This week we have been reflecting on our friend Mark Hesse, longtime climber, conservationist, volunteer, and wilderness educator, who died from unknown causes in a climbing gym in Boulder last month. And we wanted to take a moment to honor him.
Mark dedicated his life to outdoor education and land stewardship. If you’ve ever walked up a trail or a set of stone steps at a climbing area in Utah or Colorado, chances are you have witnessed Mark’s legacy firsthand. Mark had been working on a climbing area stewardship manual for the Access Fund and was actively involved in launching a Front Range trail crew with the Boulder Climbing Community at the time of his passing.
After a long and successful career with Outward Bound, Mark created the American Mountain Foundation and ran it from 1989 to 1998. That organization morphed into the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which he ran until 2009. Both nonprofits were leaders in the stewardship of climbing areas, building extensive trail networks in Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Utah; Shelf Road, Colorado; and on Colorado 14ers and other high peaks. In 2012, Mark founded Wildscapes Planning and Design, a company focused on trail building and restoration. Mark was the recipient of many awards, including the American Alpine Club’s David Brower Conservation Award in 1995. In 2005 and 2007, he received the Bob Marshall Award for Individual Champion of Wilderness Stewardship presented by the US Forest Service. He climbed and traveled all over the world and made many first ascents on several continents. In 1976, Mark made the first ascent of the southeast face of Mt. Asgard on Baffin Island. In 1982, he soloed the south face of Denali via the Scott-Haston Route. In 1986, he did the alpinestyle first ascent of the northeast buttress of Kangtega (22,241 feet) in Nepal. As recently as 2006, Mark completed a new route on a 20,000-foot peak in Peru.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Mark was still an active climber and trail builder. Even after decades of rugged trail labor, he still had a youthful enthusiasm for the work, and was somewhat notorious for quickly picking all the choice rocks at a worksite for himself. He was incredibly generous with his time and expertise, and truly devoted himself to making the places he loved better for everyone to enjoy.
Mark was a devoted husband and father and is survived by his wife and two grown daughters. All of us here at the Access Fund feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mark. He will be dearly missed.
~ Steve Matous Executive Director, Outward Bound USA & Former Executive Director, Access Fund
~ Brady Robinson Executive Director, Access Fund