Stamina, endurance, courage and discipline are some of the words that come to mind when Kevin Tompsett, partner at Harris Beach PLLC, talks about his mountain climbing experiences. Knowledge, experience, supplies and equipment are equally important, and in putting together a hiking team, there are probably many more adjectives critical to the safety and survival of the team.
Headed west in June, Tompsett and four other experienced mountaineers are currently assembling supplies and equipment as they decide which summits on which mountains they’ll climb in the Cascade Range, which runs from northern California to southern British Columbia.
West coast in 2000
“In the Northwest, the weather conditions can truly be night and day from the parking lot to the summit,” Tompsett noted. “When we started up Mount Shasta [14,179 ft., northern California] in 2000, it was 90 degrees with no wind in the parking lot. A few hours later, we were hiking in snow and couldn’t continue due to high winds. Twenty four hours later, the winds subsided and we were able to continue up the mountain.”
Tompsett and his group were able to make camp at Helen Lake at 10,400 ft. (there’s actually no lake there), and started their final push to the summit at 2 a.m., reaching the summit about six hours later.
“Climbing a mountain in the middle of the night is a truly unique experience,” he said. “We could see Redding, Calif., off in the distance — about 50 miles — and it was not unlike looking at a city at night from an airplane.”
The first climb
While in college at State University of New York at Oswego, one of Tompsett’s childhood friends talked him into a winter camping trip. Without the equipment and knowledge of a more experienced cold-weather camper, Tompsett remembers just how cold it was in the tent.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said, laughing. “Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Therm-a-Rest (self-inflating air mattress), which keeps your body off of snow. Needless to say, it was a long night. But we had a great time and decided to go again — but with the proper gear.”
After that, Tompsett was hooked on winter camping. Starting with single-night trips, and progressing to multiple nights, Tompsett and friends climbed many peaks in the Adirondacks, experiencing both summer and winter climbs.
“All of my winter camping trips have been with a core group of three or four guys that I’ve known since first grade. Our lives have all gone in different directions, and we don’t have many opportunities to get together. These trips are special because it allows us to reconnect,” he said.
Mount Katahdin, Maine
At 5,268 feet, Mount Katahdin is in the midst of Baxter State Park and isn’t particularly accessible. Tompsett has done two trips up Mount Katahdin — the first in 2001, and again in 2011.
“Climbing [Mount] Katahdin is not your typical winter summit experience. Getting to the base of the mountain takes two full days. The first day we traveled 13 miles by cross-country skis, wearing backpacks and pulling sleds with about 70 pounds of supplies,” Tompsett said. “Everything you need for six or seven days has to come with you — food, gear and clothing. But all that weight adds up; you need to be judicious about what you bring.”
The second camp was about three miles farther, but at a significantly increased altitude. They stayed in cabins complete with wooden bunks and wood stoves.
“After reaching the second camp, we had to wait out the weather for two days before we could even make an attempt at the summit,” he recalled. “With clear skies, we reached the summit on the third day, but as we started our descent, the winds picked up again and reduced visibility to about 50 feet.”
Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine. It is granite eroded by glaciers with five main peaks. The Knife Edge, a 1.1-mile long path with sheer drop offs on either side, offers an alternate route to the summit. That route can be treacherous even in the summer months, Tompsett said.
“I took the Knife’s Edge route to the summit of [Mount] Katahdin in the summer of 1997 when I was clerking for a district court judge in Bangor,” Tompsett said. “The route is very exposed, uneven, and if the weather gets bad, there is no quick way off it. If you don’t like heights, the Knife’s Edge is not the route for you.”
As mentioned, Tompsett has been to the Cascade Range previously, climbing Mount Shasta. In June, he is returning for an encore.
“Everything depends on the weather. Right now we’re planning on climbing Mount Rainer [Washington’s highest peak at 14,411 ft.], Mount Hood [Oregon’s highest peak at 11,235 ft.]; and/or Mount St. Helen’s [8,365 ft. since its 1980 eruption].”
Tompsett explained that aside from Mount Katahdin, he and his group typically stay in tents. Standard gear includes mountaineering boots, ice axes, crampons, sleeping bags, food supplies, cookware, cook stoves (for cooking and melting snow) and plenty of clothing.
“We’ve accumulated enough gear to put EMS out of business,” Tompsett said, jokingly. Ropes and harnesses will likely be used by the climbers on the Oregon trip as a safety precaution because the routes are quite steep.
Tompsett will be accompanied by Kirk Vanderbilt, his childhood friend who introduced him to winter camping in college, two other friends who went on the 2011 Mount Katahdin trip, and a fourth person who has substantial mountaineering experience but is new to the group.
“We’re also trying to get back into shape,” Tompsett said. “I never thought I would have to get into shape for vacation.”
Raised in Avon, Livingston County, Tompsett enjoyed riding horses and participated in equestrian competitions. He also played soccer and ran track in high school.
His father’s veterinarian practice led him to believe he might like to follow in his father’s footsteps. Tompsett started at SUNY Oswego as a biology major, but determined it wasn’t for him. With the guidance of a professor, he was introduced to criminal justice and, from there, went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts, cum laude, in public justice in 1995.
Right out of undergraduate school, Tompsett took a year off to work a blue collar job.
“I assembled office furniture and made deliveries,” Tompsett said. “It was a snapshot of the working world, and good incentive to do well in law school.”
Tompsett’s older brother, Scott, was already a lawyer, and stressed the importance of doing well during the first year of law school and being offered a position on law review. “Law review tends to open doors,” he advised his younger brother.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to work in a large law firm, but I understood the importance of doing well and having options,” Kevin Tompsett said.
With an interest in environmental law, Tompsett chose to study at Vermont Law School (also convenient for hiking and mountain climbing). He completed his juris doctor in 1999, and was a member of the Vermont Law Review. He also had a semester in Washington, D.C., sitting in on a superfund trial and gaining a true appreciation for litigation.
Tompsett’s first job out of law school was for a big firm — Day Berry Howard — in their Boston office.
After a year, he returned to western New York, securing a position at Harris Beach PLLC. Working closely with Dave Rasmussen and Glenn Fjermedal, Tompsett followed them as they created their own firm, then merged with Lacy Katzen LLP.
Within a year, Tompsett reclaimed his position at Harris Beach, where he has been since August 2005. He currently concentrates on financial restructuring, bankruptcy and creditors’ rights and business and commercial litigation.
In the community
A member of the New York State and Monroe County bar associations, Tompsett continues to participate in his community. He is past president of the Avon Rotary Club and served on its Board of Directors for six years.
In 2007, Tompsett was named a Paul Harris Fellow — Harris was the founder of Rotary. The Avon Rotary Club recognized Tompsett for his leadership and dedication to Rotary and his commitment to Rotary’s motto: Service Above Self.
Tompsett also enjoys presenting the CARE Program (Credit Abuse Resistance Education) to area high schools. Within Harris Beach, Tompsett is active on the Community Involvement Committee, fostering firm participation in community and charitable events.
Tompsett’s wife, Susan, currently teaches third grade in the Rush-Henrietta school district. They have two children: Nolan, 6, and Lucinda, 1.