Norman Clyde-Robert C. Pavlik Collection, 1906-2009 (MS 164)
Legendary Mountaineer Norman Asa Clyde was born April 8, 1885, in Philadelphia, the descendant of Irish and American parents. His father, Charles Clyde, was born in Antrim County, Northern Ireland and his mother, Sarah Isabelle Purvis, a native of Glade Mills, Pennsylvania, was from an established Irish family. A Reformed Presbyterian minister, Charles Clyde died at the age of 46, which forced sixteen-year-old Norman to assume a position of responsibility in the family.
Norman graduated from Geneva College in Pennsylvania in 1909. He worked his way west to California and the Sierra Nevada, taking on a number of jobs along the way, and was a high school teacher in North Dakota, Utah, and Arizona. Teaching enabled him to explore the Sierra Nevada during the summer.
In 1914 Clyde made first ascents of Electra Peak, Mt. Parker, and Foerster Peak. He married Winifred May Bolster in 1915, and after her death in 1919 he spent even more time in the Sierra. In 1928, Clyde menaced students with a firearm, ending his career as a principal at Independence High School near the Owens Valley. As a member of the Sierra Club, Clyde found work and a home.
During his lifetime he explored and ascended hundreds of peaks in the mountain ranges of western North America, from Mt. Robson in the Canadian Rockies to El Picacho del Diablo in Baja California. In Who Was Who in America, Clyde is described as an explorer of western mountains, and is given credit for making over 1,000 ascents, to include 200 first ascents, as well as mapping new routes. In 1932, Clyde established a world record by climbing a mountain a day during a 36-day hike through Glacier National Park. Mountain features named after Norman Clyde in the Sierra Nevada include Clyde's Minaret, Clyde's Spires, Clyde's Ledge, Clyde Meadow and Clyde Peak.
He honed his outdoor skills over a lifetime. He was remarkably self sufficient and skilled at a variety of tasks, including not only rock climbing and mountaineering but skiing, snow-shoeing, fishing, hunting, axemanship, and mountain rescue.
In addition to being a mountaineer, guide, rescuer and prolific writer, Clyde was a scholar who read the Classics in their original language. He was well read, and knowledgeable in a broad spectrum of disciplines, in the arts and humanities as well as the natural sciences. A prolific author, he wrote many articles for the popular press and for mountain journals. And, contrary to popular belief, he was not a hermit, but in the winter season could often be found in the Los Angeles or San Francisco Bay regions, visiting with friends, replenishing his supply of reading material, and planning new excursions.
Clyde and his colleagues Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, owner of Dawson's Book Shop in Los Angeles, and expert climber Robert L.M. Underhill were the first climbers to ascend the difficult east face of Mt. Whitney in 1931. Underhill introduced the techniques of roped climbing and belays to climbers in the Sierra. Eichorn and Dawson remained his friends.
His exploits as a searcher for lost climbers include some of the most dramatic stories of tragedy, triumph and heroism that have ever taken place in the annals of California history. In 1933 Clyde discovered the remains of avid climber Walter A. Starr, Jr. on Michael Minaret following a grueling month-long search by dozens of government workers and volunteers. Starr's Guide to the John Muir Trail and the High Sierra Region was published the following year by the Sierra Club. Clyde also located the bodies of Anna and Conrad Rettenbacher and the crew of a downed Army Air Corps B-18 plane.
Among climbers and skiers, his legend has outdistanced him; among the general population he has been forgotten. Yet Clyde's contributions to the exploration and description of the Sierra Nevada and to the field of mountaineering are important and long ranging, and deserve to be known by a wider audience. He once said that he "came between the pioneers and the rock climbers." Because of the immense size of his pack, long-time Sierra Club President David Brower described Clyde as "the pack that walked like a man."
Clyde received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Geneva College in 1939. In 1970 he was presented the first Francis Farquhar Mountaineering Award from the Sierra Club. In the same year, at the age of 85, he went on his last Sierra Club outing. In 1971, he was on hand to sign copies of his book Norman Clyde: Rambles Through the Range of Light published by Scrimshaw Press.
Norman Clyde died on December 23, 1972, in Big Pine, California. In 1974, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names bestowed his name on a prominent peak and glacier in the Sierra Nevada.
Robert C. Pavlik
Robert C. Pavlik is a Supervising Environmental Planner with the California Department of Transportation. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, he was raised in the San Fernando Valley, but grew up in the mountains of California, hiking, climbing, and traveling to remote places of quiet beauty throughout the state. He graduated with a degree in Liberal Studies and Anthropology from California State University, Northridge in 1979, and received a teaching credential from San Francisco State University in 1981.
He has worked as a State Park Ranger in Big Sur, an Environmental Education Instructor in Yosemite National Park, and as an historian for the National Park Service in Yosemite. Following the completion of his M.A. degree in the Public Historical Studies program at University of California, Santa Barbara he worked for over six years as State Historian at Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.
Bob has published articles and book reviews in several magazines, journals, and newspapers, including California History, The Californians, Yosemite, The Public Historian, Material Culture, California History Action, Washington Free Press, and Oral History Review. His poetry has appeared in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Perspectives, Hopedance, Washington Free Press, and the Web site, "Poets Against the War."
One of Pavlik's primary goals when writing the biography was to restore Norman Clyde to his place in history. He compares Clyde with historical figures John C. Fremont, Joseph Walker, and Jedediah Smith, and even poet Robinson Jeffers, pointing out that Clyde didn't need to explore or traverse the mountains like other trailblazers and poets; he lived in them for over 60 years as a guide, naturalist and writer.
- Clyde, Norman. The Conquest of Lower California's Highest Peak, 1932 & 1937. Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop, 1975.
- Clyde, Norman. Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada. San Francisco: Scrimshaw Press, 1971.
- Farquhar, Francis P. History of the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965.
- Pavlik, Robert C. Norman Clyde: Legendary Mountaineer of California's Sierra Nevada. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 2008.
- Pavlik, Robert C. Personal interview 16 Oct. 2009.
- Rusho, W.L. Everett Ruess, A Vagabond for Beauty. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1983.
- Voge, Hervey, Ed. A climber's Guide to the High Sierra. San Francisco: Sierra Club, 1962.