Written by a good friend of Jim’s and former Exum Chief Guide, Ron Matous
James “Rathole” Kanzler , guide since 1977, passed from this life late on April 17, a few days shy of his 63rd birthday. The story of his nickname (a perversion of “Reinhold”, as in Messner), along with Greta Gretzinger’s magnificent work of art, Grandpa Rat, can all be found on the internet, along with an obituary from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle of April 22 . No reason to duplicate any of that: so many people knew him, so many loved him, that I can only add a few personal memories that would otherwise disappear.
Of those guides who knew Rat, how many knew Mr. Stick? Mr. Stick was just that, any short piece of branch that Jim would use to demonstrate to his clients the physics of climbing: that one’s feet would hold better as one’s body leaned away from the rock. By holding him lightly at right angles to the rock face, Mr. Stick could seemingly defy gravity, staying in place through the increased friction of his “feet”. But begin to tip him closer to the rock, as Jim would, and very soon those feet would slip, and Mr. Stick would plummet. The clients always got the idea, and no one who ever took a basic class with Rat would ever be seen pressing his face to the rock in fear.
I’ve told a few friends about his discussions with clients on the Lower Saddle: it’s true that in the mountains, speed is safety (all else being equal). I listened to him many an evening pointing out the route up the mountain, the descent, and discussing the likely start and finish times. His main point was to keep moving: “Motion is Life, Stasis is Death”. It always took people a minute to figure out what stasis meant, but it sunk in: get your butt in gear. Then we would often take them out bouldering near camp if the weather was good. Jim lived for the mountains, and some of his many first ascents (especially in Montana) are unrepeated, or unrepeatable.
Jim experienced much sadness in his life but kept his sunny side up, right to the end. The Kundalini Breath of Fire would see him through any crux, even a simple 5.4. I believe that it gave him relief from fear, concentration (for breath is life), and focus. Rat used to call me “Mr. Congenial”, because he thought I treated the clients with more respect than he himself. Not true. James was the consummate guide, and never let his personal travails interfere with his client’s pleasure. He will be sorely missed.