By Norbert and
Lynn Ensslin, June 3, 2009
Memorial gifts may be
sent in memory of Ken Ewing to:
College of New York (CCNY)
Office of Development and Institutional Advancement
Shepard Hall, Room 154
New York, NY 10031
Kenneth James Ewing, age 81,
passed away on May 30, 2009. Ken was a colorful addition to
the Los Alamos community for many years and was a very active member
of the Los Alamos Historical Society, the Los Alamos Outdoor
Association, the Los Alamos Ski Patrol, and the Los Alamos
Mountaineers. He retired from the Lab many years ago, but
continued to work part time on various projects over the years. A
very nice memorial service was held for Ken at the Los Alamos United
Church on June 11th; about 100 people attended.
Ken requested that his ashes be
spread on Pajarito Mountain. About 30 of his friends meet at at the Pajarito
Ski Hill lodge on June 21st, 2009 and celebrated his life by sharing
many wonderful recollections of Ken for a full hour. His ashes
were spread by about a dozen friends after a joyful hour of
marvelous stories, mixed with much laughing. Each person who
participated in spreading Ken's ashes was given a small bag of ashes
and spread them were ever they thought appropriate on the ski hill,
probably thinking the whole time of Ken and perhaps offering their
own small prayers to a man of large connections.
Ken had recently suffered a fall, fracturing his pelvis, and had
spent about a week in the hospital and a week at the Sombrillo
Nursing Facility. During our visits with him at Sombrillo he
seemed to be recovering from his fall. But apparently he had a
heart attack and died as a result of that.
To many of the new members of the Los Alamos
Mountaineers, Ken Ewing was just the "old" guy who sat in the front
row during our monthly meetings, asking questions after each
presentation. But to those of us who have known him for many
years, Ken was much more than that. Ken worked as a chemical
engineer in the WX-3 explosive technology (S-Site) group all of his
career. He was famous within that community for having plotted
an important set of shock wave data being generated at the lab. Ken
was also one of the seven outdoor people who founded the Club in
1952. He remained an active member for the rest of his life –
57 years -- and we were very happy to have a founding member of the
club still attending our meetings.
Ken on Wilson Peak, with the Mt. Wilson - El Diente ridge
John Ramsay photo, May 1957
In the 1950's Ken served as President and
Treasurer of the Mountaineers, and over several decades he led or
participated in many club outings to Colorado, the Tetons, the Wind
Rivers, and the High Sierra. He led trips to many Colorado
Fourteeners, including Blanca, the Wilsons, Sunlight, Eolus, and
Pikes Peak. Ken’s outdoor adventures were not restricted to
the US. He climbed some of the Mexican volcanoes in 1982 and
1984 and joined other Los Alamos Mountaineers on Colorado Mountain
Club trips to Scotland, England, and Norway. For many years
Ken also participated in white water rafting trips with the Los
Alamos Explorer Post 20. He was a volunteer in many of the
search and rescue practices carried out by the Mountaineers or other
state organizations. Ken was also very active in folk dancing, the Pajarito Ski Club,
and the Los Alamos Ski Patrol.
He taught First Aid classes as well.
As long as he was physically able, Ken helped out
in the Mountaineers’ annual climbing school, especially with the
snow and ice classes. He had a colorful and dramatic way of
describing how to recognize avalanche conditions as he dug down
through each snow layer. But the Club's senior members
recalled that he was very conservative and careful on snow climbs,
and he was especially respected for his judgment in avoiding an
avalanche on the north face of Blanca Peak that caught another
more-experienced LAMC party during a May 1972 climb.
Many of the Club’s senior members will remember
Ken as the leader of their first Colorado Fourteener trip or as the
instructor who taught them ice axe techniques during the climbing
school. He was a wonderful story teller who still had a
remarkable memory up to the day he died. For example, on our
last visit with Ken, he entertained us with anecdotes of various
trips he had been on with other mountaineers. He recalled that
early Mountaineers trips had a 4-person minimum number. One
trip with Gregg Brickner ended up being only him, Gregg, and Gregg’s
dog Max. He remembered that Gregg and he decided that if you
counted how many “legs” were on the trip, it equaled the equivalent
of 4 people. Ken’s accurate recollections were extremely
helpful in documenting the early history of the Mountaineers.
Ken was certainly one of the Club's most colorful
members. His mock crankiness and quirky sense of humor could
put people off. He told us strange stories about how to kill
grasshoppers, how to cook porcupine, and what to do with frozen
sticks of dynamite. But we also learned some important lessons
from Ken. He showed us how to make do: "you just have to want
less." And he showed how hard it can be to maintain dignity
and privacy in one's old age. In the end, we respect his long
life as a mountaineer and appreciate his contributions as a trip
leader, friend, and story teller. We will miss seeing him in
the front row during our meetings.
Ken did not have any close surviving relatives.
The Los Alamos Mountaineers and his friends at the Senior Center
were his "family." His financial affairs are being
well-attended to by Gary DeRosier, President of the Los Alamos
Branch of the First National Bank of Santa Fe. He was a member
of the United Church.
LAM Official Duties:
Ken was the first Treasurer of the
Los Alamos Mountaineers when founded in late 1952, and continued for
quite a few years thereafter. Tom Newton who served as LAM's
first President remembers that Ken kept the treasury in a paper bag.
The club's founding members were Tom Newton, Ken Ewing, Bob Mulford,
Liz Gittings, Tom Stevenson, Stan Landeen, and Gene Tate.
Ken served as President
twice. He may also have served as Vice-President, but did not recall
ever teaching the climbing school. Ken was an active club member, seldom
missing our monthly meetings, until his death.
Ken recalled some anecdotes
from the clubs early trips. On a trip to the Wilson Peak and Mt. Wilson area
in May 1957, John Ramsay, Ken Ewing, Liz Gittings Marshall, and (maybe)
Gene Tate climbed Wilson Peak. Don Hagerman and Harry Hoyt climbed Mt.
Wilson. Ken got pulmonary edema for a few hours on Wilson Peak. The
others in the party went ahead and came close to getting hit by
lightning. Ken could feel the hair rising under his hard hat until a
local stroke discharged the field. On a saddle near the Wilsons, there
was an old mining hut where they found sticks of frozen dynamite. John
Ramsay noticed that the dynamite sticks were exuding liquid, a sign of
instability, so he knew that they were dangerous!
On a trip to the San
Juan Needles area, the Mountaineers climbed Sunlight, Windom, and Eolus.
On this trip, a porcupine showed up and ran into one of the tents. They
chased it out, and Ken hit it with his ice axe. The porcupine died,
although Ken hadn't meant to kill it, and he felt very badly about that. But since it was dead, they had to eat it. One member of the party was a
biology student. He dissected the porcupine, looking for worms in the
stomach, but didn't find any. So Liz Gittings Marshall cooked it, which
took hours. It turns out that porcupine meat tastes like pine trees,
which is what they eat!
Ken also recalled trips to the Southern Wind Rivers (Cirque of the
Towers) and to the Northern Wind Rivers (where they camped at Island
Lake and climbed Gannett Peak via the glacier). On the 1958 trip to the
Cirque of the Towers, the group climbed Warbonnet, Pingora (by the
standard route), and an Unnamed Peak. John Ramsay remembers that they
had to do a very scary rappel at an angle of 45 degrees to get down from Pingora. John had also been to the Cirque of the Towers in 1951 before
he moved to Los Alamos. That trip was probably the second climbing trip
ever to the Cirque, after the original visit by the Bonneys.
On two early club trips to the Tetons, one in 1953 and one in
1955, Ken climbed the Grand Teton on each trip and did the free rappel
using a (padded) dulfersitz technique, which he dutifully taught to LAM
Climbing School students for many years. They also climbed Mt. Moran
via the Skillet Glacier. This was too steep for ice axe self-arrest
(60 degrees), so they did ice axe belays all the way up and down.
They also climbed the South and Middle Tetons.
Chuck Mader climbed
Little Bear in August 1955 with Ken on a trip led by Tom Newton.
Later Ken, Dave Brown, and Don Liska led beginner rock climbing
parties on the Little Bear – Blanca traverse. Ken recalled
climbing in Colorado with George Bell and Bob Thorne. These early
trips led to the formulation of the Club’s “Articles of War” (the
trip rules), which were read annually at one of the meetings. These
trip rules included, "the local leader is in charge of all the
people on the trip," and "other members of the party can’t leave the
trip until everyone is done."
Through the 1980's, the climbing school
included a day of snow climbing instruction. This was usually held at
Pajarito Ski Area, Santa Fe Ski Basin, or Lake Peak, depending on snow
conditions and on whether the ski areas were open or closed in
mid-April. The snow climbing day always included instruction from Ken on
analyzing snow packs for avalanche danger.
Ken demonstrates ice axe techniques during
the April 1968 climbing school
Bob Cowan photo
The Mountaineers used to conduct annual rescue practices at the Back
Rocks or the White Rock "Y." Ken often volunteered to be
"rescued," and endured many bumps while being lowered in the litter.
Once Ken also had the thrilling experience of being lifted up into an
army helicopter while strapped into a litter. Ken learned how to carry
an injured person by having them sit in a coiled rope and then strapping
the rope to his shoulders so they could ride on his back.
Herb Kincey and the Mountaineers carry
Ken in a litter during
search and rescue practice at the "Y."
Bob Cowan photo, April 1972
Ken once jumped
out of a helicopter during a rescue exercise with college students from
St. John’s. It has been suggested he was trying to get the
attention of one of the coeds. He landed badly and hit his knee very forcefully, leaving
him with a permanent limp.
Listen as Ken
discusses the possibility of Surviving Nuclear War in this audio
podcast (1.07 MB .mp3 file) recorded by the Los Alamos Historical Society. It may
bring back a sense of who the man really was.
We'll miss you