Jack Roberts, Renaissance Climber

Jack Roberts, Renaissance Climber

My first date with Jack, 26 years ago, involved a long conversation about Peru and the Andes. I spent a year travelling by myself in Peru and Bolivia in 1981, and he seemed intrigued by a woman who would do such a thing. The fact that I climbed as well…even better! In return, he told me of some of his adventures around the world, in particular in India and Nepal. Ultimately, that date lasted twenty six years, and is filled with countless shared adventures all over the world. Sadly, our journey together ended with his untimely death due to a fall on Bridalveil Falls in Telluride, Colorado on January 15, 2012.

To say that Jack loved the mountains is a grievous understatement. He built his entire life around the mountains, and his every activity to a certain extent was to help prepare him for his next big adventure. He was a guide by profession as a way to both make a living and to fund his next trip, but especially as he got older, guiding was the endeavor in which he found his greatest joy. Sharing his love of the mountains with his clients gave him so much pleasure. Actually, the word “client” does no justice to these partners, for he treated them as such, and many became his life-long friends. When Jack died, he was as happy as any of us had ever seen him, and I know that much of his happiness came from becoming a mentor to so many young and/or aspiring climbers.

Jack was indeed an accomplished climber, a fact that many of our friends and neighbors really never knew. He cut his teeth as a climber in Southern California in the early ’70’s, and like many of that generation, gravitated towards Yosemite. While he was never terribly interested in the work involved on the first ascent of a wall, he did many notable second ascents in Yosemite, including The Shield, Zodiac, Tangerine Trip, Cosmos, Tis-sa-ack, and Mescalito, among others. From Yosemite’s walls, it was a natural progression to the alpine environment. He was perhaps most well-known for some noteworthy first ascents in Alaska, including new routes on Denali and Mt. Huntington, and Mt. Kennedy in the Yukon.

But I digress. For many years our conversations about the Andes had been fermenting in his mind. We talked off and on of a trip to South America, but it seemed that some other trip always got in the way. Finally toward the end of the ’90’s, our good friend Brad Johnson talked Jack into meeting him in Huaraz, Peru for some climbing. That trip for Jack was pivotal. While he had always politely listened to my ravings about Peru and the Andes, I could tell he wasn’t convinced. I was actually surprised when he asked me one day if I would mind if he joined Brad in Peru, and would I be able to meet him in Huaraz for some climbing and trekking afterwards?

While that first trip with Brad wasn’t terribly successful in terms of summits reached, it infected Jack with a love of both Peru and the Andes. Unlike many passionate climbers, Jack was as captivated by the culture as he was by the climbing. One of the beauties of climbing in the Andes is that you are sharing an incredible landscape with a people who have lived their lives in that unique and breathtaking environment for centuries. Add to that the soaring condors, enchanting music, great food, and of course the ubiquitous Pisco Sour, and you have an adventure both incredibly fun and exceptionally diverse. Over the ensuing years, both Jack and I returned frequently to the Andes, from Ecuador north down to the tip of Patagonia. Each trip was as different as a snowflake, and each indelible in our minds. The friends we made from Huaraz down south to Punta Arenas will help me keep Jack’s memory alive, and will always give me an excuse to come visit. Jack’s spirit now soars like that of a condor over a high peak. May we all be so fortunate to live a life filled with so much passion and joy.

By: Pam Roberts.