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A Climber We Lost: Peter (Pete) Heck

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.

Pete Heck, 54, April 14

Pete Heck was a longtime Colorado climber, runner, and mountain runner, legendary in the Roaring Fork Valley (RFV) on Colorado’s West Slope, where he made his home for years before most recently settling in the Denver metro area. His name can be found on a handful of first ascents in the RFV, from the classic Rock Candy (5.12a) on Independence Pass to to the 5.11a Seeking Clarity at the Puoux, a limestone area near Glenwood Springs. Heck was a Renaissance man who applied his many skills to various metiers throughout his life: snowboard instructor and ski patrol at Aspen/Snowmass—the first patroller on the hill to ride a board; a builder of log-cabin homes; a furniture mover; and, most recently, a sushi chef at Kikka Sushi in Denver.

Heck grew up in a big family (he had two sisters) in various locales throughout the United States, eventually landing in Colorado Springs then Broomfield, Colorado, where he graduated from high school and where, as a cross-country runner, he took first place in the two-mile run, setting a Boulder Valley School District record that held for some years. Per his obituary, Heck was also recognized as homecoming king his senior year in high school, and would go on to attend the University of Wyoming, where he raced on the cross-country team.

Pete Heck is remembered not only for his prolific climbing, but for his ability to endure—he was a world-class long distance runner. (Photo: Pete Heck Family)

According to his ex-wife, Hattie Taylor (the two have a son, Miles), and father, Bill, Heck accrued more than a few medals and racing honors during his lifetime. He ran in the Pikes Peak Marathon, placing second in the grueling footrace to the top of the Fourteener in 1994. For three years in a row—1993 through 1995—Heck won the Turqouise Lake 20K in Leadville, Colorado. In 2000, Heck participated in the multi-sport adventure relay Red Bull Dolomitenmann in Austria (recalls Taylor: “He was the runner. They had a paraglider, mountain biker, and a kayaker as well”), and in 2004 was on the Red Bull Divide and Conquer team in Silverton, Colorado. He took fourth place at the St. George Marathon in 1999. In his beloved Roaring Fork Valley, he won and held the fastest time for a footrace up Mount Sopris, the looming 12,965-foot peak above Carbondale, Colorado, and finished multiple times in the Grand Traverse, an epic ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen, spanning 40 miles across the remote Elk Range. And he raced in the 24 Hours of Moab mountain-bike race.

Bill Heck remembers being at the finish line at the St. George Marathon in 1999 and wondering where his son was. “After the fifth runner finished, I did not see Pete and got worried, until Pete’s dog, Petzl, pulled on the leash as he headed to Pete, who was sitting down rehydrating after finishing third,” he recalls.

Stephanie Forte, a close friend of Heck’s, says his nonjudgmental support of her dream of pursuing outdoor sports when she first moved to Aspen, Colorado, as a Jersey girl with no outdoor background was invaluable in helping her navigate this intimidating new world. The two first met in 1991, when they were both 23 and working at the Aspen Athletic Club, where Heck ran the climbing wall. “I’d heard club members gushing over his climbing, about how he moved effortlessly over the area’s hardest routes,” recalls Forte. “Runners would say, ‘Oh man, when Pete shows up at a race, it’s like, well, now we know who’s gonna win.’”

That day, as Forte remembers, “Pete came barreling down the club’s stairs with a massive bag of McDonald’s, which seemed surprising, given how serious people were about training. While stuffing himself with burgers and fries, he said, ‘You know, someday I’m gonna write a book: Eat Like Shit. Run Like Hell.’” It was a classic Pete Heck moment. Later, on Forte’s first climbing road trip, Heck handed her a rack of quickdraws and the sharp end of the rope. “You want to be independent,” he explained, “so you have to lead.” (Forte would later go on to send 5.14 in the 1990s, one of the few American women to do so at the time.)

As the journalist John Stroud, a running mentee/partner of Heck’s, wrote in a tribute to Heck in the Post Independent, he once received a key piece of advice from Heck during a trail race near Steamboat Springs. Stroud was surprised to find himself out in front of Heck on an uphill leg of the race. Yet, wrote Stroud, “Once we hit the dirt road on top headed toward the turn back downhill onto the single-track trail, there he was passing me by…”—launching into his mountain-goat stride and leaving Stroud in the dust. Later, Stroud asked Heck his secret on technical downhills. Wrote Stroud, “‘Just let it fly,’ was all [Pete] said—or something to that effect.”

—Matt Samet

You can read the full tribute to Climbers We Lost in 2022 here.