It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of one of our alumni.

Richard Stephen Knutson

Richard Stephen Knutson (Steve to his many friends) was born 19 March 1941 in Springfield, Oregon and died 7 April 2024 in Corbett, Oregon.

Steve was preceded in death by his parents, Edwin T. and Bernice Knutson, and by his siblings Joan, Alice, and Dana. Steve is survived by his nephews, Zachary and Garth Chouteau. 

Steve graduated in 1959 from Beaverton High School and attended Reed College on a full scholarship. Steve was always interested in science and completed the coursework at Oregon State University for a PhD in Chemistry. 

Steve was very adventurous and while at Reed he was a member of the Reed Outing Club and began rock climbing and mountaineering. He climbed Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier and many other peaks in the Cascades. He rock climbed in the Columbia Gorge, Smith Rocks and other climbing areas in Oregon,  Washington and California. Steve pioneered a number of first ascents of Cascade peaks and rock climbing routes. I’m told there is still a piton embedded in what was at that time the tallest building on the Reed College campus, from the time Steve climbed the building in the early sixties.  Steve had a climbing accident on Mt. Hood where he fell and slid down the Palmer Glacier for several hundred feet and received a broken jaw and several broken bones. He was one of the first helicopter rescues from the mountain. Afterward Steve joined the mountain rescue team that rescued him, to show his appreciation.

Continuing his thirst for adventure, he attended the Jim Russell School of Racing and raced his Triumph TR3 in local sports car events

Steve developed an interest in cave exploring and became well-known for caving in America, Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru. He led a five year plus project of exploring and mapping of the main cave at Oregon Caves National Monument. During this effort he discovered bones including the skull of a prehistoric mountain lion. His work resulted in a map that is still being sold at the gift shop there. He participated in a 1974 expedition to Castleguard Cave in Canada. He participated in many expeditions to caves in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru. He led Lost World Explorations to explore these caves, always wanting to “go where no one had gone before” and experience the thrill of new discoveries. One of his Peru expeditions was featured in an episode on the History Channel titled “Mummies of the Clouds” in which Steve led the camera crew into the cave to film the indigenous cave burials of the Chachapoya culture of the Northern Andes. This was the first proof that prehistoric humans in the area mummified their dead and placed them deep into caves. Steve contributed his data from these trips to the archaeology department of Peru’s government

Steve wrote many articles for various caving publications and was the author of a book: “Oregon Caves, The Pioneer Exploration and the New Discoveries.” He was the editor of American Caving Accidents from 1976 to 1993.  His long membership in the National Speleological Society and his contributions led to his being named an NSS Fellow in 1977 and to his receiving the Lew Bicking Award in 1989 for exceptional service in cave exploration and mapping.

Steve’s working career centered around his desire to experience and contribute to preserving the great natural resources of our world. He worked for the National Park Service at Mammoth Cave and Oregon Caves National Parks. He worked for Shasta National Forest as a surveyor and fire fighter. 

In recent years, Steve had some health problems. He had a bout with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and suffered chemo and radiation treatments and in 2023 his heart slowed and he had a pacemaker surgically inserted. But being Steve, he ignored any health problems and was recently hiking with a 40-pound pack getting in shape for trips to the Marble Mountains. He is greatly missed by all his friends and associates. Keep the carbide light of his legacy glowing!

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