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Many flock to Yosemite to say goodbye to Jim 'the Bird' Bridwell

Posted on: May 29, 2018


Yosemite Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds speaks at the memorial service for Jim Bridwell on May 19. [Photo] Ed HartouniYosemite Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds speaks at the memorial service for Jim Bridwell on May 19. [Photo] Ed Hartouni

On Saturday, May 19, climbers from around the country gathered at the Lower River Amphitheater in Yosemite Valley to share their remembrances of Jim Bridwell.

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Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds welcomed the crowd, and the audience heard from a list of accomplished climbers who had been mentored by Bridwell. The speakers expressed different facets of Bridwell's life in climbing, his reputation as a "hardman" and his love of family. Dave Diegelman, Dale Bard, Dick Dorworth, Ron Kauk, Mike Graham, Lynn Hill, Jim Donini, Randy Leavitt and Doug Robinson, among many others, told stories of their time with Jim.

"Bridwell brought so many people together from so many generations," Ron Gomez, one of the key organizers, told Alpinist afterward. Gomez first met Bridwell in Yosemite during the 1970s and developed a closer friendship with him after they reconnected and started spending more time together in 2005. "It was a great weekend—people were smiling; they weren't crying like you often see at a memorial. Jim would've been happy about that. Peggy [Bridwell's wife] was thrilled to see everyone who came out."

Lynn Hill (far right) stands next to Mike Graham and Ron Kauk (both leaning against the tree), and Dave Diegelman is second from the left, among other unidentified attendees. [Photo] Ed HartouniLynn Hill (far right) stands next to Mike Graham and Ron Kauk (both leaning against the tree), and Dave Diegelman is second from the left, among other attendees. [Photo] Ed Hartouni

Mike Graham. [Photo] Ed HartouniMike Graham. [Photo] Ed Hartouni

The gathering to honor the life of Jim Bridwell in Yosemite's Lower River Amphitheater. [Photo] Ed HartouniThe gathering to honor the life of Jim Bridwell in Yosemite's Lower River Amphitheater. [Photo] Ed Hartouni

Mike Graham, a member of the Stonemasters and the early Yosemite Search and Rescue team (YOSAR), for which Bridwell was a driving force, reminded the audience that "a man dies twice: once with his last breath, and then when his name is last spoken," prophesizing that as long as there are climbers in Yosemite Valley, Jim Bridwell will not die.

"The Park Service really busted their butts for this event," said Gomez, who helped arrange campsites for attendees, and who noted in a May 16 SuperTopo.com post that the Yellow Pine Campground had been flooded, but the Park Service worked hard to prepare the sites and have the space ready in time.

The Yosemite Climbing Association was also instrumental in the event while Gomez, Bard and Diegelman provided crucial support to pull off the huge gathering. A traditional Ahwahneechee blessing was given by Julia and Lucy Parker. The mother and daughter are members of the Coast Miwok and Kashaya Pomo tribes. They are known for basket weaving and for their work to preserve Indigenous cultural history.

[Alpinist Digital Editor Derek Franz contributed to this story. Franz wrote a memorial to Bridwell for Alpinist 62, which is now available in our online store and will soon be available on newsstands. Alpinist 62 also contains a feature by Joe Whittle that discusses the history of Indigenous people and public lands.—Ed.]

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