Former Aspen climber Charlotte Fox, survivor of Mount Everest disaster, dies in home accident, friends say
Charlotte Fox survived a harrowing incident on Mount Everest in 1996 and became the first American woman to climb three 8,000-meter peaks, so irony wasn’t lost on her friends when the longtime Aspenite died Thursday from an apparent accident on the steep steps of her house in Telluride.
Alison Osius, executive editor of Rock and Ice magazine and a friend of Fox’s, wrote in an online piece Tuesday that house guests found Fox on the floor of her home when they arrived Thursday night. She apparently slipped on the hardwood stairs in her four-story house, fell and suffered fatal injuries. She was 61.
“Charlotte had survived so much up high, it was stunning and profoundly sad that she died that evening of May 24 in a household accident,” Osius wrote on RockandIce.com.
Fox was a fixture in the Aspen climbing and skiing scene from the early 1980s until she moved to Telluride in 2007. She worked as a ski patroller at Snowmass from 1982 through the 2006-07 season, according to Aspen Skiing Co. She also worked on the Telluride ski patrol but was retired.
San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante said Tuesday he is waiting for results of a toxicology report and hasn’t yet released the cause and manner of death.
“We have no reason to believe that it was suspicious at all,” he said.
A representative of the funeral home serving Telluride said Tuesday that family members were arriving this week and arrangements for a memorial service or services were yet to be made.
Even though Fox left the Roaring Fork Valley more than a decade ago, she still has a lot of friends from her days here.
“I just looked up to her,” Andrea Cutter, a longtime friend and climbing partner, said Tuesday. “She was a mentor to me, for sure.”
Among the lessons Cutter learned from Fox was to live life uninhibited.
“She had a go-for-it attitude,” Cutter said. “With climbing there’s a sense of fear that would hold people back. I would see her get scared but she would work through it.”
When word spread among Fox’s friends that she died from an apparent household accident, there was a sense of disbelief, according to Cutter.
“It made me think, ‘Jeez, it’s just so wrong,’” she said.
Fox will forever have a place in climbing lore as a member of a party that ran into disaster on Mount Everest in May 1996. She and then-boyfriend Tim Madsen were in an expedition being guided by Scott Fischer. Fox and Madsen summited but a number of calamities affected the group’s descent. They were eventually part of an exhausted group that huddled in a blizzard, desperate to find their camp.
Everybody’s oxygen had run out and the wind chill exceeded 100 degrees below zero, according to Jon Krakauer’s best-selling book about the incident, “Into Thin Air.”
Fox is quoted as saying the cold had just about finished her off by the time they huddled.
“The cold was so painful, I didn’t think I could endure it anymore,” Fox said in the book. “I just curled up in a ball and hoped death would come quickly.”
Aspen’s Neal Beidleman was one of the guides on the mountain at the time and he attempted to get Fox and her group to safety. She was among four clients who were incapacitated. Madsen volunteered to look after them while Beidleman and others went to summon help in what was a do-or-die situation.
Eight climbers died on the mountain that day.
Osius wrote in her online Rock and Ice piece that Fox didn’t talk much, even with her friends, about the Everest experience.
Beidleman said he wouldn’t necessarily say the experience brought them closer, but he definitely knew her better from the incident. He said he had a “healthy respect” for her and believed she held him in the same regard.
“The Everest thing was very, very difficult for everybody,” he said Tuesday, “but Charlotte handled it with poise and grace.”
Beidleman knew Fox before the expedition on Mount Everest. Their paths crossed while climbing on Independence Pass east of Aspen.
“Eventually everybody’s paths crossed during that kind of thing,” he said. “She’s been a fixture in the climbing community.”
Fox was a native of Greensboro, North Carolina. She could “turn on the Southern charm” yet could also live the climber’s life out of a van, according to Beidleman.
“Charlotte could be quite fiery,” he said. “That’s part of being a good climber.”
Fox went on to accomplish several climbing feats, usually hiring guides to tackle the highest peaks. Osius wrote that Fox made her final Seven Summits ascent of Mount Elbrus in 2014.
Her bio on EverestHistory.com said she climbed Cho Oyu and was the first American woman to reach the summit of Gasherbrum II. In South America she climbed Aconcagua, Hauscaran and Chopicalqui, along with several 18,000-foot peaks throughout Peru, her bio said. “She has climbed Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, and made many alpine ice routes in the Canadian Rockies. In America she has climbed the West Rib on Denali, Mt. Rainer and all of Colorado’s 14ers.”
Fox served as a board member on the American Alpine Club and on the Access Fund, which strives to preserve access to climbing areas.
Fox was married to Reese Martin, who was killed in 2004 in an accident during a paragliding competition in Washington.
Beidleman said Fox was “accomplished but humble.”
Her apparent manner of death was “shocking,” he said.
“It’s not one I ever would have thought of.”
Amy Denicke was a friend and climbing and skiing partner with Fox for 18 years and served as her personal trainer for a while. She said Fox had the unusual characteristic of getting stronger as she climbed higher in altitude.
“She was almost like a freak of nature,” she said.
Fox was fun to hang with because she was always up for adventure and trying new approaches, Denicke said, but she also will remember her friend for traits outside of climbing and skiing.
“Charlotte had this huge belly laugh,” she said. “You could always hear her laughing.”
Fox was known for her generosity to her friends, for always remembering birthdays and for sending thank-you notes, according to Cutter and Denicke.
“I felt like she was family,” Denicke said.
They were so close that Fox gave her an angel pin she had on the pack she used on Mount Everest. Fox told her it saved her life and she gave it to Denicke to provide safety and good fortune when undertaking an eco-challenge.
Fox also gave her a bracelet with the saying: “Leap and the net will open.”
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Theatre Aspen’s holiday cabaret is back this year with six performances of pop, holiday and Broadway tunes all hosted at the Hotel Jerome from Dec. 18-23, according to an announcement released Friday. Five of those performances will combine an hour-long show with a chef’s dinner; one aprés-ski iteration will offer a show with small bites and drinks.