LANL Profile: Bill Priedhorsky

Bill Priedhorsky, the program director for Laboratory-Directed Research & Development. Courtesy/LANL

LANL News:

Bill Priedhorsky, director of the Laboratory-Directed Research & Development (LDRD) program, has been walking for several hours.

The whisper of his passage across the desert disappears as thoroughly as the morning dew dries under the unrelenting heat of New Mexico’s sun. He leans on a hiking pole and takes in his surroundings.

There are convoluted shadows on the rocks all about him—nature is a gifted sculptor, using erosion to craft all types of interesting and bizarre shapes from stone.

There are no tension wires, trails or even signs of wildlife here. Like many times before, he finds himself in the middle    of nowhere.

“For me, the outdoors amounts to one big puzzle,” Priedhorsky said. “It’s about exploring, finding new places and being surprised by things I never knew were there. These are big attractions for me—with the outdoors, there’s just so much to experience and you never really know what you are going to run into next.”

Although many who indulge in the outdoors do it for sport or challenge, Priedhorsky takes a more contemplative approach to his exploration.

“It’s humbling, finding yourself in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “You really internalize what a big world we live in and just how little each one of us is. I’m really inspired by such things, so I just keep going back and back. Exploration is not what I do—it’s who I am.”

An interest in mountaineering
Aside from brief excursions as a Boy Scout, Priedhorsky really did not give much thought to the outdoors until, fresh out of high school, he connected with an old buddy, who asked if he wanted to circumnavigate Mount Rainier, the highest mountain in the state of Washington.

“So, my buddy and I set out to walk what is known as the ‘Wonderland Trail,’ a 93-mile trek around the mountain, in the days before you needed a permit,” Priedhorsky said. “We backpacked through about two-thirds of it before my friend’s knee gave out. But the challenge is what stuck with me, and it sticks with me to this day.”

While attending graduate school, Priedhorsky’s interest in the outdoors led him to the mountains. On most weekends, he and his friends would ascend the mountains that overlook Southern California, hiking every weekend in the San Gabriels and beyond. He gained experience mountaineering, learning to navigate in the outdoors and carefully planning outings.

“I’ve made lifelong friends exploring the outdoors,” he said. “I have never been really a technical mountaineer, though I’m president of the Los Alamos Mountaineers. My goal is not to overcome the outdoors, but rather to take it all in.”

When Priedhorsky came to Los Alamos in 1978, he soon discovered the Los Alamos Mountaineers, a club founded in 1952. Although the Los Alamos Mountaineers offer training in climbing and top roping, the club welcomes all: “Outdoor adventure for everyone.” It was in this 200-member organization that Priedhorsky’s penchant for exploration grew even more.

Since 1979, Priedhorsky has led more than 80 expeditions into the canyon country of northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. Many early expeditions were spartan backpacking affairs, but recent trips are easier, with the groups hiring horses or llamas to carry loads to a base camp that offers limited luxuries (like chairs) and fresh food. Priedhorsky has held various positions within the club, including trip coordinator and five terms as president. For his contributions, he was elected a Lifetime Member.

“Going out and exploring the outdoors brings people together,” Priedhorsky said. “You really connect with people when you spend a weekend or a week with them exploring all that nature has to offer. These friendships are much deeper and tighter than any connections you make with folks by just going out to dinner or spending time with them at work.”

Editor’s Note: Bill Priedhorsky is the program director for Laboratory-Directed Research and Development.

Since 1979 Bill Priedhorsky has led more than 80 expeditions into canyon country of northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. Courtesy/LANL