Courtesy photo by Kevin Craig
Jack Roberts climbs Blind Assumption on Pikes Peak in November 2009. Roberts died of cardiac arrest on Sunday as he was being evacuated after a reported 60-foot fall on Bridalveil Falls, near Telluride. Courtesy photo by Kevin Craig.

As a climber, Jack Roberts was “sort of an ultimate hardman,” said his friend Dougald MacDonald, Climbing magazine editor.

But the “ultimate hardman” was a laid-back guy…who dressed to match. 

“For years and years, he always had a Hawaiian shirt on and this little English cap,” MacDonald said with a chuckle.

“He was just completely relaxed, just really easy to hang out with,” he said. “So we became really frequent partners for all sorts of different things, from big mountain routes to just sport climbing.”

Tuesday morning, though, MacDonald’s job at the helm of Climbing magazine was a heart-wrenching one. The magazine posted a tribute, penned by MacDonald for his friend, who died of cardiac arrest following a 60-foot fall on Bridal Veil Falls, near Telluride, on Sunday.

“It’s a cliche, but it’s really true that nobody would’ve expected this to happen to Jack,” MacDonald said. “He’s so solid, so experienced — you just can’t imagine it. But really, it can happen to anybody, bottom line.”

Roberts, of Boulder, was 59.

Roberts was a climber for more than four decades. MacDonald said that in the 1970s, Roberts, a California native, completed many notable second ascents on big walls in Yosemite and pioneered alpine routes in Alaska. He moved to Boulder in 1984 and met his wife, Pam, here. (According to friends of the family, Pam Roberts is on her way home from a trip to Cuba, which the Associated Press reports was part of the Boulder-Cuba Sister City Organization.)

Though Roberts was a mountain guide for many years, MacDonald said his guiding business, Jack Roberts Climbing Adventures, kept him busiest over the past 10 years or so. 

“I think his reputation was starting to really build,” he said.

Fred Knapp, founder of Boulder’s Sharp End Publishing, said that when he moved to Boulder in 1987, he got a job at Neptune Mountaineering with Pam Roberts (both Jack and Pam worked at the climbing store over the years, said Gary Neptune) and moved into a room in their house when they needed a roommate. Jack Roberts climbed with him on rock around Boulder and took him on his first ice climb, at Officer’s Gulch, on the east side of Vail Pass; he became one of Knapp’s biggest climbing mentors.

“He was a wonderful, caring, funny guy who was probably well-suited for teaching climbing, because I think he was impassioned to do that,” Knapp said, “whether it was to take a young guy out like me when I moved here, or to take clients out professionally now, he was gifted in that realm.” 

Bob D’Antonio, who now lives in Taos, N.M., said he first met Roberts in the late 1980s, when he was living in Boulder, and they’ve been friends ever since, climbing and cycling together.

Roberts was “the real deal,” he said.

“He did some amazing stuff back in the ’70s,” D’Antonio said. “He was an all-around great climber, but he was also a really wonderful human being.”

D’Antonio said Roberts was always thoughtful. 

“I think everyone probably felt like they were his best friend,” he mused.

He characterized Roberts as a solid, experienced climber.

“I climbed with Jack a lot,” he said. “He was very competent, very even-keeled. Even in bad situations, he could always keep an even head.”

MacDonald said that though he’s still not sure what happened up there, Bridal Veil Falls was a route that Roberts was very familiar with.

“He has done that route I don’t know how many times,” he said.

In the tribute he wrote, MacDonald told stories about his climbs with Roberts. Once, he hiked out to a rock climb, in sandals, that was further away than expected  — he actually had four pairs of shoes in his pack that day, he said, because he didn’t know what to expect. Another time, they woke at 2 a.m. to ski to an ice climb. When they arrived and found it wasn’t in, Roberts offered about a dozen alternatives to going home even though MacDonald was ready to go back to bed.

 “I sort of marvel at how he maintained his enthusiasm,” MacDonald said. 
“He was a great climber, but more importantly, he was a great person,” D’Antonio said. “Climbing, it’s just a skill people have. But Jack was a good person.”

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