Sunday, May 28, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fallen Climber Left A Legacy Of Hope

Just before he left Seattle early in May to climb Alaska's Mount McKinley, Jimmy Hinkhouse left some papers with his son, Aaron.

The papers were a manuscript Hinkhouse had started, hoping to get it published as a book someday.

He felt so strongly about completing the book that it was one of the reasons he'd quit his job with Boeing at the beginning of the year.

Last week, Hinkhouse died on the mountain. His body and the bodies of two fellow climbers were recovered from a crevasse Friday. They apparently had fallen when a snow or ice bridge gave way as they were moving supplies to a higher camp.

Killed besides Hinkhouse, 52, of Bellevue, were Scott Hall, 34, of Arlington, and Thomas Downey, 52, of Ephrata. The families of Hall and Downey could not be contacted.

The climb was organized through a group called OSAT - for One Step at a Time - a support effort aimed at helping recovering alcoholics and other drug addicts restore their lives through climbing and outdoor activities.

Hinkhouse was a founder of OSAT, and much of the 100 pages he left behind told how the club was started and how he regained control of his own life through its work.

The club, founded in 1991, now has about 300 members.

"He was my mentor and my dearest, closest friend," said Steve Sawyer of Federal Way, another OSAT member. "He impacted a great many people. I can't tell you what he's meant in my life. I was a disgruntled postal worker five years ago."

Now Sawyer is helping run an outpatient-treatment facility, largely because of Hinkhouse.

In his manuscript, Hinkhouse told how his parents moved to Oregon from Kansas during the Depression as a "Grapes of Wrath" family and how he grew up poor yet in a supportive environment in Scappoose, Ore.

But his life, he wrote, became filled with contradictions. Math

and sports came easily to him.

"I was also popular. I was senior-class president and voted best-liked male in school," he wrote.

After graduating from high school in 1960, he went on to get a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Oregon in 1964. He worked for Boeing from 1966 to 1970, and then the University of Washington, Weyerhaeuser, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Wharton Econometric Forecasting Association in Philadelphia. He went back to Boeing in 1987, joining the Commercial Airplane Group in Renton, where he was market research manager and chief economist.

He married and divorced twice. He and his first wife were the parents of two children, Aaron and Kym.

He also was an alcoholic. In his writing, he tells of the facade of success he'd created, and how his life really was one of despair and low self-esteem.

"For almost the next 20 years, alcohol would be an important part of life.

"When I was 35, I was a very old man. I could not walk up a flight of stairs without pausing to catch my breath. I smoked one to two packages of (cigarettes) daily," he wrote.

He told of trying Alcoholics Anonymous, but found himself depressed by meetings in smoke-filled rooms. He took his last drink in 1978.

He joined the Mountaineers, a Seattle-based outdoors club, and gradually an idea developed of holding an AA meeting atop Mount Rainier.

"The story begins at dawn on a solo hike up Mount Si on New Year's Day 1989," he wrote.

In 1990, he quit smoking. When he died, he'd climbed Mount Rainier 12 times, as well as peaks all over the world.

His life had been improving, his son said. "He was the happiest he'd ever been."

OSAT now meets every Thursday night atop Tiger Mountain near Issaquah, with anywhere from 12 to 50 people attending the combination club gathering and AA meetings.

OSAT can be contacted at P.O. Box 6461, Lynnwood, WA 98036, or by calling (206) 236-9674.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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