return to A "Short" Biography


I wish to share some old stories about Bill/Sheldon Firth with his more recent friends -

- about climbing Mount Tamalpais to get ready for the Sierras ;-))
In 1970, Irene, myself, and three kids moved with Control Data Special Systems from Pike Lake Drive, New Brighton, Minnesota to high tech Silicon Valley.

Someone in Control Data, maybe Bill Firth, suggested that we form a group to climb the Mt Whitney trail later that summer, and that a climb of our local 2600 foot Mount Tamalpais would be a good warm up for that exercise.

So one weekend about 20 of us went north, over the Golden Gate Bridge, to Muir Woods, just south of Mt. Tamalpais. (Now,in even more crowded California, you need to get a permit and use the shuttle bus.)

We parked in the nice cool north part. We started up, going north. It was a warm sunny day, and we struggled and sweated up through the manzanita underbrush. Exhausted, we reached the top. To our great surprise there was a radar station, buildings and the paved road.

OK - so we didn't do our home work very well - We all later collected USGS maps (no Internet or Google).
We drink our water and eat our sandwiches, I don't even remember if there was a shop up there or not.
I made a big deal about pouring out my extra gallon of water -

Now, how to return to the cars? Not wishing more battles with manzanita, we walked down the road to the south west. After being "lost" most of the afternoon and early evening, we finally found our cars in the near dark. Interesting lesson in not researching ahead - a valuable lesson, not to be repeated!

Over the years we did "do" Mt. Whitney, multiple times -

- and on the Wonderland Trail about Mt. Rainier
Around 1975, Donna & Bill Firth and Irene & I drove to Seattle, Washington, visiting some old friends of Bill/Sheldon. Old friend Jack Nickerson took us to the mountain trail head in some defunct black car/truck, promising to pick us up elsewhere some days later - assuming the car still worked - And we were on our own - on the beautiful Wonderland trail -

From the National Park Service web site -
"The Wonderland Trail traverses many ridges and valleys that radiate from Mount Rainier. A daily hike of 7 to 10 miles is recommended to compensate for the ruggedness of the trail. Daily elevation gains and losses of over 3,500 feet are common. Allow 10 to 14 days to hike the entire trail, depending on your daily average. The more time you give yourself, the more time you will have to enjoy the wonders of the Wonderland."

All went amazingly well. We stopped frequently to enjoy, - no particular rain, no bears, no mosquitoes, nice trail (mostly), lovely views, snow fields, we had enough food, and Jack picked us up as promised. :-))

- and what I heard about Bill Firth's Mt. Denali adventure with Ray Genet out of Talkeetna, Alaska satellite, Wikipedia
Late one spring, 1976?, Bill/Sheldon invited some friends to climb Mt. McKinley/Denalli. To be fully prepared, Bill wanted to train for almost a week with the Seattle Mountaineers, under Big Jim Whitiker, then fly to Alaska and Talkeetna and join one of the many expeditions "doing" Mt. Denalli. I was raising kids at the time, and I'm not a serious adventurer - so declined, as did all of Bill's other local friends.

Bill did Mt. McKinley/Denali under the tutelage of Ray Genet, who had several expeditions on the mountain at the same time and hiked from one to the other to asure everything was going as well as could be expected.

Bill summited, and had many tales to tell.
Later Ray Genet started a guide service near Mt. Aconcagua in South America to help
- help folks with the 6,900 meter mountain
- keep busy all year (winter climbs of Denalli are unusual ;-)
Ray summitted Mt. Everest, but died on the way down -

Later, Irene and I peeked at Ray's widow, now sole owner/proprietor of the store at the Talkeetna airport - while we were trying to find the song "The Moose Gooser Railroad" at a Blue Grass festival in Talkeetna - old adventures ;-)) While at a local bar, (looking for the song of course) we met Mary Cary, author of "Alaska, Not For a Woman" - she was very talkative and feeling no pain at the time ;-))

While in Alaska, Bill was fascinated by tales of Don Sheldon - a famous bush pilot. Maybe they met - bush pilots flew climbers from Talkeetna to glaciers on Mt. Denalli - who knows?
The book "Wager with the Wind: The Don Sheldon Story" by James Greiner is still in print. Some time later, Donna Firth became Dana,
and Bill became Sheldon.

We all remember Sheldon with fondness - I cannot think of any guy who was ever really ticked-off at him. A number of women probably wish he was less of a flirt (including ex-wife Dana), - but he seemed to treat everyone with care, dignity and respect.

Sheldon, may your knees improve, and may you hike our mountains forever -