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Mark Hesse Died From Gym Fall

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The late Mark Hesse. Photo courtesy of the Access Fund.

3/12/14 – The Boulder County Coroner has ruled that longtime climbing activist and wilderness advocate Mark Hesse died from blunt trauma. Hesse, 63, was discovered unconscious in the back room of the Boulder Rock Club on a slow Monday in late January. No one witnessed his fall, but after hearing a loud noise from the other room, staff ran to Hesse’s aid, but were unable to revive him. Until now, it was not certain if he had died from an internal medical condition, such as a heart attack, or from a fall. The coroner’s office said today he died from blunt trauma to the chest and ruled the incident an accident.

Hesse was found in a location of the gym where he might have fallen either from a bouldering wall or a nearby top-roping and lead wall. The latter is served by an auto-belay device, but although Hesse was wearing a harness, he was not clipped into the auto-belay system, which was anchored at the bottom as usual. If he was climbing on the main wall, he must have been either free-soloing or inadvertently failed to clip into the auto-belay before climbing.

John Bicknell, one of the gym’s owners, told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper that although it’s unlikely anyone will ever know exactly what happened to Hesse, the gym has installed a new safety device designed to prevent “inadvertent soloing.” A large triangle of heavy fabric covers the foot of the wall below the auto-belay system and must be removed before climbing with the auto-belay.

“It’s much more in their face, and it makes unclipping and reclipping a bigger part of the mental process,” Bicknell told the Daily Camera. “Again, we don’t know if Mark’s death was caused by that, but it never hurts to go to a new system to improve safety.”

Hesse made first ascents throughout the world in the 1970s and 1980s, from the South Platte and Rocky Mountain National Park to the Utah desert, and from the Canadian Rockies to Nepal. In 1982 he soloed the south face of Denali via the Scott-Haston Route. In 1986, he and Craig Reason, Jay Smith, and Paul Teare did the alpine-style first ascent of the very steep northeast buttress of Kangtega (22,241 feet) in Nepal. As recently as 2006, Hesse was still doing major routes in the mountains: That summer, he and Chris Alstrin and Andrew Frost completed a very hard new route on a 20,000-foot peak in Peru.

Hesse was a leader in the Outward Bound system for many years, culminating in his work as program director of the Southwest Outward Bound School in the early 1980s. He created the American Mountain Foundation, whose original mission was helping U.S. climbers doing overseas expeditions, and ran it for over a deacade. That organization morphed into the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which he ran for another decade, before stepping down as executive director about five years ago. These non-profits were leaders in the stewardship of climbing areas, building extensive trail networks in Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Utah; Shelf Road, Colorado; and on the Colorado 14ers and other high peaks. Hesse received the American Alpine Club’s David Brower Conservation Award in 1995.

A longtime resident of Colorado Springs, Hesse had moved to Boulder and was working on a stewardship manual for the Access Fund. He also was working on trail and stewardship projects with the Boulder Climbing Community.

Source: Boulder Daily Camera

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