Memories of Barry

The following are memories of Barry Corbet contributed by those who knew him. If you would like to add to this page, please send a message to

Michael Smithson

Our paths only crossed briefly for a few months back in the 70's. Both Barry and I were "super-gimps" at the time. We took a white-water kayaking course together and I remember his tenacity to figure out a way to roll the kayak back up to the surface of the pool. This is quite a challenge when you're upside down in the water holding your breath, and your legs are potentially stuck in the boat (we used long skinny kayaks back then). Barry mastered the move by jamming his body even tighter into the kayak. After a lot of pool practice, he was eventually able to roll his kayak with relative ease.

Barry lived life fully. His ability to communicate both his successes and his frustrations helped me understand that I'm not alone. Even now, nearly 30 years later, his writing makes me both laugh and cry... and gives me hope.

Barry, thanks so much for your life! Even though my body, mind and soul have been "banged-up" in the after living with paralysis for 30 years, you've given me hope. Hope you enjoy the trip from here, whatever it may be, and that your family finds strength in understanding how much you have helped others.

Russell Fraser

My younger brother, Peter, was a lifelong friend of Barry's. He visited Barry over the years, and recently said his final personal farewell to Barry.

I am expressing condolences on behalf of the Fraser family.

For those of you who do not know much about Barry's formative years, I will provide some background information. The Corbet and Fraser seniors were friends, and part of a larger circle of families in Vancouver. It was the next generation's good fortune because Burke and I, and Barry and Peter became lifelong friends.

I can assure you, and I am sure this will not be a surprise, that Barry was a determined individual from the very beginning. Whether it involved building a tree fort, or climbing, Barry had a plan and was forceful about sticking to it. He was so single minded about what he was doing that little else mattered. As you might guess, he was a tall good looking young man who could easily have had any number of girl friends, but what really mattered was skiing and climbing, so he didn't pay much attention to girls in his youth. I think that a few broken hearts were left behind, but I don't think that Barry was aware of it.

We all admired Barry, not only for what he did before his accident, but also for the courageous way in which he managed his life afterwards. Barry's death is a loss for all of us, but memories of him will live on.

Robert Samuels

As a New Mobility writer, you learned early on that Barry Corbet wasn't interested in stories about how people became disabled. He wanted to know what they were going to do next with their lives. That was Barry. He was always looking ahead to his next adventure, his next challenge.

If you read the magazine when he was editor, you knew him. It was clear-eyed, irreverent, sometimes angry but always with sharp sense of humor. That was the Barry I admired, respected and will miss.

Wayne Hamilton

My first recollection of Barry at Dartmouth is watching him grin as he opened a package of shirts his mother sent from Vancouver.  Colorful polo shirts they were, and I recall wishing my mom could find me some like them.  He was a very good student, and did the work with ease.  We would study together at exam time.  I hadn't read the part about the mineral kayenite, and I'll always remember him introducing me to “scalarometric anisotropy”; the property of directional-differential  hardness.  The words easily rolled from his tongue, and you could tell he liked them. Those sessions helped me.

He and Jake Breitenbach introduced me to rock climbing and ran me through the initiation into the Mountaineering Club by sending me over the side of Bartlett Tower to descend by body rappel.  I got chaffed, which was the whole point.  Barry arranged a program of climbing instruction and induced us to participate.  There were practice climbs at the cliffs by Norwich, where we'd down a beer before each free ascent until finally we'd get it right.  Then we gained friction pitch experience upriver at Owl Rocks, where we got chased off by a landowner who threatened to use his shotgun next time.  And a fall trip up to Quebec to climb a pinnacle near Ste.-Agathe-des-Monts with Warren Ashe and Chris Wren.  At breakfast a farm wife shooed us out of her field with, “arte le feu!”  Remember getting to like warm beer, but no recollection of success with the climb.  Best winter trip was overnight at Mt Lafayette, tents in deep snow, using a candle to produce enough heat without excess carbon monoxide.  Worst winter trip was the traverse of the knife edge of Mt. Katahdin.  The weather turned warm, and our snowshoes were heavy with slush.  I got pooped, so we bivouacked just short of the Toque Pond cabin.  Can't remember Barry ever getting pooped.  Next day drying our boots in the oven mine shrank, so Fred Fitch and Barry did the ascent while I played hausfrau and fixed them dinner.  Barry grinned maliciously when he later handed me a clipping from some newspaper in Maine; “Inexperienced college student hikes out 20 miles in sock feet.”  Later Fred augered in, in a helicopter in Australia.

We explored farther.  One spring break Barry and I delivered Bill Briggs' car to Idaho and then hitchhiked around the southwest; including a quick hike to Phantom Ranch, overtaking the mule train on the way back up to the South Rim at Grand Canyon.  On the way back to Hanover we included one leg by gondola car in a freight train from Toledo to Cleveland.  One of Toledo's “finest” frightened us by drawing his pistol and pointing it our way as we rolled under an overpass.  It was Easter.  Shortly thereafter a switch engine driver saw us and tossed us his sack lunch.  It included two Easter eggs and cheered us up again.

We once borrowed Nate Palmer's VW and drove to New York City to try to locate my girl friend.  On the way Barry spun out on some ice, and we landed upside-down in a snow bank.  It was easy to right the little car, with nary a dent, so no need to give Nate an account of this mishap.  On the way back I had a friend with me in the back seat, and Barry was the chauffer.  Months later, when I barked at him about something, he reminded me that I hadn't said anything when he rolled the VW.

Some summer like1955 George Mattson and I met Barry and Jake at Jenny Lake, and we charged up to the dike above Amphitheater Lake in preparation for the Petzold Ridge the next morning.  Jake led the first rope and I the second - needing help on the overhang.  Jake and Barry were so cool setting up the 100 foot Owen rappel in the fading light on the descent.  When we got back to Hanover Barry learned that our geology prof Andy McNair had been on the first ascent and that ours was the second.  We liked that.

My New York girlfriend had other interests, leading to my decision to leave school for awhile.  Barry thought that would be a good idea for him too, so we decided we needed wheels.  I got a '39 Plymouth from a family friend in nearby New York state, and after we got it running we removed the panel between the back seat and the trunk for needed sleeping room.  We looked for work at Ambrosia Lake near Gallup, but someone suggested there was a vacancy at a mine in Mexico.  We were told to meet a man in Culiacan to learn more.  There, Mr. Biggs drove us out to an abandoned, flooded silver mine, where the exam question was to tell him what we thought about the prospect of pumping it out and resuming operation.  We whipped out our Brunton compass and proceeded trying to figure out the structure of those folded metamorphic beds then submerged beneath who knows how much water.  I guess our assessment passed, because he gave us instructions for finding the next contact at the little village of San Ignacio farther south in Sinaloa.  

Around this time he and I were progressively composing a song about the Plymouth.  We called it Effie, which was short for Fe2O3; rust.  The next verse was approximately: “We started across the Piaxtla, in water up to here.  With engine steaming and transmission screaming, we crossed in second gear.”  After fording the river we asked around in town and learned that Mr. Clevenger was in attendance at the cock fight that day.  Someone pointed him out, and we introduced ourselves.  He was a bit drunk, but managed to tell us where to park our car and how to find transport up to Tayoltita to the big mine.  The seats were planks arranged on the bed of a large truck, and we sandwiched ourselves between the other passengers for an all-night ride including 27 fords of the Rio Piaxtla.  Well after midnight we saw lights 'way up in the sky ahead and knew it was part of the mining operation.  We found a room in the only “hotel” in town.

Next morning the church bell woke us, and after breakfast we reported to the main office of the San Luis Mining Company; subsidiary of Homestake.   Carrol Livingston was expecting us, and we were given a room in the company complex.  Next day we learned what was expected of us.  The company driver Angel drove us up to the Cinco Seores entrance, source of the lights we'd seen in the night, in a battered Dodge Power Wagon.  Carrol walked us through a portion of the mine, gave us our marching orders, and then we went back down to Tayoltita.  The road was steep, rough, and twisty, so we were happy the driver's name was Angel.  He always sang as he drove, too.

We would start early each day, walking in at the Cinco Seores portal to the shaft car, in which we'd be lowered to level 19 where the newest mining was being done.  Our job was to map the rock structure, identifying the rock types; using the Brunton to measure strikes and dips on the walls and roof of newly opened drifts.  It was hot 2,900 feet underground, so we'd work in boots, shorts, hardhat and Edison lamp, then shower and start lunch with a gallon of lemonade. After, we'd take our rough field map to the office and convert it into a finished map to be added to the collection.  In this way Carrol, the mining engineer, could figure out the overall structure and hopefully predict where a new ore body might be found.  We were told we helped them locate a good one.  Throughout this process I recall that Barry usually took the lead on technical matters, though he was open to suggestions.  I got to take the lead in social interactions.  He was a little shy that way, then.

We came to strongly dislike the camp cook.  Dessert was always raisin pie, and the eggs at breakfast were rubber.  Barry and I once learned that some of the local guys thought we were an “odd couple”.   At the bar in town they'd sometimes tease us with something like “Guamuchil gamboa”.  We never found out what that meant, but we could guess.  We got even with them though and managed to find girlfriends when there was a big party at the mine one weekend.   Even better was when we got a lift in the company plane, a Ford trimotor piloted by Nacho, into Mazatlan for Semana Santa.  The plane carried gold bullion to the bank, and we were impressed with the private army guarding this process with big-bore automatic weapons.  Put up by the company in a posh hotel in the city, we proceeded to enjoy ourselves as never before.  We met two cute young women, in the company of their aunts, and took them swimming at Olas Altas.  In the evening we'd eat seafood, and one night there was a great dance at the hotel where our girls taught us the cha-cha.  We reluctantly went back to work the following Monday.

We finished mapping the new workings, so the company put us to logging drill core.  Barry hated that drudgery, and the decision was made to move on.  In April Barry and I drove back to Arizona to collect our back pay.  There Barry bought a cute little blue Ford pickup, with which he led the way back north to Yellowstone.  We each got jobs with a construction company, and then our lives began to diverge.  After I was accepted for smokejumper training in Missoula in 1957, we didn't see much of each other again.  I'd hear from Barry sometimes, or hear of him from some mutual acquaintance like Carlos Plummer or Pete Sinclair, and I gathered he wasn't going back to Dartmouth.  He would sometimes say “Dartmouth is just not a challenge”, and I'm sure it was true; for him.  It thrilled me though to learn about his work with Exum, the Everest experience, his first ascent of some spire at Teton, major skiing triumphs, even the stupid Camel ad.

Margot and I visited Barry and Muffy briefly at the Alphorn Lodge in Jackson.  Later after his crash we stopped in once at Lookout Mountain.  I think it was there that he mentioned the Redford business and his stunts for “Downhill Racer”.  His mind had always been racing ahead of mine, but now that he was more restricted he was leaving me even farther behind.  I know that he was active in producing films and organizing for important causes, but I don't really know much about that part of his life.  We talked a few times by phone, had a few email exchanges, maybe a couple letters, but we never really got back together again after that.  I was blessed to be one of Barry's friends.  He shall always be a hero, larger than life with that big grin and a great shirt, my brother up there in the lead

Harriet Johnson

It is very hard to write this, knowing I won't be able to run it by Barry to make sure it's fit for submission. On the other hand, knowing he'll never read it does give me some freedom. He was lousy at accepting compliments, especially in public.

I met Barry via email in 1997 when a friend suggested I take over a writing assignment she had to cancel for New Mobility. I knew nothing of his exotic past as I began dealing with a delightful cyberpersona. Before long, I realized I'd fallen into the hands of an extraordinarily gifted editor, absolutely committed to the work, at once appreciative and tough. He challenged me and made me safe, set me free and emboldened me to try new things. So many other writers have told me the same thing. Is this perhaps what he did as a mountain guide?

Over the years, our business friendship ripened into a connection we both treasured. The man I knew was determinedly adjusting to a life increasingly like the one I've always lived -- paced gently, carefully structured, relying on others for day-to-day help, with the thermostat set high. He was learning to love silence and stillness and comfort. But the inner jock remained. I loved his contradictions. Whatever else may be in store for me, in whatever life span is left, I know I will never be more thrilled than I was when he called me Valentine.

I am very happy that earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet his children and grandchildren. From far away, I join them in mourning a huge loss and in rejoicing in the gifts Barry left with us and with the wildly varied worlds he touched.