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Remembering Douglas Snively

The prolific first ascentionist died early this week at 66 years old.

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Doug Snively on the summit of The Hindu, March 1974. Photo: Jimmie Dunn.
Doug Snively on the summit of a desert tower, March 1974. Photo: Jimmie Dunn.

When Jimmie Dunn called on Monday afternoon, he said, “Are you sitting down? I have some bad news. Cito Kirkpatrick called me earlier and said that Douglas died this morning.”

I was shocked. Douglas Snively was one of our oldest comrades of the rope. Douglas, Billy Westbay, Jimmie, and I were a climbing foursome during our halcyon youth in the early 1970s, meeting at the Garden of the Gods for after-school climbs, heading north on weekends to crank classics in Eldorado Canyon, and driving west on long breaks to the Moab desert and Yosemite Valley.

Melvin Douglas Snively, known as Douglas or Doug, made a quiet exit from this life on the shore of Lake Estes on the sunny morning of June 15, lost to an apparent heart attack at age 66. Douglas had walked two blocks down to the lake from his house on 3rd Street in Estes Park to cast a few flies for wild trout. He was found sitting on the lake shore, slumped over.

Douglas moved to Estes Park from his childhood home in Colorado Springs in 1974, spending nights on the floor of Steve Komito’s boot-repair shop and eventually working as a guide for Michael Covington’s Fantasy Ridge climbing school. Douglas later said, “Komito was very tolerable of all of us outlaws just hanging out in his shop.” The laid-back climbing scene, the granite crags on Lumpy Ridge, and the soaring alpine faces in Rocky Mountain National Park appealed to Douglas, and he made Estes Park his home for the next 46 years. “I fell in love with the climbing here,” he said. “I love Lumpy Ridge, I really do.” Besides establishing over a hundred routes in the Estes Park area, Douglas also did first ascents in the canyon country, including the first ascent of the North Face of Castleton with Dunn in 1974 and Incredible Hand Crack, perhaps the best crack climb at Indian Creek, in 1978 (with Rich Perch, John Bragg and Anne Tarver).

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As a climbing guide, Snively became intimately familiar with the Lumpy Ridge routes as well as the classics in Rocky Mountain National Park. He estimated that he climbed the Petit Grepon over 30 times and the East Face of Hallett Peak at least 50 times, with innumerable trips up the Diamond (or East Face) of Longs Peak. I was his partner on his first route on the Diamond, on July Fourth weekend in 1971. I was 18 years old and Douglas was 17. We climbed what ranger Walt Fricke later told us was the fifth ascent of D7. The only other Diamond party on those bluebird days was Art Howells and Don Doucette, also from the Springs, on the Yellow Wall.

In the 1980s Snively worked for Steve Komito, resoling boots, selling footwear, and even making custom climbing shoes. By the early 1990s new opportunities arose, and he began working as a rigger for commercials and movies. He was able to join the Screen Actors Guild after doing a stint as Tony the Tiger, rappelling and kayaking for Frosted Flakes commercials. Later he worked on films like “Cliffhanger” and made trips with film crews to Pakistan and India.

As he got older, Douglas became the local guru in Estes Park, mentoring younger climbers like Quinn Brett and Lisa Foster.

Lisa said, “The first climb I did with Douglas was Hot Licks on the Bookend sometime in the 1990s. He was so amazing, so encouraging to the younger climbing community. We would go out with him, and he would encourage us to lead and be better. He gave us the boost we needed.”

She added, “The thing that impressed me about Douglas was his footwork. I’ve never seen a climber as comfortable on his feet. His footwork was astounding.”

Quinn Brett, a friend and climbing partner since 2003, met Douglas at Bookend Pinnacle. She said: “He had just gotten back from Europe. After that first climb, we made plans to go climbing the next week and pretty much every week after that. It was really special. When we started, he was the experienced one and taught me how to lead and place gear. Later I became the better climber and led everything. That’s how our relationship changed, and he loved it.”

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Jimmie Dunn told me today, “It’s hard to believe Douglas has passed away. When Cito called me I thought, oh no, this is bad.” Jimmie remembered an attempt he made with Douglas on The Cosmos on El Capitan in March 1972. “We were about a third of the way up when a block hit his hand and he fractured some fingers. It was a bloody mess. Blood everywhere. When we got down to the ground, we stared at each other. I saw tears running down his cheeks. He was crying because he couldn’t climb it. I still get emotional when I think about this teenager that wanted to climb Cosmos so bad he had tears running down his face.”

Sniveley’s achievements go far beyond just climbing cliffs and mountains. Lisa Foster said, “Everybody loved Douglas because he was so lovable and encouraging. He was an amazing climber, but even more, he was an amazing man. He was just a great person who everybody loved because he was wonderful to be around.”

Quinn Brett agreed, “I learned from Doug that there are other things to do besides climbing — go fishing, have a drink, think outside the box. He was reliable and an incredibly giving person. Good at conversations, too.” She wrote on her Facebook page, “I am the person I am today because of you. I love you. Thank you for taking me under your wing for over half my life. You are an amazing soul.”

Thanks, Douglas, for being our friend and for sharing your journey. It’s heartbreaking that you’ve passed over to the great mountains in the beyond.

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