Carbondale Realtor is victim of ice climbing accident

Staff Report
Ryan Jennings of Carbondale, left, and climbing partner Kevin Cooper pose for a photo after completing their ascent of Mount Johnson in Alaska in early May 2014. Jennings and Cooper were the first team to ascend the mountain from its north face, blazing the route called "Stairway to Heaven."
Ryan Jennings / Provided |

The man killed Wednesday in a fall while ice climbing near Redstone was Ryan Jennings of Carbondale, a 42-year-old realty agent and father of two.

The Pitkin County coroner early Thursday evening confirmed the identification, and Carbondale-based Rock and Ice magazine earlier in the day posted a story about the tragedy.

“Jennings’ intended climb was about 400 feet of rolling ice and snow, capped with a freestanding vertical pillar 40 to 50 feet high,” Rock and Ice’s story said. “Jennings had done numerous first ascents in this area, and this season the exit formed with two columns, a rarity.

“Jennings was attempting the first ascent of the second pillar and was rope-solo leading, self-belaying off a bolt, and had placed at least one ice screw in the pillar. At some point on his climb, the column collapsed and took him with it to a ledge,” the article said.

Rescue crews, friends and family on Thursday retrieved his body from the Redstone Slab area, a popular ice climbing spot.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said that at 12:28 p.m. the victim’s body was returned to the trailhead area near Redstone.

Authorities decided Wednesday to wait until daylight to retrieve the body, expecting the grim task to take four to five hours. At approximately 6:15 a.m. Thursday, members of Mountain Rescue Aspen and a friend of Jennings’ who found his body Wednesday set out on the recovery effort.

The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that it received a call at about 12:30 p.m. that a climber was missing. The caller said that the man went ice climbing at about 4:30 a.m. and had not returned.

Members of Mountain Rescue Aspen and Carbondale Fire and Rescue, and deputies from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office were involved in the search Wednesday.

The friend of Jennings’ who was familiar with the area had hiked in and found him, and Jennings was dead when rescuers reached the spot.

The Post Independent in June 2014 interviewed Jennings about a dream climb he and partner Kevin Cooper accomplished that May.

Jennings and Cooper became the first climbers known to ascend the north face of the unofficially named Mount Johnson, which rises 8,460 feet above sea level and accompanies such peaks as Mount McKinley in Alaska’s Denali National Park next to Ruth Glacier. Though the elevation may not seem scary to Coloradans, the sheer drop-offs from both the north and south faces of the mountain are some of the most intimidating for climbers around the world.

That’s what made Jennings’ and Cooper’s ascent unique: They completed the “Stairway to Heaven,” a route up the severely steep north face of the mountains the pair had imagined conquering for close to two decades.

They had tried and failed once before, and helped finance the 2014 climb with their Mugs Stump Grant of $2,000, an annual provision awarded by Alpinist Magazine to small climbing teams worldwide “pursuing climbing objectives that exemplify light, fast and clean alpinism.”

“The sections that would have turned a lot of people around are ones we were able to get through because of the bad rock we trained on in Redstone,” Jennings told the PI at the time.

“Climbers, after a little while, you start getting the Jones to go up again,” Jennings told the PI then. “After I got off the mountain, I said to myself, ‘I’m done.’ But I’m already finding myself looking through old pictures of the American Alpine Journal seeing if there’s something out there.”

In December, he was awarded a second Mugs Stump Grant, Rock and Ice said.

Jennings leaves his wife, Robin Beck-Jennings, and two young children, the publication said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.