Experienced American climber dies in fall on Tibet mountain

Superb alpinist Joseph Puryear, author of a highly regarded climbing guide on the Alaska Range, died Tuesday in a remote section of Tibet ascending the 24,000-foot mountain Labuche Kang.

According to Web accounts, Puryear broke through an overhanging cornice and plunged 1,500 feet to his death.

Climbing partner David Gottlieb wasn't beside Puryear at the time of the fall. But after locating Puryear's footprints, Gottlieb descended, found the body and called for help on a satellite phone.

Gottlieb and Puryear had been exploring new routes on Labuche Kang. The massif has only been climbed once — in 1987 by a Tibetan Japanese expedition.

Puryear published "Alaska Climbing" in 2006, the culmination of more than a decade of climbing the central Alaska Range. Two years earlier, he married long-time Talkeetna resident Michelle O'Neil on Pika Glacier near Mount McKinley. O'Neil worked as a resource technician at McKinley's Kahiltna basecamp in 2001.

The couple lived in Leavenworth, Wash., but maintained a cabin in Talkeetna, visiting often.

"None of us are invincible, but this one came as an extraordinary shock," said Joe Reichert, a mountaineering ranger at Denali National Park and a contributor to the "Alaska Climbing" book. "He was a real dedicated climber who never wanted to leave a task half done. He'd always go above and beyond what was required."

Still shaken by news of his friend's death, Reichert was reaching for words to express his grief.

"It's always hard for non-climbers to understand why we climb, and with every one of these tragic accidents we wonder all the more."

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