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Climber 'caught the fever' after one trip up St. Helens

By Jim Kavanagh, CNN
Joseph Bohlig, 52, flashed a big smile recently when he and a friend summited a mountain in Ecuador.
Joseph Bohlig, 52, flashed a big smile recently when he and a friend summited a mountain in Ecuador.
  • NEW: Joe Bohlig "caught the fever" on first Mount St. Helens climb, friend says
  • NEW: Bohlig won award for photo of snow cornice -- perhaps one that killed him
  • NEW: Friend may climb St. Helens with Bohlig's family on eruption anniversary
  • Climber obviously died from fall, official says; no autopsy

(CNN) -- Joe Bohlig was always up for an adventure, his best friend says, and that's what did him in.

Bohlig's body was recovered Tuesday from the snow-covered crater of Washington's Mount St. Helens volcano, where he'd fallen Monday from the peak he and Scott Salkovics had reached dozens of times over the years.

"At the drop of a hat I'd think of some crazy, fun thing to do and he'd be game, unlike so many people of our age, quite frankly," Salkovics said. "We're not spring chickens; 52 years old, he's out there climbing like a 23-year-old."

The two men met in 1987 while working at a Weyerhaeuser Paper Co. plant in Washington. Salkovics needed a climbing partner and invited the "hard-core runner" Bohlig to join him.

"He intended to do it just the one time, but he caught the fever more than I ever did, even, and from then on it was game on. We did a lot of climbs together," Salkovics said.

"He was actually a fitter climber than I ever was."

Salkovics was the last person to see Bohlig alive, as Bohlig got ready to pose for a picture before a snow cornice -- or overhang -- gave way and he fell 1,500 feet to his death.

"Boom. It busted off, and I saw him clawing for the edge with a startled look on his face, and then he disappeared," Salkovics, an Army Reserve Chinook helicopter pilot and technician, told CNN affiliate KGW. "I was looking right at him. He was only 10 feet away ... then he just disappeared."

Video: Climber's father speaks
Video: Body found in crater

There will be no autopsy, Chris Lanz of the Skamania County, Washington, prosecuting attorney and coroner's office said Wednesday.

"It is obvious from an initial examination by coroners that Mr. Bohlig died from injuries as a result of the fall," Lanz told CNN.

The cause of death is blunt trauma, he said, adding that it is unlikely that an autopsy would have revealed whether Bohlig initially survived the fall. Bohlig's injuries were extensive, Lanz said.

Bohlig and Salkovics had just returned in January from a climbing adventure in Ecuador, Salkovics said.

"We summited a number of peaks there and had a wonderful trip," he said. The two men even discussed buying property in Ecuador for adventures in retirement.

Bohlig loved to take photos. In fact, he won a first-place award in a local fair for a picture of cornices on Mount St. Helens, Salkovics said.

"It may have been the same exact cornice" that betrayed Bohlig, he said. "That's kind of profound."

Read about one climber's experiences with snow cornices

Salkovics said his first inclination is never to climb Mount St. Helens again, "but I don't know if I can stay away."

I can't imagine climbing anything without him. ... There's not many people I want to be on a rope with.
--Scott Salkovics, best friend

He and Bohlig had reservations to climb the mountain on May 18, the 30th anniversary of its spectacular eruption. He may make the climb with one or more of Bohlig's family members.

"It's hard to sort out my feelings right now," he admitted. "I can't imagine climbing anything without him. ... There's not many people I want to be on a rope with."

Bohlig, who was divorced, leaves his parents, a sister, a twin brother, a younger brother and a girlfriend behind, said Salkovics, who considered him part of his own family. Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

Salkovics intends to speak, "if I can keep it together."

"He was always there for me. I did two tours in Iraq, and he was included in my vacation plans with my family. ... I can't imagine: I won't be surprised if I have to do another tour, and he won't be there when I come home.

"I knew he was a big part of my life, but I didn't know how big until he was gone."

CNN's Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.