A local pioneer, known nationally to caving or search-and-rescue groups, died Dec. 16.
The modest man ascended to become an international expert in technical rescues while serving citizens for 40 years as a volunteer with Walker County Emergency Services.
Steve Hudson’s life-long passion for caves began underwater (cave diving) in 1965 when he was 18.
His adventures later led to numerous trips inside one of America’s premier spelunking destinations, the acclaimed cave system of Pigeon Mountain in Walker County.
He had grown up in the Atlanta area and attended West Georgia College in Carrollton.
In 1968, as a college freshman, he was invited to dive the “blue hole” at the foot of Pigeon Mountain in an attempt to seek a connection to Ellison’s cave.
Unfortunately a connection with “Fantastic” or any other deeper portion of the cave was not possible, but a fantastic connection of another sort was made.
It was during this trip that his interest in caving grew, and he met Diane Cousineau. Both remained in his life from that point forward.
He soon joined Cousineau’s group (the West Georgia Grotto) a part of the National Speleological Society, which frequented the caves of Walker County.
“We would be there almost every weekend and would camp at a barn on Chamberlain road,” Cousineau said.
A 1973 search-and-rescue operation led Lee Henry, head of Walker County’s Civil Defense department, to formally seek volunteers from amongst the region’s highly skilled cavers because it would be incredibly expensive for the county’s annual budget.
Hudson went to the Dogwood City Grotto, a larger caving club located in Atlanta, and recruited a handful of members to form Walker County Cave and Cliff team. That group of volunteers is nationally recognized for their technical ability.
The members participated in all necessary Georgia Emergency Management Agency first responder training, including auto extrication.
“Everybody really felt a strong commitment to the county, because we came up here a lot, and it was our way of giving back,” Cousineau said.
Hudson and Cousineau officially tied their own knot on Aug. 3, 1985.
Through the years, Hudson embraced many adventures from rigging a highline from Devil’s Tower (Wyoming) into the valley below to caving in Sótano de las Golondrinas (Mexico).
As a couple, Hudson and Cousineau explored many caves throughout the continental United States and have hiked Hawaii, Ireland, and France.
This past summer they spent a week in New York teaching a National Cave Rescue Commission’s weeklong seminar.
On Dec. 16, Hudson and Cousineau were on a vacation in Puerto Rico when he died unexpectedly.
The couple were on one of their many adventures: hiking the Puerto Rican jungle, following that with an 80-foot rappel into the Tamber river and then a bit of body rafting before hiking out.
Hudson wasn’t officially there for work, but had offered to conduct an annual test to certify Puerto Rican instructors belonging to the National Cave Rescue Commission.
“That was just a normal thing for him,” Cousineau said. “Our lives are so intertwined with business and rescue.”
Dealing with Hudson’s unexpected loss during the holidays far surpasses any disorientation that the married couple experienced climbing or caving around the world.
“It’s been the hardest mountain I’ve ever had to climb,” Cousineau said.
The cavers of Puerto Rico assisted Cousineau in the days after Hudson’s death, conducting a beachside ceremony in San Juan and signed a flag to pay tribute.
“They were outstanding and made such a difference for me,” she said.
Passion to profession
Hudson began caving, on land and in the water, when ropes for sailboats — not ideally designed for the rugged conditions in a cave — were being used.
Those rope limitations and inconsistencies led Hudson to develop a more durable rope, one specifically designed for caving.
He joined with two other caving families to purchase a rope braider and began to create the rope they wanted and laying the ground work for Pigeon Mountain Industries.
PMI grew rapidly from the origins in a LaFayette basement into a corporation that serves an international clientele.
The company makes a higher-grade kernmantle rope, which has become the primary life safety rope in search and rescue operations nationwide.
Locally made PMI ropes have been used to climb the Alps, rappel from Yosemite’s Half Dome, cross Antarctica and ascend Mount Everest.
Ultimately, Hudson spent 35 years with the National Cave Rescue Commission, a volunteer group developed primarily to train and track cave rescue resources throughout the United States.
He wrote numerous technical manuals for rescue operations, including co-authoring “High Angle Rope Techniques” and had just finished an updated edition in 2013.
His motto to “Always do the right thing” guided his life and professional leadership.
“That was just a part of his being, ever since I knew him back in college,” Cousineau said. “He really felt that you have to do right by other people.”
Hudson’s commitment to remaining an American manufacturer matched the same core philosophy that led him to begin making rope in the first place.
With 50 employees, Hudson has proudly kept PMI as an American made product, refusing overseas offers to make a cheaper product elsewhere.
The company has a training center in Colorado, but its manufacturing and distribution center remains in Rock Spring.
Like Hudson, several members of the Cave and Cliff team are also employees at PMI.
Despite the numerous responsibilities of running the business, Hudson served the community in any way he could, including search and rescue operations and several days to assist following the devastating tornadoes in April 2010.
A concern for others
Hudson served as deputy director for Walker County Emergency Services for many years and, shortly before his death, received the Distinguished Service Award for his 40 years of volunteer service with WCES.
A private celebration of Hudson’s extraordinary life will be held on Jan. 25 at the Walker County Civic Center.
Walker County Emergency Services will also honor Hudson’s career dedication as a first responder during that service.