A Legend Passes

I’d planned on a couple of trip reports being my next blog posts, but the events of the past 24 hours take precedence.

Steve Gladbach, a preeminent Colorado mountaineer and by all accounts one of the finest human beings on the planet, was killed in a climbing accident on “Thunder Pyramid” near Aspen. The details are still emerging, and I won’t speculate on the cause except to say “Thunder Pyramid” is regarded as one of the most difficult Centennial 13ers. It’s infamous for its steepness, loose rock and routefinding challenges. Steve had summited the mountain at least once before, and I believe he’d done it twice or even several times.

Steve Gladbach (courtesy Facebook.com)

Steve, 52, was the quintessential role model for 14ers.com. If the website had a Mt. Rushmore, he’d be on it. He mentored wave after wave of novice climbers, and did so in such a way that everyone who had the privilege of meeting him felt a special bond.

His accolades as a mountaineer are staggering. He became only the fourth person in history to climb all 59 Fourteeners in winter, a quest he completed in 2011. He finished four laps around the 14ers and was only 12 peaks away from meeting his goal of climbing all the ranked, named AND unranked 13ers in Colorado. That’s more than 750 peaks. Only one other person in history is known to have accomplished this feat. Steve was also trying to become the first person to summit the state’s 100 highest peaks, called the Centennials, in winter. He put up several first and second ascents in pursuit of this dream.

Yet, his climbing accomplishments pale in comparison to his quality as a human being. His capacity to give was unmatched, and despite having earned several lifetimes worth of bragging rights, he was one of the most humble people on earth. That’s a rare trait in high-level mountaineers. I can’t even imagine how many messages he received on 14ers.com asking for advice or route information, and yet he took the time to reply to all of them in detail.

I first met Steve, who was already a rockstar in my mind, at the Winter Gathering he organized in 2011. It was my first snow-camping trip and only my third attempt on a winter 14er. Battling up the ridge of Mt. Columbia in winds exceeding 40 or 50 miles per hour, I considered turning around like most of my partners already had. Then I encountered Steve, who was on his way down with several others. He yelled over the blowing gale to provide much-needed support and encouragement. Steeled against the elements, I successfully made the top. I’ve always held the belief I couldn’t have done it without him.

On our way to Mt. Lindsey in the spring of 2012, Rob Jansen, Greg Fischer and I stopped at Steve’s home in West Pueblo. Fish was a school teacher, like Steve, and needed equipment for his fledgling high school mountaineering club. Steve was generously donating box after box after box of old gear. Once Fish had everything he needed, Steve offered to let each us take anything we wanted, as well. Greg ended up with a Grivel pack we immediately labeled “The Gladpach,” which entitled the wearer to superhuman powers in the mountains. That’s how we viewed Steve. He was our hero.

Steve was also a dedicated family man. He leaves behind two girls, who were absolutely the center of his universe. I was on Mt. Belford in spring 2011 when he was hiking the same mountain with his pre-teen, Alise. The first thing I noticed was how proud he was and how much he obviously cared for her. His facial expressions showed everything. When the pair glissaded away down the mountain, it was with unbridled joy. I’ll always remember Steve as I saw him that day.

Rest in peace, Steve. Thank for your all your contributions to the Colorado climbing community. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am without you. There are hundreds of others who would say the same.

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