Jane Tennessen: a Memorial

Jane Tennessen died on Sunday, June 23rd, 1996, on Warpy Moople, an 8-pitch, 5.9+ climb in the Sandias, along with my other friends, Glenn Tietjen and Carlos Abad. At the end of the day, the weakest member of the party, Carlos, led the last, easy (5.6) pitch and arrived at the top, where he unloaded some of his gear; for some reason that we shall never know, he then fell off the edge of the cliff, ripping out the two pieces of protection he had placed low down on the climb. Either at that point, or later during a rescue attempt, the anchor protecting Jane and Glenn failed and they joined Carlos in a 800-foot fall to the bottom of the cliff. (I have put together a reconstitution of the accident if you are interested.)

Jane grew up in Wisconsin, did her PhD in Psychology at UC Boulder, and had been in New Mexico since her graduation in 1990. She was the clinical director of the Rape Crisis Center in Santa Fe for the last two years. In that role, she oversaw a large expansion of the Center, with services provided in Espanola and other areas. Jane was part of a small multi-state group that was preparing a plan for helping Native American women in the Southwest. Jane was an ardent feminist and ecologist; her profession allowed her to demonstrate the first, by caring for battered women and children; her hobbies all took her outdoors, camping and climbing.

I first met her in Fall 1992, in an intermediate climbing class. She and I, along with two other class members, continued climbing after the class and often went to the gym or to toprope sessions together. Around Spring 1995, Jane started leading climbs in earnest and very rapidly progressed in her climbing abilities. She and I climbed regularly together at Las Palomas and Socorro, sometimes with Carlos and Glenn (and often with our 5th partner, Steve Hofmeyr). Since August 1995, she and I climbed together every two weeks; we were perfectly matched in our interests (sports climbing) and abilities (we redpointed our first 5.11b the same day and our first 5.11c within 5 minutes of each other).

In the last month before the accident, Jane decided to try some multipitch "trad" climbing on natural protection with Glenn as the leader; the three of them had done Second Coming, a 4-pitch, 5.8 route on the same wall where they died. She had done only 3 other multi-pitch climbs when she started on the fatal day: a 2-pitch 5.8 in the Sandias with me and another friend 2 years ago, a 2-pitch 5.7 at Socorro with her then boyfriend, and the 4-pitch Second Coming two weeks before the accident. She had always followed on all of these, never placing any pro herself; on the fatal day, she would have followed every pitch (an easy task for her ability) and been belaying Carlos as he led the last pitch.

As a climber, Jane was the image of grace and determination. She moved over the rock effortlessly, in beautiful style. The pictures below testify to her grace and impeccable positioning. She could also hang for minutes on impossibly tiny fingerholds while working out her next move. She and I had targeted June 29 (the week-end after the accident) for our first joint attempt at redpointing a 5.12a; she would easily have moved to 5.12+ by end of summer and probably beyond by end of year. She was very serious about climbing, training at home with weights and upside down underneath her spiral stairs. Since she was 5'5" and most routes are put up by men of at least 5'9", she had to devise completely new sequences on most climbs; indeed, several climbs had an entirely different rating for her than for me. For instance, X File, at Las Palomas, is honestly rated 5.10d; she redpointed it after hours of work and declared that it was harder than the 5.11c we had done two weeks before, because the key hold was completely out of her reach and forced her into a series of three very delicate and powerful moves. Yet, no matter what we climbed, she would match me: even when the climb was much harder for her, she would work it out and get it, and in much better style!

As a person, Jane was a wonderful companion; always happy, even in the face of serious problems (good jobs are not easily come by for psychologists), always interested in others, good with children (she trained as child psychologist), and very funny. She did not tell jokes, but she could always find amusing angles on any story or event. She had a fund of stories from camping trips, trips in Wisconsin, and other adventures that made her an ideal companion on long climbing days. She and I traded hundred of hours of stories, reminiscences, and opinions about life during our climbing.

At her memorial service, I discovered many other facets of Jane's life that I knew nothing about; enough, in fact, to make me wonder how she had managed to find enough time to do all that she did and to touch as many people as she touched. While she and her two partners made several errors of judgment on that fatal day (they should never have attempted that climb with Carlos, who had just started climbing 6 months ago and for whom 5.10a was the limit; and Jane should not have joined a serious 8-pitch climb before gaining experience of her own with protection and ropes maneuvers on shorter, easier climbs), she went along with Glenn and Carlos because of her love for climbing. Jane leaves behind bereaved parents, a very close sister, and two brothers, not to mention many many friends, colleagues, and past and current patients.

I will never again find such a perfectly matched climbing partner. But I shall not just miss a partner for a day's outing every two weeks: I shall also miss an email correspondent with funky questions about computing, a midwestern accent on the phone asking me when I could climb next, a small blond woman offering me one of her omnipresent Power Bars (or arguing with me about why a Coke was the best drink at the end of the day), someone riding with me to the crag telling me about her hopes and asking advice about professional moves, someone stretching like a cat on a warm slab of rock (Jane had a knack for finding the most comfortable spot on any climb from which to belay or observe -- or at least to make it look the most confortable spot!), indeed, someone asking me about our cat (Jane housesat a week for my wife and me and got to know our rather demanding cat; ever after, she would ask about him).

Jane, I shall miss you forever.

For pictures of Jane, click here. Note that this is a largish file with several megabytes of images.

Beauty is but a flowre,
Which wrinckles will devoure,
Brightnesse falls from the ayre,
Queenes have died yong and faire,
Dust hath closde Helens eye.
I am sick, I must dye:
Lord, have mercy on us.

Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)