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Colo. climbing legend dies

Bill Forrest renowned for routes, equipment innovations

Bill Forrest, left, and Kris Walker put up the first ascent of the Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of numerous new routes Forrest pioneered in a lifetime of climbing. Forrest died Dec. 21 while snowshoeing at the age of 73. Enlarge photo

Denver Post file photo

Bill Forrest, left, and Kris Walker put up the first ascent of the Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of numerous new routes Forrest pioneered in a lifetime of climbing. Forrest died Dec. 21 while snowshoeing at the age of 73.

DENVER (AP) – Bill Forrest, a Colorado climbing legend who also made notable innovations in mountaineering equipment, died Dec. 21 while snowshoeing near Monarch Pass. He was 73.

A Salida resident who summited peaks and put up new climbing routes around the world, Forrest was remembered by friends as an indomitable spirit in the mountains who also was generous with advice to novices in his sport.

“He was the best climber that I ever teamed up with,” said Kris Walker, who in 1972 partnered with Forrest for the first ascent of the treacherous Painted Wall in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. The 2,500-foot climb on sheer granite took nine days. “No matter how difficult or improbable the obstacle, he never quit. That word was not part of his vocabulary.

“Bill was the only climbing partner I had that could stand by that achievement,” said Walker, who lives in Bow, Wash.

In an April 2012 interview with The Denver Post, Forrest said at times he was “nearly petrified” by his sport’s risks. But he loved the challenge of pioneering routes; his 1970 climb on Longs Peak’s east face was the first solo ascent of the Diamond.

“I owned one guidebook but didn’t like reading it,” he said. “I liked to scout my own routes.”

William Edwin Forrest was born in Glendale, Calif. His family moved to Aurora when he was 6 years old. By the time Forrest was 8, his father, a surveyor with the Bureau of Land Management, was taking him into the field. Forrest ran trap lines as a child and first summited Longs Peak at age 12 with his Boy Scouts troop.

He began climbing in the Army, honing his skills while stationed in Germany. After the military, he spent time as a graduate student in English at Arizona State University.

But the mountains called, and Forrest answered.

As founder of Forrest Mountaineering, he pioneered the original “Friends” active cam-nut protection system, a climbing aid. He also was behind the Mjolnir, the first rock-and-ice hammer with interchangeable picks. It is on display in the Smithsonian’s “Tools of Man” collection.

He held 17 U.S. patents.

After moving to Salida in 1998, he created state-of-the-art snowshoes along with the Cascade Designs/MSR team.

He was snowshoeing with his wife, Rosa, when he collapsed. Other hikers performed CPR on him, but he died at the scene.

Forrest, who topped all of Colorado’s 54 Fourteeners, stopped technical climbing in 1993 after an attempt to summit Mount Everest. During the trip, he came down with amoebic dysentery. It nearly killed him, and the aftereffects plagued him for years.

Forrest mentored a generation of climbers, offering tips about everything from technique to fine-tuning gear.

“I would always ask him to do a gear check before a backpack or Fourteener ascent,” said Michael Rosenberg, an attorney and veteran climber. “If he found something on which he thought I could improve, he would say so politely and often make a modification to my equipment in his shop.”

Asked last April what climbing gave him, Forrest was quick to answer.

“Just a lifetime of adventure, tremendous friends and a lot of self-knowledge,” he said. “Climbing, for me, is the finest sport in the world. It’s a beautiful thing.”

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at First Presbyterian Church in Salida.