Stephen D. Garvey 08-13-99

Famed climber killed in cliff fall
8/14/99, ADN by KAREN AHO

An Anchorage climber known for pioneering hundreds of difficult routes in Alaska and enthusiastically drawing newcomers to the sport, died Friday while making a first ascent near Portage Glacier.

Stephen D. Garvey, 40, dropped 100 feet down a sheer rock face when a sharp rock sliced his safety rope during a fall, Alaska State Troopers said.

Rescue workers hiked 600 feet up rock at Middle Glacier and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A doctor advising medics by telephone declared Garvey dead at 2 p.m., two hours after the fall. Garvey did not appear to have scraped on the way down and likely died on impact, trooper Barry Wilson said. His body was taken by helicopter to Anchorage.

Garvey, a North Slope worker who committed much of his free time to climbing, pioneered hundreds of routes and held a reputation as one of the best technical rock and ice climbers in the state. His name appears in guide books as the person who made many first ascents. It's coveted ground in the technically demanding and risky world of climbing. Leaders drill in bolts to assist future climbers and extract potentially hazardous loose rock. It's dangerous and tedious work.

"That's really where Steve excelled," fellow climber Jay Rowe said. "That's how he advanced the sport. Someone could go out to the Seward Highway and do five climbs, and there's a good bet that at least one or two of them would have been established by Steve Garvey."

Rowe was a newcomer to Alaska, wandering around alone by a cliff off the Seward Highway looking at rocks, when Garvey walked over and introduced himself in 1988. Garvey, outgoing, jovial and tirelessly enthusiastic about the sport, soon had Rowe in ropes.

"He turned so many people on to the sport," Rowe said. "He just got so much joy out of it. He's done that with scores of people." Garvey, raised in New Weymouth, Mass., had 25 years of experience, 22 of those in Alaska.

"Bar none, he was the guy who did the most climbing in Alaska ever," said Jim Sweeney, his climbing partner of 18 years. "The way I explain it to people is he's ice climbed more than everyone else put together."

He bought only the best equipment and demanded safety, his climbing friends said.

He knew Middle Glacier was dangerous and contained sharp rock, Sweeney said.

"We've talked about it before," Sweeney said. "We've cut a rope out there before."

Garvey had completed a morning climb Friday with partner Matt Howard and was leading a second climb at noon when Howard noticed the safety rope go slack, Sweeney said. Howard turned and saw Garvey hit the rock outcrop on which he was standing and roll a few feet down a shale slope.

Howard attempted CPR, then ran to the parking lot at Williwaw Campground, where their car was parked, to call for help. Troopers said the rock had cut his 10.5-millimeter nylon rope about a foot from his climbing harness. The rope appeared brand new.

Garvey was married to Lynne Garvey, and had three children, ages 15, 11, and 9, all of whom he had taught to climb.