Friday, August 14, 2009

In Memoriam - Craig Luebben

The guiding community lost an inspirational member this week. On Sunday, August 9th, Craig Luebben was killed in an accident in the North Cascades National Park while preparing for a guide exam.

There are many conflicting reports about what actually happened. The information I've placed here is second hand and shouldn't be taken as the final word, but it's the best that we have.

Craig and Willie Benegas were training for an American Mountain Guides Association exam on the Torment-Forbidden Traverse in the North Cascades National Park. This particular traverse has become a popular objective on guide exams. The mile-long ridge requires an extremely high level of skill to guide. The Grade V traverse of the two peaks involves technical rock, glacier travel and steep snow.

Craig and Willie made their way to a wide bergshrund beneath Torment Peak. The crack was too wide to cross and there wasn't a way around it, so the pair rappelled down inside. They were in the process of climbing out when the accident took place. Craig was leading up a rock pitch on the edge of the feature. He had two pieces in when he stepped off the rock and onto a large patch of remnant snow and ice. The car-sized patch collapsed beneath him, as did everything around him. Craig fell 40 feet before the rope caught him. Hanging on the rope, massive pieces of ice debris rained down on him.

Initially unconscious, Craig quickly came to. Willie -- who also injured his leg in the accident -- was able to get him to a ledge in order to stabilize him. Craig's helmet was broken and he told Willie that he had broken his hip.

Willie climbed out of the bergshrund, and scrambled up to a notch in order to get cell service. After some signal searching he was able to get a call out and a helicopter was dispatched. Unfortunately, due to the weather at the time, the helicopter was unable to land.

While waiting for the helicopter, Willie assisted Craig from the crevasse, made him comfortable, and prepped him for extraction. He was conscious at the time, but quickly deteriorated. By the time a helicopter was able to get to them, Craig had passed away.

It's important to note, that neither climber made any mistakes. They did everything right, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time...

Craig was extremely influential throughout the climbing community. He was a well-known climbing author, gear engineer, first ascentionist and mountain guide.

As a writer, Craig influenced thousands upon thousands of climbers all over the world. His writing included some of the best instructional tomes on the market. He penned seven books about climbing technique, including the National Outdoor Book Award winning instructional book, Rock Climbing: Mastering the Basic Skills. Craig was a regular contributor to numerous climbing journals including Climbing magazine and Rock and Ice. His written work is likely to continue to influence climbers for a very long time.

Craig was responsible for the development of the Big Bro Tube Chock. This innovative piece of equipment helped him in his quest to climb wide cracks throughout North America. Over his long climbing career, Craig became a master at the art of climbing off-width lines, a type of climbing many try to avoid. One of his crowning achievements as an off-width climber was the on-sight second ascent of Lucille, an incredibly burly 5.13a in Vedauwoo, Wyoming. To date, the route has only seen five or six ascents.

One of Craig's major focuses as a climber was first ascents. He traveled the world in search of classic lines on virgin rock and ice. He is responsible for first ascents in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, West Virginia, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Cayman Brac, Mona Island, France, Italy, China, and Madagascar.

Craig had the opportunity to guide in a variety of ranges throughout the world, but was perhaps best known for his work as an instructor in the American Mountain Guides Association. Craig was heavily involved in the instructor pool for the rock discipline. It was here that he influenced literally hundreds of guides working throughout the United States.

I met Craig when he was an instructor for my AMGA Advanced Rock Guide's Course in Red Rock Canyon. He was truly an inspirational teacher and an all around fun guy to be with. When I met him, he was already extremely well-known in the community. He'd written a number of books and could be thought of as a climbing celebrity. We ribbed him a bit about his fame and he took it all with a smile on his face.

I remember that there were a couple of guides who, when they were climbing with him, insisted on yelling his full name every time there was a command so that everybody on the mountain knew who they were climbing with. The thought of somebody yelling, "belay on, Craig Luebben!" still puts a smile on my face.

I looked up to him.

As both a climbing guide and as a writer myself, Craig has long been a personal role-model. When I lived in Vegas, he came through town regularly doing AMGA courses. I always looked forward to seeing him and spending a little time talking about the trials and tribulations of the mountain guide and the writer. I'll always remember those conversations fondly.

Craig and his Daughter Guila

Craig is survived by his wife Silvia and his young daughter Giula Maria.

We will all miss him dearly.

For information about Craig's memorial and his memorial fund, please click here.

--Jason D. Martin

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