Joan Firey on Mt. Robson in 1958. Photo © CL Firey.
  The Indefatigable
  Exploratory Mountaineers of the Cascades and Coast Mountains – Part 5  
  by Lowell Skoog  



oan Wilshire Firey

In the 1960s, when her children were young, Joan Firey had little time to practice physical therapy. Beyond raising children and climbing, she found satisfaction in painting. Joan's aunt Edith Hamlin and uncle Maynard Dixon were renowned painters in the 1930s and 1940s. With little formal art training herself, Joan did her finest paintings in the 1960s and early 1970s, when she and Joe were most active in the Pickets and B.C. Coast Mountains. In the book Cascade Voices, her friend Piro Kramar recalled that Joan belittled her realist paintings somewhat, feeling that they weren’t “original.” She tried her hand at abstract modes of painting, but the works her friends know best are her exquisite paintings of mountain scenes. Most of these paintings now hang in the homes of family and friends. Joan painted with oil in the early 1960s then switched to acrylics, finding it more convenient. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she started doing silk screens.

As the Firey children grew older, Joan resumed part-time work in physical therapy and became increasingly involved in the mountaineering community. She edited the Mountaineer Annual for several years, was active in governance of The Mountaineers and American Alpine Club, and did draft planning for the North Cascades National Park, which was established in 1968.

During the 1970s, Joe and Joan grew apart both as climbing partners and as a married couple. After a period of separation, they were divorced in 1978.

Joan remained passionate about climbing, and while she had always held her own in any climbing team, she grew interested in not just leading pitches, but in organizing entire trips on her own. She also wanted to complete trips that were organized and carried out by women. Irene Meulemans and Piro Kramar were two of Joan’s favorite companions on these trips. Joan’s finest climb was probably the 1974 first ascent of the NW Face of Mount Asperity in the B.C. Coast Range, completed with Piro Kramar. Joan became interested in international climbing as well. In 1976 she climbed in Peru with R.D. Caughron and four others and on another trip she climbed some of the Mexican volcanoes.

In 1978 Joan was the senior member of the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition to Annapurna, organized by Arlene Blum and documented in the book, Annapurna: A Woman’s Place. Joan developed pneumonia and pleurisy during the expedition, but still carried loads to Camp III and helped manage the lower camps. The expedition placed Irene Miller and Vera Komarkova on the summit, accompanied by Sherpas Mingma Tsering and Chewang Rinjing. Joan’s friend Piro Kramar abandoned her summit bid at the highest camp due to frostbite. Tragically, the second summit team of Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz and Vera Watson perished in a fall between Camps IV and V.

According to her daughter Carla, Joan never felt completely well after the Annapurna expedition. In the spring of 1979 she was diagnosed with malignant myelosclerosis, a rare bone marrow disease. Her doctors gave her three months to a year to live. The last outdoor trip she made was to the Colorado plateau in the spring of 1979. She died on February 16, 1980. During the summer of 1981, Joan’s ashes were scattered from the air over Picket Pass, in the heart of her beloved Picket Range.

Joe Firey carried on the traditions that he and Joan had established well beyond his retirement from the University of Washington in 1981. When I asked Joe, now almost 90, how he managed to keep active for so long, he shrugged as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Joe noted that while he was the oldest of his group of friends, everyone was slowing down, so they scaled back their climbing ambitions together. Carla pointed out that Joe was always trying to recruit people for his “adventure tours.” He never lost the drive to organize new trips. Carla concluded: “I have to say that when I think about all the years that Joe did it, there has to be a compulsive aspect to it, because you’re talking about more than 50 years.” Joe never lost the urge to explore that he had shared with Joan. “I don’t know if the goal is necessarily just to do a ‘first’ type of a thing,” Carla ventured, searching for an explanation. “I think it’s to do something…just do something different.”



Mountain Art by Joan Firey
Click on any image below to enlarge.
Forbidden Cirque, 1962 © CL Firey Forbidden Cirque
Oil painting, 1962
Forest Scene, 1970 © CL FireyForest Scene
Watercolor, 1970
Mt. Waddington, 1970 © CL FireyMt. Waddington
Watercolor, 1970
McMillan Spires, 1969 © CL FireyMcMillan Spires
Watercolor, 1969
Mt. Jacobsen, 1964 © CL FireyMt. Jacobsen
Watercolor, 1964
Annapurna, 1979 © CL FireyAnnapurna
Serigraph, 1979
Click on any image below to enlarge.
Skiing Mt. Balfour, 1970 © CL Firey Skiing Mt. Balfour
Serigraph, 1970
Mt. Waddington, 1970 © CL Firey Mt. Waddington
Watercolor, 1970
Chiwaukum Rocks, 1969 © CL Firey Chiwaukum Rocks
Watercolor, 1969
Radiant Glacier, 1975 © CL Firey Radiant Glacier
Watercolor, 1975
Twin Needles, 1968 © CL FireyTwin Needles
Watercolor, 1968
Click on any image below to enlarge.
Winterlight, 1973 © CL Firey Winterlight
Watercolor, 1973
Hidden Lakes Sunset, 1974 © CL FireyHidden Lakes Sunset
Serigraph, 1974
Moonrise over Southern Pickets, 1975 © CL Firey Moonrise over Southern Pickets
Serigraph, 1975
Waddington Range, 1975 © CL FireyWaddington Range
Acrylic painting, 1975
1-A-79 © CL Firey 1-A-79
Acrylic painting, 1979
Eldorado Peak, 1972 © CL Firey Eldorado Peak
Watercolor, 1972
Tellot Peaks Sunrise, 1969 © CL Firey Tellot Peaks Sunrise
Oil painting, 1969
Glacier Scene, 1969 © CL Firey Glacier Scene
Watercolor, 1969
Monarch Ice Cap, 1966 © CL Firey Monarch Ice Cap
Oil painting, 1966
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