in the Canadian mountains anywhere within striking distances of the epic three-day trips they'd make with barely enough time to return home to go to work again on Monday.

Nearly 50 years ago, a recent graduate of the venerable Spokane Mountaineers Mountain School, John Roskelley, was assigned during the Mountaineers Summer Outing to the Grand Tetons to rope up with Fix for the technical rock-climbing portion of their ascent of Mount Moran. Fix filed the trip report (see photos above) in the club's journal, the Autumn 1965 Kinnikinnick: "A special commendation is due John Roskelley for his help in route finding and leading to the summit from Drizzlepuss. At 16, he has to be dubbed 'most promising new climber.'"

  • Roskelley later rose to the top of the heap of the world's mountaineers, a career honored this spring in Italy as he became the first American and sixth recipient of the Golden Ice Axe award (Les Piolets D'or). Although Fix had an eye for  Roskelley's climbing prowess, perhaps nobody could have foreseen that he would one day be on the same mountaineering lifetime achievement list as Walter Bonatti, Reinhold Messner, Doug Scott, Robert Paragot and Kurt Diemberger. 

Joe Collins recalled in the 1960s chauffeuring Roskelley and another teen Mountain School graduate, Chris Kopczynski, for a club climb of 9,131-foot Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades near Mount Baker.  

"Chris ate all three-days worth of food the first day," Collins recalled.  "He came to me and said, 'Joe!  Joe!  My food's all gone,' as I had all of my food neatly organized in front of me." 

Kopczynski, a standout wrestler in high school and later at the NCAA level, reportedly said, 'What should I do, Joe?' as he looked longingly at Collins's food, each meal for each day wrapped and labeled. 

"I put each package in my stuff sack, pulled the drawstring tight and put it in my pack and said, 'Next time you will remember.  Let's go climbing.'"

  • Kopcyznski learned his lessons well. His long list of climbing accomplishments include joining Roskelley in 1974 to become the first American team to climb the North Face of the Eiger; becoming the ninth American to climb Mount Everest, and completing the Seven Summits by 1994.