Charles T. Porter, Jr., 17, student, helped to save Jeffrey N. Damp and Philip T. Davis, 20 and 18 respectively, students, from possible death from exposure, Mount Washington, New Hampshire, March 24-25, 1968. While climbing Mount Washington, Damp, Davis, and another student were caught in an avalanche and were carried some distance down a gully where angles of incline ranged from 20 degrees to vertical. Damp sustained the worst injuries of the three. Davis climbed to Damp’s position on a ledge; and the other student, who was in the bottom position, made his way down the gully and went for help. At an aid station he met Porter, who had just completed a climb in another area. After telephoning for a rescue party, Porter went to the gully, accompanied by the student. During the extensive time involved in the rescues, winds were very high, visibility was as little as 20 feet at times, and the temperature dropped to below zero. Porter and the student climbed to the point where the latter had landed after the avalanche. They shouted to Damp and Davis, who said they needed assistance to descend. The student, unable to climb farther because of his injuries, then returned to the bottom of the gully, where he met a rescue party. Included in the group were David A. Seidman and Edward Oskar Nester. Lights were brought when darkness fell. Seidman and Nester ascended to where Porter was waiting on an ice slope, unable to go farther because his rope was stuck. After briefing the two men, Porter descended to the bottom of the gully. Seidman and Nester climbed to about 60 feet below Damp and Davis, who in answer to shouts, said they could not come down. Seidman then climbed to Damp and Davis. After lowering them separately to Nester on a ledge below, Seidman then descended past them on the rope and continued to the bottom. Feeling that the others would follow, he went to the cabin, where another rescue party had arrived. Among the group was George L. Smith. Meanwhile Nester had lowered Davis to the bottom. When he tried to retrieve the rope he could not do so because it had become snagged on a rock, and he could not make voice contact with Davis because of the wind. Instead of descending the rope himself, Nester elected to remain with Damp, who was weakening from loss of blood as a result of a leg injury sustained in the avalanche. Placing Damp against the rock wall, Nester covered him as best he could. He also made sure both of them were secured against possible avalanches or of being blown off the ledge by the wind. When the wind blew away some of the coverings, Nester placed his body on top of Damp. After Davis reached the cabin, persons there waited for Damp and Nester to arrive. When they failed to do so, Smith volunteered to climb to them. He asked Porter to accompany him. Taking with them extensive climbing and rescue equipment, Smith and Porter went to the gully. They made their way up to Damp and Nester, the steepest climb being a 15-foot vertical ice wall. By then Nester had been with Damp about seven hours. Early morning light improved visibility as Porter worked with Smith to set up an elaborate system by which Nester and Damp were lowered to the bottom of the gullly. Smith and Porter then descended. Damp, who had been stranded in the gully for more than 17 hours, was suffering from shock and frostbite, as well as a leg injury. He recovered.
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Renowned climber Charles Talbot Porter, 63, of Walpole, Maine, and Puerto Williams, Chile, died on Feb. 23, 2014, in Punta Arenas, Chile. Porter was born on June 12, 1950 in Nashua, N.H., the son of Dr. Charles Talbot Porter and Barbara Cooney Porter.
Before gaining fame for pioneering rock climbing routes, including on the El Capitan vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, Porter received the Carnegie Medal for helping to save two climbers from possible death from exposure on Mount Washington in New Hampshire during two days in March 1968. He was 17 at the time of the act.
Porter’s intense interest in rock climbing and mountaineering inspired him to depart from studies at Boston University to climb in the Canadian Rockies, the Cascades, and the Yosemite Valley. With another climber, he established the Shield route up El Capitan in 1972. He made the first solo ascent up Cassin Ridge at Denali National Park in Alaska in 1976. In 1978, Porter rowed alone in a kayak around Cape Horn in Chile, a 2,000-mile voyage.
Duane Raleigh, the editor in chief of Rock and Ice, a climbing and mountaineering magazine, said Porter was “probably one of the great adventurers of the 20th century.”
“You’d be hard-pressed to find someone so hard core, who would roll the dice like Charlie Porter,” Raleigh said in a March 2014 story in The New York Times.
Starting in the 1990s, Porter worked for University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute in programs covering glaciology and climate change in Antarctica, South Georgia, the Chilean Lake District, Patagonia, and New Zealand.
“Charlie had a very rare ability and a staunch drive to understand as much as he could about the physical, chemical, biological, and sociocultural aspects of some of Earth’s most remote places, most notably Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia,” the institute’s director, Paul Mayewski, told the Bangor (Maine) Daily News for a March 2014 story.
Brenda Hall, a professor in the institute and the school of earth and climate sciences, told the Daily News that trips with Porter were “an adventure.”
“Nobody could keep up with him,” she said. “Nothing was an obstacle. I think a lot of us saw him as invincible. All of us felt safe traveling with him in conditions that perhaps weren’t so safe.”
Porter also was the CEO of the Patagonia Research Foundation and operated a charter boat service for scientists, explorers and film crews.
(Edited from an obituary published at freepressonline.com.)