Aspen remembers ‘humble’ adventurer
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” In the days after Roaring Fork Valley native Lathrop Strang fell to his death on Mount Sopris, members of his skiing party offered details of the tragic accident, while others fondly remembered their lost colleague and friend.
Known as both a strong, aggressive outdoorsman and a genuine, compassionate friend, Strang left a strong impression in both life and death. He pushed the envelope in the outdoors, friends said, skiing steep lines and paddling big rapids, but his defining characteristics were more personal: zest for life, compassion, sincerity and intelligence, friends said.
He was raised on his parents’ cattle ranch in Missouri Heights and continued to live in a cabin there in recent years, pursuing an architectural career while also handling daily ranch chores. The property happens to boast a commanding view of Mount Sopris, which Strang claimed to have skied every spring since 1984.
In a letter to local media, Kirsten and Penn Newhard, who climbed the 12,953-foot peak with Strang on Friday, outlined exactly what happened, saying “accuracy in such situations is important.”
The letter explained that five people left early Friday morning to climb Sopris and ski down: the Newhards, Fletcher Yaw, Anda Smalls and Strang. Penn Newhard turned around before reaching the summit because of work obligations, the letter said. The four, who ended up reaching the summit around 10 a.m., split into two groups for the descent: Kirsten Newhard and Smalls chose an easier descent line, essentially following the winter ascent route above Thomas Lakes.
Strang and Yaw, however, opted to ski the steeper Laundry Chute directly beneath Sopris’ east summit (the mountain has two peaks of equal height). According to the letter, Strang skied before Yaw and fell near the top of the chute. Because of difficult conditions, Yaw had to take a circuitous route to reach Strang, whom he eventually found “conscious but unresponsive.”
Yaw tried to make Strang comfortable and gave him clothes before leaving to get help. Newhard and Smalls waited for their colleagues at the trailhead, as the four had agreed to do, but called the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office at 3:21 p.m. when Yaw and Strang were several hours late.
By the time help arrived, however, Strang had died on the mountain from injuries suffered in the fall.
On Saturday, grieving friends struggled for words to describe the sudden loss of a gifted 46-year-old who seemed much younger, a ranch kid with uncommon sophistication and smarts.
Longtime friend Erik Hendrix of Basalt, who met Strang in architecture school at the University of Colorado, Denver, said “his appearance belied his intelligence. He was a rancher and kind of looked the part. He was sort of a rough, tough-as-nails kind of guy, just doing his thing. But it turned out he was sort of the star student in our class. There was incredible depth and thought behind his work.”
Hendrix and Strang were both architectural buddies and climbing buddies; the two climbed Ama Dablam in Nepal together, and Strang was the best man at Hendrix’s wedding. Hendrix fought back tears Saturday while describing his friend, but kept coming back to Strang’s personal humility and sincerity.
“He wasn’t about doing things for what other people would think,” Hendrix said. “He was about talking about personal relationships, his feelings, his past loves, his present loves.”
Strang worked for local architect Harry Teague before going out on his own, but Teague remembers Strang fondly for both a “no-nonsense, practical approach to building and architecture” and for being “just a sweet guy.”
“He was super strong, one of the elite, top skiers in the Valley, always doing things that just stunned the rest of us mere mortals,” Teague said. “At the same time, he was not macho. He was just the most genuine, thoughtful, compassionate guy. That’s part of the tragedy.”
Longtime friend Jim Cardamone served with Strang on the Aspen Valley Land Trust board of directors ” Lathrop was instrumental in the preservation of a large portion of the Strang Ranch as open space ” and said Strang “would come into these board meetings in a T-shirt and blue jeans and hay stuck in his hair from the ranch, and then he’d be the strongest contributor in the meeting.”
Cardamone also recalled many backcountry skiing expeditions with Strang, who “would always go first, ski the steeper lines ” he never held back.
“There are a lot of cliches when people die, especially prematurely, but Lathrop was full-tilt, 100 percent, all the time,” Cardamone said. “It was never 80 percent with him. At the same time, he was very humble, just a pleasant guy to be with.”
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Are we seeing more bears because there are more bears on the valley floor, or because we’re all spending more time at home? It could be a bit of both.