Steve Dieckhoff on the Eldorado Canyon classic Wisdom (5.12a), Colorado. Photos by Beth Wald
That stoic fellow who nicknamed his deadly lymphatic tumor ‘Bubba’ was none other than impassioned artist and renowned Boulder-based climber Steve Dieckhoff.
At the exact moment of sunrise on March 15, 2008, he took leave from his relentless fight with cancer. Rumor has it that he might now be hanging tough in the afterlife, knocking back pints of strong stout ale with long-time partner in crime Derek Hersey!
Steve was very much about the preservation of integrity in climbing. He took issue and spoke out, loudly and passionately against all manner of ills, but none more so than the grid bolting, handhold chipping and route-squeezing in Boulder Canyon. Standing tall, even in the face of death threats, Steve’s beliefs and convictions are still on display everywhere. As an artist, his love of a natural and untainted world is reflected in a breathtaking collection of landscape paintings in oil and watercolor. His sardonic humor is often on display in the form of hilarious cartoons and sketches; seen in climbing magazines, books and movies. His enthusiastic lead-climbing instruction book, Serious Play, has given vision and ambition to a great many of us. In this town, there are probably hundreds of us who could offer examples of Dieckhoff’s sound advice or words of encouragement, from far-reaching career guidance to revolutionary advice on learning to trad climb, or converting a whole class of children into chess masters. Yes, a visionary drive for others to succeed was the hallmark of Steve’s life.
But for me, you have to love a guy who nonchalantly suggests a quick trip up Yosemite’s Astroman… from a Boulder, CO. residence in less than four days door to door! “We could drive out Friday, climb five pitches to a bivy. The next morning, we boot the bags off and go for the top then drive back that same night!”
Pulling onto the summit just as night falls, a gorgeous full moon to guide the descent, victory pints in the Lodge and later, battered and bruised, stumbling joyously back to the car. Gentleman. Start that engine! Let the games begin!
If Steve has actually managed to track down Derek somewhere up there, I could imagine them to be sporting huge grins while wantonly slagging off those climbers who think they might try and weasel their way the into the ‘happily-ever-afterlife’ without so much as a ‘hows-yer-father!’
First light. The crushing news of Steve’s death. Step outside and draw a deep breath.
Exhale slowly. Taste the keen resin scent from nearby Ponderosa pines. A haunting birdsong from beyond amber shafts of sunlight that penetrate the dark forest. The most beautiful morning in living memory. Suddenly I feel Steve’s presence close by. An inexplicable essence of nearness. A feeling that he may have just stopped by before ‘clearing the gate.’
A beautiful day to die my dear, dear friend. A beautiful day to die.’
—Roger “Strappo” Hughes; Boulder, Colorado