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Bob Dergay, 48, Who Died Free Soloing in Eldorado Canyon, Was Larger Than Life—In Every Way

Longtime Colorado and Utah climber was a solid partner in all the climbing genres.

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Robert “Bob” Heathcote Dergay, 48, died May 18 after a fall from the Bastille Crack in Eldorado Canyon while free soloing.

Bob began climbing in the early 1990s after moving from his hometown of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, to Durango, Colorado, to attend Ft. Lewis College. Climbing quickly became his passion, and the cliffs and mountains seemed both home and an outlet for his intense energy. Bob was larger than life, at over 6 feet and 200 pounds, with a booming voice.

Dergay at a belay in Red Rocks, Nevada. Photo: Jennifer Mills.

He cut his teeth at East Animas, Ophir Wall and the Black Canyon in Colorado and on desert towers in Colorado and Utah. In the winters he would climb ice in Eureka, Colorado, with many laps up Stairway to Heaven and Gold Rush. Bob was a highly skilled free climber and soon gained a reputation as a bold soloist. He was once heard saying, “Look how big I am, you think you need to weigh me down with a rack and rope?!” He was a solid partner in all the disciplines of climbing, and climbed for the love of it, the friendships, and the joy of being outside.

For the past 15 years he was a resident of Boulder and a mainstay in the Boulder climbing scene. On any given day you could find Bob, with or without a rope, running up a Flatiron, pulling down in Eldorado Canyon, or doing  “quick” solo lap on Hallets Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bob was the real deal, a climbers’ climber with no patience for spending time on petty things like the latest gear or fashion trends of the climbing world. He had a smile and big words of encouragement for just about anyone he came across. His fashion sense was perpetually stuck in the 1990s. He could be seen sporting a 25-year-old, faded North Face rain jacket, the only one he owned, Teva sandals worn with rag wool socks, and cargo pants with huge pockets stuffed full of all of his essentials for long days in the mountains because he hated wearing a backpack.

Bob was slightly stubborn, did things his way and couldn’t care less about what others thought. He had a strong moral compass and let others know his opinion. He was kind and positive, a true friend to many. Late one evening in Eldorado Canyon he noticed a pair of headlamps high on the descent for the Redgarden Wall, and after yelling back and forth to the lost climbers he ran back to his home, gathered warm clothes, headlamps and snacks, and set off to assist the climbers down the dangerous descent slabs. He shrugged off his efforts as just a normal evening and simply what climbers do for each other.

Climbing at Cochise Stronghold, Arizona. Photo: Jennifer Mills

Bob was a patient teacher and partner who coaxed others beyond their comfort zones, believing in their abilities more than they did and enabling them to achieve things they didn’t think were possible. He constantly encouraged his partners with comments like, “It gets better up here, you’ve got this, just 10 more feet!”— instilling the confidence in you to keep going, because, in the end, you trusted Bob and knew that he would carry you (even literally) through any difficulty.

He laughed often and with his huge belly laugh was hard to ignore when he walked into a room. Bob loved to crush pints of ice cream chased with Tecate beer and a frozen pizza. He was incredibly bright but deliberately lived a simple life and was a man of habit. He knew what he liked and what worked, and he liked his routines. He loved wrenching on his motorcycle and his Volkswagon GTI, both of which he drove way too fast but, as with climbing, that was where Bob thrived, right up against the edge of what was possible. One of Bob’s favorite statements was to bellow, “Duuude, let’s dooo this!”—and you knew the objective was going down. Bob had boldness, power and conviction.

He is survived by his parents, Jean and Tom Dergay; and his sister Jen Dergay Croker. He was preceded in death by his beloved sister Peyton.

A memorial celebration for Bob will be held in Durango on October 5th. More information about Bob’s life and his memorial service can be found here.

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