Aspen man killed in climbing accident in Patagonia
ASPEN, Colorado ” An Aspen man who loved sharing his passion for the outdoors died Sunday in a climbing accident while helping lead an Outward Bound expedition on a peak in Argentina.
Travis Matthew Lizotte, 25, was killed and two students were injured while on an ascent to the summit of a glacier on Mount Tronador, according to Whitney Montgomery, executive director of the North Carolina Outward Bound School. The 11,411-foot mountain is in Nahuel Huapi National Park.
Lizotte was one of three instructors teaching 11 students in a special program in Patagonia. Three students were roped to each instructor, with some of the students sitting out the technical climb. A spokeswoman for the national park said that Lizotte and his three students plunged at least 66 feet into a crevasse when an ice bridge they were crossing collapsed, The Associated Press reported.
Montgomery said Monday afternoon that he couldn’t comment yet about details of the accident. An Outward Bound team planned to interview the two other instructors and other witnesses Monday evening, so Montgomery said he would know more information Tuesday.
“That is a route we have used many times before,” he said.
The students were all from the United States. One student suffered a fractured arm and was treated and released from a hospital; another student suffered extensive injuries but a “full recovery” was expected; and the third student managed to escape injury, Montgomery said. The rescue and recovery efforts were staged in Barilouche, an Aspen sister city.
The students were enrolled in a 72-day program that started in Patagonia. The program then was scheduled to return to the United States for classes in the Everglades and mountains of North Carolina. Lizotte was instructing just in the Patagonia phase. The class had been together for 25 days and was scheduled to be together for another week.
‘A real cool kid’
Lizotte was born and raised in Aspen and developed his passion for the outdoors at an early age, according to his parents, Jeff and Dianne Lizotte. Travis did typical things for an Aspen kid, with him and his sister, Kendra, building snow caves and ski jumps in the back yard of their Aspen home. But his commitment to the outdoors also went deeper than most kids ” like when he gave up his bedroom and slept in a tent on the family’s deck all winter.
“He was a real cool kid,” Jeff said.
Former Aspen Middle School teacher Willard Clapper said Travis’ “intense love of the out-of-doors” became evident on Outdoor Education trips. Other fifth- and sixth-graders came to Lizotte for help on outdoor endeavors because they recognized his talents. Travis was more than skilled at outdoor undertakings. He appreciated nature and found peace outside.
“He had a true sense of the natural world,” Clapper said.
Clapper said he would have expected Lizotte to be the next Greg Mortenson, co-author of “Three Cups of Tea,” which recounts Mortenson’s efforts to establish schools in remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan after a failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993. Mortenson believes in building peace through education, not bombs. In a similar fashion, Lizotte not only wanted to experience life in the outdoors ” he wanted to share his passion with others, Clapper said.
Nurturing the perfect career
Lizotte graduated from Aspen High School in 2002 and attended the University of Puget Sound, where he started honing his outdoor leadership skills by serving as an instructor in a program centered on outdoor activities. He converted his passion into a career as an instructor with Outward Bound in Oregon after college.
Even back in his high school days, preparation was Travis’ forte, Jeff said. “The younger guys always clung to him because he was a leader,” he said.
Montgomery said Lizotte had spent 300 days in wilderness with students since joining Outward Bound in 2006. He was trained in avalanche II and swift water rescues. He was a wilderness emergency medical technician and certified in wilderness CPR. He also earned special certification as a wilderness first responder.
Sarah Johnson, a Roaring Fork Valley resident who befriended Lizotte in 2007, said he had a special knack to be an effective teacher. Although he had the skills to do virtually anything he wanted in skiing, kayaking, cycling and climbing, he also had the patience, communication skills and demeanor necessary to be an effective teacher.
Some of her fondest memories of Lizotte will be “how good he makes people feel about themselves. He was able to help people see the good in themselves.”
Connected to Aspen
Lizotte typically worked as an Outward Bound instructor from March through late fall, then returned to Aspen for winters. “He would come back here and reconnect with his friends,” Jeff said.
He looked the part of an outdoorsman. Travis grew to 6 feet, 3 inches tall and had a mane of hair that stuck up another 4 inches, along with a bushy beard.
Travis would lead “a large posse” of old friends and new acquaintances on moonlight skinning tours up Buttermilk. He loved ski touring in the backcountry hut system and skiing at Aspen Highlands. And even while on his winter break, he gave back to the environment.
Johnson said she met Lizotte in winter 2006-07 when she worked at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. He regularly came to volunteer his time. No job was too small. The staff and people that gravitated to ACES were his kind of people.
“He liked doing low-key, down-to-earth stuff,” Johnson said. “He collected friends, not things.”
More than 80 people had joined a Facebook entry “In the Memory of Travis Lizotte” by midafternoon Monday. They shared stories of their fallen friend.
ACES educator Ellen Burns and other staff members there were among those mourning Monday. She said she will remember Lizotte for “his passion for life and compassion he showed toward others.”