Years later, Mr. Long would reminisce about the first time he saw El Capitan, in 1970, and about that historic climb five years later.
“If someone had told me, as I stood in the meadow after that first trip up to El Capitan, that I would someday climb it in one day, I would have laughed in his face,” Mr. Long wrote. “But that was before I had met Jim Bridwell.”
James Bridwell was born on July 29, 1944, in San Antonio. His father, Donald, was a pilot in World War II and later for Pan Am, and his mother, the former Miriam Boxwell, was a homemaker who occasionally painted. The family moved around when Jim was young, spending time in Japan, New York and Connecticut.
Mr. Bridwell’s wife of 45 years, Peggy, said his interest in mountaineering started with birds.
“He got into climbing because he was fascinated by birds of prey,” she said, “and he used to climb to watch their habitat and flight patterns.”
He began mountaineering around 1965, during what is sometimes called the golden age of climbing at Yosemite, when climbers like Mr. Robbins (who died last year) and Warren Harding were blazing vertical trails up rock faces once thought impossible to master. Exposure to those fabled mountaineers made Mr. Bridwell a leader for the next generation.
“He had climbed with Robbins,” Dean Fidelman, a Stonemaster who also made his name as a photographer, said in “Valley Uprising,” a 2014 documentary about climbing in Yosemite. “He had climbed with everyone. That passion and commitment was something that we were looking for.”
Mr. Bridwell was a teacher to the younger (though not much younger) climbers who congregated at a Yosemite site that became known as Camp 4. He was also one of the creators of the first formal Yosemite search and rescue team, volunteering his skills to park officials in exchange for a campsite. And, in those brash and colorful years in the 1970s, when the Stonemasters were drawing attention in the news media, he was a fashion coordinator.
“Bridwell kinda dictated the dress,” Dale Bard, a climber who arrived at Yosemite in 1971, was quoted as saying in a 2016 interview with GQ magazine. “When we were doing special routes, Bridwell actually would dress us. It was for pictures, photo ops, that kind of stuff, to make us stand out, to look as rebellious as possible.”
That meant loud shirts (though the male Stonemasters often went shirtless) and colorful headbands holding back free-flowing locks.
Mr. Bridwell was known for enhancing his climbing experiences with hallucinogens.
“That was still when we had good drugs — you know, psychedelics,” he recalled in the documentary. “It was a definite fearlessness that comes with that liberation of the personality.”
The Yosemite climbers for the most part lived in jolly poverty, except for a brief moment in 1977 when a plane carrying thousands of pounds of illicit marijuana crashed in Lower Merced Pass Lake, almost 9,000 feet up. A group of Stonemasters hiked in and salvaged the cargo, smoking some and selling the rest. Mr. Bridwell, Mr. Long wrote, “throughout acted as a sort of ombudsman, shipping director and logistics director.”
Mr. Bridwell did not confine himself to Yosemite. In 1979, in a go-for-broke ascent that some climbers viewed as particularly reckless, he and Steven Brewer conquered a particular route up Cerro Torre, a 10,000-foot peak in the Patagonia region of South America that, for climbers, has been rich in both challenge and controversy.
In 1981, Mr. Bridwell and Mugs Stump made the first ascent of the east face of the Moose’s Tooth, an intimidating peak in Alaska. In 1982, he was among four Americans who completed what was described as the first trek not up, but around Mount Everest, a 300-mile journey that required ascending peaks like the 23,442-foot Pumori.
Mr. Bridwell’s devil-may-care reputation, though, kept him out of some major expeditions for which his climbing skills might have seemed a good fit.
“Bridwell’s attitude was not to work things out in advance but to sort of wing it,” Dan Larson, a leader of a 1985 Mount Everest expedition, told Rolling Stone in 1986, explaining why Mr. Bridwell was not part of that group.
That prevented him from ever making mountaineering pay in a big way. “There aren’t many people who’ve managed to be a failure for this long a time,” Mr. Bridwell told Rolling Stone for the same article.
He lived in Palm Desert, Calif. In addition to his son and his wife, he is survived by a sister, Antoinette.
Mr. Bridwell related some of his adventures in a 1992 book, “Climbing Adventures: A Climber’s Passion,” written with Keith Peall. He also wrote for magazines and worked as a stunt rigger on several movies.
In 2015, Mr. Bridwell gave Palm Springs Life magazine a succinct explanation for all that thrill-seeking.
“Adventure and excitement are the two things missing from civilization,” he said. “Danger keeps you on your toes.”
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