While driving across Colorado today, I heard on the radio that an ice climber had died after a fall on Bridalveil Falls near Telluride in southwestern Colorado. This evening my friends Cliff Powers and Brian Shelton with Front Range Climbing Company called me and said that the climber was our friend, colleague, and fellow guide Jack Roberts. Jack, who owned Jack Roberts Climbing Adventures guide service, also ran a lot of climbing trips for Front Range Climbing in northern Colorado.
Jack Roberts, a 58-year-old climber living near Denver, Colorado, was simply a living legend. Jack was a great ice climber who had climbed frozen waterfalls and ice chutes and big mountains all over the world in his 41-year climbing career.
I have always respected Jack for his skill at climbing that frozen white stuff, but I think I respected Jack more for his superb rock climbing skills and all the great ascents he made, especially back in the 1970s. During that time, Jack, a southern California rock jock, made the second ascents of a bunch of hard Yosemite big walls--Mescalito, Cosmos, Tangerine Trip, The Shield, and Zodiac on El Capitan and Tis-sa-ack up the middle of Half Dome's Northwest Face.
On Sunday, January 15, Jack Roberts was climbing Bridalveil Falls, an almost 400-foot-high (150-meters) Grade 5 ice route up one of Colorado's biggest waterfalls. Jack, in his guidebook Colorado Ice, which details most of the state's ice climbs, calls Bridalveil Falls, "A climb of legendary stature and beauty" and "A Colorado and indeed an American classic."
Jack was leading the second pitch, a long steep pitch up a pillar on the right side of the falls, when he fell 60 feet about 12:20 p.m. Jon Miller, his belayer and a guide for San Juan Outdoor School, called to two hikers below. They summoned the San Miguel County Search and Rescue group, who responded with 18 rescuers.
San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters said the location where Jack fell is "not easy to access. You have to traverse the canyon and a fair amount of ice to get there, and we had to access it all by snow machine. The fellow he was with did the best he could. (Roberts) was conscious for an hour or so, but his injuries were just too severe."
The Telluride Daily Planet reported on the accident: "...the victim, who had fallen to the end of his rope and hit the wall, had managed to place an ice screw in the route so his partner could lower him onto a shelf...As the SAR workers were taking Roberts off of the shelf onto which his partner had belayed him, he began experiencing shortness of breath and went into cardiac arrest. A paramedic treated Roberts unsuccessfully for 40 minutes, using an AED, CPR and cardiac medication."
Jack had a possible broken hip as well as internal injuries from the fall. The Telluride Daily Planet also reports that Emil Sante, San Miguel County Coroner and a member of the SAR team, "thinks internal bleeding may have played a role in his death."
Sante told the newspaper, "This had nothing to do with the ice conditions. This was a fall, and he wasn't the kind of guy who fell, so we're investigating how it happened. He said himself that he didn't know how he fell. We have a few ideas about what may have contributed to the fall and the speed of his death, but they're just hunches."
Jack Roberts resided in Boulder, Colorado. His wife Pam Roberts was traveling in Cuba this winter while Jack was spending much of the winter ice climbing in southwest Colorado.
Deepest condolences from both myself and all our guides at Front Range Climbing to Pam and the rest of Jack's family. We're going to miss Jack's infectious enthusiasm for climbing as well as his smile and Hawaiian shirts.
Photograph above: Jack Roberts was a skilled ice climber, alpinist, and rock climber. RIP Jack...we're going to miss you. Top Photograph © Claudia Lopez Photography. Bottom Photograph courtesy Jack Roberts