EDITOR’SNOTE: Charlotte Fox died in a fall at her home on May 24, 2018. Click here to read a remembrance written by Charlotte Fox’s friend and Rock and Ice’s Executive Editor Alison Osius.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 161 (July 2007)
On a sunny day, Charlotte Fox meets several friends in the City Market parking lot in Aspen to climb. During the drive 10 miles and 1,000 feet farther up, she ruminates, “You know, today would be our anniversary.” She is speaking, of course, of her late husband, the affable Reese Martin. Asked how old he would be, she says 52, and immediately brightens, bursting out with a raucous: “Can you believe it? That asshole got out of turning 50!”
She ducks and giggles. “Oh, I’m so bad!” Fox has lived a mountain life with its most exhilarating highs and wrenching lows. In 2004, four years after their marriage, Martin, a climber and fellow board member for the Access Fund, was killed in a paragliding accident. The Routes Foxy Lady and My Favorite Martin, side by side on a wall high on the flanks of Independence Pass, are named for them. Martin’s ski pass hangs from a tree in between.
Fox, newly 50, jokingly calls herself a wimp: “Just a jack of all trades, master of none, eternal fun hog, and not afraid of a bottle of white wine!” Yet she is also a hard ice climber who can claim ascents of the Fang in Vail and the Drool in Redstone, both Colorado; has climbed all the Colorado Fourteeners; and has gone on five Himalayan expeditions. She was the first American woman to summit the 8,000-meter Gasherbrum II in Pakistan, in 1994; then, with Cho Oyu in 1995 and Everest in 1996, the first American woman to summit three 8,000ers. Cho Oyu and Everest were guided trips, Gash II private. Last year she climbed Carstensz Pyramid, New Guinea, in one of several trips she has assistant-guided.
She says, “I alpine climbed all over the world, but no hard routes—just lots of mileage up high. I was above 18,000 feet around 13 times before attempting the 8,000ers.”
Fox is a ski patroller of 24 years, and in the wake of Martin’s death worked very hard to train their Labrador pup, Max, as an avalanche dog. She and Max will work in Telluride next year as part of a patrol exchange. She is pretty psyched up: “The ice there rocks!“
A survivor of the dreadful “huddle”—which she calls with dark humor, a “bad night out”—on Everest in 1996, Fox has turned down participation in a potential Hollywood film about the events but, a natural as a speaker, is an eloquent presence in David Breashears’ documentary Remnants of Everest, showing at this year’s Mountainfilm festival in Telluride.
She contributes fo the climbing community in many ways, among them as a seven-year board member of the Access Fund, and now as a second-year board member of the American Alpine Club.
Q&A with Charlotte Fox
What was your most important expedition?
Gasherbrum II. It was a private expedition and I got to lead a lot. It was my first 8,000-meter peak, with no Os. Plus i think the Karakoram are the most beautiful mountains in the world. I am a very average aerobic athlete at 8,000 fete—the higher I get the stronger I get. My ski-patrol job keeps me at 12,000 feet five days a week and I know my clothing and bodily needs through experience. I am in the mountains every day patrolling, ice climbing or backcountry skiing.
There is a story behind your house in Aspen.
It was build by a big marijuana dealer and his then wife and all the old timers in town worked on it! He paid them on Friday with Thai sticks and $100 bills. He imported exotic wood—the place has koa, teak, cherry and mahogany fittings that you couldn’t buy today. He spent 10 years in prison and is back in Aspen. I am dying to meet him!
Even before Reese, you lost a partner, Mark Bebie, to an avalanche. How have you been able to on in the mountains?
I have never been mad at Mark and Reese for dying in their pursuit of living, since I very much believe in having the same intensity of life. That helps me accept their loss, though I mess them horribly. The lessons I have learned from their deaths have been invaluable—I have gone from a Southern debutante to a very independent woman, because I have had to. My friends mean the world to me. I could not have gotten through all this without their love.
You are a North Carolinian. What is your background?
I grew up in a traditional Southern family. Very Republican and conservative. I am an only child, but my parents divorced and I have lots of step and half-kin. I went to boarding school and college in Virginia [Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond and Hollins College in Roanoke]. Both single-sex and I loved them and am still close with my classmates.
You are running an alpine camp in Pakistan this summer?
I am going with a small team of American women to teach Pakistani women how to climb and with a few of them attempt a 6,000-meter peak in the Hunza region. The AAC and Alpine Club of Pakistan are behind this and it has international repercussions between our religions and countries, as well as the sexes. Pakistan is trying to empower their women and we want to help.