Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jack Roberts: It's Been an Honor

Life has a funny way of bringing balance…just as I was beginning to question the sustainability of my recent manic behavior, the issue resolved itself. Mid-morning yesterday, I learned that a dear friend and colleague has passed away. Well, that certainly put the brakes on my mania; I’d been mid-spray, photo editing and simultaneously working out storylines on two separate projects – all centered around ice climbing, of course.

On Sunday, renowned mountain guide and prolific climber Jack Roberts died as the result of a fall on Bridalveil Falls, near Telluride, CO. It took hours for me to begin to understand these facts: Jack fell; Jack died. I spent the rest of my day navigating confused emotions, piecing together details and sorting out hear-say. I am grateful to a number of special people who have reached out, checked in and kept tabs on my well being.

Today, my heart is heavy and I mourn the loss of someone very important to me.

To term this as ironic seems cliché, but that’s all I’ve got in the bank at the moment...  It seems ironic that I sit and write about Jack now, under this pretext, when only a few days ago we were having a dialogue surrounding my proposal to write a profile of Jack: The Climber, perhaps include an anecdote of Jack: My Mentor... Now I am compelled to write of Jack: One of my Favorite People Ever.

At the age of 22 I moved west, chasing dreams and making a pilgrimage to the promised land of Boulder, CO. While still somewhat skittish of climbing’s social construct and quite intimidated by my new surroundings, Jack’s warm smile and those beaming blue eyes found me dumbstruck. Knowing of Jack: The Climber (read: Epic Hero in my young eyes), I didn’t know what to make of his kindness and remember stammering slightly – I mean, didn’t he know that I was a Nobody? I began to see that this was a person of depth and character. I began to realize that he viewed the world with an open heart. Over time, I began to understand that he was observant and had recognized my passion for and connection to the act of climbing, that through this, he already knew me. I didn’t need to be an accomplished climber to be a valid person to Jack or to be considered as a partner. He didn’t keep score that way, instead, Jack paid attention to what really matters – pure motive. The man made me feel confident in my choice to pursue climbing with all of my heart. He encouraged and coached; we shared ropes; we shared beta and we enjoyed the purity of climbing for ourselves.

I left Boulder in 1994 and didn’t see Jack for a few years. Re-connecting at the first Bozeman Ice Festival was a delight. I can remember feeling so proud to work alongside this man who had become my hero, who had become my friend, who had become my mentor. Yet my pride was still only youthful zeal and trapped in my ego – I was so excited to show Jack what a great climber I had become – and the bubble burst when I came to see how this was only the first step along a path. Yet, my enthusiasm kindled again when I realized that instructing with Jack is perhaps one of the greatest honors anyone who guides or teaches can enjoy. The man was a Master when it came to teaching climbing – and my apprenticeship entered its next phase.

I remember too, the honor I felt, once again, when Jack asked if I wanted to sit down for a scotch and talk in more detail about the finer points of the guiding life. Always humble, he delivered one pearl of wisdom after another, gleamed from his many years of dedication to the craft…and he always listened intently to my own recollections or queries.

As the years slipped by, we had our annual to semi-annual reunions…ice festivals, tradeshows, the usual haunts. Each time we connected, I grew a little as a person. Though we didn’t climb together day in and day out, we always remained connected and he was always a few steps ahead, like a kind father-figure, seemingly knowing where I was headed next at any given time, offering wisdom and insights that would help me execute technical moves with daft skill or, far from the myopia of our climbing obsession, sage advice on larger life-matters. I believe Jack had a gift that allowed him to strip away the superficial and understand the true human qualities at work in any situation. Perhaps this is his last lesson for me; I will strive.

Now, as I struggle to close this piece with some semblance of coherency, my mind drifts to the larger spiritual scope and I consider the energy of Jack’s life – such a generous outpouring. What is to become of it now? What shall we do with this glowing ember that is Jack’s memory, his gift to us all? I know I’m not alone in this one, but where do I put the enthusiasm I had for our plans to visit South America? What to do with the inspiration and spinning ideas of all the unfinished projects? How daunting, to consider the task of picking up this torch and carrying forth the good will of Jack’s heart that is left in us all…

Be well.

Special Thanks to Caudia Lopez

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