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Ray Genet (July 27, 1931 – October 3, 1979), often referred to by the nickname Pirate, was an accomplished mountaineer whose many distinctions included having been the first guide on Mount McKinley in Alaska - the highest mountain in North America.
Genet's association with McKinley began in 1967, when, despite having no previous mountaineering experience, he participated in the first successful winter expedition to McKinley's summit, led by Gregg Blomberg. The expedition is described in Minus 148 Degrees: The First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley by Art Davidson, ISBN 0-89886-687-1
Similarly in 1967, Genet met Wurtila Kilcher. Wurtila was the sister of Mairiis Kilcher who was married to Genet's mountaineering partner and friend Art Davidson. The Kilcher girls were the daughters of Yule Kilcher and Ruth Kilcher, the Alaskan homesteaders. Wurtila though born in Alaska, lived primarily in Switzerland and was only in Alaska visiting her sister when she met Genet. "Pirate" Genet, the irrepressible climber who became a pioneer guide on the mountain, was Swiss himself though French-speaking. He set out to get one of the Kilcher girls for himself. The rakish Genet invited Wurzy (Wurtila) to go camping and moose hunting. The invitation arrived written on a piece of birch bark. "The birch had been my goddess tree since I was a child," said Wurzy, who was impressed enough to fly out to the camp to join him. "He really knew how to do it right. He had a log cabin out on the tundra, and he made breakfast for me." The relationship didn't outlive the two-week visit to Alaska. But something did. A year later, the Kilchers received a photo of their sister and a new baby: Saskia (daughter of Genet and Wurtila and mother to future actress Q'orianka Kilcher).
Genet followed Wurztila to Europe, but she declined his proposals of marriage, according to Anchorage writer Nan Elliott, who is writing a book about Genet. Still, they remained friendly. Wurzy, who later married and had four more children, raised Saskia, and Genet visited from time to time. Saskia idolized her father. She adopted the color red because her mother said it was Genet's favorite color.
Saskia told Elliott her father once promised to take her up Mount McKinley when she was 12 so she could be the youngest person ever to climb the mountain. She was just approaching that age in 1979 when Genet died descending from the summit of Mount Everest. (Genet's second child, son Taras, climbed McKinley at age 12 in 1991 and did become the youngest up to that time.) Saskia left home at 16 and came to Alaska, "following her dad's footsteps," as her aunt Mairiis recalls. "She always wanted to be a wild thing in Alaska like her dad." Genet died on 2 October 1979 while descending Mount Everest, succumbing to hypothermia in the night along with his fellow climber Hannelore Schmatz.
Genet has one famous granddaughter: actress and singer Q'Orianka Kilcher, and is "uncle" to singer Jewel Kilcher through his association with Jewel's aunt Wurtila Kilcher (daughter of Yule and Ruth Kilcher). He is not technically Jewel's uncle however because he never married Wurtila. Genet is also the father of Taras Genet and Adrian Genet. Taras was the youngest boy to summit Mt.Mckinley, climbing it at the age of twelve.
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