|Sunrise Hikers before a trek to Schaeffer Shuffle. Karl Putnam is the second person from the left.|
If memory serves me correctly, it was Michelle Tan who deemed Karl Putnam "God of the Mountain". It was on one of our early Sunrise Hikers outings. She also decided that, if Karl was the GOM, I was his Moses. Moshe became my hiker moniker. I probably got the name because I would tell the Sunrise Hikers that our destination was just around the corner and then we would wander farther in the desert mountains.
Karl died yesterday as a result of a thirty foot plunge off a cliff. He had taken yet another group up to the site of the 1944 B-24 crash in Red Rock Canyon. At the site is a cross, which Karl erected since the original had rotted. Also there is a plaque which Karl restored. It bears the names of the airmen who perished in that crash. The cross sits above a cliff. During a group picture by the cross, Karl apparently passed out and tumbled over the precipice.
[Go to www.elpasonaturally.blogspot.com to view video if you don't see it here.]
GOM had favorite hikes - the B-24 crash sites, the B-36 crash site, Kenyon Joyce Canyon and the Knife Edge on the ridge of Mt. Franklin - the most dangerous part of the ridge to cross. Karl was an intrepid climber who even made it to the top of the Mammoth's tusk using belts and, only later, more sophisticated gear.
Here's the main thing I want to say about Karl. He was a friend. When I began to have heart problems, I couldn't walk and climb as fast as I once did. Others in the group would let me fall behind. Karl didn't. He stayed with me. When the group scaled up the rocks of the Thunderbird, I realized that I wouldn't make it. Karl grabbed my arm and pulled me up.
The Sunrise Hikers played an important role in getting more and more people interested in group hikes. However, thanks to Michael Romero, who founded the El Paso Hiking Group, the number of hikers ever since has grown geometrically. Karl was one of the principal organizers.
He loved sharing his hikes with others and always wanted people to enjoy the outings. He always asked me how someone from the early days of the Sunrise Hikers was doing. He cared for each of them individually, along with everyone else he led on subsequent hikes. He was just that kind of guy.
Something tells me that he will live on in the Franklins. From now on when I look up at the mountains, I will think about Karl Putnam, God of the Mountain.
This Fall's Celebration of Our Mountains will be dedicated to him.