Recalling Henry Gholz, Climber Who Died at Rocky Mountain National Park

In a year that’s been filled with tragic climbing deaths in Colorado, the latest strikes close to home. Henry Gholz, a 66-year-old from Fort Collins who recently retired from an impressive position with the National Science Foundation, died on Saturday, September 30, in a fall from the Batman and Robin route up Batman Pinnacle at Rocky Mountain National Park.

RMNP was busy on the 30th, since it was a free day for visitors. According to park spokesperson Kyle Patterson, a frequent source in this space (see our 2016 post “Parking Lot Rage, Human Waste & Other Issues at Rocky Mountain National Park“), Gholz had been involved in a technical climb when he fell approximately fifty feet. Bystanders and rangers alike attempted to revive him afterward, but they were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Batman Pinnacle, which was among the features closed for a time following the accident, is located in the Lumpy Ridge at RMNP, and describes it as “a nice crag with a nice variety of climbing on it. The main face gets mid-day sun all year and sun from at least mid-morning to late day for the warmer months, as it primarily faces South. While the crag is somewhat secluded and guarded by a less-than-discrete trail with many false branches and turns, it still gets heavy traffic for one route: Batman and Robin.”

The Batman and Robin route is “a great moderate climb to an exciting summit,” the site explains. “It is the first lead for many Lumpy climbers.”

Henry Gholz, in a photo accompanying his National Science Foundation bio.

Henry Gholz, in a photo accompanying his National Science Foundation bio.

Gholz was hardly a novice; his National Science Foundation bio, which dates back to 2013, lists rock climbing as one of his hobbies.

As for his main gig, he served as an Ecosystem Science Cluster program officer for the NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology.

He noted on his page that he graduated from Oregon State University in 1979 with a major in forest science and minors in botany and soil science, adding,” I came to NSF after a 22-year academic career in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida, where I worked with grad students and colleagues on carbon, energy, water and nutrient cycling interactions in both managed and natural forests of the southeastern U.S. and the tropics. I previously served as an advisor to the US Agency for International Development (as a AAAS Fellow) and Program Manager for USDA.”

Over the course of his career, Gholz left an impression on many of his students and colleagues, as was clear from the many Facebook tributes that popped up after news of his passing broke.

This photo/illustration shows the so-called Batman and Robin route up the Batman Pinnacle.

This photo/illustration shows the so-called Batman and Robin route up the Batman Pinnacle.

Wrote one Facebooker: “A great scientist, mentor, friend — and the best damn NSF Program manager you could imagine. He contributed to US ecological science in so many ways. Damn that hurts. My deep and heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Here’s a sampling of other remembrances:

I learned a lot from Henry, and couldn’t have had a better first NSF award officer. I am really saddened and shocked by this news.

The review panels I did for Henry were huge learning experiences. What a wonderfully impactful life. It’s hard to fathom it ending so suddenly….

So deeply sorry to learn of this. Henry was indeed a great guy and important part of our community. Heartbreaking news. Condolences

So deeply sad about hearing this news. He’s been a influence on me back since the days I was a grad student and he was a professor at U. Florida.

Services for Gholz are pending.

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