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Remembering Climber Andy Tyson ’87

This tribute to the late Andy Tyson ’87, written in support of the Mercersburg Outdoor Education (MOE) program, was authored by Andy’s father, faculty emeritus Dave Tyson, who served at Mercersburg from 1958-98.

At Mercersburg, Andy Tyson ’87 participated in cross country, wrestling, and pole vault. He gravitated to Jim Malone’s relatively new outdoor activity club. A favorite chuckle came one day when Jim excitedly said, “Have you ever seen Andy climb!?” This was directed to Henrietta, Andy’s mom, who had been coaxing Andy down from high places since he was little!

Andy graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, with a degree in physical education and geology. While at Wittenberg, Andy and another kindred spirit started an outdoor club. During his senior year, Andy took a term away for a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), which had offices in Lander, WY.

Andy’s work for the next 14 years or so was with two organizations involving outdoor programs and climbing, NOLS and Alpine Ascents, where Andy instructed students in general outdoor living. His work took him to the following mountains (summiting most but not all): Everest, Cho Oyu, Nandi Dev, and Gamlang Razi in the Himalayas; McKinley (now Denali) in Alaska; Aconcagua in Argentina; Vinson Massif in Antarctica; and Mount Blanc in the Alps.

Andy met his wife, Molly, when they were NOLS instructors with the same program. Andy and Molly bought a home near Driggs, ID, on the west side of the Tetons.

In 2014, the Discovery Channel planned a spectacle involving a daredevil leaping from the summit of Mount Everest in a special suit, and showing him soaring down the mountainside. To capture that on film, they needed to get their photographers to special positions on the mountainside. Andy was recruited to be a guide for the photographers. The expedition team was at base camp on the mountain when an avalanche struck on the trail they were planning to take that day. Sixteen Sherpa guides who had advanced to make final preparations on the trail were killed that morning. Andy’s role that day quickly changed to rescue operations, and, of course, the project was scrubbed. That was Andy’s most newsworthy event (his photos appeared in National Geographic’s coverage), but hardly his most noteworthy. Andy and Molly would both return to Nepal and Tibet in 2015 to teach at a school instructing Sherpa on mountain-climbing skills so those people might advance to a higher trade than simple load bearers.

Andy’s most significant achievement in climbing took place in 2013 at the very northern tip of Myanmar (Burma), when he led a team to make the first ever ascent of Gamlang Razi (Mount Gamlang). Andy had become aware of a wealthy Burmese businessman who had a passion to promote Burmese citizens in the field of climbing. The businessman would provide financing if Andy would train a few Burmese climbers and select two to be on the team to reach the summit. Andy would complete the team with American friends. Andy went to an appropriate region in China that spring where he trained several selected Burmese. In August, he returned to Myanmar with four American climbers, one of whom was Molly. He selected two Burmese climbers to fill out the team.

What would make this adventure significantly arduous is that there is no location near the mountain to which they and their equipment could be transported. It required a two- to three-week slog on foot through the jungle, with many porters to carry equipment and supplies, just to reach the base camp, but they made it. As for the climb itself, all went well until the final push to the summit when one of the Burmese climbers had problems and had to be sent back to the latest camp. All the others made it–a first ever summiting of Gamlang Razi. Readings at the top led Andy and his crew to conclude that it was slightly taller than a nearby peak which had long been recognized as the tallest in the southeastern section of the Himalayas, but final settlement of that debate has not been reached.

Andy co-authored two books related to climbing: Illustrated Guide to Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue, written with illustrator Mike Clelland and published by Climbing magazine in 2000, and Climbing Self Rescue, co-authored with Molly and published by Mountaineers Books in 2006.

In 2001, Andy and a friend at NOLS started a business, Creative Energies, and they were joined a year later by another partner from NOLS. Initially they thought to work with solar, wind, water, and geothermal power, but fairly quickly honed in on solar. This was an ideal situation for these three partners. All were intensely interested in promoting clean energy, and each was ready to cover for another who had a special activity coming up. The business is still run by the other two partners with offices in Salt Lake City and Lander, Wyoming.

In 2015, Andy and two of his workers were flown to a small mountain landing strip in the mountains of Idaho to see how solar power might be effectively installed at a ranch there. When taking off to return, the pilot misjudged the winds, causing the plane to crash into a tree. All four in the plane died in that crash.

A few references to articles related to Andy’s activities are available by researching Andy Tyson online, especially an article on the Gamlang expedition written by Andy for the Asian Geographic magazine. To access it, go to asiangeo.com.

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