Jim Bridwell, Yosemite Climbing Pioneer, Dead at 74

Jim “The Bird” Bridwell, one of climbing’s greats, passed peacefully on Feb. 16.

Jim bridwell climbing pioneer dies
Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

Jim Bridwell, born July 29, 1944, advanced modern big wall climbing and inspired generations of climbers who came after him.

Bridwell’s list of accomplishments includes hundreds of first ascents in Yosemite, with notable ascents in Patagonia and Alaska. He advanced modern aid climbing techniques and founded what is likely the most famous search-and-rescue outfit in the nation, YOSAR.

Bridwell emerged in Yosemite during the mid-60s and promptly began putting up first ascents up El Cap. He served as a bridge between golden-age Yosemite pioneers like Royal Robbins and Warren Harding, and the Stone Masters era of renowned climbers John Bachar, John Long, Ron Kauk, and Dale Bard.

Climbing Icon Jim Bridwell Remembered

Jim Bridwell, center, with Billy Westbay and John Long; photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

In 1975, he was on the first team to climb The Nose of El Cap in under a day, accompanied by John Long and Billy Westbay. This ascent spurred a competition among climbers to see who could climb it the fastest.

Other notable ascents include the first complete climb of the controversial Compressor route in Patagonia on Cerro Torre, and the first ascent of the East Face of the exposed Moose’s Tooth in Alaska.

During his heyday, Bridwell was one of the strongest climbers in the world. But he didn’t stop young, making his final first ascent on El Cap at the age of 57.

Bridwell died of hepatitis C complications and is survived by his wife, Peggy, and son, Layton. His son started a GoFundMe at the outset of his health complications and described where the disease may have originated. It serves as a lens into the wildly adventurous and daring personality that was Bridwell.

“My mom suspects he could have contracted [hepatitis C] from any number of his adventures, but more likely than not it came from the tattoo he received from the headhunters during his cross navigation of Borneo back in the 80’s when I was a kid,” said Layton.

Beyond a large body of first ascents, Bridwell leaves behind a legacy in which no Yosemite guidebook is complete without his climbs, and no film of Golden Age climbing history without his name.

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Midwest born, Nate Mitka started with Gearjunkie after a short stint as “intern”. An advocate of all outdoor activities he’s developed some habits, like running without headphones, eating raw vegetables, and fixing the chain on his ratty old bike.