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Witness Post: Randy Udall


I respectfully ask to step inside the Udall family tent and to share some collective thoughts.  I hope the family members will feel supported in their grief, as we all deserve time to mourn our loved ones.  These are private moments of telling and retelling the stories and shedding tears.  For certain characters the storytelling is the best part.  Randy Udall is surely one of those characters.


There was for us a heightened sense of eeriness about the news of Udall’s disappearance. My daughter, Eleanor Hooper, and I were hiking in Grand Tetons National Park, just 80 miles from the Wind River Range, when Randy was reported as missing.   The Hooper’s have known the Udall family through the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, meeting Mark Udall in New Mexico in the mid-1960’s.  Wyoming is a big state, but the Udall’s are a large and famous family.  He was hiking in the beautiful Titcomb Basin of the Wind River Range.  At 61, Randy was an expert hiker and outdoors-man, having honed his skills in the Four Corners States as a boy, and later having taught outdoor survival skills to youths in the mountains of Colorado.

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To re-emphasize that Randy Udall was an expert climber is important; he had hiked the Wind River Range for more than 30 years.  He often left his Carbondale, Colorado home going up on weekends to fish and climb in Wyoming. His frequent climbing exploits were chronicled along with others in the book “Climb: Tales of Man Versus Boulder, Crag, Wall and Peak.”  Randy always left his route details with his family, and he stuck to the plan on his last hike as well.


As Auden Schendler, a good friend of Randy’s said, “Randy [went on some] grueling and epic skis and hikes in the Sierras, the Wind Rivers, and the Colorado Rockies.  He was one of the strongest humans on earth, both physically and mentally.  As an Outward Bound instructor on winter courses, he was known to ski into camp in the dark, eat a stick of butter, dig a hole in the snow, and go to sleep.  He once skied the entire 200-plus mile John Muir Trail in a week with his brother Mark.  To hike with him was to be completely brutalized beyond exhaustion, into a new place.”  Randy earned that endurance trait the hard way.  He was raised in a family that prized independence and service in the name of just causes.



The Udall Legacy



Mo Udall and Mark Udall and Randy UdallRandy & Mark with Morris Udall (c. 1956) 


Randy and his five siblings grew up in Arizona.  The Udall clan has deep Mormon roots, dating back generations.  The Udall family has had politics in its blood for over 100 years, starting with David King Udall, who is considered the family’s founder.  He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to David Udall and Eliza King, recent Mormon converts who emigrated from England.  The Udall’s sailed to the United States in 1851. The family traveled across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains by ox cart and settled in Nephi, Utah.  The elder Udall became a bishop in his Mormon “stake” or congregation.  


In 1880 David King Udall was called by his church to move with his family to St. Johns, Arizona, in order to become the local bishop and facilitate further Mormon migration into that community. This made David Udall unpopular with the established residents of St. Johns and Apache County, who didn’t want the Mormons to live there at all, but it did make him instantly prominent in the community.


Over the next four generations the family flourished in the political realm, wherever they were planted.  If viewed as a combined entity, the extended Udall-Hunt-Lee family has been elected to positions of political power representing six states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.  The most famous family members of the third generations have been Morris Udall, Congressman from Arizona, and Stewart Udall, Congressman from Arizona and Secretary of the Interior.  The next generation has featured lots of US Senators: Gordon Smith (Oregon), Tom Udall (New Mexico), Mike Lee (Utah), and Mark Udall (Colorado), as well as other elected and appointed officials.


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Stewart Udall (top) and Morris Udall (bottom)


The Udall’s have always had quiet, higher causes.   When Stewart’s son, Tom Udall, ran for Congress from his congressional district in northern New Mexico, he stood for family values and local district integration into the national debate.  A few years later, in his campaign run for Senate in New Mexico, Tom was campaigning at the same time his cousin, Mark, was running for Senate in Colorado.   The cross-state slogans were “Vote for the Udall nearest you!”


Some people have called the Udall Family “the Kennedy’s of the Rockies,” but that did not appear to deter or motivate them.


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Stewart Udall’s son Tom Udall, Senator New Mexico



Mark Udall


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Mark Emery Udall was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1950; one year later his brother, Randy, was born.  Mark, after some time as a teacher, grass-roots leader, and innovator would turn to politics, like his father.  Mark was first elected as a congressman in Colorado in 1999 and in 2009 he was elected as US Senator.  Mark is well known for his environmental record and his warm, personable style.


Ned Hooper recalls Mark Udall and their younger brother, Brad, vividly.  “As teenagers they had those tall Udall genes going for them.  Mark was my counselor at the Cottonwood Gulch and all of the girls, including my sisters, secretly loved him.  He had those big bushy eyebrows, quick wit and that magnetic grin.  Brad was a camper in my group, when I was a counselor at the Gulch.  I did not meet Randy, but I heard about him and sure was impressed with his brothers.”


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Mark E. Udall, Democratic Senator Colorado


Mark married Maggie Fox, who is a strong political force in her own right. She is the President of The Climate Reality Project and for over 30 years she has served in senior capacities with the Sierra Club, America Votes, The Energy Future Coalition, Western Resource Advocates, and The Ocean Conservancy, among others. Maggie has a M.Ed. and a J.D., with emphasis in Native American Natural Resources and Environmental Law.  The Udall’s have two grown children: Jed and Tess, who are both experienced hikers and climbers.



Brad Udall


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The youngest of Mo and Patricia’s sons, Brad Udall, was as competitive and competent as his older brothers and sisters.  He was a handsome figure in his Gulch groups for several summers, starting as a camper in the Little Outfit before joining Group II.  Henry Berman, who had the good fortune to be a camper with Randy Udall and a counselor with Mark Udall, was a cook for Group II with Brad.  Henry distinctly remembers the end of the summer of 1973, when Group II was doing their deep cleaning.  After a contest, referred to as the “Grand Horse-’N-Goggle,” the ‘winner’ picked which part of the group’s gear he wanted to clean to like-new condition.  The large scullery pots were the blackest and hardest to clean and Brad won one of them to “scrub ’til it sparkled.”


Mo Udall came to pick-up Brad that morning and he arrived at Base Camp just in time for breakfast.  The Congressman dined with the group at their outpost, called Model T, which was named for a rusting carcass of a Ford flivver from the 1940′s.  Berman asked Mo Udall how he liked the breakfast.  Pausing a moment, the Congressman said, “Well, it was certainly as good as anything Mr. Nixon would have given me at the White House!”  With the dawning of the Watergate Era and the prickly nature of the Democratic-Republican relations at the time, Mo Udall’s comments are heard with irony and humor.


Brad Udall has done a lot of cleaning up since those trek years.  He graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree and earned an MBA from Colorado State.  He recently began a position as Director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy & Environment at the CU Law School.  For 10 years before that time, Brad was Director of the Western Water Assessment.  His exceptional professional expertise includes hydrology and related water policy issues of the American West.



Brad has written extensively on the impacts of climate change on water resources and was the lead author of the water sector chapter of the Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (2009), a publication of the United States Global Change Research Program.  He was also an author of the WWA Climate Change in Colorado Report.  He has provided congressional testimony, input to several National Academy of Science panels, and has given dozens of talks on climate change impacts. The California Department of Water Resources awarded him its Climate Science Service Award for his work in facilitating interactions between water managers and scientists, and the Department of Interior bestowed the Partner in Conservation Award on the Western Water Assessment for his work on the groundbreaking 2007 Environmental Impact Statement on Colorado River shortages and coordinated reservoir operations.  Brad serves on the Water Research Foundation expert panel on climate change.  He worked on interstate litigation on the North Platte River, endangered species on the Columbia River, future Front Range supplies, and shortage issues on the Colorado River.


Randy Udall


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At the age of 11 Randy first arrived at Cottonwood Gulch, outside of Thoreau, New Mexico as a camper in the Little Outfit (LO) for younger boys.  “Randy had a head start on everyone else in the group,” recalls Monty Billings, who was the Group Leader of the LO and later Executive Director of the Expeditions.  Not only was he following in his brother Mark’s footsteps but, “Randy knew his way around in the mountains and deserts as well any adult trekker.”  He was an Arizonan from an outdoors family, where his mother was as keen on nature, anthropology, outdoor education and hiking as was Mo Udall.  Monty fondly remembers that Randy was a ruddy-faced young boy with red hair, a black hat and a quiet, easy-going demeanor.


John Bloch, a fellow trekker with Mark and Randy, and former Board Chair of the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, remembers, “The Udall’s were totally capable and very competitive with each other.  It was hard not to like Randy.  He was the type of camper you wanted as your companion.  He had an upbeat personality, with that big smile and freckles.  He never seemed down in the dumps.  He was a lot of fun to be with.”


Monty Billings vividly recalls one occasion, when he was the Group Leader of older boys in Group II.  Randy Udall was with the Group on a road loop to Northern Arizona.  Mo Udall must have seen on the summer itinerary that his son’s group was going to be at Navajo National Monument.  Apparently Mo Udall notified the Park Superintendent of the date.  “I will never forget the sight of the flashing of the bubble-topped police car, nor the sound of the loud siren as the car escorted us to our campsite,” said Monty.  “At first I was afraid with the cop car approaching that we were in trouble, but the Udall connection made it a very memorable trip.”


Henry Berman, who is the CEO of the Association of Small Foundations in Washington, DC, wrote: “Randy was one of the two Group II Quartermasters my first summer.  I recall the red hair and freckles and have a mental image of him with a black, felt cowboy hat….and I have a memory of the group camped at Monument Valley (Yes, in those days we camped right there!) and Randy making an impression on me.”


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Jeep at camp site in Monument Valley


Berman went on the say, “I don’t recall if he were teaching me some Trek thing (How do you set your Baker tent for rain? or a better way to pack my HLH (Hillis L. Howie) issued, metal frame, rucksack –again, before we had ‘backpacks’?) or helping me deal with still adjusting to the Trek, the Southwest and being a long way from home in Boston. After all, it was only a handful of days before that I had just stepped off the Super Chief train in Gallup.” 


Randy followed his own path after the Cottonwood Gulch and Outward Bound.  He graduated from Prescott College and chose to pursue his passion for the environment.  


Randy Udall always loved climbing.  He married Leslie Emerson, whose father, Dick Emerson, is a legendary climber.  The Udall’s went to the mountains and parks often and took their growing family with them.  They have three children, all of whom are in their 20’s: Ren, Tarn, and Torrey.  Besides his family, Randy seems to have loved nature the most.  He devoted his professional life to being a conservation rebel with a mad streak of passion.


Solid to the CORE


Mona Newton, Executive Director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), has known Randy for over 18 years.  Newton says, “He was an environmentalist in the best sense of the word.  He was really grounded in his connection to the natural world. Randy was unafraid to challenge us in what we were doing.”  Randy Udall always put his money where his mouth was.  Mona mentioned that Randy and Leslie retrofitted their home in Carbondale with solar panels.  He often gauged that those panels would keep 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over 20 years.


Auden Schendler, who speaks eloquently about his dear friend, Randy Udall, writes, “He was a pioneer and an innovator.  Among many of his important accomplishments were the development of the first utility green power pricing program in Colorado, a mechanism for utilities to bring clean power online.  He was a brilliant and incisive writer, a master of metaphor who would spend days mulling a turn of phrase. As editor of Rocky Mountain Institute’s newsletter, he brought wit and life to energy writing.”


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“In his work at CORE, he developed likely the country’s first carbon tax, imposing a fee on energy intensive development. Like much of Randy’s work, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program was oddly bipartisan. Many homeowners happily paid the fee, expressing their own desire to help out, to not do harm, to be part of the solution. In the same way, Randy understood that cheap coal and petroleum brought Americans the prosperity we enjoy today, and our solutions must not ignore that debt, and must not sweep the miners and the geologists and the utilities under the carpet. For this, Randy was beloved by coal miners and gas explorers, conservative utility CEOs and environmentalists alike.”


“His favorite way of speaking about hard challenges was to say: ‘It seems to make sense to….’ What a wonderful turn of phrase. Together, Randy and I wrote one of the early critiques of LEED, a paper that we hoped would help reform the program. Randy and I can both be too critical and judgmental, but Randy wrote that paper, as he did all his work, out of love and hope; to build, not to destroy.”


“He was non-self promotional to a fault, and to me he often urged humility—what Ben Franklin called the hardest virtue. Despite having a famous name, a brother and a cousin who are senators, an uncle who ran Interior and a Congressman father who doubled the size of the national park system, public spotlight and power were not Randy’s gig. When I told him he ought to radically expand his work at CORE, he said: ‘I have no interest at all in building an empire.’ … Barriers [to change] come down slowly and painfully. Wisdom, or progress, Randy knew, often comes, to quote Aeschylus, ‘against our will … through the awful grace of God.’”


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“This is in keeping.  Randy was known for a shocking irreverence that he balanced with a gentle, caring way.  He would feed you chunks of muffin from his hands if he thought you were hungry; leave tomatoes on your porch; hand you red licorice on the trail, then be incommunicado for a month.  I call him a part time warrior because Randy fought and then recharged, engaged in pitched battle, then disappeared into the woods.”



Randy Udall Mourned


The Udall family in a public statement said, “Randy left this Earth doing what he loved most: hiking in his most favorite mountain range in the world. The entire Udall family is touched beyond words by the tremendous outpouring of support from people around the country.” 


Auden Schendler affirmed, “If there is one quantum of solace, it is that Randy appears to have died very quickly, of perhaps a heart attack or stroke, mid-stride, outward bound on a flat high bench, off trail in the Wind River Range, his favorite place on earth.  Just as we ought to be, he was girded for battle.  He had his pack on his back, hiking poles in hand, certainly feeling the lightness and joy we all feel heading out on a new journey.”


Randy Udall’s cousin, former Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith wrote: “Like his innumerable Udall kinsmen, Randy believed in and respected Nature and Nature’s God, and he pursued the path of that family ethic throughout his turn on Earth, even to his last mortal day. May the Creator of Heaven and Earth keep and care for him, always.”


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The Gulch Response


Shortly after hearing about Randy’s death, the Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions (CGE) and the entire Gulch family mourned with the nation.  We all feel we should do something, but want it to be right.  As Henry Berman stressed, we want a response that is an appropriate, long-term tribute that fit the man.  Henry said, “I had thought about a mini-solar farm: ‘The Randy Udall CGE Power Generation Station.’ We could generate power for the kitchen, caretaker’s house and maybe even sell some energy back to the grid. No doubt Randy would love that Cottonwood Gulch was capturing power from the sun. And — this is important — every person who comes to the Gulch: camper, parent, scholar, local, visitor, etc. — would see it and learn about Randy Udall…” and his passions for the environment.


We will ask the Udall Family to consider what sort of tribute they want for their son, brother, husband, father, cousin and mentor.  Those of us on the Expeditions Board and the entire CGE family look forward to working with the family to create an appropriate way to honor Randy. 


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