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Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 3:13 pm
by BKS
A little over a week ago a group of 5 climbed Thunder Pyramid. We thought it appropriate to say a few words of remembrance of Steve while on the mountain upon which he perished. I volunteered and then was asked to put it into written form.

I never offered my words of tribute on the original memorial thread, because there were so many. After getting permission from his family, I thought it would be good to share those words of remembrance now after almost 7 years. For those of you who have joined his site since his death, know that he was an important part of shaping the 14ers.com community. He is worth remembering. We lost a giant 7 years ago.

Words of Tribute to Steve while on Thunder Pyramid:

I met Steve nearly 8 years ago at his parent’s house in Roeland Park, KS. At the time, my family lived in the Kansas City, MO area, making several Colorado trips each year to hike and ski. My oldest son was planning to attend Colorado State at Pueblo. From 14ers.com, I knew Steve was a teacher in Pueblo and was widely known as a mentor and Colorado mountain man extraordinaire. As a parent wanting to assist my son’s transition to a new place, I reached out to Steve in hopes that he might include him on an upcoming hike. I messaged him through the web site and almost instantly got a text back. Steve said he was originally from Kansas City and was in town visiting his parents. He invited us over that evening for ice cream.

His parents were sweet and welcoming, reminding me of my own Kansas parents. Steve had read my peak list and one trip report prior to our arrival. We talked endlessly about the mountains and I felt an instant connection, but he did not seem like the magnetic, giant personality I sensed from the forum. Truthfully, he seemed a little socially awkward that evening. He offered a car to my son to drive if he needed while in Pueblo. Who does that for an 18-year-old stranger going to college in a different state? It felt uncomfortably generous.

Several weeks later, Steve called with an invitation to join a group doing Longs via the Loft. It was the finisher peak for fepic1. Upon gathering at the campsite near the trailhead, Steve realized he had forgotten his pants. He found some old tights (I think they were his daughter’s) and borrowed another pair. After he put his cell phone down his pants—he said it was his “Cod piece"— he was good to go. He was no longer the socially awkward guy in Kansas, but the life of the party. I thought to myself that the mountains made him who he was.

Time flew by that day as Steve was one continuous story. The generosity that had surprised me at our first meeting was now extended to everyone on the mountain. He had carried 5 or 6 harnesses in his pack for people to rappel the north face cable route.

On the descent, as we waited at the Boulder field bathrooms, we could hear someone talking from far away. We listened carefully; it was Steve’s voice coming from probably ¼ mile away…with yet another story. Steve had gone into Kentucky Fried Chicken the night before and convinced the staff to sell him all the remaining chicken at a ridiculously cheap price. He hauled up the 2 or 3 buckets of chicken to the summit for everyone to share.

Steve’s stories were not just about his own adventures, but his friends and climbing companions. Not only did one get to know Steve quickly on a hike, but his friends as well. I know personal details about people on this forum that I have never met, for no other reason than Steve was an open book and cared about the people he was around. Everyone that hiked with Steve felt included. It was one of my favorite days I have ever spent in the mountains.

Steve told me a couple of quite personal things that day that would make more sense months later. He had been involved in an avalanche on the Bell Cord many years prior. Two of his partners died and Steve nearly perished. Following that accident, he said he did not cope very well, drinking too much. He was deemed responsible by some and struggled with a debilitating sense of guilt. Following the Long’s climb that evening he was going to offer support to a fellow 14ers.com member struggling with something similar. It was several months later that Steve posted on the forum his well-known, “When I die” post requesting that people stop “analyzing” the causes of each mountaineering accident. In those days on the forum, the “death” threads were some of the most ugly and contentious threads ever. His point was that they did far more damage than good. After his death, it stopped.

That day on Longs, Steve also told me about a letter his Dad wrote to him at a low point in his life. He did not say when it was exactly, but I suspected it was connected to the avalanche aftermath. At the time, Steve was considering moving back to Kansas City. He said his Dad wrote him and encouraged him not to give up on the mountain activities that were so close to his heart. It made a lasting impact and Steve stayed in Colorado. At the time of Steve’s death, there was a post from a family member—I think this was on the forum memorial thread—indicating that his parents were grateful that they had another 20 years with Steve following the first accident. What I find so meaningful about this is the largeness of a parent’s heart for their child that they would encourage them to continue in a significant activity following a near fatal accident only to have that same activity to take their life years later. Steve’s Dad obviously approached his son’s life with an open hand that looked to the fulfillment of his child’s life, fully aware of the risks involved. Sadly, I see the opposite with so many parents: fearfully holding on, refusing to allow the child to go down their own path, preventing them from being who they really are. Echoing the words of John Denver, upon Steve’s first visit to Colorado as a boy, he realized, “he came home to a place he’d never been before.” The largeness of the spirit of Steve originated with his dad’s blessing to continue in this home he’d never been before. The mountains made the man, I believe.

Tragically and indelibly, I also remember that day nearly 7 years ago when Britt pushed the button on the Spot indicating there was trouble in the red hills around Aspen. I was working on a roof, not getting anything done, constantly hitting the refresh button, hoping for anything positive, but fearing the eventual news we got. I remember going to the funeral in Pueblo with my wife, watching his brothers and sisters carrying pieces of his climbing gear. I remember seeing his parents and daughters from a distance and feeling such a sense of loss and crushing grief for them. I remember his brothers eulogizing him. I kept a copy of his brother Bill’s remarks. The following is a paraphrase of Steve’s rules for life shared with us that day:

1. Tutor and mentor others of all ages.
2. Consider education as a career option.
3. Consider adopting if wanting to start a family.
4. Support the foster care system.
5. Help others in need.
6. Work towards mending broken relationships
7. Get a dog, they will give more love than you give them.
8. Invite others to join in what you love to do.
9. Get and give a subscription to Guideposts magazine.
10. Show your family and friends you love them.

Without a doubt, what made these rules so meaningful was that he embodied them so completely. So, I am grateful I had the opportunity to cross paths with Steve. I am grateful for all wisdom he passed on through trip reports, forum posts, and personal conversations. I am grateful for all the people who view him as their mountain mentor. I am grateful that his parents encouraged him to pursue this activity so near to his heart that ultimately claimed his life. I am grateful that I carry his memory every time I go into the hills. I have known a lot of good people, but few I would consider great. Steve was one of those very few. He makes me want to be a better man.

Be kind, work hard, take care of yourself. Feet slip, rocks move, and snow slides. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes into the gracious keeping of our loving God we continue to trust the soul of our departed brother, praying that he may continue to live and climb in the presence of his Creator. We are grateful for what his life meant to his family, friends, and the climbing community.

So here in this place, surrounded by these glorious red mountains, we commit ourselves anew and afresh to living the same kind of life that Steve lived – a life of unselfish commitment to others, a life of joy in the hills in the company of others, and a life that is kind to all. And now may the God of peace who through the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the Lord Jesus Christ, may this God equip us with everything good for doing the will of the Heavenly Father. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all. Amen.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:28 pm
by yaktoleft13
Thanks for sharing Brian! I didn't know Steve personally, but have learned of his legacy largely through this site. Listening to your recollections on the mountain that day was a special moment.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention (and the others on the mountain that day can attest) that as you began the last paragraph, in an otherwise cloudless sky, a small cloud came and blocked the sun, just for a moment. Chills....

Rest easy Steve.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:35 pm
by WildWanderer
This is wonderfully written. With tears in my eyes and for so many reasons I say thank you for posting this.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:48 pm
by osprey
That is very moving.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:54 pm
by bmcqueen
Beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:23 pm
by globreal
Brian,

Absolutely beautiful tribute.

When you sent this to me asking for permission to post it, I read it and was deeply moved. It brought back so many memories and I too was left in tears. I appreciate your thoughtful words, reflections, and memories.

I wish I had been able to join you on your climb as I had hoped.

Tomorrow is June 23rd. That will be the 7th anniversary of his death which is hard to believe. I too pray that his life and legacy of unselfishly giving to others will never be forgotten.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:30 pm
by climbingcue
bmcqueen wrote:
Mon Jun 22, 2020 4:54 pm
Beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.
I 100% agree...

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 6:55 pm
by MountainHiker
Image

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 8:36 pm
by kushrocks
Great Post and tribute Brian. I will always remember Steve as the mountaineer so many of us wanted to be. He was kind, humble, insanely strong and always willing to help others. An absolute legend in this community that many of us here desperately miss.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 8:38 pm
by CaptCO
Wish I could’ve been fortunate enough to meet him, and may he rest in eternal peace.

Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 9:18 pm
by Kiefer
Steve was one of the best guys I've ever met. In a sport where selfishness tends to rule, Steve was anything but. My first climb with Steve was many moons ago up the Cristo. The guy was like the Energizer bunny gong up it. Crazy. Since then, we've shared many climbs together and many random calls on the phone just shooting the s**t, checking in, seeing how each other was doing.
It's not often you find someone, a partner, willing to put their plans and goals on hold to help others as he did. :(

Summit of Evans- Steve's winter Finisher
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14er Winter Finisher
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At the Backcountry Basecamp in Lake City before an Uncompahgre winter trip
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Lake City
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Re: Tribute to Steve Gladbach

Posted: Mon Jun 22, 2020 9:24 pm
by MtnHub
Thanks for the beautiful tribute to this legendary person. Yes, he is missed indeed in so many ways. I always enjoyed his comments and stories and admired him on several levels.

I never had the opportunity to actually meet Steve, although shortly before his tragic accident I was in communication with him. I was seeking a good, reliable partner to attempt the Crestone Traverse and I reached out to him. He responded to me immediately and was more than willing to offer whatever he could to do it safely and successfully. We had actually discussed a few possible dates to meet and make an attempt, but then at the last minute he had to back out because of some event going on with his daughter. He was first and foremost, a family man, a good father.

RIP, Steve.