Mountain Project Logo

Plaque in memory of Kenny Cook placed near the summit, at the end of the Harding Route. Does anyone know who he was and what happened?
ID 106009337

Rate Photo
     Clear Rating
  5.0 from 1 vote

Kris Gorny
Aug 16, 2007
Plaque in memory of Kenny Cook placed near the summit, at the end of the Harding Route. Does anyone know who he was and what happened?  
Gunkswest   CA
A bit more about Ken Cook from Chauncey ("Chuck") Parker (Chauncey IV) this morning:

"Kenny and I climbed together a lot at Tahquitz through the 1970s. Kenny was one of my favorite climbing partners and an important mentor.

Steve Barker of Eagle Creek, ran the mountain shop, The Mountain People, in Idyllwild at the time. He employed both Kenny and me at the shop and with the Idyllwild Mountaineering Institute teaching and guiding."

There are a few mentions in the American Alpine Journal (AAJ) concerning Ken Cook:



According to Roger Robinson and Brian Okonek, Ken Cook had just completed the Cassin Ridge on Denali in 1977, when they met him in Talkeetna, AK. They asked Ken to join them on their July 1977 trip into Little Switzerland (aka the Pika Glacier). Brian and Roger recruited Ken because of his strong rock climbing skills, which Roger and Brian knew they would need to establish a new route on the Royal Tower. Jul 3, 2016
The Route on Keeler was indeed completed summer of '73; Heavy Duty Time, 5.10, A3.
The name was a pun on Howdy Doody Time. It follows the obvious direct crack system to the right of the Harding route. We were aiming to do it free and it took us a while to realize that it seemed so hard because were over 13,000 so we finially resorted to aid in three sections totally about 70 ft. The climb was an epic from the start including a botched approach. We started up, couldn't haul, retreated to drop some weight, our third partner bailed, so we were down to a manageable haul bag. It would have helped to have a pulley but we did not own one and turned out to be wrong about not needing one. Spent two nights at the base and three nights on the wall. Each of three ropes were cut at least once by falling rock or sharp edges. I had a jumar line cut almost half way through and had to jumar about 40 ft. to an overhang to pass the cut. At the end, our lead rope was down to just over 100 ft. long. On the glissade down the switchbacks, Kenny fractured his ankle. I carried all the load and without a whimper, Kenny walked out.
There was another party with us who attempted a route on the right side and they bailed about a third or half way up. Jul 3, 2016
Thank you very much for posting this picture. I have not seen the plaque since 1981, and I am moved to see it here now. I climbed with Kenny quite a bit from 1972 to 1979. He and Werner Landry were well known climbers in San Diego in the early 70s. Before I met him he had climbed a route on Foraker and later the Cassin Route on Denali, and some new routes in Little Switzerland. He did all the big ice routes in the Sierra and a few in the Tetons. He was one of the few people I knew of to climb the Weeping Wall on Suicide in crampons. I saw the pictures of the thin, transparent ice and the bolts they used for pro after chipping away the ice. They said it was falling apart and unclimbable by the time they got back to the base.

We once headed up to Tahquitz during one fat winter, but his Jeep pickup died in Hemet. We hitched ride to Idyllwild with a couple of climbers but had no place to sleep when we got there, and had left our sleeping bags in the truck in Hemet anyway. We just hung around until 4 am. then hiked up to the north face and started climbing with headlamps. He did most of the leading on ice, and was completely at home on front points. At one point he belayed off a sling on a huge, thick icicle at the overhang on the Northeast Face. We climbed the face twice by two routes and were done by 8 am.

He lived in Idyllwild in 1973 and did a new route on Tahquitz with Chuck Parker, On the Road. We put up some routes on the little domes surrounding Trono Blanco, and did the Pan Am with Landry and Dick Savage in 1975. Kenny spent a few days working on a new route up the right side of Keeler, but it was never finished. Werner and Kenny did a new route on Aiguille Extra, the East Buttress in July 1978. Kenny and I went to Canada later that summer. After warming up on the Black Ice Couloir and Mt. Assiniboine, we spent two weeks in Jasper waiting for good weather to do what we thought was a new route on Edith Cavell. We climbed the big rock wall below and left of Angel Glacier and then directly to the East Summit.

It had been storming for two weeks straight and we sat out one of the two forecasted clear days hoping that the avalanches would stop. There was a lot of snow, ice, and some verglas on the steeper rock. We started about 4am and about 9pm we were below the cornice. He climbed up into the cornice and tried to tunnel through, but fell off trying to get purchase in the soft snow. He went airborn three times . . . in the dark. My idea was to hack out a ledge and wait for light. In the morning we had swirling snow and about 50 feet of visibility. After we topped out, it took all of the day and half the night to get back to the truck, where we collapsed at 1 am, 43 hours after starting. But it wasn't a first. It had been climbed a month earlier (minus the 1000 feet of rock at the bottom) and dubbed the McKeith Spur.

Kenny was strong as an ox and my group, who were a few years younger, were all in awe of him. We used to joke that if there were no holds, he'd just make one. He never raised his voice or showed any sign of fear. Once when his PAT (paroxysmal atrial tachycardia) started on a climb, he calmly stopped, informed me that his heart was acting up and performed the Valsalva maneuver, then finished the climb as if nothing had happened.

He kept us entertained with tales of his truly hair raising experiences as a medic on a Special Forces B-Team in Viet Nam. He later used that training to get his RN, then to teach paramedics, a job he truly loved. His heart just stopped one night at home in December 1980. His wife was an experienced ER nurse and kept up CPR until the paramedics arrived. They all knew him and did not want to give up, but they were never able to restore a regular rhythm. A few hundred friends and acquaintances attended the memorial.

We installed the plaque in the summer of 1981. Aug 14, 2013

Nearby Photos