Climbers, paragliders to commemorate Martin |

Climbers, paragliders to commemorate Martin

Tim Mutrie
Photo credit to Eric Hobday.

Over two recent summers, Reese Martin and a group of his friends made it their mission to yank out every single old, potentially dangerous bolt they could find on the climbing crags of Independence Pass. Then they replaced them with new, bombproof ones.The idea, explained friend Neal Beidleman, was “just to make it safer for the next guy.”With hardware provided through Martin’s connections with the American Safe Climbing Association, and with Martin and friends like Beidleman and Tom Perkins providing the on-wall muscle, the group completed the job last year.”We wore out at least a dozen drill bits in the process,” Martin, who died July 9 in a paragliding accident in Washington state, wrote of the project. He added, “There might be a few old quarter-inch spinners lurking out there on a few of the least traveled routes – we will replace them as we learn of them.”Said Beidleman: “That’s just one of Reese’s small legacies here in Aspen.”An accomplished climber whose passion for the mountains led him around the globe, Martin was an environmental engineer and consultant. In the five years that the West Coast native lived in Aspen following his marriage to Charlotte Fox, he also worked as a substitute teacher in Aspen schools.And he learned how to pilot paragliders.”I finally understand why he loved it so much,” Fox said after her second-ever paragliding flight with her husband’s flying friends recently. “I get it.”

On Saturday at 5 p.m. at the couple’s Aspen home – 111 Trentaz Drive, off McLain Flats Road – Martin’s family and friends are gathering for a potluck dinner to commemorate his life. He was 49.”I’m calling it a wake,” said Fox, “because it’s more of a celebration.”Martin’s late father, Reese II, was an experimental test pilot for the Air Force in the “Right Stuff” era, making Martin and his siblings de facto “Air Force brats,” Fox said.Martin attended Mercer Island High School in the Seattle area. He earned two degrees from the University of Washington – a bachelor’s in science and forestry, and a master’s in forest management.Fox and Martin met through the Access Fund, a climber’s group dedicated to conserving climbing areas, as volunteer board members.Martin lived in Ventura, Calif., for 16 years before moving to Aspen, and he was the Access Fund’s southern California regional coordinator from 1994 to 1998 and a board member from 1998 to 2002.”Tall, movie-star handsome, charismatic and outgoing, Reese always made a great first impression,” Michael Kennedy, a friend of Martin’s and the former publisher of Climbing magazine, wrote in an obituary for a climbing magazine.”He was Prince Charming on the inside as well, with few of the conceits the naturally gifted so often display.”The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Reese is his unstinting generosity, an effortless and sincere inclination to giving that made him a big-hearted contributor to the many communities with which he was involved,” continued Kennedy, of Carbondale.

On July 9, Martin was competing in a cross-country paragliding competition near Bridgeport in eastern Washington. No one witnessed the accident, but authorities surmise that the canopy of Martin’s paraglider collapsed, or partially collapsed, in bad air, apparently at a low altitude.He was killed on impact with the ground. His body was found a day later, July 10, after he failed to report back to the competition headquarters.”I think it was over quickly,” said Fox. “They say sometimes a corner of the wing [canopy] will fold, and given enough time you can straighten it out or throw your reserve chute. But I don’t think there was time in this case.”I think he just got a piece of bad air.”Fox, an accomplished climber herself, was on Mount Everest during the calamitous spring of 1996. So was Beidleman.”You have to accept the risks,” Fox said.”I’ve had people die in my life before, and I’m accepting of what happened,” she continued. “I’ve been involved in high-altitude mountaineering, backcountry skiing and all sorts of climbing, ice and rock, so I certainly know.”Mountain guide and paragliding pilot Dick Jackson, owner of Aspen Expeditions and Paragliding, was one of Martin’s mentors in flight.”As passionate as Reese was about climbing, he was more passionate about paragliding,” said Jackson. “And just like with climbing and all the rebolting, safety was something he was very cognizant of. With all the flying I did with him – we flew off [Mount] Elbert together, we flew off La Plata together – I was always impressed with his rationale and conservative judgment.

“And that’s why it’s more of a surprise to see someone who is not aggressive in their personality or their flying involved in something like this. You can have near-misses and laugh it off over a beer or two, and that’s that. That’s what usually happens. This may be a case of simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately,” Jackson continued.Since Martin’s death, friends Beidleman and Perkins established a new climbing route up Independence Pass in his honor. Located on the Olympic Wall, the route – “My Favorite Martin” – is about 15 feet left of “Fox Trot.”Then there’s the little crag that Fox and Martin had adopted as their own, cleaning it up and putting up routes, that a friend dubbed “Reese’s Pieces.”Said Beidleman: “It’s always sobering, always tragic, because so many times it’s the people who are out there doing it and loving it the most who end up in horrible situations like this.”Reese is a great spirit, a real good energy source around here in the climbing community,” Beidleman continued. “He’ll be sadly missed.”In addition to his wife, Martin is survived by his mother, Patricia Martin, of Mercer Island; his sister, Patreese Martin, of Seattle; and his brother, John Martin, of San Diego.In lieu of flowers, Fox has asked that donations be sent to the Reese Martin Memorial Fund, c/o The Access Fund, P.O. Box 17010, Boulder, CO 80308.Another service for Martin is planned for Aug. 14 on Mercer Island.