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A letter to Chip Chace (1958-2018): "Excuse Me While I Liquid Sky"

Posted on: November 19, 2018


[Chip Chace was one of the most well-rounded climbers of his generation and was known to keep many of his exploits quietly to himself. He was also a highly respected practitioner of Chinese medicine. Born on September 17, 1958, he died of pancreatic cancer on November 3 at age 60. A memorial service was held November 17 in Boulder, Colorado. He is survived by his wife and climbing partner of 30 years, Monika. Mike Schlauch wrote the following letter in remembrance of his friend.—Ed.]

Chip Chace on Invisible Wall (IV 5.12a, 500'), Longs Peak. [Photo] Roger BriggsChip Chace on Invisible Wall (IV 5.12a, 500'), Longs Peak. [Photo] Roger Briggs

Chip,

I knew of you years before we met via guidebook descriptions ranging from Harlin's North American guide to Bjornstad's guide to the desert. Your beautiful desert routes included Fine Jade, Pale Fire, Sacred Space, Ziji, and of course Liquid Sky on North Six Shooter in Indian Creek, Utah.

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In some tangential way, you were a climbing mentor to me before I even met you. The lines of your routes, route names and descriptions in the guidebook made this connection for me that I felt drawn to. You were an unintentional guide, something that I'm sure many others would say about their connections to you. Thank you.

In the mid '90s while I was living in Telluride I met "Platinum" Rob Miller. We planned our first desert trip while bouldering in the afternoon sun at Society Turn and were surprised and excited that we both wanted to climb Liquid Sky. Finally, a partner for Liquid Sky! I looked up at it (or more accurately "into it"), and I was simultaneously scared and drawn to it. I had to climb it.

Coincidentally, when we rolled into the Superbowl Campground that next weekend, Craig Luebben and Topher Donahue were there. They had attempted Liquid Sky the day before and exclaimed that they couldn't fit into the squeeze chimney that tunneled through the massive roof at the top. I remember thinking, those guys are really fuckin' good climbers and don't exactly look "big," but Rob and I are definitely more skinny so maybe we actually have a shot at this....

With a brand new 5-inch cam that we borrowed from a friend, Rob launched up into the offwidth roof crack, and he soon realized that the No. 5 wasn't going to help at all. He squirmed, out of sight, for a long friggin' time. At one point, he got his head stuck in the wrong position, had a bit of a melt down, and I think he actually cried. Finally, he "birthed" upside down on his back from the top of offwidth and placed the big cam. When I followed it, I recall being in a full "superman" position in the roof, perpendicular to the tower, looking straight down thru the lip of the overhang to the ground. I almost puked.

Liquid Sky is still one of the most memorable routes I've ever done. I have you and Jeff Achey to thank for the inspiration.

Chip Chace. [Photo] Monika Chace/StillwaterHealthBoulder.comChip Chace. [Photo] Monika Chace/StillwaterHealthBoulder.com

When I moved back to Boulder in 1996, I reached out to you at the clinic to treat some tendonitis. Of course, we struck up a conversation about Liquid Sky and in your mind that probably gave me some sort of pedigree to warrant a climbing plan together. We made plans to climb the Diamond on Longs Peak (14,255') and you chose The Joker (V 5.12c, 6 pitches). The Joker had recently been freed by Roger and Pat Adams. It was and probably still is out of my pay grade, but I was willing to give it a shot and watch you have at it. Fortunately for me, The Joker was wet that morning and we settled on Ariana (V- 5.12a, 6 pitches).

On the approach in the dark, I remember talking about how it would be nice to have headphones for the long walk. I said something about Pink Floyd; you said you would prefer Wagner. [Chace posted a "Soundtrack to My Life & Final Passage" on his website that can be found here.—Ed.]

We soloed up the North Chimney to reach the start of the route at 13,000 feet. I had probably never soloed it before. At the top section right before Broadway Ledge, I was probably looking a little nervous on the wet rock and with a heavy pack on; I definitely was. You kindly offered to throw the rope down to me, which I accepted. Thank you.

As I paid out rope on the crux pitch, I thought I would give you a little verbal encouragement just as I would to any of my other climbing partners. "C'mon Chip, you got this!" I called up to you. Then it happened. You looked down at me, put your finger up to your lips, and gave me a "shush" gesture. Your silencing simultaneously gave me a feeling of being really stupid and really inspired at the same time. What was I thinking!? Why would Chip Chace need verbal encouragement from me on a 12a finger crack? You were in your element. No verbal encouragement needed. You floated through the crux. I scratched my way up it.

You could have said nothing, thinking to yourself, "I wish this kid would shut up. Doesn't he know that I have inner strength that serves me beyond what 'normal' encouragement can provide?" But I'm glad you turned around and gestured toward me. You made me aware that there is a way to climb...and a way not to. Climb quietly with confidence. I still aspire to look inward for strength and motivation, instead of outward for other methods that have become the norm, those of Facebook, Instagram...shit like that.

Thank you for that day on the Diamond. And thank you for the beautiful Lower East Face routes that you established with Roger—Endless Summer, Diagonal Super Direct and Invisible Wall.

Chace on the Original Route, Rainbow Wall (V 5.12a, 14 pitches), Red Rock, Nevada. [Photo] Roger BriggsChace on the Original Route, Rainbow Wall (V 5.12a, 14 pitches), Red Rock, Nevada. [Photo] Roger Briggs

How else could someone rope-solo at the levels you did if you had to rely on someone else to get you motivated? Your rope-solo trips are legendary. I hope they stay as discreet and personal as they were to you on the day you climbed them.

In the late '90s we also worked together on the Eldorado Fixed Hardware Review Committee along with Steve Levin, Roger Briggs, Beth Bennett, Malcolm Daly and Chris Archer. I learned to listen to my Eldorado heroes before speaking up. I learned about how important it is to preserve climbing tradition. Decades later I still sit on the Action Committee for Eldorado board, carrying on and trying to share that wisdom, especially with the younger climbers as I introduce them to Eldo.

I learned not to just "take" from our climbing areas, but to also give back. Get involved in my local climbing community. Thank you for the guidance.

More recently, we would still run into each other and I was always warmed by your gracious attitude and sincere interest in what I'd been up to. A few months ago I shared a story of climbing Half Dome in Yosemite this summer and you asked what the bolt-ladder pitch was like after the huge flake fell off. You said you had rope soloed the route a week or two before the rockfall incident and had bivied (or more likely, just chilled out) on the ledge that fell off with the flake. That image of you on Half Dome, on a ledge that no longer exists, will stick with me.

When I first heard of your illness, I like many others was immediately shocked. Naomi Guy (my wife) summed it up well—how can someone who has saved so many people now become the patient himself? Who is going to help Chip Chace?

Then I remembered that day on the Diamond in 1997 when you looked down at me, gestured for me to be quiet, and I knew that you would find your own way to handle this—just as you always did.

Take care Chip. Thank you for the guidance.

Mike Schlauch
Boulder, Colorado

[An obituary by Chace's longtime friend Jamie Logan can be found here, and another article by Chris Weidner can be found here.—Ed.]

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