Climber remembered for kind heart, adventuresome spirit |

Climber remembered for kind heart, adventuresome spirit

April E. Clark
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Family and friends gather at St. Mary of the Crown Church in Carbondale Tuesday morning for a service in memory of Peter Jessup. He died Aug. 9 while descending the South Maroon Peak. (Kelley Cox/Post Independent)

CARBONDALE – A photo of Peter Jessup guiding a raft down the Colorado River stands out among others.

His muscular biceps are flexed as he maneuvers rafters safely through rapids.

His face displays sheer joy and excitement.

The river was his office and his playground for the summer.

Even in his first season as a guide at Whitewater Rafting – where his mom dropped off a cake last week for his birthday – customers requested return trips.

“Peter was so popular with the customers. He thought it was a kick,” said Peter’s father, Ted Jessup. “Peter really blossomed in that arena. He really worked hard in the training – he took it as a real challenge. He was so physically fit. He was just the picture of health.”

The photo, full of life, framed next to his casket in St. Mary of the Crown Catholic Church was the perfect portrait of an earnest outdoor lifestyle.

The brightly colored wildflowers resting on the wood casket were a cheerful send-off for a Colorado native who found adventure in the Rocky Mountains.

On Aug. 9, Peter celebrated his birthday not on the river, but on land.

After climbing South Maroon Peak at the Maroon Bells near Aspen, he signed in at the summit, telling those who followed it was his 27th birthday. On his descent, his life came to an end in a fatal fall.

Peter’s father never had the opportunity to say happy birthday, or goodbye.

During his eulogy Tuesday morning, Ted said he anticipates the day their paths cross again. He imagines Peter – a ’99 Glenwood Springs High School graduate fluent in Spanish – greeting him with, “Que pasa?”

A light moment during a somber day.

“In his 27 years, Peter amassed a great treasure,” Ted said. “Peter had an open heart and an open mind.”

At Creighton University in Nebraska, Peter studied theology. He often discussed his need to help all races with friend and spiritual confidant monsignor Tom Dentici.

“He was a man of peace,” Dentici said. “He longed for peace.”

Dentici officiated Tuesday’s funeral service and resurrection mass, recalling Peter’s 21st birthday when the two shared fruitful conversation over a glass of wine.

“Peter had a fire in his belly,” he said. “He was on fire. Our son was a restless man.”

Treasured memories are what Peter’s half-brother Kip Jessup cherishes. Memories like when his older brother challenged him to hike up to the Highlands Bowl at Aspen Highlands. Peter lost his glove prior to turning his skis downhill.

But that didn’t stop Peter. Kip asked anyone who skis the Highland Bowl to try it with one glove.

For Peter, life was that kind of adventure.

Peter’s wife, Alejandra Rico Jessup, Latino community liaison for the Roaring Fork School District, remembered her husband for his knack for helping others. In February, he received the staff award in the 2005 Garfield County Humanitarian Services Awards for his advocacy work with Catholic Charities, Western Slope, helping Latinos in the valley. He was also valued for his mediation work in the Garfield County Court system.

“He touched others with his light,” she said. “If you want to feel him, just close your eyes.”

Peter’s older sister, Jennifer Wachtel, wept as she read a poem titled “The Cloud.” She described Peter as the family’s rock.

“There was something unique about the way he walked – danced – through life,” she said. “He lived by the guidance of his heart.”

Ted said his son’s battle with leukemia in high school helped him grow to be the man the community – and family and friends – treasured.

“That was such a big change, and he was a trooper through it,” Ted said. “His courage level was second to none. After that period, he wanted to help people.”

Peter climbed more than a dozen Colorado fourteeners. But he was not an attention seeker.

Adventure was what Peter craved.

“He didn’t like to be put on a pedestal. He was the all-time humble-type person,” Ted said. “He was pretty amazing as far as I’m concerned. He had a big heart, number one.”

On Tuesday morning, hundreds said goodbye to an outdoorsman who touched many with his kind heart.

And love for adventure.