Climbing for Rob

Robert A. Jansen, Memorial Day 2012.

The Colorado 14ers are comparable to freshman year of college. Deciding to pursue them typically leads to a shocking change in lifestyle, a whole new circle of friends, newfound freedoms that weren’t previously known to exist, penny-pinching for gas money and a fanatical infatuation with canned beer. The main difference is most 14er addicts prefer a good IPA to Natty Light.

Completing the 14er List is like becoming an upperclassman. You’ve completed the prerequisite courses with your horde of peers, and now you have to choose a major. Individuals who have climbed all the 14ers scatter into all sorts of specializations: ice climbing, trail running, trad climbing, hiking, family raising, thru-hiking, ultrarunning, ski mountaineering — ad infinitum. It’s surprising and somewhat baffling that few 14er finishers choose to continue progressing as mountaineers, chasing progressively higher and more difficult summits. Even those that do remain in the School of Alpinism rarely have similar goals. So many mountains, so many routes, so many countries, so little time.

That’s what made my partnership with Robert Jansen special. It wasn’t uncommon for me to mention a mountain, only to have him blurt out he’d been researching the same route earlier that day. When I queried a bevy of my regular climbing partners to ask about putting together a big trip for 2013, Rob was the first — and as it turns out, the only — person to respond seriously. As usual, we were on the same page. It didn’t take long to settle on Liberty Ridge, with a warm-up trip to El Pico de Orizaba the preceding winter.

Shortly before he died in a rockslide in August 2012, Rob summed up his climbing ambitions in one poignant sentence.

“I just want to see how high I can go.”

I couldn’t agree more, bud.

Liberty Ridge will be an odd bookend on the shelf of my life; it will be the last climb I’d planned with my good friend. Nearly every major accomplishment I’ve achieved since Rob’s death was something we were supposed to have shared: finishing the 14ers on Mt. Sneffels, the winter summits, Orizaba. I’m sure I’ll remember and honor Rob for the rest of my days, but once Liberty Ridge is done, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll be out there on my own, rudderless, instead of with him alongside me. It’s an emotion difficult to put into words.

The climbers and friends who were close to Rob have memorialized him in myriad ways. Personally, I’ve carried a can of his favorite beer, Dale’s Pale Ale, to several significant summits, and I hope to do so again on Liberty Ridge — as long as I can squeeze it into my pack. Worst case scenario, it’ll be the first beer I have once we’re off the mountain.

Summit of El Pico de Orizaba, Dale’s Pale Ale in hand.

Soon after Rob’s death, his father encouraged us climbers to keep pursuing our passion, to “carry the torch” for his son. Those words have rang in my head ever since. I’m not a very spiritual person, but on several occasions I’ve felt Rob’s presence as I worked my way up a peak, typically ones on which we shared a special memory. I have no doubt he’ll be there on Liberty Ridge. Knowing he’ll be by my side is an inexpressible comfort, and an honor of which I hardly feel worthy.

Climb on, Rob.

Rob on the summit of Mt. Massive, Feb. 2012.
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