American Climbing Legend Layton Kor Passes Away

by Duane Raleigh - Rock and Ice Apr/2013
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Layton Kor in Yosemite in 1965, 67 kb
Layton Kor in Yosemite in 1965
© Porius
Layton Kor, one of America's greatest and most revered climbers of all time, has died.

Kor, born in Minnesota in 1938, came from a small town and was a bricklayer by trade. He rose to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960 by establishing a litany of first ascents that included Castleton, The Titan and Standing Rock in Canyonlands, the Naked Edge in Eldorado, the South Face of Washington Column in Yosemite, the Yellow Wall on the Diamond, and Proboscis in The Yukon.

Kor, six-feet-five inches tall, was as dominating a figure physically as he was technically and climbed with what has been describes as an animal's energy. Seemingly possessed, he blazed across the rock of the Western U.S., enlisting a string of partners—leading climbers themselves—who recounted tales of horror and near death on his many first ascents.

Kor's technical skills and accomplishments gained him international fame, and in 1966 he joined an elite team of alpinists that included Dougal Haston and John Harlin to attempt a direct line on the North Face of the Eiger. On that route, Kor pioneered a key rock traverse, but two-thirds of the way up the face, a fixed rope Harlin was jumarring cut, and he fell to his death. Devastated, Kor quit the Eiger and returned to his home in Colorado where his attitude toward climbing "vacillated between disinterest and his well-known enthusiasm," according to the 1977 book Climb! by Robert Godfrey and Dudley Chelton. Later that year Kor did reluctantly join Wayne Goss and Bob Culp to make the first winter ascent of the Diamond, but that was of his last major climbs and he quite the sport altogether in 1968 and became a Jehovah's Witness.

Later in life Kor did return to climbing, even doing the first ascent of a desert tower in Arizona in 2009, displaying his youthful vigor. He had hope to climb in the Dolomites, but poor health and a kidney transplant kept him close to home. He was 74.

For more about Kor, see Rock and Ice No. 181, page 24 of the free digital edition, here.

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