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Jim Goodwin Passes at Age 101

Goodwin with clients Miss Fischer (shown) and Miss Lloyd (photographer) on the summit of Mt. Dix, 1925.

Jim Goodwin died on April 7. To the modern rock and ice climbing community, he was a legendary pioneer. But to the hundreds who joined him as children to hike the Adirondack trails, Jimmy Goodwin was so much more.

Goodwin aged 9, atop Mt. Hopkins, his first mountain, in 1919.

Jim Goodwin saw himself principally as a guide, a status he treasured not for the money but for the shared joy. Good thing his career began before the AMGA policies manual: Jimmy tacked a notice on the bulletin board at the Interbrook Lodge when he was eleven years old. At fifty cents a day for trips to Porter ledges and a dollar for Giant Mountain, he had lots of takers. Of course, his rates would jump when he began guiding Mount Marcy. In 1922 it would cost a full two dollars to hire a seasoned twelve-year old for a trip up the state’s highest peak. With somewhere around two hundred ascents, Goodwin wrote that Marcy had become “a Holy symbol” for him. In 1995, he joined the extended Goodwin clan up there, children and grandchildren, for a commemorative hike.

Jim Goodwin considered his 1935 winter ascent of the Trap Dike on Mount Colden to be one of his most significant climbs (even though, right to the end, he insisted that his efforts were modest compared to those of his contemporaries). Earlier, a winter ascent of Gothics caught the attention of John Case who summered in Keene Valley. Case showed Goodwin the ropes, and the two shared numerous climbs around the Keene Valley area, particularly on the cliffs above Lower AuSable Lake.

Goodwin made several trips west to the American and Canadian Rockies, and as the nation entered the war years, he signed up for “the ski troops,” later formalized as the 10th Mountain Division. Goodwin recollected that, up to that point, he’d “rappelled three or four times…and driven three pitons.” But his growing mountain resume and his membership in the America Alpine Club earned him an invitation to be an instructor for the mountain troops.

Jim began his Army teaching career in the Army at Camp Hale in Colorado before moving with his wife Jane into a little cottage at Seneca Rocks, West Virginia, where the cliffs would swarm with recruits and the Face of a Thousand Pitons would earn its name. Shortly after he was finally called into battle as a medic, the 10th stormed Riva Ridge and took Mount Belvedere in Italy. The campaign was costly to the Allies and the Germans alike, and Goodwin would look back with satisfaction that he didn’t pay much attention to the color of the uniform when attending to a wounded man.

After the war, Jim Goodwin resumed his career as teacher at Connecticut’s Kingswood School (now Kingswood-Oxford), summering in the Adirondacks, where his influence would grow for decades.

In 1947, Goodwin offered Fritz Wiessner an instructor’s spot in the newly-formed Adirondack Mountain Club rock climbing school. After the 1932 K2 tragedy, Wiessner’s aura had been tarnished in the eyes of some in the American Alpine Club. But a fortuitous 1966 meeting at the last belay on Indian Head over AuSable Lake between Wiessner and AAC past-president John Case would change that.

Goodwin and Trudy Healy (who was researching the first rock guide for the Adirondacks) were on Wiessner’s rope when they converged with Case and partner. Two strong personalities immediately staked their stylistic turf: It was a stem corner, declared Case. No, it was a layback, said Wiessner. It wasn’t quite an argument, but neither was it friendly. The taller Case proceeded to reinforce his claim by elegantly bridging the dihedral in the poise and control which he so valued as a mountaineer. Then Wiessner grabbed the edge of the crack, put his feet on the other wall, and cruised up behind. Healy and Goodwin looked at each other… and laybacked. As the testosterone ebbed, Goodwin invited all back to his cottage for a beer, and in the ensuing days a lot of tension ebbed as well with Wiessner later accepting an honorary membership in the Alpine Club.

Goodwin brought people together by quietly stepping into the background. He’d happily carry two packs if that would make a little boy’s day easier. If a youngster left a mitten at the last lean-to, Jimmy would run back a mile to pick it up without the troop noticing that he’d dropped out of sight. Jim Goodwin found more meaning in designing and cutting a trail than in putting up some high-end rock route. In fact, he’d often qualify a climb with apologies, such as “it was a damned-fool thing to do” or “those boys would have been killed if I had fallen… Thanks to God’s grace, I didn’t take anyone with me into the next world.”

Jimmy Goodwin, after 101 years in this world, has gone to the next. But he’s very much alive in the eyes of generations of Adirondack mountaineers who know that singing makes a trail shorter and that fried Spam makes a life richer. They know that their hiking boots will eventually dry (even after a rainy week in the Sewards) and that there’s more joy in sharing a skill than in flashing it.

Goodwin relaxing in his beloved wilderness.

He leaves two sons, Peter and Tony (trail builder and editor of ADK’s Trails of the High Peaks), along with five active grandkids. He leaves the rest of us an inspiration and a challenge to live up to the high ideals of a gentleman who laid out so many paths.