Got sad news recently, Lorraine Bonney had passed away in an assisted living facility in Canada. She was 93. Most people have never heard of Lorraine unless they have spent time in the mountains and backcountry of Wyoming. She and her husband were legends to me. They were prolific writers of mountain literature, detailed guide books, and history.
This is not an obituary. I would never attempt that and I don’t know who could. She was in many ways a private person, yet had more friends then anyone I’ve known. No one seemed to know how old she was until she died. If you tried to photograph her she would literally hit you as she did me many times. On news of her passing, I reflected on the first time we met, it was so much her character. I was invited to her cabin in Kelly, Wyoming for a potluck dinner and slide show – bring your five best slides, or maybe it was ten. I can’t remember an image but I remember meeting Lorraine.
Lorraine was by far the oldest person at her party, 60 something, while all others were 20 somethings trying to scratch a living in the shadow of the Tetons. I was introduced to her as a park ranger. She growled at me with squenched eyes and asked If I was one of those “90 day wonders”. I assured her I was the real thing, not knowing if it was a compliment or not. I worked with some grumpy old farts and didn’t need anymore in my life. After all, I was in my dream job and worked hard to get there. My first impression of this legend was not a good one. I cowered in the corner and was silent most of the night.
Kelly Wyoming in the late 70’s was… an interesting place, an inholding of sorts, surrounded on all sides by federal land. Many of the residence lived in tepees, yurts, or DIY cabins. An eclectic and interesting collection of characters. A black eye to Federal Land Managers. Officially in Grand Teton N.P., but closely bordered by the National Elk Refuge and Bridger-Teton National Forest. The Park Service was aggressively pursuing private land acquisition. What a place to live and own a cabin. From anywhere in her sagebrush yard or window in the cabin the Tetons dominated the skyline.
For Lorraine life seemed to have started at 60. Our paths crossed again at Kelly Warm Springs were she was alone and trying to learn to roll a kayak. I was there practicing my roll so we spotted each other. Our first impressions of each other warmed when she learned I was not a badge toting, gun slinging ranger, but a Jenny Lake climbing ranger with no desire or ability to take her land (which the Park now owns). Perceptions die hard in Kelly. She was preparing to kayak the Middle Fork of the Salmon. I wished her luck. Many trips followed for her, Nepal, Africa, China, Mexico, a stint working in Antarctica, sailing in the Caribbean. Writing, writing, always having several projects going. She seemed tireless.
Little did I know – I would spend a considerable amount of time getting Lorraine “up this mountain or that mountain” she said. On a river trip down the the class 4 Selway River in Idaho, in her early 70’s, we would not let her kayak (she had lost her roll) and begrudgingly sat in a raft. Not long after, in her late 70’s I assisted her on a last attempt of the Grand Teton, at the Lower Saddle (11,600′), with tears in her eyes she exclaimed “I’m pooped out”. It was all time well spent for me.
Most of my “Lorraine Adventures” were at the coaxing of one of her closest friends Kent Houston. It was with him that I traveled to Canada for what became a last visit. At 90 something (we now know she was 92) it was as if nothing had changed. After driving 12 hours, we stood out side her building in the cold winter air, talking to an intercom. The attendant said Lorraine didn’t want to see us. I again thought, I don’t need another grumpy old fart in my life. The next day found us running down a hill to a doctors appointment, Lorraine in a wheel chair, laughing like kids who just cheated death. My first impression was not a lasting one. Rest peacefully Lorraine.