A Climber We Lost: Nathan Roberts
Each January we post a farewell tribute to those members of our community lost in the year just past. Some of the people you may have heard of, some not. All are part of our community and contributed to climbing.
You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.
Nathan Roberts, 35, October 15
Nathan Roberts was a climber’s climber. He was psyched to hit it all, “a well-rounded climber who was just stoked to get outside and have fun … whether he was climbing hard sport routes, long challenging multi-pitches, or technical slab[s],” said longtime partner Brianna Geoghegan. Over the last few years, he’d become particularly excited by sport climbing, and was also an occasional free soloist. Roberts passed October 15, after a fall while soloing Mrs. Negative (5.12a), at Cheakamus Canyon, a sport crag north of Squamish. He was alone, passing time while waiting to meet up with a climbing partner later in the day.
Though Roberts didn’t tell anyone he planned to solo Mrs. Negative that day, he was known in the Squamish community for impressive solos of several 5.12s, including Jacob’s Ladder (5.12b) in the Smoke Bluffs. Though Roberts was an infrequent soloist of late, and Geoghegan said he’d always considered himself a sport climber at heart, he found soloing a way to “deeply connect with a familiar climb,” describing it as “almost meditative.”Mrs. Negative is a line Roberts was extremely comfortable on, and had climbed “countless times,” said Geoghegan. “He climbed it a week before when his dad was visiting, and the week before that he used it as a warm-down.”
Roberts grew up in Ontario and was homeschooled until the ninth grade. “When he got to high school, he had trouble making friends,” said Geoghegan, “but would connect through sports like skateboarding and snowboarding.” In his early twenties, he moved west to be closer to the mountains and began climbing in 2011. “Nathan was a naturally talented and fearless person,” Geoghegan said, and he took to the sport quickly, “like everything else he tried.” In his early years as a climber, Roberts espoused himself as a trad purist, “but he would later laugh about that, and tell me that was because he wasn’t strong enough to sport climb or boulder.”
The couple met in 2015 and were soon inseparable. “We did everything new couples are not supposed to do within the first two years,” Geoghegan said. “We almost immediately moved in together, and then bought a bus and moved into that together.” Later, they traveled to Thailand for two months, the first major trip either had undertaken.
Roberts was working as an arborist when he met Geoghegan, and before that in rope access. “Unfortunately, arborist work took a toll on his elbows and he didn’t want to risk his ability to climb,” she said, so he transitioned into the film industry, working in the grip department. Recently, he’d taken time off to enjoy climbing as much as possible, working part-time in concert rigging. “The day he died was his last climbing day before he [would have begun] working full time again.”This past summer was one of his best climbing seasons, achieving a personal goal of sending 50 5.12s, alongside his close friend Ben Webster. He also sent his first 5.12d, Mr. Negative, this June, and managed to send The Contrarian (5.12c) in a day. Some of his other favorite sends included Teenage Lobotomy, a highball V6, and Pleasant Pheasant (5.11a) on gear. He was also projecting his first 5.13, The Lorax (5.13a), which he chose specifically because he felt it was stout for the grade—wanting to truly earn his first 13.
Off the wall, Roberts was a passionate follower of climbing lore, with “an incredible memory for climbing knowledge,” said Geoghegan. “You could look at the Chief with him and he could name every single route on it. Beyond that, if you named a route in Squamish he could probably tell you what wall it was on, and maybe even what it looked like.” Perhaps above all else, Roberts wasn’t drawn to difficulty, but to the beauty of a route. “If a line looked aesthetic to him and flowed naturally, he would get excited and have to try it.”
Even more important to Nathan than his own climbing were the experiences others had on the wall with him. Geoghegan described him as a natural teacher, with contagious stoke. “When I met him, he immediately began taking me to the climbing gym and talking about getting me outside with him,” she said. They had too many fond memories climbing together to count, she said, but the common theme among all was Nathan being “outrageously supportive.” “Nathan was the kind of person who made you feel safe to be yourself and try anything,” she said. He wasn’t the type to judge.
“With a tiny climbing achievement—whether getting a new problem at the gym or trying something outside my comfort zone—Nathan would be beaming with pride and cheering me on,” she said. “Even though I never caught up to [his] level, he would always say I was his favorite climbing partner. It didn’t matter if we were climbing moderate routes, he was just excited to share climbing with me.”
She noted that Roberts’ unwavering faith in her abilities meant that he also wasn’t afraid to sandbag her. “A few years back, he spontaneously decided we should climb Mt. Habrich. So one morning we hiked up this horrendous loose dirt trail to get to the climbing, where unfortunately the wind was so strong that after two pitches we were being blown off the wall. We [retreated] and I grumbled at him, annoyed, all the way down. I remember when we got down that he felt so bad he surprised me with a stuffed wolf (my favorite animal) and we went to get my favorite food.”
Geoghegan said Roberts was happiest when out with friends, no matter the objective. “Taking people up multi-pitch adventures on the Chief, gathering friends for days in the boulders, or getting groups out to sport and trad crags. That’s what really drove him, sharing experiences with his friends and family.”
Though he and Geoghegan lived modestly, and he was more at home pushing his limits in the outdoors than in luxury or comfort, Roberts was always looking up. “He was the definition of a dreamer,” she said. “He would come home from work and show me video tours of lavish homes from all over. He spoke about the climbing gym he wanted to build on our future property, and how he wanted to teach our kids to climb. He would talk about our future yacht in the Mediterranean and our vacation home in Greece.”
“He fantasized about getting rich one day,” she added, and how such wealth could impact those around him. Roberts often spoke about “building a low-income housing community for people like ourselves, struggling to save money in our current society.”
Geoghegan described Roberts as a “safe and secure” climbing partner. “He was the type of partner you could immediately trust, he always had your best interest in mind.” She noted that Roberts was always safety conscious, never belaying anyone who was intoxicated, for example, or on a route that was dangerous for them.
Both on and off the wall, Roberts was the perfect partner, she said. “He taught me what true unconditional love is … reminded me daily how much he loved me, constantly told me how proud he was … He made you feel special, like nobody in the world could ever compare.
“[I’ve] been with him my entire adult life. We never grew tired of each other, the more time together we got, the happier we were.” The time since his death on October 15, she said, “is the longest period we’ve spent apart in seven and a half years.”
In addition to Geoghegan, Roberts is survived by his mother and father, Ingrid and Stephen Roberts, and four younger siblings, Julia, Suzanne, Caleb, and Esther. His loved ones ask that in lieu of flowers, friends consider donating to Squamish SAR or the Squamish Access Society in Roberts’ memory.
You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.