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Layton Kor: American Climbing Legend PART I

The Life of Rock Climber Layton Kor


Layton Kor: American Climbing Legend PART I

Layton Kor climbing at the Mount Nutt Wilderness Area in Arizona in 2010.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Layton Kor: American Climbing Legend PART I

Layton Kor and Ed Webster gear up below Kor's Kastle near Kingman, Arizona, in 2009.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Layton Kor: American Climbing Legend PART I

Layton Kor on the summit of Monster Tower after the first ascent in 1963, Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Photograph © Layton Kor

Layton Kor: Great American Climber

Layton Kor, one of America's greatest rock climbers, died at age 74 after a long illness in Kingman, Arizona on Sunday, April 27, 2012. Layton was born in Canby, Minnesota in 1938 and lived in many places as his bricklayer father followed construction jobs across the United States. Layton himself became a bricklayer, finding it an ideal way to earn a living. "I would work for a couple months," he said, "and save enough to go climbing for half the year. Good job for a climber."

Began Climbing at Garden of the Gods

Kor first began climbing on the edge of the Garden of the Gods near Manitou Springs in Colorado. "I had seen some movie about climbing," Layton says, "and thought that you chopped holds in the rock. So I went out to a slab with a little hammer and chipped some holds in the rock. I still feel bad about that." The film was High Conquest, based on a novel by James Ramsey Ullman.

Climbing at the Garden of the Gods

Later in the 1960s, while living in Boulder, one of Layton's favorite outings was to drive to Colorado Springs to climb at the Garden of the Gods. "I always liked to go down and climb at that place. Good climbing there. I went to the Garden with Wayne Goss a few times, and other Boulder climbers. Would climb in the Garden and go out for pizza after. Then drive back to Boulder. Oh, I only did one climb with Harvey Carter out there. Some little thing he called The Pizza. Crappy little climb. Some little blob. Usually I would climb Montezuma Tower and the South Ridge of White and some other routes."

Layton Kor at Eldorado Canyon

By the 1960s, Layton climbed all over the United States. He established many of today's classic routes like The Yellow Spur, T2, Grand Giraffe, Ruper, and The Naked Edge at Eldorado Canyon south of Boulder. "I basically learned to climb going to Eldorado," says Layton. "I did a lot of dumb things there. And I learned how to place pitons, which are really pretty easy to put in."

Many First Ascents on the Colorado Plateau

Layton also did many great first ascents in the Colorado Plateau country of eastern Utah, western Colorado, and northern Arizona. On his first desert trip, Layton climbed Independence Monument and the first ascent of Bell Tower with Harvey T. Carter and John Auld. He made the first ascents of Castleton Tower with Huntley Ingalls in 1961, The Titan at the Fisher Towers with Ingalls and George Hurley in 1962, and Standing Rock with Ingalls and Steve Komito, as well as the third ascent of the slender Totem Pole in Monument Valley.

Layton Storms Yosemite Valley

Layton also hung out at Yosemite Valley and by his sheer ability and perseverance was accepted by the locals as an equal. Layton was obsessed with Yosemite's big granite walls, doing the third ascent of The Nose, the second ascent of the Salathe Wall, and the first ascent of the West Buttress on El Capitan. He also made the first ascent of the South Face of Washington Column, one of today's trade routes for aspiring big wall climbers.

Tragedy on the Eiger Direct

In 1966 Layton Kor joined an elite team of climbers with John Harlin II, Dougal Haston, and Chris Bonington, a reporter with the Daily Telegraph who ended up being a team member, to force a direct route in winter up the North Face of The Eiger in Switzerland. Layton was a key member of the group, leading several crux aid pitches up steep limestone buttresses including one that Bonington later recalled as "one of the hardest aid pitches I've ever seen." The expedition met with tragedy, however, when leader John Harlin was killed after a rope that he was ascending broke, dropping him 4,000 feet to the cliff base.

Winter Ascent of The Diamond

The experience of finding Harlin's body after the fall with Chris Bonington dramatically affected Layton's life and he began seeking answers to spiritual questions. While he didn't stop climbing, Layton dramatically curtailed his life in the vertical. He still continued making significant ascents like the first winter ascent of The Diamond on Longs Peak by a new route-Enos Mills Wall-with Wayne Goss in the winter of 1967. As well as climbing many new routes in western Colorado.

A Spiritual Journey

After a climbing trip to Europe in the late 1960s, Layton stayed at a health clinic in San Antonio, Texas, where he found that his roommate as well as two other men at the clinic were Jehovah's Witnesses. After many late night discussion Layton, as he recounted in his book Beyond the Vertical, "was impressed with their sensible, nonemotional approach to the delicate subject of religion." Back in Boulder, he joined the Witnesses to continue his spiritual quest.

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