Last Friday, mountaineer legend Chad Kellogg was killed climbing Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina.
His death has been a blow to the local climbing community.
“It’s really easy to focus on the climbing aspect of his personality and the intensity – how much he could suffer and how hard he strove for his goals,” said Dan Aylward, a friend of Kellogg, speaking on KUOW’s The Record. “But there was a softer side to Chad as well. He was really warm and enjoyable to be around. He could be quiet and stubborn at times, but he was also very funny. He had a quirky sense of humor. In so many aspects of his personality, he will be missed greatly.”
Kellogg grew up in the Seattle area and at one time held the record for the fastest ascent of Mount Rainier. He still holds the speed record for Denali’s West Buttress. Aylward described Kellogg as a very safe climber, “It was an honor to climb with him. I felt more comfortable climbing with him than almost anyone else I’ve climbed with.”
However, as many successes as the mountains gave Kellogg, they also brought a fair share of tragedy.
In an interview for the Dirtbag Diaries, Kellogg described his quest to summit Mount Siguniang in China. After being turned around by bad weather in 2007, he and his climbing partner were stuck in base camp, where Kellogg’s thoughts turned to his wife, Lara Bitenieks Kellogg, herself on a trek up Mount Wake in Alaska’s Denali National Park.
"Man, I hope Lara’s OK. I just had this weird feeling," Chad Kellogg said. "Couple days later, we’re sitting there at base camp, and a horseman comes up and it’s our guide from the village. And he’s like, ‘Get your stuff right now, pack your gear – you’re going back down to Rilong with me. There’s been an accident in the Ruth Gorge and you need to be ready to travel.’”
Lara Kellogg had died in an accident.
A month after her funeral, Kellogg was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. He survived and decided to return to the mountain he never ascended. “I had all of these emotions and the only way I could really think of getting past that was to go back to Siguniang,” Kellogg said.
About a year after his diagnosis, Kellogg spread Lara Kellogg’s ashes at the top of Siguniang.
In an interview with Outside magazine in 2012, Kellogg said he had lost another 17 close people in his life – from illness or accident – in the five years after his wife's death. They, too, died while he was on climbing trips.
Aylward said that losing loved ones didn’t hamper Kellogg’s sense of adventure. “It seemed to actually motivate him to climb more because it drove home the point that life is really short, it can end at any point and it’s really important to focus on doing the things that are most important to you – which to him was climbing, spending time in the mountains and also spending time with friends and making sure that everyone around him knew how much he cared about them.”
'It Isn't Going To Make Me Stop'
Aylward was also recently in Patagonia climbing with another partner. He said the death definitely came as a shock to him. “People who climb like that, people who are in the climbing community – they understand that this sort of thing happens. It happens tragically, frequently,” Aylward said. “When things like this happen it reminds [climbers], of course, that there is always danger doing something that many of them have experience doing before: pulling the rope and rocks coming down as a result of that, when the rope gets stuck. It’s something I’ve experienced many times.”
Aylward was asked if Kellogg’s death made him reconsider his devotion to climbing – a question that might possibly have been posed to Kellogg himself.
“It certainly makes me think about it, but it isn’t going to make me stop,” Aylward answered. “But I’m going to continue to think about Chad and his experience, as I’ve thought about the experiences of everyone I’ve known who has had any climbing accident, every time I go climbing."
Kellogg is survived by his parents, Ric and Peggy Kellogg, his girlfriend, Mandy Kraus; and his mother- and father-in-law, Guna and Robert Bitenieks.
Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Chad Kellogg had lost 17 people in his life to mountain accidents. In fact, in an interview with Outside magazine in 2012, Kellogg said that he had lost 17 people in his life in the five years after his wife's death while he was on climbing trips and not all necessarily caused by mountain accidents.