A Remembrance of Evelio Echevarria, 1926-2020

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gore galore
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A Remembrance of Evelio Echevarria, 1926-2020

Post by gore galore »

It is most probable that hardly anyone of the 14ers.com site will recognize the name of Evelio Echevarria for his mountaineering accomplishments were outside the realm of Colorado fourteeners. Rather, he was one of the greatest of South American mountain explorers and a foremost researcher and scholar of Andean climbing subject matter.

It may seem strange to write a remembrance of someone whom I never met nor even saw a picture of until recently but rather based on meeting him through his typewritten and hand written correspondence of some two dozen plus letters dating from 1999 until 2017 before his passing in October of 2020.

Evelio Echevarria was born in Chile and began climbing mountains around the capitol city of Santiago. He moved to Sun Valley, Idaho in 1953 to become a ski patroller having served in the Chilean Army division of ski troops. But he found his skiing wasn't as good as thought to be so he became first a janitor, then a bus boy and finally a waiter.

Facing life's realities he then turned to a goal of becoming a professor of Spanish-American literature earning two degrees from Berkeley, California and then a PhD. from CU Boulder in 1964. He began his teaching career at Colorado State University where after 33 years he retired in 1997.

From his home in Colorado he made more than 60 trips to regions of the Andes climbing some two hundred summits of which about 100 were unclimbed. He was more of a scrambler than a technical climber and his method was to gain the highest end of the road at the last village or mining outpost where he took off walking sometimes by himself with nothing more than a backpack, sleeping bag, tent, stove and ice axe and the tenacity to gain those high altitude summits.

His mountaineering research was prodigious compiled not on a computer but with an electric typewriter from hand written note cards as was his correspondence with me. He wrote more than 400 articles published in more than a dozen periodicals. He was a member among others of the British Alpine Club and the American Alpine Club for some 60 years of which he sent some 90 reports each to those journals the last being in 2014 and 2008 respectively.

His journal reports were often terse notes as in the following from the 1993 AAJ. “I reached the mining settlement of Viloco on the northeast side of the range. By the north side and east ridge I made the first ascent of P 5160 (16,929 feet). I named it Jisca Jaque (“Small Rock Peak” in Aymara). The rock was excellent.”

But he also wrote many scholarly articles such as “The South American Indian as a Pioneer Alpinist" for the 1968 British Alpine Journal.

He eventually combined his vast knowledge of Andean climbing and research into a massive volume of 824 pages, "The Andes: The Complete History of Mountaineering in High South America," 2018 which details some 15,000 years of those mountains from the Stone Age to modern day sport climbers.

A common topic in his correspondence with me was his thinking about what he called “the archaeology of summits” and the search for information on this subject. He was working on a list of North American prehistoric mountain ascents by the ancients. His article on this subject, “Prehistoric Mountain Ascents in North America” was published in Appalachia, 2001 which included one of my own Colorado mountain findings.

In this respect he thought that Balmat and Paccard's ascent of Mount Blanc in 1786 as the usual beginning of a Chapter 1 in the western civilization recording of world mountaineering history should be regulated to about Chapter 4 and replaced in a first chapter by the ancient hunter-gathers who climbed peaks in pursuit of game.

In addition to climbing in the seven Andean countries Mr. Echevarria also climbed in the Rocky Mountain cordillera of Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and Canada. In the Colorado Rockies he climbed some of the fourteeners. His favorite area was the Indian Peaks. But he was disturbed by modern climber's names in the range such as “Oh La La” which he called “Dacotah Peak” in keeping with the tradition of Native American names in the range.

The last of his correspondences with me were his insistence to which I demurred and then finally relented about writing some biographical information for inclusion in the seven volume Polish collection, "Wielka Encyklopedia Gor I Alpinizmu" (Great Encyclopedia of Mountains & Mountaineering), J. Kielkowski, Katowice, Poland, 2017. His final letter confirmed my entry with the notation, “Do not acknowledge. This is only a brief message, with all my best wishes.”

I knew from reading this that something might not be right for he was now 91 years of age. And so it was that Evelio Echevarria passed away three plus years later from a terminal illness at the age of 95.

I will end this remembrance with his own words that I found defining his spirit and motivation in the mountaineering world. “It is better and much more interesting to make a first ascent to an unexplored peak in the Andes than the hundredth repetition, to an eight thousand of the Himalayas. The challenge of mountaineering is the discovery and exploration of unknown massifs and mountain ranges and the obligation then is to inform the international mountain community.”
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Re: A Remembrance of Evelio Echevarria, 1926-2020

Post by ltlFish99 »

This was very interesting.
Thank you for posting this.
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Re: A Remembrance of Evelio Echevarria, 1926-2020

Post by Marmot72 »

Sounds like a remarkable person and explorer.
I have phenomenal route-finding abilities. Specifically, I have an uncanny knack for selecting the path of most resistance.
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Re: A Remembrance of Evelio Echevarria, 1926-2020

Post by mountainute »

Thanks much for posting, good read. Evelio sounds like someone I would have liked to meet.
I really like his quote about exploratory mountaineering.
Take care, mountainute
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