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Mountaineer, Author to Receive UW Honorary Degree

May 2, 2022
man standing in front of mountains
Joe Kelsey

The University of Wyoming will confer its highest award, the honorary doctoral degree, upon famed mountaineer Joe Kelsey during UW commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 14.

Kelsey is a former guide with Exum Mountain Guides in Jackson and an internationally known author. His guidebook, “Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains,” has served as a beacon for outdoor recreationists and a magnet for those seeking to explore Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West. He has written other books that have brought Wyoming to the world as well.

Kelsey also is the keynote speaker for UW’s 8:30 a.m. commencement ceremony May 14 in the Arena-Auditorium, for undergraduate students graduating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the College of Business, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the College of Health Sciences and the School of Energy Resources.

“(Kelsey’s) guidebook has made a significant contribution to the lives of people of Wyoming, even those who will never pick up a copy or get close to the Winds, through its central place in the recreation and tourism industry of the state. Joe, through this guidebook, has been one of our state’s most important ambassadors for over 40 years,” wrote one of his nominators, UW philosophy Associate Professor Ed Sherline. “In short, the nomination of Joe Kelsey for an honorary degree is recognition of his incredibly significant role in (celebrating) one of the largest and most beautiful and pristine gems of a state full of geographical gems, his authorship of a work of perceptive guidance that continues to celebrate and encourage the legacy of exploration and adventure.”

UW alumni, current or former trustees and faculty members are eligible to nominate individuals for honorary degrees who embody the university’s high ideals; exemplify the values of excellence, service and integrity; and possess distinguished accomplishments in their professions, public service or service to humanity. Submissions are referred to a joint committee of trustees and faculty members, which forwards recommendations to the full Board of Trustees for approval.

Kelsey, who holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University, discovered the Wind River Mountains on a trip to the Cirque of the Towers in August 1969. Since then, he has ascended hundreds of peaks and routes in the iconic mountain range, with at least 23 first ascents. He also has climbed in many other North American meccas.

In addition to his seminal guidebook, Kelsey is the author of the book “A Place in Which to Search: Summers in the Wind Rivers,” along with many articles in various journals and magazines.

“A mountaineer of his caliber could have pursued glory in more famous mountain ranges, via flashier exploits. Instead, for decades he has quietly built a network of explorers and other lovers of Wyoming’s wild places, honing his own expertise -- and his guidebook -- more as an exacting craft than as a performance,” wrote another nominator, UW mathematics Professor Emeritus Myron Allen. “His life serves as an example to all of us: Do what you love; love what you do; seek depth; make a difference.”

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