ONE STEP AT A TIME

In Memoriam - Tom Morgan

2/17/1939 – 5/23/2022

Tom Morgan brought enormous climbing experience to OSAT from its very beginnings.  Jim Hinkhouse knew him through their membership in Seattle Mountaineers, where both were accomplished trip leaders.  Everyone in OSAT had a great deal of respect for Tom, not only as a climber, but as a person.

His strength and endurance were a marvel.  Few who ever hiked with Tom forgot the first time they did so.  Upon hearing of Tom’s death, several people recounted their own first hiking experience with Tom. Jim Hinkhouse once said that Tom made single day climb up each of Washington's volcanos.  Tom's self-depreciating description of a one-day climb of Glacier Peak, a feat few have matched, was characteristic.  It went something like this: 

“Well, we went up to do this climb of Glacier from the old trailhead on the White Chuck. We got a bit of a late start, so we didn’t stop long at Kennedy Hot Springs, and headed straight up that climbers’ trail above the PCT.  We chased the marmots away at Boulder Basin and set up camp.  The weather was great, so after lunch we decided to go up the snow field a bit to see what the route looked like.  When we got up to about 8000 feet, the Sitkum looked to be in good shape.  It was still fairly early, so we decided to go ahead and finish the climb to the summit.  When we got back to camp, we thought “Why spend the night up here, fightin’ off the marmots?”, so we packed up and walked back out.”

In a word: incredible!  About 20 miles of hiking and climbing, around 8000 vertical feet, all in a single day, much of it with a pack full of overnight gear and provisions.

In recent years Tom was persistent in saying he didn’t want to be involved in OSAT when Hinkhouse got it started in 1991.  “You’re gonna get somebody killed!” he quoted himself telling Jim.  But Tom’s name appears in the first OSAT membership list (which Jim maintained numerically as he added new contacts) as #29.  Tom was on the list of backup climbers at the bottom of the roster of those planning to be on the so-called “1991 AA Mount Rainier Expedition”, the incubator for OSAT, as was Tom’s wife Leah.  Tom and Leah turned down being on that historic climb, which gave the opportunity to a couple of others to lead ropes in spite of relatively less mountaineering experience.

A determined trail-finder, there likely are a number of bushwhack routes he pioneered.  While leading a group of OSATers wandering the backcountry trying to find a way from Mount Pilchuck to Lake 22, Tom would occasionally announce “Yeah, here we are…we’re on it now!”  After several of these confident reports, it became evident that “it” referred to game trails established by raccoons and deer, not someplace that had ever previously felt the tread of a hiker’s boot.

His contributions were not only in providing wisdom and leadership in mountaineering exploits.  In the spring of 1995 he organized a group of OSAT members to haul lumber two miles up Mount Si for the DNR to build the boardwalk at Snag Flats that still serves that heavily used trail today.  Another time he organizing an OSAT hike up to an open mine shaft near Mount Index, to pick up and pack out several years of accumulated trash.  His friends will remember Tom's generosity as well.  He had enormous stores of climbing and hiking equipment he was eager to share. 

/var/folders/gd/5ks65cn51wddgr6qppvl1v3r0000gn/T/com.microsoft.Word/WebArchiveCopyPasteTempFiles/peru2009a7.jpgTom was also known for his ability to improvise.  He had lots advice on unique uses of duct tape.  After surgery on one of his knees, he claimed to have told the surgeon to “Just wrap it up with some duct tape.”  Rik gave him a climbing wallet made out of duct tape.  He was well-known for the plastic garbage sacks he carried in his pack, to be brought out in case of rain.  At an OSAT Christmas Party one year, Jim Keefe made an unforgettable gift to Tom that he described it as the “latest in Tommy Morganfinger climbing apparel”:  a climbing parka fashioned out of a black garbage sack with duct tape trim.

On the trail, Tom would share some of his climbing exploits, but often seemed more interested in talking about his family, his experiences helping little kids learn to read at Monroe Public Schools, or his church trips with Leah to support a community in Peru 

We all will cherish memories of Tom until we complete our own climb through life.  The reflection Tom shared with OSAT when Jim, Scott, and Tom died climbing in Alaska over twenty-five years ago was a misquote of the first line in Psalm 121, which Tom not only took out of context, but also mis-attributed to Isaiah!  Nevertheless, it rang true. Tom’s version was…

“I look to the mountains, from whence cometh my strength.”

The same quote appeared on the card for Tom’s Celebration of Life.

The biblical context makes it clear that the line is a question.  Some modern translations even punctuate the line with a question mark, and answer “No, your strength comes from God…”.  But mountaineers will note that the psalm continues “He will not let your foot slip…”, reminiscent of OSAT’s motto: “Keep climbing mountains, and don’t slip!”  So even after researching the source (in spite of never before having engaged in Bible study!), I choose to accept the value of Tom’s out-of-context interpretation:  i.e. the first line as an assertion, not a question.

                               clip from OSAT’s “The Yodel”, July 26, 1995

When my father died, five years after our OSAT friends’ deaths in Alaska, I needed to shorten Tom’s biblical sentiment to meet the requirements for Dad’s grave marker at Willamette National Cemetery, where his ashes were placed with a view to Mount Hood.  This version goes one step farther, turning Tom’s assertion into an exhortation:  “Look to the mountains for strength.”

Certainly, a majority of mountaineers can relate to this sentiment.  For those who climb, the mountains provide strength in many ways.  We all gain physical strength from the rigors of climbing and hiking as exercise. But we also gain social strength from the comradery of activities that rely on mutual help in overcoming challenges, and gain spiritual strength from the isolation of the wilderness and communing with nature. The idea is imbedded in the Dalai Lama quote that Jim Hinkhouse made an integral part of OSAT’s lore in the beginning:

The relationship of height to spirituality is not merely metaphorical, it is a physical reality... People need to climb the mountain not simply because it is there, but because the soulful divinity needs to be mated with the spirit."

It is often heard Sunday mornings around the circle on Tiger Mountain, which many consider a kind of church, people refer to their god being the “Great Out Doors”.

Tom derived more of these strengths from the mountains than one can imagine.  Hopefully his family and friends can look to the mountains and find strength from their memories of Tom, both from when he was in the mountains and when he was with them anywhere else.

Tom's family requested that any donations in Tom's memory be directed to St.Mary of The Valley Catholic Church in Monroe, with reference to directing the donation to the benefit of the Mary Bloom Center in Puno Peru in Tom's name.

Rik A - 7/7/22

OSAT Attendees at Tom’s Memorial Service in Monroe 6/24/22

From left:  Lori U, Rik A, Holly A, Bill L, Jim K, Nancy S, Doug H, Tino S, David N, Kat, Cliff L, Linda Z, Will A, Shirley R, Kim, Pete S, ?, Sharon L, Janet M.  Not pictured Teresa F

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