Remembering Mountaineer Ann Nelson

With great sadness we share the news of the passing of Ann Nelson, mother, wife, climber, physicist, and 25-year Mountaineers member.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
August 06, 2019
Remembering Mountaineer Ann Nelson
Photo by David Kaplan.

With great sadness we share the news of the passing of Ann Nelson, an active 25-year member of The Mountaineers community. Ann was with other Mountaineers members on a private trip, completing a backpacking traverse from the Necklace Valley to the West Foss River Valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on Sunday, August 4, 2019, when she lost her footing on loose rock. She did not survive the injuries sustained in the fall.

Ann joined The Mountaineers in 1994, and is a graduate of many courses in climbing, glacier travel, navigation, first aid, and skate skiing. She has completed climbs throughout the Pacific Northwest, notably Chair Peak, Colchuck Peak, McMillan Spire, Guye Peak, and Mount Olympus. Recently, Ann shared her skills with other Mountaineers as an instructor for Navigation and Basic Climbing. She was also passionate about Equity & Inclusion efforts in the outdoors, attending two our our workshops to help make The Mountaineers a more inclusive place for all people. 

Ann's influence spreads far beyond The Mountaineers. She was also a mother, wife, professor, and moderator for the popular Facebook group Washington Hikers & Climbers. She was passionate about introducing others to the outdoors and paving the way for other women in science. Ann was also working with local law enforcement to try and reduce the crime at trailheads, increasing the safety and accessibility for everyone. 

As a Professor of  Physics at the University of Washington and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Ann was setting  an example that women can reach the highest ranks in the field (for more on her scientific impact, read this piece from the Seattle Times). In her role as a WH&C moderator she sought to raise the bar as well. Her posts frequently focused on safety tips and gear lists, and Ann's passion for sharing the outdoors with everyone is apparent. It's not an exaggeration to say she introduced thousands of people to the skills and knowledge needed to be safe in the mountains. 

"Ann had an incredible impact on this group, she was a wealth of knowledge and loved teaching people about the outdoors," said fellow WH&C Admin Shelly Rae Mann. "It was a pleasure to have worked with her; she was a mentor and an encourager. Her loss will have a huge impact on the mod[erator] team as well as this group. Sending love to her family at this time."

"I met Ann first through the WH&C group (when it was a smaller group of a couple of thousands). Then when she took the basic alpine course I was an instructor at one of the field trips when she was learning how to rappel. She immediately struck me as a very smart and very safety-conscious and competent climber even in those early stages," said Mountaineers volunteer Emma Agosta. They were backpacking together at the time of the accident. "Since then we’ve been on scrambles and climbs together, several social gatherings and we were with her on this last beautiful backpacking trip in the Alpine Lake Wilderness doing the Necklace Valley/ West Fork Foss loop connecting with a cross-county high traverse over Iron Cap. This is a route that she and I both had always wanted to do and a few weeks prior when we were having dinner together it came up in conversations and we started planning."

Ann was a sweet, warm, caring, and generous person, and she was both passionate and knowledgeable about the mountains. It was such a pleasure to get to know her at a personal level and our friendship even if brief was a true joy in my life. The Mountaineers and  the Washington outdoor community at large suffered a tremendous loss by her passing and she will be greatly missed by all of us, friends and loved ones," Emma said.

Ann and David both participated in Fred Luck's SIG (Small Instruction Group) as part of the basic climbing course in 2016.  "Ann came in with a love for the outdoors and a passion to explore more and more and it was so heartwarming to see she and David experiencing this together," said Fred. "The northwest climbing community and The Mountaineers has lost a wonderful person. She will be missed." 


"Ann was one of the nicest and kindest people I met through the Mountaineers," said Alina Baldus, a 3-year member. "She loved the outdoors and sharing her passion with others, whether through trips or by moderating several online communities. She took good care of me when I got some nasty hornet bites on a Chikamin scramble, and it was so much fun working with her on climbing practice - I still remember the evening when she and David detangled and sorted out the Self-Rescue 1 scenario on the northern slabs. My thoughts go out to David and their beautiful family."

Our deepest sympathies go out to Ann’s husband David Kaplan, their two children, her family and friends, and Ann's  backpacking companions and the greater Mountaineers climbing community. Ann was a capable and gifted individual, and we are stunned by this loss. She was a close friend and colleague to many of us, and we will be offering support to those impacted as our community processes the grief of this traumatic event.

Main Photo: Ann in her element, captured by husband David Kaplan. He remembers her as "a brilliant theoretical physicist, a warm and caring person, a wonderful mother to our children, and the love of my life."

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Bruce Barcklow
Bruce Barcklow says:
Aug 12, 2019 04:51 PM

I am so sorry to hear of this. Exactly a year ago Ann was with us on a five day Mountaineer backpack in the Olympics. She was so curious and observant, wanting to learn more about wildflower identification. I remember pointing out Mountain Owl Clover and Dwarf Fireweed to her. One evening in a meadow, for almost an hour, we watched a Sooty Grouse corralling her chicks and taking dust baths together. In addition to her confident intelligence, one could detect a very intuitive human being. Condolences especially to her family and colleagues.