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A Climber We Lost: Thad Friday

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.

Thad Friday, 48, March 3

Thad Friday was a father, climber, son, brother. In addition to being a prolific rope soloist, notching solo ascents of numerous classics around Yosemite and the Colorado Front Range, he was also a former professional snowboarder, an avid mountain biker, and an inveterate prankster who was deeply committed to structuring his life around the people and activities that he loved. 

“When you first met Thad, he seemed a very quiet guy, very soft spoken, mild mannered, super mellow,” says his friend Jess Larrabee, who first introduced Thad to climbing in the mid 1990s and has remained close friends since. “But once you got to know him, he had this underbelly of anarchy, if you will. He went against the grain.”

Thad Friday (right) and his old climbing partner, Micah Dash, who passed away in 2009. (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Friday.)

Thad was born in Pennsylvania in 1973 but moved to Boulder with his family when he was seven. His parents passed their love for the outdoors on to Thad and his siblings, who commuted around town on their bikes and often escaped into the foothills above their house. 

“He was always playing pranks,” his sister Anna Friday says, recalling one of Thad’s more infamous escapades, which involved punishing his fifth grade teacher (Thad thought she was being “unfair” to the class) by setting off a small arsenal of firecrackers beneath her desk. 

He was a pretty quiet kid, low key, but he always just went his own way and did exactly what he wanted to do, and that sometimes got him into trouble,” his mother Jinny Friday says. 

As he grew older, Thad channeled this rebellious energy into sports, especially snowboarding, through which he gained sponsorships and traveled widely in his teens and early twenties, and then climbing. “He was always at the cutting edge of whatever he was into,” Larrabee remembers. “So when I introduced him to climbing, he took it to the extreme.”

Thad Friday Yosemite
Thad aid climbing in Yosemite during the early years. (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Friday)

In addition to being “ridiculously strong,” says Larrabee, Thad was fascinated by technical rope systems and logistics and spent much of his early years as a climber doing hard big-wall aid solos in Yosemite, including Wet Denim Daydream (V 5.7 C3; 1,000ft) on Yosemite’s Leaning Tower; Tangerine Trip (VI 5.9 C3+; 2,500ft), Zodiac (VI C3; 1,800ft), Eagle’s Way (VI 5.8 A3; 1,700ft), and Native Son (VI 5.9 A3+; 2,300ft) on El Cap; and The Prow (V 5.8 C2; 1,200ft) on Washington Column; among others.

“Whatever he really wanted, he focused on it and he did it,” says Jinny Friday. “But it was always in a low-key way; he did it for himself, never for recognition.”

Later, he leaned into free climbing. In 2004, while still a mechanical engineering student, he teamed up with fellow Boulderite Micah Dash and went to the Tasermiut Fjord in southeastern Greenland, where they did the first free ascents of Non C’e Due Senza Tre (V 5.11+R; 2,800ft 21 pitches) on the Right Pillar of Nalumasortoq and The Pillar (IV 5.10X; 1,600ft 15 pitches) on a nearby feature called Half Dome. The same year, he teamed up with Josh Wharton to do the first sub-24-hour link-up of three routes in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Thad Friday on a summit in Greenland in 2004. (Photo: Courtesy of Jess Larrabee)

Though he pursued an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, Thad found himself utterly disinterested in the engineering lifestyle. “He did super well in school,” Friday says, “but the idea of working in a cubicle nine to five—he was like, ‘That’s not my life. I don’t want to do that.’ So he got his degree and immediately went to nursing school. Because he wanted to climb; he wanted the freedom; he wanted three days a week and to not take work home and all the things that nursing gave him. … And that’s what he did. He climbed. In his free time, he climbed. He drove to Moab and Yosemite, Eldo and Boulder canyon. It was just a constant thread in his life. … He had a really uncanny ability to follow his heart, no matter what.”

Thad Friday out for some rope-soloing, a frequent activity when he wasn’t with his kids or working at the hospital. (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Friday)

Thad was father to two girls, Sarah, 11, and Kate, 9, and was “an amazing father,” who, according to his mother, “shared the things he loved with them, but more than anything, he wanted them to find what they loved.”

“He loved those kids like nothing else,” says Anna Friday. “Outside of work and climbing, they were pretty much his life. He loved sharing the outdoors with them; he took them climbing and camping and hiking, trying to get them out into the places he loved. He was great. He was silly and he was loving. He played with them and read with them. He did all the things that a great parent does. … It’s just heartbreaking.”

Thad died on March 3 while descending from the Bastille, in Eldorado Canyon. After rope-soloing the feature, he’d coiled his rope and donned his backpack, perhaps hurrying because he needed to pick his daughters up at school. During the standard but extremely exposed walk-off, Thad fell to the bottom of the feature. 

“We’re never going to know exactly what happened,” Larrabee says. “He’d done that [walkoff] a million times. But something happened up there that caused him to fall. And he fell the full 300 to 400 feet. … My guess is it was just some freak weird thing that can happen to anyone. We get lackadaisical and think it can’t happen to you. But it can. And it does. And it’s devastating.” 

“Thad was one of the most careful climbers I know,” Larrabee adds. “He had a line that he wouldn’t cross. He wasn’t a free soloist, he was a rope soloist. He was methodical and calculated about his gear placement and decisions. Especially once he became a father, his risk-taking was carefully considered. If it could happen to Thad it could happen to any of us at any time. Put another way: never stop taking calculated risks in the pursuit of living your dreams, but also never let your guard down.”

Thad Friday taking in the sunset at the bivy under Mount Hooker, in the Wind River Range. (Photo: Courtesy of Anna Friday)

As news of Thad’s death swept through the Front Range climbing community and the Boulder Community Hospital (he worked in the ER), his friends began posting moving remembrances on MountainProject and Tribute Archive. Some of these are incredibly beautiful and telling. We recommend reading them.

“Thad was a remarkable person,” Larrabee says. “He touched a lot of people’s lives, from climbing friends who reveled in his easy company, to fellow nurses and doctors in the hospital community, to the teachers, parents and students of his children’s school. You couldn’t not like the guy. And he most assuredly had a mischievous side and those who knew him were most likely, at one time or another, a recipient of that part of his personality. In short, he was marvelous, and a joy to be around, and I miss him terribly.”

—Steven Potter

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