LATHROP STRANG, 46, died on April 25, of injuries sustained when he fell trying to ski the skier’s left Laundry Chute on
Mount Sopris, the striking 13,000-foot monarch above Carbondale, Colorado.
To me, Lathrop was a typical cowboy who grew up on a working ranch and continued living on that piece of land. He remained involved with the daily chores
and we had to plan our climbing excursions around feeding and doctoring animals, clearing ditches and repairing fences. He looked the part with his
constantly mussed hair, one-day beard and a face lined and rusted by four shy of 50 high-country winters. Lathe didn’t put much stock in appearance.
He had a mud-colored snaggle-tooth and he smelled like hay and horse sweat. It seemed like the bark was constantly knocked off his hands and his bottom
lip was chronically cracked. His demeanor was as unaffected and genuine as his appearance.
Like the ranch kids I’d grown up with in Texas, Lathrop was quiet, and we sometimes spent entire days without small talk, preferring instead to groove
on the mountain vistas and inner music that prove the heart and soul of climbing. These long silences were belied by the fire that burned in Lathrop—an
overarching energy that lit his eyes and drove him like a mute but powerful engine.
Lathe never hesitated to take the lead on sketchy pitches, and he would fearlessly struggle up climbs a notch above his ability only to pump out and plummet
30 feet on cams placed in sandstone. Lathrop was not reckless, but he was braver than most. When he did open up over a couple of post-climb beers beside
the Frying Pan River, he shared intimate details, invariably speaking about his deep affection for his daughter Jesse and the pain he felt over the
break-up of his marriage. It was this dichotomy of compassionate, unguarded companionship and go-for-broke chutzpa that defined Lathrop’s approach
to climbing and life and these were the uncommon qualities that made him such a dear friend.
Over 800 people attended Lathrop’s memorial on May 3, and I found that my assessment of him as a simple country boy fell short of the mark. Lathrop was
an architect, educated at the University of Colorado, where he was a “star student,” according to his longtime friend and climbing partner Erik Hendrix,
who was quoted as saying, “There was incredible depth and thought behind his work.” He was also very active in the community, interested in conservation
issues and sat on the board of the Aspen Valley Land Trust.
I had always regarded Lathrop as a talented climber with numerous first ascents to his name and redpoints up to 5.12. But Lathe was more than a strong
and bold climber, he was a full-on mountain freak. Speakers at his memorial commented on his prowess in all aspects of mountain sports. A former
college and pro ski racer, he was, according to his skiing and paddling buddies, always the first to drop in on steep and untried lines, always available,
always smiling and psyched even when the present moment looked grim. Johno McBride told about his and Lathrop’s 5,000-mile bike trip around New Zealand:
On a budget, in the middle of a rain forest, with no food except a brace of trout they’d just pulled from the river, they discovered that the tinder
was too wet to light. Johno described the sinking feeling he experienced when he realized that there would be no fire, and therefore no food. But Lathrop
simply picked up the stringer and started cleaning the fish, declaring, “Looks like we’re gonna have sushi tonight.”
In an interview with the Aspen Times, his skiing and climbing buddy Jim Cardamone characterized Lathrop as “full-tilt, 100 percent, all the time.” But
there was another side to Lathrop, a unique way of being that is not so easy to capture in an essay. Lathrop embodied so many noble traits that most
of us simply aspire to. He was awake and present. He was happy and upbeat. He was humble without a lick of pretension. I never heard him brag or speak
ill of anyone. He was one of those individuals who could absorb the happiness of others and shine it out to share with the world. Two days before he
died he talked to me about how happy he was that Jill, his ex-wife who lived in Boulder, had found another partner, and that Jesse would now have a
loving father and family around her. I could see in his face that his happiness was genuine, and his open-heartedness affected me deeply. I thought
how rare and wonderful it must be to live like that. I’m sure now that Lathrop’s fearlessness in the mountains and his fearlessness in life were connected.
There could not be one without the other and this thought comforts me. Charlotte Fox, another friend, summed it up in an email just after Lathrop died.
She wrote, “He would not have wanted to die doing what he loved, but instead was not afraid to live without the buzz kill of being afraid of dying.
When we are on the edge, we are finally consumed with nothing but the physical, spiritual and mental nirvana that makes us whole.” Lathrop was a curiosity
in this fragmented, modern world. He lived fully, burned bright and was complete till the end.