Joe Puryear. David Gottlieb

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Joseph Nicholi Puryear: 1973–2010

By Mark Westman

On October 27, 2010, while unroped on a ridgecrest low on unclimbed Labuche Kang in Tibet, Joe Puryear broke through a cornice and fell 700 feet to the glacier below. Joe was one of the authentic talents of the American climbing community, an inspiration to friends and strangers alike, and he lived an extraordinary life of pure devotion to all that he loved. He was only 37 years old.

Joe was raised on a winery in Washington’s Yakima Valley. His parents, Gail and Shirley Puryear, are a remarkable couple who provided a supportive atmosphere that would allow Joe’s many talents to flourish. Joe was very close to his family, including his sister Tash and her husband, Ben Summit. In his youth Joe became an expert carpenter, an all-around farmhand, and a professional vintner. In his teenage years he also began to take a keen interest in the mountains. This started with skiing and progressed to climbing after his parents took him up Mt. Adams when he was 15. Throughout his life, Joe had a devious and eccentric sense of humor. He loved puzzles, games, and most of all, pushing people’s buttons, but it was always good natured. Unsurprisingly, he took a math degree from the University of Washington, though he knew he would never work in that field. He was a problem solver by nature and endlessly curious, traits that would drive him toward mountain climbing as a full-time pursuit…. (read more)