Lonely Grave in the Sierra:
References and Footnotes


The Rettenbacher accident was covered extensively in California newspapers during the five days in August 1934 through which the mountain drama unfolded. However, the tragic event was soon forgotten. In the next seventy years, between September 1934, and September 2004, when I began working on this story, only a few books, serials, or cyberspace documents had mentioned the accident or the grave site. This is, to the best of my knowledge, the complete list of those resources:


Guardians of the Yosemite—A Story of the First Rangers, by John W. Bingaman, END-KIANN Publishing Company, Lodi, California, 1961. I only had access to the second printing of the book, from 1970. A paragraph about the Rettenbachers is in Chapter VII, pages 32-33. The entire book is available online, at The Yosemite Web's Online Historical Yosemite Books Web pages (accessed November 2004).

Missing in the Minarets: The Search for Walter A. Starr, Jr., by William Alsup, Yosemite Association, 2001. The Rettenbacher accident is mentioned in a paragraph on pages 133-134, and the grave site is described on page 209. A paperback edition of this book became available in 2004. If you cannot find the book, but would like to learn something about the Starr search, read a short Alsup's article in Stanford magazine, November-December 2003, freely available online (accessed October 2004). (There is no mention of the Rettenbachers in the short article).


The American Alpine Journal, Vol 2, Issue 3 (1935). A paragraph about the Rettenbacher accident is on page 415.
Added in September 2006:
Appalachia, Vol 20, Issue 9, December 1934 (Published by the Appalachian Mountain Club)
A sentence about the "Rittenbacker" accident is on p. 248: "In August Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Rittenbacker were killed by a fall on Banner Peak, but no details have been received".


Alan Ritter chronicled his attempts to climb Mt. Ritter in a series of Web articles (accessed July 2004). One of these reports, from 1997, has two pictures of the Rettenbachers' grave. Alan tells me that he had learned about the grave from his friend Robert Pease in 1996.

In February 2005, I found a Web document by Ed Lulofs, describing his 2001 trip from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows (accessed February 2005), in which the Rettenbachers' grave is mentioned. Ed tells me that he just happened to see the grave site while climbing up the remote valley. Ed didn't take a picture of the grave.

If you know of any other publicly available book or document that deals with the Rettenbacher accident, please let me know. Use the address at the bottom of the page.


An unpublished typewriter-written text in Yosemite National Park's Superintendent's Monthly Report for August 1934 mentions the Rettenbacher accident on page 16, in the section "Accidents". This one-paragraph long text was found by Linda Eade, a research librarian in Yosemite National Park.

Added in April 2005:
An unpublished, undated, typewriter-written, ten-page draft of a story "The Vanishing of the Rickenbackers", by Norman Clyde, describes Clyde's search for the missing couple. The text is stored in the collection "Norman Clyde Papers, [ca. 1928-1945]", BANC MSS 79/33 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Added in April 2005:
Entries by August Rohmann and Otto R. Lirsch in the Mt. Ritter peak register, and by Dell McBride in the Banner Peak register, mention the Rettenbacher search. Both registers are stored in the collection "Sierra Club Mountain Registers And Records, 1860-[on going]", BANC MSS 71/293 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.


I have extensively used newspaper articles while researching a wide array of topics that were not directly related to the Rettenbachers. Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, New York Times, Palo Alto Times, and Sacramento Bee, were my main resources. Many of those newspapers are available in microfilm form in various larger libraries. ProQuest Information and Learning Company offers online versions of some of those newspapers to their individual subscribers and libraries. Ask in your public library if they are subscribed.

One important source of information (and a big stumbling block in my quest) was the California Death Index 1930-1939, State of California; Department of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics. Several major libraries in California have microfilm copies of that multi-volume publication. I have used microfilm copies available in San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Main Library. Note that California death records for the period 1940-1997 are freely available online at RootsWeb.com (accessed January 2005), but you would have to live with their pop-up ads, unless you have a browser that prevents display of the pop-ups.

Other books, serials, and documents used in this quest:

Protecting Paradise: Yosemite Rangers 1898-1960, by Shirley Sargent, Ponderosa Press, Yosemite, 1998. (Shirley died in December 2004).

Close Ups of the High Sierra, by Norman Clyde, La Siesta Press, Glendale, California, 1966 (second printing from the original 1962 plates). A PDF version of Clyde's short biography from that book, written by Walt Wheelock, is available online at the Owens Valley History site (accessed March 2005).

The following sources were indispensible for my research on accidents in the Ritter Range:

Accidents in North American Mountaineering, a yearly publication by The American Alpine Club, New York, NY. I have checked all available copies in Stanford Library. I believe the first issue was published in 1946, but the library only has issues starting from 1952, and with several serious gaps in the collection.

Mono County Sheriff, Search and Rescue pages (accessed January 2005). Follow the "Site Index" link to find a well organized archive of search and rescue missions in Mono County, since 1996. (The east side of the Ritter Range is in Mono County).



How it all began

legendary and well documented seven attempts by Alan Ritter…
Use Alan's site http://www.mtritter.org, then select "Mt. Ritter" link on the sidebar.


Banner Peak Ascent

was [the trail from June Lake] built and available back in 1934…
The answer is - yes, there was a way to get to Thousand Island Lake from June Lake via Spooky Meadow in summer of 1934. See the map in Walter Starr Jr's book Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra region, written in the early 1930s, and reprinted many times since.

[road] was opened for vehicles in the early 1930s…
An article in Los Angeles Times, June 7, 1931, p. 23, states: "The Devil's Postpile National Monument is now, for the first time, accessible by automobile via the new road from Minaret Summit a few miles from Tamarack Lodge in the High Sierras." In 1937, the road was still not paved: "Devil's Post Pile and Rainbow Falls [could be] reached by driving up to Minaret Summit, and then down a steep grade to the San Joaquin River, narrow dirt road all the way". (Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1937, p. F1).

possibility that Bancroft Library has Sierra mountains registers from that era…
I first heard about that possibility from Pete Yamagata, in the early October of 2004. William Alsup confirms in his book Missing in the Minarets that Mt. Ritter's register from the 1930s is available in Bancroft Library. He wrote (see p. 73): "The Ritter register [with Walter Starr's entry from July 1933]—a book with lined pages—now rests at the Bancroft Library […] along with hundreds of other tattered mountain registers retrieved from the Sierra…"   This register is indeed listed in the Bancroft Library catalog. William Alsup was also able to see the Banner Peak register from the same era. He commented in 2001 (see p. 75 of his book): "The Banner Summit register is today in poor condition, with almost every page in ragged state…"   Unfortunately for our story, the Bancroft Library catalog no longer lists the Banner Peak register from the 1930s. Its condition probably deteriorated even further, and finally it must have been removed from circulation. Note added in April 2005: The Banner Peak register from the 1930s is still available in Bancroft, but it is indeed in extremely poor condition.

perhaps one day I will visit Berkeley and the Bancroft Library…
Note added in April 2005: I visited the library on April 20, 2005. More about the visit in Part Two of this story (to be written).

we watched majestic Banner Peak…
According to the book Place Names of the High Sierra, by Francis P. Farquhar, Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1926, the mountain was named in 1883 by Willard D. Johnson, topographer of the USGS, because he noticed cloud banners streaming from the summit. Willard and John Miller made the first ascent that same year.


Visiting the Grave Site

I tried to contact other members of Alan's party…
I did eventually get in touch with Alan Ritter, in November 2004, and he kindly allowed me to use his photos of the Rettenbachers' grave. Alan also added the following snippet, posted here with Alan's permission: "I heard about the grave site from Bob Pease in 1996. We had corresponded about some of our travels, and the topic of Mt. Ritter came up. He mentioned seeing the grave site on one of his trips up around Thousand Island Lake. However, I didn't find it on my 1996 trip, because of the snow. The visibility was down to 100 feet when we started up to North Glacier Pass, so I'm not surprised we missed it. Then when we tried the same route in 1997, I was looking for the grave and found it easily on a clear day".

according to Norman Clyde, this was a frequently followed route…
Norman Clyde, in Touring Topics, August 1928 (Automobile Club of Southern California monthly bulletin), wrote about Mt. Ritter: "Although it has been climbed from the east, the routes usually followed are from the west and the north." However, he also adds: "There seems to be some difficulty in following the former [i.e., the west approach; H.G.], as several parties have unwittingly gotten off and missed their objective. Nor is it the most accessible side of the mountain". Quoted from Close Ups of the High Sierra, La Siesta Press, p. 44 (see References above).

make it to the top one day… In August 2008, I followed this West Slope route to the summit of Mount Ritter.


Nothing but Dead Ends

having lots of fun on Mt. Langley hike with colleagues…
See an illustrated trip report.

database with the records from Ellis Island…
See The Statue of Liberty—Ellis Island Foundation Web site (accessed October 2004).


Other High Sierra Graves

Starr lived in the men's dormitory at Encina Hall…
An eeire coincidence: Another Stanford student, William W. Dulley, shared the dormitory with Walter Starr in 1920/21. Dulley also died in the Sierra, twenty months after Starr's accident, while on a skiing trip with Norman Clyde, in April 1935. Find more about this sad event in the section about Clyde.


The Rettenbachers

Austrian, German, and Swiss phone books…
I used online versions of the phone books, all accessed in February 2005: Austrian White Pages (Residential Whitepages), Das Telefonbuch for Germany, and tel.search.ch for Switzerland.

The same coat of arms can be seen in Gasthof Tetter…
See Gasthof Tetter history page (accessed February 2005).

current president of Alpinschulenverband…
Sepp Rettenbacher also owns a Ski School, and a Mountain Climbing School in Fulpmes, Tyrol.


Die Naturfreunde

Currently, the organization has about 500 members…
For an extensive review of interesting and turbulent history of Die Naturfreunde organization in the USA, see the article "Berg Frei" jenseits des Atlantiks? Die Nature Friends of America by Klaus-Dieter Gross, Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (IWK), Heft 1/2006, pp. 60-87 (In German). [Abstract].

could it be that this notebook predated the official ledger…
The notion among members is that the large, well preserved 'official' ledger was used from "day one" of this Naturfreunde branch. However, I suspect that this ledger was purchased only in the mid 1930s, and certainly after the Rettenbachers' deaths. Once the new register was available, somebody must have transferred records of still active older members, scattered in various notebooks from earlier eras, to the new register. Since Anna and Conrad were no longer "active" at that time, their names were not copied. A "history detective" could perhaps easily test my supposition by analyzing the markup on the inside cover of the official ledger. The archive book was made by "Cunningham, Curtiss & Welch, Stationers, Printers and Blank Book Manufacturers, 565 to 571 Market Str., San Francisco", and has the following product number: "No.567, Archive Blank Book. This book contains archive linen ledger paper, a heavy, extra quality paper…". The ledger was purchased for $2.75 at "Bell Bazaar".


Five days in August 1934

only a remote area west of the Ritter-Banner crest is in the North Fork district…
According to Constance Popelish, a historian with the Sierra National Forest (SNF), it is likely that the boundary between Inyo and Sierra National Forests was different back in the 1930s, and that the entire Ritter Range was administered by SNF at that time. (Source: A phone conversation with Connie, January 2005). In April 2005, I found an eight page leaflet in the Government Document depository in the Stanford Library. It is called "Sierra National Forest, California", and printed by the United States Forest Service in the 1930s or 1940s (no date on the document). Folded in the middle of the publication is a detailed SNF map with the date "1937". The map confirms Connie's educated guess! Indeed, at that time, the Sierra National Forest extended all the way to the Sierra Crest, following the boundary between Madera and Mono counties: From Mt. Lyell to Mt. Davis, then over the Island Pass to Agnew Pass, up to the summits of San Joaquin Mountain and Mammoth Mountain, and over the Mammoth Crest to Duck Pass. This northeast corner of the Sierra National Forest was called "Mt. Dana-Minarets Primitive Area", with the headquarters at Reds Meadow. The SNF boundary was later pulled to the west, and much of the former Minarets Area assigned to the Inyo National Forest. This would certainly explain why the SNF staff had played the main role in the Rettenbacher search!


Other players in the drama

The Parks had owned a house in Hillsborough…
The Parks first show up at the 252 West Santa Inez address in the 1928 Burlingame-Hillsborough City Directory. Much of the information about the Parks in this section comes from various editions of Burlingame-Hillsborough city directories, available in the Burlingame Library, and from volumes of the Social Register, San Francisco, a yearly publication available from the early 1920s to 1976 in the History Center, in the main San Francisco Public Library. Additional information was obtained from Dr. Park Trefts or found in various newspaper clippings from San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times.

Helen was the president of the Junior League…
The Junior League was (and is) a women's educational and charitable organization. The dates of Helen's presidency were confirmed to the author by Maria Prokop, JLSF Headquarters, in an email from January 2005.

Helen remarried to a rancher and moved to Nevada…
See, e.g., San Francisco Chronicle, October 2, 1937, p. 3. The title of the article is "Socialite Marries Rancher".

Howard's brokerage partnership ended in 1936…
The San Francisco Phone Book from 1934, lists "Dwyer & Park" brokerage at 485 California. The "Dwyer & Park" office moved to 155 Sansome in 1936, but the 1937 edition of the phone book list "Dwyer & Parrish" at this address, and there is no mention of Park any longer. A sentence in the business section of the Oakland Tribune, Jan 3, 1937, confirms this: "Brokerage firm of Dwyer and Park dissolved today..."

List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel…
Of those enlisted in Douglas County in Nevada during the World War II, seven men were killed in the war, and Howard Park, Jr was one of them. The list of dead and missing personnel for that county is available online (accessed in January 2005). In February 2005, I found a newspaper article that confirmed Jr's death in a training plane crash, on Sunday evening, February 7, 1943, near Merced, California. See San Francisco Chronicle, February 9, 1943, p. 8. An article in the Reno Evening Gazette of July 26, 1944, describes participation of other members of the family in the war efforts: "Mrs. Helen Park of Berkeley, a former Tahoe resident, is vacationing this week at her riding camp near Zephyr Cove. She has been engaged in war work in the Bay Area for the past two years. Mrs. Park is accompanied here by her daughters, Frances and Margo. Frances is on furlough from a flying field in Nevada. Her mother is now wearing four service stars, one of them in gold. She has two sons and one daughter now in the service. Her son, Howard, was killed in action almost a year ago".

gone forewer is the large building…
Note added in July 2005: The Ingersoll family lived at 252 West Santa Inez in the 1950s. Here is what Richard Ingersoll, who was a child then, remembers about the house: "My parents bought the house probably in 1951. It was on four acres of land, three stories high, with pitched roofs, but parts of it were in very bad state. It was a wooden structure and I think was covered in shingles and had brick terraces. It also had an elevator. Our maid lived in the back, but I can't remember if it was a separate dwelling or just a room behind the pantry. It had a tennis court—when I was two and a half years old I wondered off on my own, and after the police found me, my mother decided to put me on a leash in the tennis court—so I remember that well. There were several large spreading oaks on the property. I think the garage was in the rear and you could access it from Poplar Drive, which was the next street to the north. My mother was very fond of the house. She did a painting of it before it was torn down. When we tried to sell the house, it was so large (and in need of repair) that the real estate agents couldn't find a buyer and so it was sold for a great deal under its value. I think it was torn down in 1956, and a cul-de-sac (Santa Maria Lane) was placed directly on top of where the bulk of the house was. We got one of four newly created lots, and built a new smaller house on the corner where the tennis court was. One thing that remained on our lot was a hothouse on the southwest corner; my oldest brother used to keep his homing pigeons there. The photo of the Rettenbachers on the brick stairway is probably from the house—it had French windows like that." (Email message, June 2005, reproduced here with permission). [Contemporary newspaper reports show that four houses on Santa Maria Lane were built in the summer of 1955].

Douglas Jr was mentioned in another Sierra search several years later…
See Los Angeles Times of March 29, 1937, p. 10 ("Mountain Snow Battle Waged to Save Skier—Forest Ranger injured on High Sierra Survey brough out by rescue party"). The article says that "ten experienced snow men, including … Douglas Robinson, Jr, … left at noon Friday to bring out the injured man."

he wrote about ancient elephants that once roamed Owens Valley…
See Los Angeles Times of September 24, 1951, p. A6, ("Fosils Hint Elephants Roamed Inyo-Mono Area"). The article says that somebody had found something that looked like old bones, and brought them to "Douglas Robinson, veteran Inyo-Mono historian and student of fossils, who explained the find as a part of an elephant tusk". Similar finds from that area, continues the article, are "shown in Robinson's books on elephant fossiles … Robinson has many such specimens in Inyo County Museum at independence." I couldn't find any mention of Robinson's books in the Stanford Library, or in any of the University of California Libraries.

not much is known about the search party from Die Naturfreunde
Note added in April 2005: Three members of the San Francisco branch signed up in the Mt. Ritter register during the search. On August 14, 1934, Otto Lirsch and August Rohmann wrote: "... This climb [is] part of search for Mr. and Mrs. Rettenbacher lost in this region since ab[ou]t Aug 4th". A day later, on August 15, 1934, the register was signed by Herman Cramer, who added to his name "T[ourist] V[erein] Nature Friends and Sierra Club S.F." Note that Otto and August used the correct spelling to describe Anna and Conrad's last name!

Eichorn didn't mention the Rettenbacher accident…
Jules Eichorn probably left the Ritter Range immediately after that ascent of Clyde Minaret on August 13. From several different sources, we know that just few days later, on August 17, 1934, he and Marjorie Bridge Farquhar made a successful climb up the East Face of Mt. Whitney. This was only the second climb up that route, and the first made by a woman. Note added in April 2005: Jules Eichorn and Ted Waller not only climbed Clyde Minaret on August 13, but they also scaled Mt. Ritter on August 11, 1934. This information is from the Mt. Ritter register. I have a strong feeling that they were somehow involved in the search, or at least aware that the couple was missing.

I don't know how to find Ted…
Note added in June 2005: I did get in touch with Ted Waller in May 2005. Ted didn't think that he or Jules Eichorn were involved or knew about the Rettenbacher search.


Norman Clyde

was this Clyde's handwriting, or just a copy…
It is quite likely that this was just a copy of Clyde's original note. Clyde probably wouldn't be using or leaving a notebook on a mountain top. He was known to write his summit notes on scraps of paper, or even on a piece of film's box cardboard. At a later time, a climber could have found the original note, replaced it by the notebook, and (hopefully) reliably transcribed the original text. Clyde had mentioned his ascent to that peak in one of his letters to Chester Versteeg, quoted in Twenty-Five Letters From Norman Clyde, 1923-1964, by Dennis Kruska, see below.

Norman's father Charles was involved in a bitter conflict with David Steele…
Charles was born in Northern Ireland in 1856. His family emigrated to the USA a few years later, and Charles' father Robert Clyde began working as a carpet weaver in Philadelphia. During the 1880 census, three children were still living with Robert and Nancy Clyde (there are indications that they had had at least one other son, but he could have left the house by then). On the census form, Charles' younger siblings registered as a "carpet factory [worker]" (Martha), and a "carpet weaver" (William), but he stated his profession as a "Theological Student". Indeed, Charles was taking lessons in classical literature and theology from David Steele at that time, and paying "twenty-five cents a lesson", when "the usual charge for instructing a single student in classical literature was a dollar an hour" (see Steele's Circular No. 1 below). After completing the study, Norman Clyde's father was ordained (1883), got married (1884), and became the editor of the congregation's journal Original Covenanter (1885). Apparently, he didn't hesitate to use the publication to launch attacks on his former mentor Steele and other adversaries. Steele's angry but still surprisingly measured reaction was printed in his Circular No. 1. To learn Charles Clyde's view of the conflict, one would have to check the 1885 (and possibly later) issues of the Original Covenanter, but I don't know where to find this publication. My impression is that the split was caused more by personal animosities than by doctrinal issues. Many other records about the Reformed Presbytery, and Charles Clyde's and James Peoples' "schism" of 1885, unknown to earlier Norman Clyde scholars, became recently available online. If you are interested, do a simple Google search! After Steele's death in 1887, Charles probably left "Steelites", and joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).

Norman learned to read Latin and Greek at a young age…
Walt Wheelock, in Close Ups of the High Sierra, La Siesta Press, p. 72 (see References above).

The Clydes were registered in Canada Census 1901…
In addition to Charles Clyde, the head of the household, a clergyman of Irish descent, born May 3, 1856, and Sarah I[sabelle?] Clyde, of Scottish descent, born November 24, 1863, the census lists the following nine children in the household, the youngest two born in Canada:

Marion's date/place of birth is stated as "October 21, 1886, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania", in International Genealogical Index. Not easy (or important) to tell what is right. Clara later became Mrs. Frank Tomkies. Her Christmas card, and possibly some letters to Norman are preserved in Norman Clyde Collection in Bancroft Library. Norman's sister Sarah Clyde became Sarah McKelvy. She died in August 1989, but at least one of her children is still alive. I don't know what happened to other Norman's siblings and their possible descendents.

The Clydes
in 1901 Canada Census
One of the earliest preserved public records about Norman Clyde: A part of a census page from Lochiel Township, Glengarry County, Ontario, March 31, 1901. Norman is listed in the line 36. The right part of the census page, not shown above, states that Norman and Charles' other children, six and above, attended school for at least eight months during the previous twelve months.

A few years ago, the Lochiel Church, where Charles Clyde once served, put out the Church History booklet for their anniversary. Below are three paragraphs about Charles Clyde from that publication, sent to me by Mrs. Gwen Brodie, from the Hudson-St-Lazare Reformed Presbyterian Church, in April 2005:

Rev. Charles Clyde was born in Northern Ireland on May 9, 1846 [this date doesn't agree with the census data; H.G.] At nine years of age, he came with his parents to America and lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following his elementary education, he was undecided for several years before being ordained by the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC). Traveling widely for three years, he accepted a call to Lochiel RPC on July 8, 1897. The church history Aurora Borealis records that he "regularly preached to packed assemblies, though his congregation numbered only 29 members." A report appearing in the Christian Nation magazine (Dec. 11, 1901 issue, p.14) reads as follows:

"The Church will be shocked to learn of the illness of the Rev. Charles Clyde, at his home, Brodie, Ontario. Mr. Clyde was attacked with pneumonia about three weeks ago, and until a week ago it was thought that he would recover, but a telegram on Thursday announced that he was dying, and that he would soon pass away. Mr. Clyde is a Covenanter of the heroic type. His addresses at Synod, though brief, were always remarkable for orthodoxy, keenness, and eloquence. Personally, he was a rarely humble hard-working lovable man and minister. Mrs. Clyde and nine children, all young, will be left to the loving care of the Church."

Rev. Clyde remained at Lochiel until his untimely death from pneumonia on Dec. 7, 1901 at 46 years of age. The March 1901 school register records that six of the nine Clyde children were then enrolled at Brodie School. Shortly after this date, Mrs. Clyde moved with her family to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. [End of the quoted material].

RP Church
in Lochiel
The little church on Brodie Road in what used to be the Lochiel Township didn't change much since the years when Norman Clyde's father was serving there from July 1897 to his death in December 1901. It was originally called "Glengarry Covenanter Reformed Presbyterian Church". (Photo by Gwen Brodie, reproduced with permission).
Mrs. Brodie checked the Lochiel church's graveyard, but couldn't find Charles' grave. She then talked to one of the oldest church members, Mrs. Hazel Jamieson (88 years), and learned the following: Rev. Charles Clyde had indeed been buried in the yard of the Lochiel church, but some time after his death/burial, perhaps a year later, when the family was ready to move back to the USA, his wife requested that Charles' remains would be reburied in Pennsylvania. In Hazel's words: "I remember the story, because my father, Donald Hay, was one of the children from the local school at that time. All the children hiked up to the church yard (1/4 mile) to see the Reverend being dug up…". Hazel was also pretty sure that her father went to school with Charles Clyde's children.

There is a bit of mystery about Norman's mother. In the Canadian census, she is listed as "Sarah I. Clyde", born 1863, of "Scottish descent". Walt Wheelock, in Close Ups of the High Sierra (see References above), suggests that she was born "Belle (Isabel) Purvis, a native of Butler, a small city about thirty miles north of Pittsburgh". Was her name Sarah or Belle? Is the middle initial "I" in the Canadian census standing for "Isabel" (Isabelle)? Unless Sarah was a very recent immigrant, she would have been registered in the 1880 census in the USA, but apparently she was not, or at least not in a way that would be consistent with the above data. Only one "Sarah Purvis" born in 1863 was listed in the 1880 census, but she was born and lived in Wisconsin at that time. The only other possible match in the census of 1880 would be "Sarah B. Purvis", born in Pennsylvania in 1864, who lived in her brother's (A. T. Purvis) household in Middlesex, Butler County. This family, however, was of Irish descent. No person with the name Bell(a/e), Isabel, or Isabell(a/e) Purvis and born between 1861 and 1865, was registered in the census. Was Sarah perhaps married to somebody else in 1880, then widowed before she met Norman's father in about 1883/84?

A free acces to the 1880 USA census data is available at familysearch.org site. A free access to to the 1901 Canada census data is available at automatedgenealogy.com site, and Ontario data can also be freely accessed at census-sense.com site (all three sites accessed at those addresses in April 2005).

texts about Clyde's life scattered in various books…
See, for example, the section by Walt Wheelock, in Close Ups of the High Sierra, mentioned in earlier footnotes. It appears that the text is revised in the new edition of the book, published by Spotted Dog Press in 1998, but I haven't seen that edition. Another praised short biography of Clyde, written by Dennis Kruska, can be found in Twenty-Five Letters From Norman Clyde, 1923-1964, by Dennis Kruska, Dawson's Book Shop, Los Angeles, Calif., 1998. This book might be out of print. I very much like Smoke Blanchard's long letter describing Clyde's later years, printed in Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada; Rambles Through the Range of Light (29 essays on the mountains), prepared by David Bohn, Scrimshaw Press, San Francisco, 1971. The letter was reprinted in Walking Up & Down in the World: Memories of a Mountain Rambler by Smoke Blanchard, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1985, Chapter 8, pp. 130-154. An article about Clyde in the Fall/Winter 2000 issue of Geneva Magazine, announced that "Robert Pavlik's biography of Clyde is presently in progress", but I haven't heard about that work being published since. Other shorter fragments and eyewetness reports about Clyde are scattered in many other books, but making a comprehensive list would be far beyond the scope of this work.

a small-town schoolmaster of Weaverville…
Weaverville is a small community in Northern California, less than fifty miles from Mt. Shasta. Note added in April 2005: According to the School District minutes, found by Michael Slater, at the end of the 1922/23 school year, on June 8, 1923, "the clerk was instructed to notify Mr. Norman Clyde that his contract had expired and his services would no longer be required [in Weaverville]". In other words, Clyde's atribute "school teacher of Weaverville", used in newspaper articles in the summer and fall of 1923, was no longer true.

ascent of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies…
In addition to two reports in Los Angeles Times, see Appendix B, one could read about this ascent in Marion Montgomery's article in Sierra Club Bulletin, Volume XIV, Number 1, February 1929, pp. 13-19.

Clyde fired a revolver into the air…
There are more details about this event in Walt Wheelock's article in Close Ups of the High Sierra, La Siesta Press, p. 75 (see References above): "Then came Halloween of 1927. Rumor had it that the boys were going to play many a prank on the school facilities and it seemed that these were not to be harmless pranks. Norman stationed himself nearby, armed with a .38-cal revolver. As a carload of youths drove onto the school grounds, he challenged them. They refused to stop, so he fired a warning shot. Apparently the rowdies believed that Clyde could be bluffed and kept on. He fired a second shot, which ricocheted fragments of lead onto the car. The hoodlums left…"

Dennis Kruska, while preparing his book Twenty-Five Letters From Norman Clyde, 1923-1964, found that the event actually happened on Halloween of 1928. He has a copy of a contemporaneous report of the event, printed in an Inyo County newspaper. According to the report, the incident was much more serious than what Clyde had presented to Wheelock.

One of the documents on the Owens Valley History site quotes a local resident, Mrs. Wm. Utter, and gives the following account of the event: "[Clyde] was a rather secluded individual not particularly liked by the students. One Halloween, some of them decided to bother him by pounding tin cans and making other loud noises. He asked them to go away several times and when they didn't, he fired his gun into the air. When the school board and townspeople learned of it, his teaching license was taken away and he became a mountaineer, writing articles and books. It made him a very meager living but he found rest in the solitude."

It is interesting to note that Norman Clyde was an active member of both the Sierra Club, and the National Rifle Association (source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2002), something quite unimaginable in today's "political correctness" atmosphere. There are quite a few brochures and ads about firearms and ammunition in the Norman Clyde Collection boxes, at Bancroft Library. An old Independence resident complained to Mary Millman that Clyde, while he was a teacher there, was shooting birds with a BB gun. The locals thought it was very strange that an adult would do that. (A transcript of this Mary Millman's interview is available in the Eastern California Museum, Independence, California). Recently I found a possible explanation for this seemingly odd behavior. In Auk, Vol. 45, Issue 2, April 1928, pp. 213-215, among "General Notes", J. Grinnell reported discovering a new subspecies of Screech Owl in Inyo County. (Auk was a quarterly journal of ornithology, published by the American Ornithologists' Union, Lancester, PA). The article says: "In the fall of 1927, Mr. Norman Clyde, of Independence, has obtained and presented to the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology [Berkeley] a full-plumaged pair of Screech Owls, from his neighborhood, probably mates, as they were shot from the same tree, though on different dates. This ... made possible the characterization of the new subspieces". The bird got the name Otus asio inyoensis (Inyo Screech Owl). Clyde was also a member of the Cooper Ornithological Club in Berkeley from September 1925, but his ornithological career ended when he stopped paying the membership fee some time before April 1930. (His name is registered in the Club Directories for 1926 and 1928, but not in 1930 or thereafter).

the popular Switzer resort…
An interesting history of the Switzer-Land resort is described in Echo Mtn. Echoes, Fall 1998 issue. The article about the resort, "Trails and Camps Revisited", is also available online (accessed March 2005).

airplanes participated in the search…
When William Alsup was writing Missing in the Minarets, it was believed that the first aerial reconaissance in a Sierra search took place in 1933, in an attempt to find Walter Starr, see p. 54 in Alsup's book. However, two articles in Los Angeles Times of July 17, 1930, reveal that Army planes were used in a Mt. Whitney search three years earlier. In our time, mountain reconaissance and rescues are exclusively done by helicopters.

Lowell Brodgart published a long article…
Lowell Brodgart might easily have been a pseudonym (or a typo in the Times?). I cannot find any person with that last name in today's USA phone books, or in historical Social Security records. This last name is also not registered in the Ellis Island records. Similarly, Google and Yahoo searches yield no result.

the Rettenbachers perhaps would have hoped to meet Clyde…
Glen Dawson, in an email to the author, provided valuable information about his and Clyde's whereabouts during the last days of July 1934. Glen was one of the organizers of that summer's Sierra Club Outing (aka High Trip), which began at about July 7, and lasted for four weeks, until August 4. The theme of that year's High Trip was "Yosemite National Park revisited". Glen has no recollection of being asked to help with any search during that time, and he didn't leave Yosemite until the trip was over. Norman Clyde was not on the 1934 Outing roster. However, it appears that Norman joined the Sierra Club party during its stay in upper Matterhorn Canyon, July 24-27, and led climbs to Whorl Peak (July 25) and Matterhorn Peak (probably July 26). Therefore, the call to assist in the search for Jim Murphy, mentioned in the Los Angeles Times article, probably had never reached either Clyde or Dawson. (The above reconstruction of events is based on Glen Dawson's email message of April 2005, and his and Ansel Adams' reports in Sierra Club Bulletin, Volume XX, Number 1, February 1935, pp. 103-106, and Volume XIX, Number 4, August 1934, pp. xvi-xvii, respectively). Either before or after his participation on the High Trip, Norman Clyde stayed for a while at Tuolumne Meadows. We can conclude this from the following short note in Sierra Club Bulletin, Volume XIX, Number 5, October 1934, p. xxii. Under the title "Improvements to Parsons Lodge, Tuolumne Meadows", the Club secretary, Wm. E. Colby, wrote: "Members of the Sierra Club will be interested to know that this last summer opportunity was taken of the presence of cement and bridge-building contractors at the Tuolumne Meadows to have a concrete floor placed in the Parsons Memorial Lodge. (…) The roof also was repaired and made water-tight so that there is no longer any leakage. Great credit is due Mr. Albert Duhme and also Mr. Norman Clyde who assisted in the repair of the roof. They also repaired the old log structure around the soda spring so that there is no longer any danger of its falling down…" (In 2004, both the soda spring structure, and Parsons Lodge were still standing, and open to visitors during summer. Albert and Norman did a good job!)

Andrews Camp was one such a place…
Andrews Camp no longer exists, but one can find it marked on the map in Walter Starr Jr's book Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra region, written in the early 1930s. Andrews Camp used to be on the South Fork of Bishop Creek, in the Eastern Sierra, at 8,200 feet (2,500 meters). It was about a mile from today's Highway 168, close to where "Four Jeffrey Campground" is now.

snow cover was well above normal…
Shirley Sargent, in her book Solomons of the Sierra: The Pioneer of the John Muir Trail, Flying Spur Press, Yosemite, Calif., 1989, p. 105, quotes the following U.S. Weather Bureau figures for Yosemite National Park: "Over five feet of snow fell in January [1935], three in February, nearly four in March, and even April featured sixteen more inches of the white stuff".

Dulley and Clyde were both fond of skiing…
This apparently was not the first winter that Clyde and Dulley spent in that area together. Walter Mosauer, in an article in Sierra Club Bulletin, Volume XIX, Number 3, June 1934, pp. 42-47, describes his skiing trip in February 1934, and says: "Our group [Mosauer, Glen Dawson, Louis Turner, and Dick Jones], enlarged by four other U.C.L.A. students, spent several days in Bishop Creek in the company of Norman Clyde and William W. Dulley. With them we skied to Bishop Pass…"

that weekend's forecast was one of the great blunders in the history of the Weather Service…
The weather forecast for the Sierra and all of California was favorable in Friday's and Saturday's California papers for that weekend. For example, Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento evening paper printed the following forecast on Saturday afternoon, when the storm has already began in the southern Sierra:

U.S. Weather Bureau, Sacramento, Calif., April 6, 1935. Forecast until 5 p.m. Sunday.
For Sierra Nevada: Generally fair tonight and Sunday. Freezing temperature at high altitude. Moderate to fresh west and northwest winds.

Fair weather was similarly predicted for Sacramento Valley. However, beginning at about 2 p.m. Saturday, and lasting until Monday morning, an unexpected storm brought 3.55 inches of rain to Sacramento and surrounding areas. This would generally translate to three or four feet of snow in higher Sierra mountains. On Monday, April 8, Sacramento Bee reported wide spread floods all over the Valley. The paper said that one of the two Southern Pacific tracks over the Donner Summit was closed due to heavy snow and rain in the mountains. The situation was particularly bad on Sunday. "Records were strewn all over the place", said the paper, "when Sacramento was struck by the torrential downpour of Sunday afternoon. It was the heaviest two-hour rainfall ever recorded here".

he found Dulley's body…
There is a brief obituary in Los Angeles Times of April 16, 1935, p. A3, but it has all chronological data wrong. According to the obituary, Dulley, "63 years old", died from a heart attack near Bishop on April 8. He was "an electrical engineer for Shell Oil Company from 1900 to 1903". A death notice in the same issue, on p. A14 stated:

DULLEY. William C. W. Dulley, beloved son of Mrs. Josephine E. W. Mitchell; brother of Robert H., Leslie B., and Richard B. Dulley. Services 3 p.m. Wednesday [April 17] from Pierce Brothers. Interment Hollywood Cemetary. (San Francisco papers please copy.)

Bill Dulley at Stanford, cca 1921
William (Bill) Dulley, while a student at Stanford University, in about 1921. (The photo from The 1922 Quad, Stanford University Press, Printed May 1921, p.342).
On April 17, the paper printed a short article on p. 13, entitled "Snow Victim Rites Today—Clubman Frozen to Death in Blizzard Near Bishop to be Buried Here Today". The article briefly describes the accident, mentions Norman Clyde, and states that Dulley was a native of San Francisco who graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a member of the Jonathan Club, the Sierra Club, and the Canadian Alpine Club. The article says that Dulley was "36 years old".

A few more details about Dulley are found in an "In Memoriam", printed on p. 118 of the Canadian Alpine Journal, for the year 1937:

William Walker Dulley 1898-1935
William Walker Dulley lost his life April 8, 1935 in blizzard near Piute pass in the Sierra Nevada of California. Dulley is believed to have died from a heart attack though the exact details are not known. He was born in San Francisco in 1898, studied at Stanford University and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dulley by profession was a Petroleum Refinery Engineer, but the last few years of his life were spent in the out-of-doors which he loved so dearly. He made several extended canoe trips in Northern Canada. An enthusiastic climber, skier and photographer Bill Dulley, was a delightful companion. He took keen enjoyment in the summer outings of the Sierra Club and of the Alpine Club of Canada. He was made a member of the American Alpine Club only a few weeks before his death. GD Members who attended the 1934 Eremite camp will remember Bill Dulley as a keen photographer and an energetic climber whose enthusiasm for the mountains was infectious. He was very much interested in the history and topography of the Peace river and its tributaries and had read everything on the subject that he could find. Family affiliations drew him back to the Canadian Rockies often and in his death the Club has lost a very promising member. To his mother we tender our sincere sympathy.
The note, signed by "A. A. McC.", was written by Alexander (Mac) Addison McCoubrey, the editor of the journal between 1931 and 1941.

During his lifetime, William Dulley was mentioned several times on pages of the Sierra Club Bulletin. He had presented the Club with two books of photographs of an earlier Club outing. In one of the "Bulletins", he is credited (together with several other climbers, including Clyde!), with a new route, from a cirque in Milestone Creek to the top of Table Mountain (Great Western Divide).

One can find his signature on a page of the original Sierra Club Peak register still well preserved at the summit of Black Kaweah ("Aug 2nd 1932, Sierra Club, 1st Party; left base camp 5:45, arrived 9:15. Norman Clyde, Alice B. Carter..., Emily Ann Lillie, Chicago, Ill., William W. Dulley, San Pedro, Cal.")

Would they both have died had Clyde stayed…
In a letter to Chester Versteeg of May 15, 1935, Clyde bitterly complained that he had even been called to defend himself in front of a "Coroner jury" (some kind of a grand jury?) after the accident. He said he had publicly (and to the jury) told only a very conservative story, partly not to disparage Dulley, but in his mind it was clear that nobody but the victim himself had been responsible for the tragic outcome. See "Letter no. 6", in Twenty-Five Letters From Norman Clyde, 1923-1964, by Dennis Kruska (find the complete reference to the book above).

eight more first ascents during that summer…
Check, for example, p. 78, in Close Ups of the High Sierra, La Siesta Press, (see References above), where Clyde's first ascents in the Sierra are listed chronologically. The list is apparently based on the 1954 edition of Steve Roper's The Climber's Guide to the High Sierra, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco.

he died two days before Christmas…
Norman Clyde died from metastatic ocular melanoma, shortly after midnight, on December 23, 1972, in the Inyo County Sanatorium in Big Pine. (Based on a death certificate, retrieved by Michael Slater). Clyde's ashes were carried by a few friends to the Norman Clyde Peak next spring, and scattered from there. (See Chapter 8, in Walking Up & Down in the World: Memories of a Mountain Rambler by Smoke Blanchard, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1985).

was an obituary published?…
Note added in October 2005: Only a small, local Owen's Valley paper, the Inyo Register, printed Clyde's obituary on Thursday, January 4, 1973, on p. 17. (From the collection of Don M. Deck).

is there more than just a newspaper clip in Clyde's collection…
Note added in April 2005: Yes, there is! More about that in Part Two of this story (to be written).


What happened on Banner Peak

huge fire at the border of Yosemite…
We learn about that fire on the same page of the Superintendent Report on which the Rettenbacher accident is described: "A large fire that endangered Park forests was checked successfully on August 1 [1934]. It was entirely on Forest Service land, and approached the Park near Merced Grove of Big trees. It was one of the most disastrous fires in the vicinity of the Park for many years. One day it made a seven mile advance, running northeasterly toward the Park. It was at this stage that Forest Service called upon the Park for help. The response was immediate, and [the fire] was sustained throughout the period of Park participation." (p.16, Superintendent's Monthly Report, Yosemite, August 1934, unpublished)

The forecast was also good…
U.S. Weather Bureau, San Francisco, had the following short term (24-hours-in-advance) forecasts for the Sierra during the critical week, July 29 to August 4, 1934:

(Based on California newspapers from that week).

The American Alpine Journal article signed by K. A. H.…
"K. A. H." was probably Kenneth A. Henderson, a world-class East Coast climber. He passed away in 2001. Learn more about Ken in an online article by William Clack (accessed January 2005).

Clyde worked a traverse up the glacier…
The description of Clyde on the glacier is largely based on an actual eyewitness account of Clyde's ascent up the Palisade Glacier. See Glen Binford's article in Los Angeles Times, August 24, 1948, page A2.

Clyde wouldn't have touched the bodies…
The sole source of the rumor about Clyde's reluctance to deal with the bodies of dead climbers was apparently his friend Jules Eichorn. In an interview conducted in 1996, Eichorn, for example, stated: "We eventually found [Starr's] body on the north side of Michael Minaret. He had apparently fallen and was instantly killed. We were not able to get the body out so we had to leave it in on the mountain. Surprisingly, Norman was a pussy-cat when it came to dead bodies. He wouldn't touch them. So here I was, a young kid with this dead climber and Norman not wanting to touch him." (Eichorn-Sinclair Interview, 1996, unpublished). Eichorn used the same words to describe Clyde several years earlier, in Eichorn-Lyhne Interview from about 1990 (quoted, e.g., on p. 115 of William Alsup's book). I couldn't find any independent confirmation of that claim. Eichorn-Sinclair Interview contains many other interesting observations that Jules Eichorn made about Clyde.

a couple of CCC boys were helping…
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was President Franklin Roosevelt's personal creation. As governor of New York, he had introduced a broad reforestation scheme using ten thousand men who were on public relief to plant trees in 1932. In his presidential nomination acceptance speech, he had proposed employing a million men in forest work across the nation. On March 31, 1933, Roosevelt signed the Emergency Conservation Work bill into law, and six days later he ordered the formation of the CCC. In California, thousands of people were working in CCC camps in state and national parks, and national forests. Some of them were good climbers and would often help in searches for lost people in the mountains.


Chronological summary

Anna and Conrad arrived to California from Philadelphia…
A careful reader would notice that Philadelphia was the birth place of Norman Clyde, who later would find Anna's and Conrad's bodies.

five Naturfreunde members from Los Angeles climbed Mt. Ritter in 1933…
Note added in April 2005: They were Else Degenhardt, Walter Schneppe, Herman Beck, Fred Zahn, and Richard Weindling. All but Richard were from Los Angeles. Richard was from Riverside. He was the last surviving member of that group. He died in Santa Barbara, in August 1996.

friends placed a plaque on the grave…
Note added in April 2005: In July 1935, a year after the accident, a large group of Naturfreunde members from San Francisco visited the area, and several groups even climbed Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak. This was probably the time when the plaque was placed on the grave. The following members signed the Mt. Ritter register between July 17 and July 22, 1935: Mimi and Wilhelm Heidelmann, Albert Bohmert (could be Bolmert, or something similar), Herman Cramer, Karl Oppermann, George Flach, Walter Lorenz, Karl Kieninger, and Hans Schonewald.

Alsup describes the grave site in his book…
Check the endnote #196, on p. 209, of Missing in the Minarets (see References above): "The gravesite is about halfway up from Thousand Island Lake to Catherine Lake, marked with an oval of stones embedded in the soil and a brass plaque bolted to a boulder stating: Here Rests/ Conrad-Anne/ Rettenbacher/ Who lost their lives/ Climbing Mt. Banner/ July 1934/ Die Naturfreunde Inc./ San Francisco". [Note a small typo in Anna's name]. In an email to the author, William Alsup explains how he found the grave: "Once on a solo trip in the Sierra, I woke up in the morning, rolled over, and found myself beside the Rettenbacher grave. In the dusk I had picked the spot to camp and had not seen the marker. (…) They certainly selected a lovely place for their last camp". (Email message, March 2005, reproduced here with permission).



by Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff…
Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857) is considered one of the great German Romantic lyricists. Im Abendrot (1837; In Sunset Glow), was published in his collection Gedichte. It has four verses, of which I'm using the first and the last. The poem was first set to music by Hugo Wolf, one of the finest 19th century lied composers. In 1946, twelve years after the Rettenbacher accident, Richard Strauss (1864-1949) discovered Im Abendrot, which seems to have inspired him to compose richly scored, poignantly retrospective Vier letzte Lieder (1948; Four Last Songs) for soprano and orchestra. Im Abendrot was composed first but is now usually performed last. Strauss slightly changed Eichendorff's last line in the last verse, and quoted the Transfiguration motif from his tone poem Tod and Verklärung in this line. In the Epitaph, I'm using Strauss' reading: ist dies etwa der Tod? Strauss didn't live to hear the work performed. The premier of Vier letzte Lieder was in May 1950, in London, by Kirsten Flagstad, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The English version of Im Abendrot presented in the Epitaph, is my clumsy attempt of poetry translation.


If you have any comment about the footnotes, or other parts of the Rettenbacher story, please drop me a line at