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Mountaineer Joe Puryear dies in Tibet

by KTNA Staff ~ October 27th, 2010

Joe Puryear in Tibet in 2007. photo courtesy of Mike Gauthier

Climbers and mountaineers in Talkeetna and around the world are mourning the death of Joe Puryear.  He died Tuesday while trying to pioneer a route on Labuche Kang, a mountain in remote Tibet.

Joe was married to Michelle O’Neil, long time resident of Talkeetna and Denali Park. ( O’Neil became well known in the Denali climbing community for her work as a resource tech at Kahiltna basecamp in 2001.  The couple got married 6 years ago and reside in Leavenworth, Washington.)

Joe was a former climbing ranger on Mt Rainer and considered one of the U.S’s most elite mountaineers. Climbing Ranger Mike Gauthier, former climbing supervisor, says that Puryear participated in many difficult rescues and was well respected for his climbing skills and ability to manage complex situations in the mountains and in the front country.

Puryear and climbing partner David Gottlieb were recipients of this year’s Mugs Stump Award, a special grant given to climbers that propose climbs with outstanding challenges. They had also received other prestigious climbing grants in order to scale unclimbed peaks and frozen waterfalls in Tibet.

It is believed that Puryear broke through a cornice at the top of a ridgeline and fell 1,500 feet to his death.  Gottlieb wasn’t next to him at the time of the fall but climbed to the top of the ridgeline and found footprints.  He descended and found the body, then retrieved a satellite phone in order to call for help.

The 2 men had hoped to find new routes on the massif.  The peak itself had only been climbed once, back in 1987 – by a Tibetan Japanese expedition.

Joe has authored books about climbing in the Alaska Range and the deserts of the Southwest. He was also working on product development for the company Sherpa Adventure Gear.

This is a breaking story; readers can return here for updated information.

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