10.31.2008

Who IS Maynard Cohick?

I'm running the Maynard Cohick Half Marathon this weekend as part of the Bass Pro Shop Marathon weekend in Springfield, Missouri. I ran it last year and have the same question this year as I did last year...Who is Maynard Cohick? Why would they name a Half Marathon after Maynard Cohick. So I decided to do a little research (not much) and I found this article on him.

Sounds as if he was definitely an adventurer who liked to summit mountains and was always up for a challenge. He actually died trying to summit Annapurna known to be the most technical mountain in the world to climb-just 800 feet below Everest.

So now that I know a little about Mynard Cohick, I'll be thinking about him as I run Sunday.

Here is the article. It's awfully long:
In the Wake of an Annapurna Avalanche
On the coldest winter nights, Maynard Cohick would pitch a tent and sleep in his back yard. During the day, he routinely ran to and from appointments, jogging the 15 miles back and forth from his law practice in Republic to his clients' offices in Springfield. The inscription on his business cards read: "On to the summit."
Cohick's constant pursuit of new challenges eventually took him all the way from Missouri to the Himalayas. For the adventurous attorney — whose hero was Sir Edmund Hillary of Mt. Everest fame — the rolling hills of the Ozarks were never enough.
"By the late 1970's Maynard was joining elite expeditions that took him to the most extreme places on the planet...."
Jeanne Cohick tells the story. Her memory is clear and her admiration for Maynard is still evident. She starts with their honeymoon, which was spent climbing Mt. Whitney in California. "The trail over the summit was about as wide as a railroad trestle," she recalls, talking from her Springfield home. "I was afraid I was going to get blown off. Maynard wanted to carry me and both packs, but I wouldn't let him." Later, when the stakes got higher, Jeanne never asked Maynard to stop climbing. She wasn't the kind of wife who sat at home worrying about her husband's whereabouts. And she still possesses the self-confidence of a woman who is adoring but capable of letting go.
"He always said, if anything happened, he wanted to be buried on the mountain," she recalls softly.
The Cohicks' first child, Steve, was born in California nine months after the honeymoon, placing his conception near the summit of the tallest mountain in the continental United States. The couple had two more children, Julie and Jenny, who would be raised along with their older brother in the small town of Republic, where Maynard had started his own practice after graduating from law school at the University of Missouri.
Maynard was committed to his family — still, the lure of the mountains was strong. He often left Missouri for months at a time, always in pursuit of the next summit. At home base in Republic, Jeanne tended to the children and her horses. Once, while Maynard was climbing Mt. McKinley in Alaska, Jeanne got kicked by a horse and suffered serious injuries. "I didn't want him to know," she says. "But somehow they got word to him on the mountain and he rushed home."
By the late 1970's Maynard was joining elite expeditions that took him to the most extreme places on the planet. During one of the expeditions, he lay awake at night in his tent, listening to avalanches in the distance. "Sometimes when danger is near and family and friends are a long way off," he wrote in his journal, "I fear that I might never again have the opportunity to improve myself in the eyes of those I care for so deeply."
But, back home in the Ozarks, Maynard would always get restless and look to the future. He tried to keep himself busy by making detailed plans for a 900-mile trek across Antarctica to the South Pole. And there were more mountains on the horizon, including Mt. Everest, which was constantly looming as the ultimate test of a climber's endurance.
At 5-foot-7, 140 pounds, Maynard didn't appear to be a dominating figure. But the bearded Cohick was quickly growing into the kind of man legends — even myths — are made of.
In 1978, Cohick and members of his party became the first Americans to climb Communism Peak (formerly Stalin Peak — 24,599 feet) in what is today Tajikistan near the bordering countries of Afghanistan and China. During the expedition, Cohick established a friendship with a member of the Soviet Army. The new friend ripped an army emblem off his coat and gave it to Maynard.
"I sewed it on his windbreaker," Jeanne says. "But now it's lost on Annapurna."
The Cohicks' 15th anniversary passed while Maynard was climbing in Russia. "He told me I could stop him any time," Jeanne says. "But that would be like cutting his breath off. I really wanted him to go to the South Pole, I know he would have made it. And after Everest he was going to quit. But he got the call, and he went to Nepal to climb Annapurna."
It was 1979. Maynard was 41 years old.
The 26,504-foot peak rises out of the Himalayan range about 150 miles northwest of Kathmandu, just south of the old Tibetan border with Nepal. It's actually a series of peaks, forming a range of summits known by Roman numerals, I and II and so on. Although Everest is 800 meters its senior, Annapurna I is considered to be a more difficult climb from a technical standpoint.
Cohick's group, which set out in July, included eight people from three countries and numerous Sherpas. They walked from Kathmandu to the base of Annapurna (meaning Goddess of Abundance to local Buddhists), acclimating along the way. Progress was slow. The monsoon season had just passed and the trekkers had to negotiate wet, leech-infested jungle trails on their way to Base Camp. Stronger members of the team, including Cohick, walked ahead to construct makeshift bridges across the swollen rivers flowing down from the roof of the world. The expedition suffered a blow before it started ascending the peak when two porters slid down a muddy embankment to their deaths in the lower altitudes.
Months passed. On September 19, Cohick and his group were preparing an assault on Annapurna's summit. The climbers were camped on a precarious ridge, waiting out high winds at 20,946 feet. They had chosen this ridge, called The Dutch Rib, because they reasoned the steep cliffs rising above their campsite would shield them from the constant threat of avalanche high on the mountain. Furthermore, the total area of The Dutch Rib is so small that sliding snow tends to be diverted in either direction, crashing harmlessly off the side of the Earth. The climbers felt like they had situated themselves in a narrow zone of safety.
Patrick O'Donnell, a ski-resort vice-president, who was on the mountain with Maynard, later wrote, "It was so narrow you could straddle the ridge with both feet and peer into 2000-foot deep gullies, which dropped away on either side."
The winds soon became horrific, causing whiteout conditions near the top of the mountain. Some of the climbers at The Dutch Rib decided to retreat to the relative safety of Camp III. Two men rappelled down the steep slope of the ridge, disappearing over the lip without further discussion of strategy. Three of their team members stayed behind: Gil Harder (Abilene, Texas), Eric Roberts (North Wales) and Maynard Cohick.
Harder was suffering from mild altitude sickness. Roberts had just descended from Camp V through the brunt of the windstorm. By all accounts, Cohick was strong enough to make Camp III ahead of Harder and Roberts, who chose to rest at The Dutch Rib before going down. Instead, Maynard decided to remain with his friends.
Then everyone on the mountain heard what has been described by most witnesses as a giant crack. The entire east face sagged and started to collapse from the seismic shock of the avalanche - leaving the two descending climbers buried in snow. The pair had clipped into their carabiners when they heard the giant crack. Still hooked to their ropes, they managed to dig themselves out and were able to scramble down the steep slope of The Rib to Camp III at 19,974 feet. They radioed Camp IV, trying to raise their partners. There was no answer.
Days later, after the storm subsided, a rescue party at The Dutch Rib found a piece of frayed rope between two ice screws and the remains of a tent, which had been ripped away into oblivion. No other signs of the lost climbers were discovered.
A runner was dispatched from Base Camp to Kathmandu, carrying news of the disaster that wouldn't reach the United States for another week. Harder, Roberts and Cohick had literally vanished into thin air.
Maynard Cohick spent much of his life traveling around the world; he died on top of it. In his last letter to Jeanne, received about the time of the accident on Annapurna, Maynard wrote: "I love you very much, and hope this long absence hasn't been too difficult for you. Tell all the gang I said hello and the next time you hear from me, I will have been to the summit."
Twenty years after Annapurna, Jeanne sits on the couch at her home in Springfield, talking about Maynard. She smiles. On her lap, she holds open a black satchel that is full of treasures. The satchel contains newspaper articles, photographs, letters and other mementos that document the life of an amazing man.
The newspaper articles and pictures are for the whole world to see. Some of the letters and mementos are private. "This is really a great story, don't you think?" Jeanne says, far away.
She's looking down at a photograph of Maynard. She might be thinking about the frayed rope, about the ice screws still attached to Annapurna. She sighs. "In many ways, it's really a love story."
—Lance Feyh, Living the Life with MountainZone.com

13 comments:

  1. Wow, thanks so much for sharing!

    What a wonderful life he lead...

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  2. Hey, I wrote that article. LF

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  3. And a very nice article it is LF! It was interesting to find out who he was. On the back of our shirts we received as a mountain that had a flag at the top that said, "to the summit". It make a lot more sense to me after reading your article to find out more about Mr. Cohick. Thanks for the information on him.

    Did I post it correctly? Made sure your name and where it came from was displayed. Let me know if this is okay with you.

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  4. I am totally cool with it. I wrote that a long time ago. I just happened to find this blog today while googling. LF

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  5. Thank you very much for the information! Appreciate it!

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  6. Hi Kim,
    Thank you for the nice prologue to the article on climbmountainzone...everyone should know about people like Maynard...who pit themselves against the ultimate challenges in life. That's what my father lived for, setting monumental goals. Even the smallest goals achieved in life can, in themselves, be a great reward. This is what he liked to speak about to people. Any goal...just set one and start on the road to achievement and you'll discover a zest that will keep you nuch more alive inside and fulfilled.

    Keep running Kim!

    Sincerely, Steve Cohick

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  7. Teri Newcomer12/29/08, 3:54 PM

    Hi Kim,
    I saw your question when I googled Maynards name. It looks like you figured out who he was. I am one of his nieces, Teri (Cohick) Newcomer from Jersey Shore PA. Although growing up we did not get to see my uncle and his family much (they lived in Missouri)it always felt like we saw them everyday when we did. He was a warm and generous man. I have one of the shirts that you described. He was also on the cover of one of the Sierra Club Calendars. He led a very interesting and adventurous life. I will never forget when we heard of his death. My father (his brother, Melvin) heard it on the Associated Press news on the radio first in the early morning. It was hard hearing something so personal broadcasted for the world to hear...before his own family was even notified. My parents made the call to my Aunt Jeanne.
    We flew to Missouri for his memorial service which was beautiful. If you can imagine..."Climb Every Mountain", the song from the Sound of Music playing. How appropriate. I think of him every time I hear it to this day.
    Thanks for supporting his love for life.

    Teri Newcomer

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  8. Teri-Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. It sounds as if Mr. Cohick was an amazing man. Very inspirational. I'm so glad I was able to grasp a little information on him. It makes for one more reason to keep on reaching for your dreams!

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  9. I HAD A GRAND FATHER NAMED MAYNARD COHICK, WHO WAS BORN IN 1910, IN THE WILLIAMSPORT PA AREA, I KNOW THEIR NOT THE SAME GUY, BUT I THINK MY GRANDFATHER WAS NAMED AFTER THIS MAYNARD.

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  10. Hi Kim,

    I am Maynard's youngest daughter, Jenny. Thank you for posting this aritcle. I hope it inspires others to follow their dreams!

    Keep running!
    ~ Jenny

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  11. Jenny-Thank you for your comment. I have really enjoyed hearing from your family and from others whose family was inspired by him...it inspires me! I'm so glad I was able to find this article.

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  12. I worked in Columbia, with Maynard at the Student Union while he was pursuing his law degree, and the stories he told left you speechless. I feel proud to have know, even if for only a short time, a wonderful adventurer. He was one of a kind.

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  13. He was my uncle. My role model.

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