Remembering Pete Grant

On Sunday December 13 2021, Pete Grant, an Honorary Member of the Mountaineering Section, passed away just before his 80th birthday from complications with Parkinson’s disease. Pete moved away from the DC area in 2003 but for many years before that had been an enthusiastic club member, organizing trips, serving on the committee and climbing at every opportunity.

Pete was born in Finland in 1940 and moved to the US in 1953. He went to school, joined the Army, changed his name to Pete Grant, served in Vietnam, left the army, had a stint selling real estate and became a programmer, often working at the Pentagon for the Department of Defense.

Pete joined the Mountaineering Section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and became active around 1980. He led many trips for the club, taught climbing and mentored new climbers, and was active until around 2003 when the effects of Parkinson’s could no longer be ignored.

Pete met his first wife Suk Chin in Korea when he was posted there and they had three children: Helen, Karen, and Janice. By 1981, Pete was bringing his daughters out to climb on club trips, and Helen was also a leader on many trips. Together they led trips all over the mid-Atlantic region and to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York and North Carolina.

As a trip leader, Pete was very welcoming of new climbers. He would patiently explain safe practices. But he was quite direct and blunt. If you were being foolish, Pete would let you know.

As a climber, Pete focused on enjoying the outdoors, the companionship and the joy of moving in vertical terrain. He was not focused on grades, didn’t brag about his accomplishments, and preferred trad climbing to sport climbing.

Pete was Vice-Chairperson (1986) and Secretary for part of 1983 and for 1985. He edited the newsletter, Up Rope, for the club for many years and almost single-handedly wrote entire issues in the early 1980s, taking many of the photos.

Photography and race car driving were among his other hobbies, including racing mountain roads in Audis and Triumphs before his children were born. According to his family, Pete was involved in a bad crash, rolling his car. But he didn’t tell his mom about it. She read about his crash in the newspaper the next day.

In later years he showed a fondness for BMWs, generally driven rather speedily to the Gunks, Seneca, and the New River Gorge. Amusingly these sported Florida plates as Pete owned some apartment buildings in Florida! Getting a ride from Pete was a treat, as he’d do all the driving and you’d get there quickly.

Despite his preference for fast cars, Pete took a rather basic approach to climbing. He was not flashy. Tom Isaacson recalls an early trip to Seneca in Pete’s Porsche where, upon arrival, Pete just tossed his sleeping bag in the dirt on Roy Gap Road and slept next to his car.

Pete liked to play Blackjack. According to his family, he was good at counting cards and was banned from casinos in Las Vegas. He won a Studebaker in a game and eventually gave that car to his little sister.

Pete also had a great liking for cruises, perhaps because there he could play Blackjack without any concern about being banned.

Pete had been separated from his first wife for some years when he met Lynda in 2002. Now Lynda didn’t know anything about climbing, but she knew she wanted Pete so with enormous enthusiasm she tried rock climbing and ice climbing. And more than once. After Pete got divorced, Lynda and Pete were married August 14 2005, on a cruise ship in Miami.

In 2003 after the Parkinson’s diagnosis they moved to Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks. Why? you might be asking. Well Lynda’s adult children lived there. Pete continued to climb while living there, and also visited New Zealand and Mongolia without Lynda. In 2007, they moved to Leesburg, Florida to escape the long cold winters. While living in Florida, most years he and Lynda took cruises, including many trips to Europe, and visited relatives in Finland.

In 2020 Pete moved to a home that could provide the necessary care. Unfortunately he contracted pneumonia while there and was unable to overcome this.


Personal Note from Simon Carr

I met Pete in August 1999, when I moved to DC from Boston. I was staying in a hotel in Foggy Bottom and he was running a club trip to Talking Headwall near Front Royal. Pete picked me up in his BMW and this was the start of a four-year climbing partnership. We made numerous weekend and day trips to the New River Gorge, Seneca and the Gunks, with occasional visits farther afield to N Carolina, the Adirondacks and a thanksgiving trip to Arizona where we climbed in Cochise Stronghold and Queen Creek. There were also ice climbing trips to the Daks and Pennsylvania.

Mostly we swung leads although I’d usually take the harder pitches. Pete was nearly 60 ….and he did the driving, utilizing the skills he had developed from when he used to race cars. After he moved to Saranac Lake, I visited him several times each year and we climbed the Wiessner Route (5.6) on the Washbowl Cliff and Quadrophenia (5.7) on Hurricane Crag, plus some ice climbing, in this period. I think the last time we tied on a rope together was around 2005 or 2006 when we were both in New Zealand; Pete on holiday, and I was visiting my family. He’d lost none of his enthusiasm, even if it was much harder for him to climb because of Parkinson’s.

I was the best man at his wedding to Lynda.

When Lynda told me that he was in hospice care, I called to say goodbye. Although he couldn’t speak, Lynda told me he was smiling. That’s the Pete Grant I remember.


Jeanette Helfrich’s Memory of Pete Grant

Pete was already a fixture in PATC/MS when I joined the club about 1985.  He was a good solid trad leader, always good-natured and enthusiastic, gave thoughtful climbing advice, led trips nearly every weekend, edited a long newsletter every month, served as an officer of the club and drove climbing friends everywhere in his sports cars.   He often brought his teenage daughter Helen along.  She too became a good climber and helped lead trips and train new climbers.

Pete was a tough guy, not one for organized camping.  He often just threw his sleeping bag down in the dirt besides the car or on roadside picnic tables on longer trips.  Once when he led a trip to Riegelsville ice climbing (aka Delaware Narrows), we camped in the snow.  Even though I’d pitched my tent in the snow on mountaineering trips, it was unique for routine local trips.  We all got just a little tougher and smarter climbing with Pete.

I remember climbing at the Gunks about 2001 when Pete and I were eyeing the same climb.  It had an unprotected start up to a small overlap about 10′ off the ground.  I backed off several times not willing to commit to the hard move before I could get in the first piece of pro.  Pete watched and hesitated briefly and then had the guts to just do it.  He was always formidable, physically and mentally.
Jeanette Helfrich, December 27, 2020, Adelphi Maryland


Memories of Pete Grant from Greg Christopulos

Those PATC members who also served in the Army would address Pete as “Sergeant  Pete”.   It always got a grin out of him.  Back when “Sergeant Pete” was Up Rope Editor,  he got off topic for one issue.  Instead of writing about a climbing wall, he wrote a moving article about the new Vietnam war memorial, thus connecting two threads of his life.

When I was Club Chair, the membership made him a Honorary Member.  With the advent of climbing schools and gyms, PATC members had gotten lazy and started only doing things with their regular climbing partners, instead of also mentoring new climbers,

Sergeant Pete would have none of that.  By his own example and efforts, he got other members also organizing trips and mentoring new climber.  A sergeant makes the Army effective by leading, organizing, and mentoring.  That’s what Pete did for the Club.


From Tom Isaacson

While heading off to climb this am, I noticed that my t-shirt (a selection to which I rarely give much thought) was from the PATC-MS.  Perhaps it was a sign that today was a good occasion to reflect back more than three decades to my PATC-MS days, of which Pete Grant was such an important part. 

As an almost-total beginner when I first started going on PATC climbing trips in 1985, I looked up to Pete, as a source of advice on all aspects of climbing.  Pete was an excellent teacher.  He would carefully explain whatever issue of climbing safety or technique happened to arise.

Perhaps reflecting his military background, Pete didn’t suffer fools.  He was direct, sometimes even blunt.  He was very clear about the fact that climbing could be dangerous.  There were valuable social dimensions to climbing with Pete, but for us beginners his first priority was safety.  Those lessons have stayed with me over the ensuing 35 years and thousands of climbs.

He was also very encouraging.  I recall one trip, circa 1988, when his daughter Helen and I (and others) decided to try Foops at Skytop.  It was maybe 5.11d and far beyond our abilities at that time.  Pete challenged us to keep trying, though surely knowing we had no chance of success.

Pete also was an organizational force, putting trips together, working on Up Rope, and helping with the many other tasks that were needed to make the Mountaineering Section succeed.  He freely gave us an immense amount of his time and energy.

Pete’s love of cars made trips with him to the Gunks and Seneca that much more enjoyable … and quicker.  He had quite a few interests beyond climbing and the conversations easily filled the long drives.

Pete was an important part of the Club’s history.  It is great to see people taking the time to remember and honor him.

Rest In Peace, Pete.

From Carol Garfinkel

Pete was one of my main climbing partners when I started out multipitch trad climbing and was a fairly new climber. I was always impressed at how he chose routes that were just the right amount of difficulty. I would think I couldn’t do them, but somehow he knew I could. We climbed at Seneca and at the Gunks. At the Gunks, we always walked off instead of rapelling…all the way back to the Uberfall. He said that was part of a full experience and an opportunity to debrief and chat with your partner. Spending a day with Pete was always terrific.

The day after I led my very first trad pitch – exciting, fun, and satisfying – I led my second ever pitch with Pete on Andrew at the Gunks, using Pete’s very minimalist rack. After I was a bit into the pitch, Pete suggested that I resist placing too much pro, because I might run out before I get to the belay. I was terrified! I thought I might give up leading then and there, but luckily I did not. 

Despite my generally poor memory and the amount of time that has passed since then (the early 2000s), I remember some of the specific classic routes I did with Pete and look back on those times fondly. I’m sorry to have been out of touch for all these years since he moved to Florida. He was a great guy!


From John Christian

Pete Grant was always aware of the bigger picture, someone eager to explore alternatives. Discussions with him were always positive and stimulating.

In 1983 I asked Pete and 2 others to come with me fo heli in to Arras Mountain, to do a FA of one of few unclimbed 10,000 foot peaks in the Canadian Rockies. The climb was no problem but getting back over several passes was. I was traversing in a shallow bergschrund and fell backwards downslope with legs caught. Pete (with 50lb pack plus 20lbs photo equipment) grabbed my chest harness and heaved me and my pack upright. Strong, straight forward, direct acting Climber. I miss him.   


From Doug Halonen

Hope he rests in peace.

I first met Pete in 2001, shortly after I started climbing.

I followed him up my first multipitch route. This was at the Gunks. Sixish. Always appreciated that he was willing to mentor me while I was a newbie. I tried to return the favor by mentoring other newbies after I started leading my own routes.

At the time, the PATC MS was not very active.

But Pete was always eager to climb, and I climbed several times with him and helped him organize a few group outings. He seemed to enjoy the group outings.

He also loved to drive fast. 

(Too fast for my comfort, on one or two occasions. But behind the wheel, he seemed to know what he was doing.)

He loved his old BMWs, which he used to race.

He said whenever he needed a new car, he looked around for a BMW that had 100,000 miles on it and a maintenance record confirming that the vehicle’s oil had been regularly changed at 3,000 mile intervals.

He’d upgrade to racing tires, then get another 100,000 miles out of the car before searching for another.

I also remember that he was eagerly looking forward to retirement so that he could climb to his heart’s content.

Alas, soon after he retired, he learned that he had Parkinson’s disease, which limited his ability to lead climb but did not eliminate his enthusiasm for climbing adventures.

Looking back, the first time I suspected that something might be amiss was during a climbing trip with Simon Carr and one of Simon’s friends to Nelson’s.

Pete forgot to pack the climbing rope! (I can’t remember if he drove into Seneca Rocks to buy a new one or if Pete and I ended up climbing on one of your 8 mm double ropes while you and your friend climbed on the other?)

On the descent, Pete tossed the rope for the rappel without first aligning the rope ends, then got stuck dangling over an overhang because he ran out of rope to rappel on.

This required a self-rescue. (I think he eventually used a prusik loop and a friction knot to lock his belay loop to the climbing ropes, swung into the wall, built an anchor with one nut, evened the rope ends, then continued the rappel?)

Some time after he was diagnosed, I met Pete and Linda for a climbing adventure at Tahquitz. It took us a couple of days to find the route we were looking for—possibly the Trough?—and we ended up off route on a much harder climb on Day One! On Day Two, we found the route we had been looking for, but were only sure about it because Bob Gaines, the local guidebook’s author, was taking a client up the same route ahead of us.

It was a great, fun route to the top but it took us a long time to find and negotiate the harrowing down climb, partly due to the guidebook’s meager and confusing description.

At the bottom, Pete and I got separated somehow, and he ended up lost for a couple of hours in all the thick, mountainside vegetation.

Another year, Pete, Lynda and I had a bit of misadventure on the Prune at Seneca, but this time it was my fault! We did get to the top of pitch 3 eventually.