Climber 'longed to be part of nature'

Juneau mountaineer had cut back, concentrated on raising his children

Posted: Sunday, November 07, 2004

Brittany Kasselder says her husband, Kenny Kasselder, died in a climbing accident Thursday on Mount Hood doing what he loved.

Kenny Kasselder, 37, who moved to Juneau with his wife in 1999, died Thursday after falling 1,500 feet from the face of Oregon's highest mountain and another 100 feet into a crevasse, authorities told Brittany Kasselder.

"I'm very thankful that he was climbing, and that's how he died," she said.

She is certain he knew what he was doing. He grew up climbing mountains in Glacier National Park in Montana, she said. He had climbed all of the 11,000-plus-foot peaks in the park and was part of the team that made the first successful winter ascent of Mount Cleveland, the park's highest point.

They were married in the park six years ago. Brittany said her husband's ashes will be scattered there.

"I feel he's really part of nature, now," she said. "He longed to be in nature and in the mountain."

He had talked about close calls, she said. There was a time he was climbing an 11,000-plus-foot mountain when a huge piece of rock fell and narrowly missed him.

Kenny Kasselder hadn't climbed for four years because he wanted to concentrate on raising his children, his wife said.

He was "an amazing father," she said. Their three children - Zachary, 5, Chloe, 3, and Garrett, 2 - were born in Juneau.

Fund for the Kasselder family

Friends of Brittany Kasselder have set up a fund to help the family left behind by mountain climber Kenny Kasselder, who died Thursday on Mount Hood in Oregon.

Donations made out to Brittany Kasselder can be sent to the Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 196613, Anchorage, AK 99519-6613.

Kenny Kasselder is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. The oldest child is 5.

Gordon Boiko, a Juneau climber who considered Kenny Kasselder his best friend, said Kasselder's children were getting old enough that he was looking forward to sharing climbing with them, just as he did growing up in the Whitefish, Mont., community that produced so many top-notch climbers.

"He loved his kids," said George Reifenstein, general manager of the Mount Roberts Tramway.

When Kasselder was managing the electrical and maintenance operations at the tramway, he was a skilled, self-confident, hard-working employee who was well-liked by his co-workers, Reifenstein said.

The news of his death was particularly sad, "having known him and his young family," he said.

"He was very passionate about what he wanted to do," Reifenstein said. "It was good to see him getting back into climbing."

Kasselder spent five years as a professional mountain climber, seeking sponsorships and climbing competitively, his wife said. He was at his best when climbing.

"He said he was never more focused and calm," she said. "As a climber, he was not interested in conquering a mountain," she said. "It was almost like yoga."

The Associated Press reported that his climbing partner, Shaun Olcott, 37, of Portland, Ore., called for help from a cell phone, despite having to crawl with a broken arm and ribs to a place where the phone would work. A National Guard helicopter lowered a medical team to the 8,500-foot level of the mountain, but Kasselder was already dead.

"They said he was in and out of consciousness for at least three hours," she said.

Olcott told her, between surgeries, that help arrived six hours after the fall.

Brittany Kasselder said her husband suffered a broken back and pelvis and internal injuries.

"They said the hypothermia probably helped with the pain," she said.

As for how the accident happened, she said she doesn't need to know.

"They were very experienced climbers. They had the best gear and the best knowledge," she said.

He had climbed all over the United States and in Peru, she added. He scaled El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 1988.

"If there was anybody I was going to be tied up to, he would be my first choice," Boiko said of his best friend. "Not only on a rope but in life."

Kasselder was a very safe climber, Boiko said. The Mount Cleveland assent shows how accomplished Kasselder was, he added. In the late 1960s, five people were killed on a winter attempt to climb it, and Kasselder helped prove it could be done.

An accident at the tramway in April 2003 at the top nearly killed Kasselder, his wife said.

"A pipeline burst in his face," she said.

He survived with his sight and hearing intact. He had hours of reconstructive surgery done to his face.

"Part of his being in Portland was to heal from that accident," she said.

He had left Juneau in September to work temporally at Climb Max Mountaineering, a shop that equipped climbers. Eventually he was going to provide climbing instruction.

"He took more from the mountain than it took from him," Boiko said. "I believe to the core he would say that."

Brittany Kasselder said the people she works with at the Juneau Family Birth Center have helped her deal with the loss. The midwives are good at dealing with agony that returns after it subsides. But she said she doesn't question her husband's climbing.

"I think he considered (climbing) much more a state of mind than a sport because of the combination between body and mind. He said it was less than half physical skill and agility," she said. "More than half was mental perspective facing fear."

This summer, returning to Glacier National Park, they hiked together for seven hours to the top of a mountain. There were no ropes or ledges, so it wasn't a climb. But she could feel her husband's enthusiasm for getting there.

"I was so happy I got to stand on the top of a mountain with him."

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