Hiking Club Spreads a Little Bit of
Charlie on Every Peak
By TOM MILLER - from
The New York
TUCSON, Jan. 24 Richard
Kane stood on a large outcropping at Chimney Rock in the Santa Catalina
Mountains northwest of here one day recently. He was holding an open
prescription bottle and thinking about Charlie Whitmore, his hiking buddy who
died in 2005.
Whitmore, at Grand Canyon in 2003. He died in 2005.
On his deathbed, Mr. Whitmore,
79, got assurances from Mr. Kane and other members of the Southern Arizona
Hiking Club that they would honor his last request: spread his ashes on each of
the clubs 315 authorized peaks. Mr. Kane and Mr. Whitmore hiked together
almost every weekend, and Mr. Whitmore had reached all 315.
That promise to his dying
friend compelled Mr. Kane, his wife, Beth, and his son, Brian, their three
Rhodesian ridgebacks, another club member and their walking sticks, to
bushwhack their way off the Bellota Trail through cat claw and ocotillo cactus,
zigzag down a sloping hill, circumvent large rocks, and climb over and slide
under wire fencing to get to Chimney Rock late last year. As Mr. Kane. a
strapping 65-year-old, bent over to pour some ashes from the plastic
prescription bottle, he said softly, Heres another one for you,
In Mr. Whitmores hiking
days, his tree-trunk legs could carry him from the South Rim of the Grand
Canyon to its North Rim and back, a 50-mile hike, within 24 hours.
Before his retirement, Mr.
Whitmore worked in computers. He was also a fervent University of Arizona
football fan, a lousy cook and a man with an impish sense of humor.
I could never keep up with
him, Mr. Kane recalled. On the Fort Apache Whitewater Indian Reservation,
for example, hed just walk right to the top of Baldy Peak without
stopping; hed practically trot.
The hiking club defines
peak as a point at least 300 feet higher than a ridgeline. Peak
elevations vary widely, and a mountain can have several peaks. An ambitious
climber can knock off two or three peaks in a day.
Mr. Whitmore and Mr. Kane
attacked the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona, the Baboquivaris just
east of the Tohono Oodham Reservation and the practically trailless
Winchesters, west of Benson. Once, in the Picacho Mountains northwest of
Tucson, a boulder dislodged and crushed Mr. Whitmores ankle. He
couldnt walk, so a search-and-rescue helicopter lifted him out on a
litter, Mr. Kane said. Charlies reaction: Sure wish
Id had a camera, the view was great.
When the ash spreading at
Chimney Rock was complete and entered on the hiking clubs Web site, the
group was solidly in the second half of its mission. They had conquered 176
peaks for Charlie, 139 to go.
Ever since Mr. Whitmores
ashes were sent from El Encanto Memorial Crematory in two sturdy boxes, they
have been stored in the Kanes house in Tucson. Mr. Kane often carries
some with him in small prescription bottles to give to club members he runs
into who are planning a hike. I can dish him out to others that
way, is how he puts it.
We love you enjoy
your life, Mr. Whitmores daughters have written next to a heart on
the bottles. His widow, Susan, has been invited along on the hikes, but it is
too emotional for her, Mr. Kane said. She approves of the effort, he hastened
to add. Years ago, she camped a few times with her husband and Mr. Kane.
She thought we were crazy, he said.
As the Chimney Rock hiking party
drove from a parking lot to the trailhead, Mr. Kane remembered that he had left
the bottle for that day in the cup holder of another car. They went back and
By reaching all the peaks on the
clubs list, Mr. Whitmore inspired others, among them Christine
Michalowski, a biochemistry researcher at the University of Arizona who used to
hike with him and has spread his ashes at some 30 spots.
He was good company,
Ms. Michalowski said, adding that she understood his last wish. This was
something he had wanted to have done all his life, she said. To be able
to forever look at the scenery.
Ms. Michalowski said she kept a
bottle of Mr. Whitmores ashes in her pack when she went out. Some
people are not comfortable with it, so I keep it quiet, she said.
Mr. Kane told of a lady in
the club who doesnt like the idea of the peak list devoted to
Charlie. When she started in, he said, I saw what was
coming and I let her have it. I dont even think she knew Charlie and all
the time he put in for the club.
At Young Benchmark, a peak in
the Santa Rita Mountains, the Kanes found a new register for hikers, left by
two members of the Simi Valley Sierra Club in California. While Beth Kane
signed the couples names, her husband pulled a prescription bottle from
his shirt pocket and twisted it open. As he crouched slightly, squinting in the
sun, he tilted the bottle and a bit of the powdery remains of Charlie Whitmore
There you go,
Charlie, Mr. Kane said, softly. Then they entered Mr. Whitmores
name in the registry.