Craig Luebben 1960–2009
News of Craig Luebben’s death while preparing for an AMGA guides exam in the North Cascades on August 9 was a devastating blow to his vast network of friends and the climbing community. But his legacy and dedication to education and climbing live on through his publications, photographs, and countless personal relationships.
I first met Craig, as many did, sitting around a campfire in the desert, in 1998. I had perceived him as being an offwidth master, best known for his onsight of Lucille (5.13a) in Vedauwoo, Wyoming. As I prodded into his career over many nights at the campfire, I found he had logged more than 2,000 days bouldering at Horsetooth Reservoir, developed hundreds of routes across the country and world, sent the nation’s gnarliest wide cracks, made a free-solo link-up of two classic Colorado ice climbs, the Ames Ice Hose and Bridalveil Falls, and bagged several big mountains—all before I started climbing, in 1995.
An Iowa native, Craig was adopted as an infant and moved to Colorado at seven when his father Bob took a job with the Denver Post. One day a local church group took Craig and a rowdy bunch of young teens to hike a fourteener. After that he was hooked on the outdoors and never looked back. Despite his newfound climbing lifestyle, he always venerated his parents for having accepted him into their family, a trait he would emulate throughout his life with his limitless love and generosity.
Craig was also analytical and creative. In college he recognized that offwidths lacked adequate protection. In 1984, he designed an expandable tube chock to protect wide cracks. Although the Big Bro was a small first step, improving climbing safety became a pursuit that Craig would continue for the rest of his life through gear testing, clinics, articles, and an excellent series of how-to books.
Craig’s life was also dedicated to teaching. His vast technical knowledge base was a tremendous asset for climbing camps with Lynn Hill and Arno ligner, guide-instructor courses offered by the American Mountain Guides Association, and introductory classes at a local community college. Even outside of classes, Craig sought to educate and instill a sense of passion in everyone he met. He loved to see people succeed, regardless of ability level. Craig also worked hard to develop positive relationships between the climbing community and land managers. As good friend Tom Kelley notes, he founded the Horsetooth Hang and an assortment of stewardship events that brought the community together and were fundamental building blocks for later grassroots activism.
Craig loved international travel. He didn’t speak a second language and didn’t care. His wife, Silvia, whom me met in 1995 and married in 1997, was one of his best travel companions, and he shared countless adventures with her. In recent years Craig focused less on exotic destinations and more on a curly haired girl with a mischievous grin: his daughter, Giulia, born in 2003. On her first birthday, he carried her to the top of Colorado’s Mt. Bierstadt (14,060 feet). By the time she was five, she was skiing black diamonds at Arapaho Basin, had summited the Third Flatiron, and was wiggling up offwidths. Craig would proudly relate her latest achievements to anyone who’d listen.
Craig is survived by Silvia, six-year-old Giulia, parents, sister, brother, and close friends around the world. Perhaps in time, the pain of his absence will ease—perhaps not. Either way, the depth of his experience and influence will continue to enrich us. As consolation I reflect on wise words he would tell Giulia, “Be kind, be strong, be happy, and try hard.”
Please consider making a donation to the Craig Luebben Memorial Fund (nococlimbing, org/get-involved/), to help his daughter Giulia attend college. To submit a fond memory of Craig for Giulia to read later, visit nococlimbing.org/craig/.