Mountain Man Doug Zimmerman.  Photo by Bob Plucenik.

Whether in the mountains, working on his farmhouse, or enjoying a short hike, Doug Zimmerman was most at home in the outdoors.  He was at peace in the mountains and found beauty in the natural world.  On a sunny day in June 2010, Doug died outside. It happened suddenly while he was running through a park alongside the Connecticut River, apparently as a result of a malignant arrhythmia.
Doug was a mountaineer in the truest sense.  His unyielding spirit for adventure, humor, strength, and determination made him a wonderful travelling companion and the best of climbing partners.

Doug’s climbing career spanned four decades, with ascents and climbing adventures throughout the U.S., Canada, Peru, and Alaska.  He was an uncomplicated man and a traditional climber.  His pleasures were simple and his needs were few.  He endured hardship with quiet calm and determination. 

Doug loved to tell stories, especially of one particular adventure in the Canadian Rockies.  He, Doug Bonoff and I spent five days sitting out a blizzard on the Dome of Mt. Robson. Where others might have made hasty decisions to climb on or retreat, Doug understood the risks and exercised calm patience. It was the longest stay on Mt. Robson not resulting in a rescue.

Doug was a calm, level-headed leader.  He was not a bold climber.  He understood his limits and climbed competently and confidently within them.  His plan was to climb late into life.  To be an old climber was the end game for Doug.

Doug’s wife Bet supported his climbing passion wholeheartedly.  When she met Kenneth Henderson at an AAC black-tie event, she asked why he was always so well-dressed when climbing, as evidenced by old photos on display.  Ken responded by simply saying, “My dear, you just never know who you’ll run into while in the mountains.”  Doug clearly never heeded Ken’s philosophy of attire.  For Doug, fashion was irrelevant. In his pack, a moth-eaten army green wool sweater, some Dachshtein mittens, and a crampon-slashed pair of wind pants could always be found.  On ice routes, he continued to carry his wooden alpine hammer well past its usefulness.  On our last climb together at Pinnacle Gully on Mt. Washington this past March, a single Chouinard ice screw still dangled from his harness. Dulled and weathered, the screw was perhaps a connection to adventures past and those he thought lay ahead.

As I reflect back on the many adventures that others and I shared with Doug, I pay tribute to a friend who gave me some of the best days of my life.  For this I thank Doug.  I will miss him forever.

- Contributed to the American Alpine Journal by Robert Plucenik of Brooklyn, CT

NOTES:  Doug graduated from Eastern CT State University in 1980 with a degree in Environmental Earth Science, where he was co-President of the Outing Club.  His career in public service spanned 27 years with the CT Dept. of Environmental Protection, where he helped clean up countless polluted sites. 

In addition to rock and ice climbing and mountaineering, Doug was also a runner.  He completed six marathons. He was also a regular blood donor, giving more than 65 units of blood during his lifetime.  He was a tissue donor, which he referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Perhaps another person will be able to walk a trail or climb a mountain thanks to Doug’s gift of muscle and bone. 

Donations in Doug’s honor can be made to the American Alpine Club, or to the Founders of Environmental Earth Science Fund, Eastern CT State University, Foundation, 83 Windham St.,Willimantic CT 06226.

  • My Mountaineer (poem)
    • Doug and two buddies did the "Presidential Traverse." This involved a marathon "trip across New Hampshire's fantatsical and foreboding Presidential Range, which involves climbing roughly 10,000 feet over 24 miles of rocky terrain, most of it vulnerable to some of the world's worst weather." (NY Times). All in one swoop, while carrying a 60+ pound pack. It struck me as crazy, but what an accomplishment.
  • Obituary from the Hartford Courant
  • Running
  • Running, Syncope, Arrhythmia and Sudden Cardiac Death during Exercise
  • I always loved this advertisement for the Shackleton expedition. (Not sure it was real or actually published.) I always thought Doug would either die of old age, or die climbing due to an avalanche or fall into a crevasse or off a snow bridge. I never imagined he would die while running.

for hazardous journey.
Small wages, bitter cold,
long months of complete darkness, constant danger,
safe return doubtful.
Honor and recognition in case of success.
- Ernest Shackleton


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