Edward Earl perished tragically on June 19, 2015 while crossing the Jago River in Alaska. He was on an expedition to climb Mount Isto (9,060’), the highpoint of the Brooks Range and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, accompanied by three friends. After two unsuccessful attempts on Isto from the East and Northwest faces, the party was crossing the Jago to reach a landing zone to be picked up, but Edward was swept away and efforts to resuscitate him after rescue proved futile.
Edward was a scientific and mathematical genius, a violin player, a small plane pilot, a relentless traveler to the mountains of the world, and a kind and gentle soul who will be missed by all. Edward was born in New York City in 1964, and he grew up in Spartanburg, SC. He attended Furman University in Greenville, SC, where he earned a B.A. in Chemistry. Later, at the University of Utah, he earned a PhD in Computational Chemistry, his advisor considering him the most brilliant mind he ever taught. During his career in software engineering, at jobs in San Diego and Seattle, he wrote software to predict the shapes of molecules, to track space satellites, and to optimize internet search algorithms.
But Edward’s true love was the mountains. By 1986 he was climbing the major summits of the USA, including most state highpoints and iconic peaks like the Grand Teton and Mount Shasta. He also was an early pioneer of county highpointing, attainting 578 total, including all the county high points of AZ, CA, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, and WY. In addition, he was a globetrotting climber with frequent trips to Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Alaska to climb peaks such as Orizaba, Chimborazo, Denali, Aconcagua, and many others. Additionally, he made serious attempts on Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Mount Logan, and Mount Fairweather.
In the past decade he became more passionate about peaks with high topographic prominence, a subject of much of his mathematical research. His shining achievement was accomplished on August 18th, 2013, on Mt Prophet, WA, when he became the first person to summit all 149 peaks in the Lower 48 states with 4,000’ of prominence. He travelled for weeks at a time around western North America in his dusty blue pickup truck to meet friends at trailheads, camp, and hike to the summit of a nearby peak the next morning. Unstoppable, Edward would get back in his pickup and continue on to the next trailhead, and repeat the process for weeks on end. He was known on these trips for his diet of Pop Tarts, Ramen, and mac & cheese; his non-stop choice of blue jeans (even on snowy summits); and his general frugality.
When not in the mountains, Edward had other strong passions. An accomplished violinist, he played first violin in local orchestras wherever he lived and had a strong appreciation for classical music. He was a private pilot, and enjoyed flights of all sorts, whether at the controls or in the passenger seat of a bush plane in Alaska. In his spare time, he created a complex computer program called WinProm, which automatically calculated the prominences of thousands of peaks at once, based on digital elevation models. This program is used worldwide as an essential tool by many mountain data researchers.
Edward was a key contributor to Peakbagger.com and many of his database and user-interface suggestions are still visible on the site. The little gear and route icons were his idea, as was the concept of storing the contour interval in the database for peaks and cols, allowing different types of prominence calculations. He is also the main proponent of “county prominence peaks” and pioneered both the researching and climbing of those peaks across the USA.
Edward was an obviously brilliant mind, but he had no hubris about it. He was always happy to take time to explain to anyone some aspect of geometry, geography, astronomy, the physical sciences, or math. At the same time, he knew little of popular culture—he had to be told who Michael Jackson and Robin Williams were when they passed away. In his final months he was working on complex mathematical proofs at his new condo, just for fun. His mind, quite simply, worked on a higher level than most, yet he never came across as anything but a bright guy with many passions.
Most importantly, Edward was a kind and loving soul. His patience, childlike manner, unflappable calmness, and simple desires will be missed by all. He leaves behind his father, a brother, a sister-in-law, two nephews, and countless mountain lovers all over the world. Plans are underway to scatter his ashes on peaks dear to his heart.
Edward’s Personal Website