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Friday, February 24, 2017

Hal Kanzler's Mission Mountains Map


I was given the above map last week by Lois Crepeau of the Rocky Mountaineers. I've hung it up in my office at the University of Montana and have been finding myself regularly inspired by it. The author of the map is Hal Kanzler, the patriarch of a family that is legendary in the Montana climbing community. Hal Kanzler was a WWII veteran, who found his solace in the mountains and was sufficiently obsessed with the Missions that he made the above map. According to the description in the upper-right corner, the research -- consisting of many climbing trips -- was done by Kanzler from 1954-62. 

Two more consequences of Hal Kanzler's obsession with Montana peaks are his sons Jerry and Jim, who grew up in Columbia Falls and from grade school on climbed with their dad in the local mountain ranges. It is noted in an excellent Flathead Beacon article by Tristan Scott that Jerry and Jim climbed Mount St. Nicholas -- one of the most difficult peaks in Glacier, requiring 5.9 climbing -- with their dad at ages 12 and 15 in 1963 (an astounding feat), the same year that the Mission Mountains map above was published. 

The Kanzlers moved to Butte when the brothers were in high school, and continued climbing. They pioneered routes on several local crags, the most prominent being "The Wedge" in the Humbug Spires (a regular haunt of mine during college), which they named and were the first to climb. Tragedy struck, however, when Hal Kanzler committed suicide in 1967. I lost my father when I was 25, and given my experience with that tragedy, I know that the Kanzler brothers' were traumatized and that their super-charged climbing ambitions were partly a product of this awful event. 

In 1969, at 18 years old, Jerry Kanzler attempted the north face of Glacier Park's Mount Cleveland, one of two of the tallest rock faces in the lower 48 and a dangerous climb. He and his group died in an avalanche on the attempt.  Following his brother's death, Jim Kanzler became obsessed with climbing the north face of Mount Cleveland, which he did succesfully with Terry Kennedy in 1976. The pair then set their sights on the even more dangerous and difficult north face of Mount Siyeh (the other tallest rock face in the lower 48 and also in Glacier), which they successfully climbed, after several years and their fourth attempt, in 1979. In Tristan Scott's article, linked above, Kanzler is quoted as calling Siyeh a "death route" and "the most serious and dangerous climbing I have ever done." Jim Kanzler died in 2011, at the age of 63, which Scott's article says was also a suicide. Terry Kennedy wrote a stirring tribute to Jim Kanzler after his death for the American Alpine Club, which can be linked to here, and he also wrote a story about Kanzler for the magazine Explore Big Sky, which can be linked to here

The story of the Kanzler men is fascinating, inspiring, and tragic. And it has at least some of its roots in the creation of the 1963 Mission Mountain Map. It's easy to imagine Hal Kanzler exploring the Missions doing 'research' for the making of the map, with his young sons in tow, each of them honing their climbing skills along the way, and setting the course for the rest of their lives.