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Randy Udall, R.I.P.: Remembering brother of Senator Mark Udall, found dead after solo hike

Update: Late Wednesday afternoon, while most of us were getting ready for a well deserved day off on July 4, the Udall family, including Colorado Senator Mark Udall, were dealing with a tragedy. Randy Udall, Mark's brother and a nationally known environmental activist and fracking critic, had been missing since June 26 after taking a solo hike in Wyoming; see our previous coverage below. But after days of searching, rescue personnel discovered his body. He appears to have died of natural causes. See remembrances from the Udall family and more below.

Here's the official statement from the Udall family, issued through the Senator's office:

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Randy. Randy's body was discovered today by the heroic search and rescue team that worked for days to locate him in a remote area of the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Our family is extremely grateful to Sublette County Sheriff Dave Lankford, his staff, Tip Top Search and Rescue, the United States Forest Service, Wyoming Air National Guard, and all others involved for their tireless efforts over the past several days. Although an autopsy is forthcoming, it appears he died of natural causes.

"Randy left this earth doing what he loved most: hiking in his most favorite mountain range in the world. He appeared to be on the obscure, off-trail route that he had proposed to his family. The entire Udall family is touched beyond words by the tremendous outpouring of support from people around the country. Randy's passing is a reminder to all of us to live every day to its fullest, just as he did."

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet also shared a public comment on Randy's passing: "We are deeply saddened by Randy's unexpected passing. Our hearts are with the Udall family. We offer them support and respect their privacy in this time of grief."

Still, one of the most moving tributes comes from Auden Schendler, who knew Randy for more than two decades. Here are his thoughts, as shared by ThinkProgress.org:

I'll keep movin' through the dark with you in my heart my blood brother. -- Bruce Springsteen

I think we will solve climate change, but to do it we will need each other, and we will need leadership and also companionship. Increasingly, over the years, the environmental community has become fractured on the issue of climate -- in some cases struggling over best approaches, expressing our frustration and criticism. This is healthy, but it has to be understood in the context of a common struggle. We are in this together.

That is why I find it so deeply saddening to lose leaders and fellow fighters in this battle. I saw Stephen Schneider as nothing less than a fearsome warrior, like a Viking. A wonderful ally.

Now we have lost another brother in arms -- energy analyst, innovator, deep thinker, and part time warrior Randy Udall.

I met Randy more than 20 years ago, when he was younger than I am now, and he choose me to join him on grueling and epic skis and hikes in the Sierras, the Wind Rivers, and the Colorado Rockies. He was one of the strongest humans on earth, both physically and mentally. As an Outward Bound instructor on winter courses, he was known to ski into camp in the dark, eat a stick of butter, dig a hole in the snow, and go to sleep. He once skied the entire 200-plus mile John Muir trail in a week with his brother Mark. To hike with him was to be completely brutalized beyond exhaustion, into a new place. It required the kind of effort Randy and the rest of us are now putting into the climate struggle.

Randy Udall in a photo courtesy of ThinkProgress.org.
Randy Udall in a photo courtesy of ThinkProgress.org.

Udall was a pioneer and an innovator. Among many of his important accomplishments were the development of the first utility green power pricing program in Colorado, a mechanism for utilities to bring clean power online. He was a brilliant and incisive writer, a master of metaphor who would spend days mulling a turn of phrase. As editor of Rocky Mountain Institute's newsletter, he brought wit and life to energy writing.

In his work at the Community Office for Resource Efficiency he developed likely the country's first carbon tax, imposing a fee on energy intensive development. Like much of Randy's work, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program was oddly bipartisan. Many homeowners happily paid the fee, expressing their own desire to help out, to not do harm, to be part of the solution. In the same way, Randy understood that cheap coal and petroleum brought Americans the prosperity we enjoy today, and our solutions must not ignore that debt, and must not sweep the miners and the geologists and the utilities under the carpet. For this, Randy was beloved by coal miners and gas explorers, conservative utility CEOs and environmentalists alike.

His favorite way of speaking about hard challenges was to say: "It seems to make sense to...." What a wonderful turn of phrase. Together, Randy and I wrote one of the early critiques of LEED, a paper that we hoped would help reform the program. Randy and I can both be too critical and judgmental, but Randy wrote that paper, as he did all his work, out of love and hope. To build, not to destroy.

He was non-self promotional to a fault, and to me he often urged humility -- what Ben Franklin called the hardest virtue. Despite having a famous name, a brother and a cousin who are senators, an uncle who ran Interior and a Congressman father who doubled the size of the national park system, public spotlight and power were not Randy's gig. When I told him he ought to radically expand his work at CORE, he said: "I have no interest at all in building an empire."

Randy was above all a realist. "Like it or not," he said of fracking, although "many of my friends seem to hate it, this technology has become one of the underpinnings of our civilization, as central to the way we live as the cell phone or computer." That realism sometimes led to dark humor. Randy was known for his shit-eating grin, and it was never clear if you were in on the joke.

For the last decade, Randy had been relentlessly hammering on a key climate problem, and a key solution -- methane leaking from coal mines. Destroy methane en-masse, and we can buy ourselves some time to address CO2. After endless denials and failures, he and partner Tom Vessels finally found a willing partner in Jim Cooper, the mine president at the Elk Creek Mine in Somerset. The company I work for, Aspen Skiing Company, was able to finance the project to convert waste methane to electricity, in partnership with another Randy ally, the utility Holy Cross Energy. With 3MW of installed capacity, we have a prototype of a climate solution that crosses partisan boundaries and represents the bleeding edge of cooperation in a divided America.

Who owns the Elk Creek mine? Bill Koch, who recognizes the value of the project and allowed it to go forward. If that political incongruity seems dissonant, it is also a way forward in a fractured time. As mine president Jim Cooper emailed me recently: "I owe you a conversation on climate change." Barriers come down slowly and painfully.

Wisdom, or progress, Randy knew, often comes, to quote Aeschylus, "against our will ... through the awful grace of God."

This is in keeping. Randy was known for a shocking irreverence that he balanced with a gentle, caring way. He would feed you chunks of muffin from his hands if he thought you were hungry; leave tomatoes on your porch; hand you red licorice on the trail, then be incommunicado for a month. I call him a part time warrior because Randy fought and then recharged, engaged in pitched battle, then disappeared into the woods.

He lived Ed Abby's rule: "Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am -- a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure."

In the climate fight, Randy reminds us of the importance of our friends; of that fact that we are all cantankerous and difficult people, but we need each other desperately.

As he said to me not long before he died: "Auden, to the extent I was able to make friends, you have been a friend for a long time. You deserved more from me; others deserved more from me; I deserved more from me; and, above all, I needed others more than I ever suspected. As for the work I did at CORE, that you are doing at Ski Co, that needs to be done... It's difficult and endless and exhausting and sometimes lonely. I read Romm's blog and look at China's emissions and try to make sense of where this is going to leave Tarn and Torrey and Ren, not to mention Willa. And the politics of it drive me nuts, McKibben holding hands with 12,000, picketing purportedly the most progressive President we've had, staking out a Democrat!"

The portion of Wyoming where Randy Udall took his final hike.
The portion of Wyoming where Randy Udall took his final hike.

The question Randy would ask of us is one he asked of me many times. "Are you strong?" This quality meant so much to Randy, but it was more than physical strength. He would ask us if we are strong enough to win this thing, to persevere despite our own doubts and limitations. Randy knew we could only do this together, as he said: "Dozens, hundreds of people chipping away at the iron glacier." Randy would want nothing less of us than that we follow through with his life's work.

If there is one quantum of solace, it is that Randy appears to have died very quickly, of perhaps a heart attack or stroke, mid-stride, outward bound on a flat high bench, off trail in the Wind River Range, his favorite place on earth. Just as we ought to be, he was girded for battle. He had his pack on his back, hiking poles in hand, certainly feeling the lightness and joy we all feel heading out on a new journey.

Under a vast, clear and blue Wyoming sky, he came to rest on his side. He was finally, to quote Stanley Kunitz, one of his favorite poets:

... absolved and free

of his burdens, those mottoes

stamped on his name-tag:

conscience, ambition, and all

that caring....

Peace! Peace!

To be rocked by the Infinite!

As if it didn't matter

which way was home;

as if he didn't know

he loved the earth so much

he wanted to stay forever.

Continue for our previous coverage, including photos and videos.

Original post, 6:56 a.m. July 2: Senator Mark Udall may be the most prominent member of his famous political family in the state, but he's hardly the only notable Udall to call Colorado home. His brother, Randy Udall, is a nationally known environmental activist whose opposition to fracking is only one of his passions.

Right now, however, the main focus for Randy is survival. He's been missing in Wyoming since June 26, when he was expected to return from a hike, and efforts to find him are intensifying with each hour.

As noted by the Aspen Times, Randy, who resides in Carbondale, served as the original director for the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE). He also co-founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA, under whose auspices he was scheduled to speak in Golden this past March on the topic of "Halliburton & the Mancos Sea: Shales R Us -- Or Are They?" In talking about big oil companies, he said, "They've hijacked our energy future, chained us to a drilling rig, and thrown away the key."

Randy Udall in lecture mode.
Randy Udall in lecture mode.

In recent days, though, Randy made news of a very different sort. Here's the first report about him after he was reported missing; it was issued midday on June 30 by the Sublette County Sheriff's Office:

On Friday June 28th the Sublette County Sheriff's Office received a report of an overdue hiker in the Wind River Mountains. The hiker is identified as 61 year old James "Randy" Udall of Carbondale Colorado, an experienced backpacker who has hiked in the Winds many times over the past thirty years.

Tip Top Search and Rescue began a coordinated search effort Friday afternoon with multiple resources including ground teams and aerial sweeps with the Sheriff's Office contract helicopter. The search operation has continued over the weekend with assistance from the U.S. Forest Service. The search area is approximately 225 square miles.

Mr. Udall left Elkhart Park trailhead in the central part of the Wind River Range Thursday June 20th and was scheduled to exit the mountains on June 26th, he was hiking alone.

The following day, the SCSO shared the following photo of Randy....

Randy Udall.
Randy Udall.

...and this description:

61 year old male

6'4" 200#

Blue Eyes, Gray/Brown Hair

Could walk with a limp (prior hip injury)

Unfortunately, the latest update from the sheriff doesn't include significant progress. Although a helicopter from the Air National Guard conducted aerial searches yesterday of the area where Randy's thought to have been, he still hasn't been spotted.

If you've been in the backcountry lately and have seen someone matching Randy Udall's description, you're encouraged to contact the Sublette County Sheriff's Office at 307-367-4378. In the meantime, here are two video featuring Randy.

More from our News archive: "Reese Graba found safe: His need for alone time inadvertently prompts massive search."


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