Vail Daily letter: Remembering Dick Pownall |

Vail Daily letter: Remembering Dick Pownall

On Feb. 1, a full house gathered at the Donovan Pavilion to celebrate the life of Richard "Dick" Pownall. We celebrated the life of a world class mountaineer, Vail pioneer, tireless volunteer at our many World Cup ski races, father, husband and an all around quiet and good friend. There were many references to Dick's mountaineering accomplishments in the Tetons, on Everest and locally in Colorado. But, missed was a little insight into Dick Pownall, the mountaineering guide.

Here I can fill in the blanks a little with my experience as a client of Dick's in a group climb of the Grand Teton in August of 1958:

• Sizing up the client: As a young guy from Wisconsin, on leave as a draftee from the U.S Army, Dick asked if I had any climbing experience. "Yes, I took the half day intro class and am not afraid of heights." Dick looked at my footwear and replied I would likely do OK and would be the first to attempt the Grand in army combat boots!

• Team building: During our pre-climb meeting the day before, Dick indicated we would have a group meal where each would bring a can of our favorite chili or beans — with a lot of emphasis on beans. So at the end of the first day, at camp on the saddle between the Grand and Middle Teton, we all poured our cans into a giant pot and Dick added his special sauce. He then indicated we would get up at 2 a.m. in the large army surplus tent. That was early for me even if I was in the Army. But at the appointed hour, with all those beans, most of us were quite happy to get up and get some fresh air outside.

• Instilling self-confidence: Dick urged us on over some very exposed situations and the willingness to do a 125-foot rappel into the abyss, where we would be free and away from the rock surface for the last 20 or so feet. It all worked well, as we celebrated lunch along a small stream on the last part of the climb — all before the typical afternoon thunderstorm.

I'm sure there are many more memories that could be shared about the life of Dick Pownall — a Vail original.

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