Jim Langford : When I climbed in the Tetons
during the 1950s I became acquainted with several of the climbing rangers.
The one who impressed me the most, both in terms of climbing acumen and
responsible and virtuous behavior, was Jim. I considered it a real privilege
to climb with this gentleman. With a quiet demeanor and powerful gymnastic
build, Jim inspired confidence in his climbing partners – and when the 1950s
gave way to the 1960s, a time of increased indulgence in alcohol and drugs,
Jim stood as a friendly paragon of virtue and integrity, never criticizing,
but demonstrating that climbing needn't be a step toward perdition.
Jim's a few years older than me, but don't think I could keep up
with him in biking or hiking – he's in far too good a condition. He and
Bob Kamps present strong images of men in their early 70s who have maintained
their physical abilities to the extent that they simply can't be compared
to others in their age group. Both Jim and Bob are 2nd generation American
rock climbers – for they both learned their craft from those legendary first
generation gurus Don Wilson and Chuck Wilts, as did Royal Robbins in the
very early 1950s. I started a couple of years later, but both Jim and I bought
manila hemp rope at the beginning, he in St. Louis and me in Atlanta. We
both suffered the same unpleasant rope splinters and burns as we rappelled
off trees. Jim was inspired by the film The White Tower in the late 1940s and
I was inspired by a movie newsreel on Olympic gymnastics in 1954.
During the 1950s Jim worked as a ranger at Grand Teton Park in
Wyoming, participating in several dangerous mountain rescues. That's when
we first met. Later he moved around, taking on more responsibility and new
chores in other National Parks or Monuments. He married in 1962 and began
to raise a family, spending several years in Joshua Tree National Monument.
There he had the great good fortune to meet and climb with Phil Smith, who
had been the first ranger at Grand Teton and who, with Fritiof Fryxell, had
made the first ascents of numerous Teton peaks between 1925 and 1935. In
1967 Jim and his family moved to Pinnacle National Monument where he served
as Chief Ranger. While there, he organized and led a difficult and very dangerous
rescue, and was subsequently awarded the Department of the Interior's Medal of Valor.
He might also have won the prestigious Carnegie Award for Valor, had he not
removed himself from consideration, being Acting Superintendent at the time.
It's unfortunate that modesty has not an award of its own.
Jim retired in 1990, as Land Manager at Fort Hunter Liggett. For
many years he organized and led backpack trips into the Sierras, frequently
with over 50 participants. Mountain climbing was always a major part of
these trips. He also instilled in one of his sons, Jody, an unwavering and
exceedingly good-natured commitment to both climbing and photography. This
is a father – a man – whose contributions to his fellows and to the climbing
community go far beyond mere acrobatic first ascents. He is indeed a man
for all seasons, a great gentleman, and my friend. (2003)
(Photo of John & Jim 2002 by Jody Langford)