A Tribute to Joe Szot and All He’s Done

I debated on whether or not writing something about a man I didn’t really know all that well was a good idea. But then I got to thinking, I did know Joe Szot. I knew him through The Bivy, his gift — or a hostel if you must — to ice climbers so they could rest their heads for an evening for only five dollars. I knew Joe through the wide open door of his home. I knew him through Drew, through Rob, through Mike and through countless others I met at The Bivy and went climbing with. I knew Joe through the incredible people he introduced me to. I knew Joe through long nights talking over shared whiskey and through drying my gear above the wood stove for a fresh start in the morning. I knew Joe over food amongst good friends. I knew Joe enough to know he was an incredible person and that what he has done for the region will never be forgotten.

The Bivy 2011

His personality transcended through in his climbing ability, establishing many hard routes in the Adirondacks and the Northeast. Don Mellor writes in the introduction to his Adirondack ice climbing guidebook, Blue Lines: “Only Szot has a resume to rival Yandon’s. Strong and bubbling with enthusiasium, Joe pulled off many of the hardest leads yet done in the Adirondacks, routes like Premature Birth, Midlife Crisis,  and Dark Lord at Poke-O.”

Anyone who met Joe or stayed at The Bivy, will forever be a part of his story. The king of rollies died yesterday while climbing with climbing friend, Brian Bellett in the Gunks. He felt faint for part of the day, but was still able to climb. On his last route he made it through the crux, clipped his gear and asked to be lowered. Despite best efforts, he passed away from a heart attack at the young age of 51 on March 14th 2012. R.I.P. Joe Szot. Our thoughts are with Aya and Dan. (more info from Brian in the comment below)


  • Brian Dellett says:


    Just to clarify some of the story. I was climbing w/ Joe on Wednesday. He was not feeling well during parts of the day but was chalking it up to acid reflux. on the route he got through the crux put in and clipped the gear and then asked me to take. I lowered him and before he go to the ground said that he had thought he blacked out for a second.

    When he got to the ground I told him to sit and chill and to have some water. When I turned back around to give it to him he took one huge gasp of breathe and that was his last.

    I called 911 and started CPR which continued until the Rangers made it in to assist me.

    He was conscious and speaking when he reached the ground. If that could be corrected in the article. Thanks

    Good write up
    Brian “MUffin” Dellett

  • Thanks for the correction Brian. I am truly sorry for the loss.

  • Rodney Douglas says:

    I never climbed anything with Joe. I did rent a house from the guy though. He was an incredibly unique individual. Certainly one of a kind. Joe was famous to me because of the way he treated people. The North Country lost a great man on Wednesday! Anyone who had the oppurtunity to grace his presence is a better person because of it. RIP Joe, gonna miss you buddy!

  • Thanks for the comment Rodney. He will certainly be missed.

  • Beth says:

    Joe touched lives in other ways too. I was in Potsdam during the Joe Szot and Manfred years…and one day dreamed to have a sweet newf like Manfred. Got my first 2 years ago and thought about naming him Joe Szot. He’s as sweet as Manfred was and he is a therapy dog who spends time at the Saratoga library inspiring little kids to read. Joe Szots legacy lives on in ways he probably never imagined.

  • Paul Forester says:

    Wow, what a shocker and a loss for us all.

    Brian, thanks for taking care of our boy and being with him. David, thanks for putting it out on the web. I’m an old friend of Joe’s from college and climbed with him “back in the day” with Manfred waiting below us patiently. I’ll pass the news along to our fellow Techies and his ZN brothers. I’ll also take a knee this next weekend while up in the Tetons and cast a few words into the wind for the mad man !!!

    Peace to all in his passing …

  • I suppose any of us that have climbed in the ‘Dacks are proceeding in Joe Szot’s wake.

    My condolences to everyone that knew him and tied-in with him.

  • davedepo says:

    Thank you Joe
    I first caught a glimpse of the man, the living legend, that was Joe Szot back in 2002 while working at a central Jersey gear shop amidst a mid-life career change. The shop’s core climbing staff had a picture of Joe ‘holding court’ in the bivy (in center of it all, where else?!) thumbtacked above the store’s back counter. The pix was close enough to inspire them to return to the bivy soon yet far enough from wandering customer eyes… The staff’s persistent and effervescent banter of the seemingly mythical Joe figure at ‘Joe’s bivy’–not to mention his large main-like dark-haired ‘fro, chiseled physique, and sky-high stack of split firewood, quickly left an indelible impression on me, an aspiring late-in-life climber to seek out Joe–a living Adirondack climbing legend, a guy I had to meet.
    Too many years rapidly past when a co-worker and seasoned ice climber Ed T. suggested we ‘scratch up some ice’ and stay at the bivy, having been referred by another rising climbing star, aka ‘Hoser.
    Alas, we travelled north for Mountainfest with search of ice tame enough for a newbie like me, hopes of and getting in some backcountry skiing, and experience the bivy and meet Joe. While I had been skiing for over four decades, it was with a rather high degree of intimidation and self-consciousness that I, the newbie climber swung open the bivy door for the first time. (I recall having given more than a fleeting thought to a possible weak, self-effacing, attempt at conjuring up a first ascent response to Joe the almighty if he chanced to ask me: ‘so, what climbs had I done?,’ prepared to confess that my climbing might not quite count in his book having climbed hand-over-hand, 72-feet up the mast of a sailboat, albeit using no feet–in reality, having climbed less than a dozen times on rock let alone ice. Thankfully, such an inquisition never transpired.)
    My first memory of Joe is firmly etched in my mind: Joe, Ubu in-hand, sitting center, The Dead (Cornell ’77 most likely) playing, climbing shells & ropes drying overhead, boots, ropes and crampons underfoot as Stella snaked the gauntlet of circled chairs scouting for loving pets and hugs, the well-stoked fire box pumping out btu’s as if fueled by the warmth of camaraderie that seemed to fill the room.
    With route names like Chiller, Gorilla’s in the Mist, Dark Lord, an epic endurance ‘Trilogy’ High Peaks 19-hour link-up, and talk of ‘rollies’ being bandied about, I quickly realized I was in the graces of Joe Szot, the living climbing legend.
    Drawn back to the magic of the bivy far too few but oh-so memorable times, I feel privileged to have started to get to know the kind of humble yet brazen, bad-ass, down-to-earth guy that was Joe Szot.
    Stays at the bivy were oh so sweet yet memorable! So what’s my top 10 list of life lessons having been so lucky to meet Joe during my lifetime? Here’s an attempt:
    10 Joe you were a living legend and have left a legacy; you lived to climb, you
    climbed to live. And live large you did!
    9 Joe, you inspired us mortals to get out, reach for the goal, fall, get up and climb
    again. “Well, you’ll just have to get up there and do it again!”
    8 ~”If you can’t take time to stop the treadmill and talk to and make friends, than
    what the f*** you got time for?!”
    7 Extend yourself to people you meet in life and with some luck, paybacks will
    reap dividends, if not, hopefully a few (several would be better) beers and
    6 You can never listen to too much Grateful Dead.
    5 “I did this because I saw a need.”
    4 ~”If your not laughin’, your not livin’!”
    3 Even giants practice humility. Joe’s self-admission to me on more than one
    occasion: ‘I’m not really much of a skier,” as if apologetic. And, when I chose
    to greet him one morning with ‘Good morning Captain’ as he strided
    purposefully from house to bivy, he embarrassingly responded
    “Captain?, hardly ‘Captain’!”
    2 Trust true friends: “The first rule is: ‘there are no rules!’”
    1 “I’ll sleep when I am dead”
    Joe, the other day I heard Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’. You musta’ been wishin’
    us well…
    May god bless and keep you always
    May your wishes all come true
    May you always do for others
    And let others do for you

    May you build a ladder to the stars
    And climb on every rung
    May you stay, forever young

    May your hands always be busy
    May your feet always be swift
    May you have a strong foundation
    When the winds of changes shift

    May your heart always be joyful
    May your song always be sung
    And may you stay forever young

    Forever young, forever young
    May you stay forever young
    R.I.P. Joe, you lived LARGE, LARGER than we can ever hope to live, but we’ll certainly give it our best.

    Thanks man,
    Dave DePo.

  • Shireen Szot says:

    Yes, same last name! Joe & I met in college at Clarkson, back in the ZN-Manfred-MorningSickness Party Days out on the Raquette River. It was both of our first time ever meeting someone outside of our own family with the name Szot. We tried to determine if we were cousins, found some connections, but never really proved it, but we told everyone we were cousins anyway since we looked a little bit alike and we definitely had the same hair! We lost track of each other after college. It was just by coincidence that I found this article and my heart sank. I’ve thought of him often over the years. If it wasn’t for the video, I would have chosen to believe it wasn’t him. He hadn’t changed a bit since I last saw him in 1984! To all of you who befriended him over the last 28 years & to his family, my heart goes out to you, I’m sure he remained the same great guy he was back then. —- Shireen Szot

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