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2007 – Boulder Climber Peter Steres Dies at 54

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As I read the obituaries posted on the internet, I realized that I only knew a tiny bit of Peter. These stories revealed much more. The world class climber and drinking buddy were acknowledged and honored over and over again. Exploits were remembered fondly and laughed over. Everyone agreed – Peter was a great climber and a great guy and would be sorely missed.

There was one personal testimony that stood out from the rest. A woman who, you could tell, had experienced Peter in a very special and personal way. He had been her mentor on the rock, and had stood up at her wedding. He was her brother in law, and she loved him dearly.

Only one out of the 43 postings on the internet.

But I was also struck with the fact that this man, who I knew as a loner struggling and losing to his inner and outer demons, had lived such a big life. He had traveled in circles that my puny climbing wanna-be dreams couldn’t imagine. He was one of the original pioneers, testing his small but agile frame against unknown odds on sheer rock cliffs with the best and most famous of them. And here were some of those best acknowledging his first ascents and terrific footwork and marvelous fluidity on the climbs.

I met him during his decline. Bad shoulders were beginning to severely restrict his freedom on the rock, and alcohol was beginning to take its toll everywhere else. He had lost his job, and was still kidding himself about being able to get another. He needed money, and I needed an inexpensive way to climb those intimidating Colorado mountains.

My husband told him I was a solid 5.8 climber, and so Peter and I trudged up to Long John Wall in Eldorado Canyon one beautiful day a few years ago.

Although I found that I could manage the technical difficulty, it only took a couple of those 5.8 moves to completely trash my arms. Halfway up the first pitch I was completely exhausted. We had 3 ½ more pitches to go. Poor Peter. He practically hauled me up the rope to get me to the top.

To his credit, he did so and never complained. However, it was a long time before we attempted another 5.8 together. We lowered our sights and Peter took me on a tour of many of the classic 5.6’s and 5.7’s in the Boulder area. I got to see some of that famous footwork and fluidity on those climbs. He was marvelous to watch, as he eased over bulges or jammed up hand cracks or balanced delicately on thin face holds. Graceful and sure. Poetry on rock. I was a clumsy and inept idiot by comparison. I struggled mightily up those climbs, proud just to be able to follow him at all.

So he became my guide. A guide to a world I could never reach on my own. A wonderful magical world of physical challenge and adrenaline pumps and fear. A time of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, only to sit at the top of some climb and exult in the accomplishment of it all.

And he was glad to do it. He was glad to show me this world and was glad to help me through it. And for that I am very grateful.

There was a dark side to Peter, however. One not spoken about in those obituaries.

Wonderful though his magical mystery tour of rock climbs was, the dark side did begin to intrude. He was starting to smell of alcohol. He was having trouble showing up during my times of availability, and started insisting that I be available during his. He was having acute money problems, and that pressure spilled into our working relationship.

That dark side was difficult for me to manage. I worried about his drinking, both on and off the climbs. I struggled with appropriate boundaries around drinking and money and time. I ended up spending less time with him.


Until the end.

My husband again initiated contact with Peter. This time it wasn’t about me. This time it was about our schizophrenic son Richard.

Our apathetic son who was a couch potato deluxe. Could Peter help us get Richard out of the house? Could he help get Richard back into once was one of his favorite sports? Could he help us get Richard up a climb?

And so he did.

And we spent a marvelous summer together, the four of us, testing ourselves against short easy to get to climbs in Eldorado Canyon and on Flagstaff Mountain. And there were even moments when Richard came alive. When Richard would break through his brooding apathetic attitude and show some feisty determination for the climb.

And Peter was there for it. He put up with Richard’s resistance, my husband’s disabilities, my ultra positive tour guide bravura and hung around us anyway.

And one day, one very precious day, Richard shook his hand and thanked him.

It was a blistering hot day on Flagstaff. We got there in the late afternoon hoping to be spared some of the heat. The climb was more difficult than we had expected. Both my husband and I whined all the way to the top. Richard, however, quickly powered his way through the few hard moves, and amazed us all.

Then all hell broke loose. Our hot and sunny day turned cloudy and blustery. In less than five minutes we were deluged with lightening and rain and then hail. It was like a bucket had been overturned on our heads. Quarter sized hail pelted down on exposed flesh. Peter took shelter under a rock. All the rest of us could do was huddle piteously under our packs, helplessly waiting to get hit by lightening or bonked seriously on our heads by the hail.

When the storm finally abated we slugged through six inches of muddy hail to the car. We were soaked form head to toe and shivering uncontrollably. And that was when Richard reached out to Peter, shook his hand and thanked him. And I got a brief and tiny glimpse of the old Richard. The Richard that loved the rock and anything associated with it. That loved to climb, the harder the route the better. The Richard who loved grand adventures.

And Peter had made that moment possible. And for that I am very grateful.

Peter ended up succumbing to his demons. The inner ones talked him out of recovery and kept his pride intact, his righteous indignation high and his delusions firmly in place. The outer ones ended up killing him on his living room floor on February 8, 2007. His system was so weak from his chronic abuse of alcohol that a blood vessel had burst in his abdomen and he bled to death quickly and quietly and painlessly. He was 54 years old. There was no one around, and nothing anybody could have done anyway.

And the story of this man, this climber, this guide, this friend, this troubled alcoholic, came to an end.