Friends remember Nathan Roberts, a well-known local climber, as a kind, generous soul with a thirst for adventure.
Roberts died on Oct. 15 in a climbing accident in Cheakamus Canyon, a popular sport climbing area north of Squamish.
The BC Coroners Service confirmed they received a report for a death at that time and place. However, the coroners declined to provide any additional information, saying that they were investigating the matter.
Roberts was known as an accomplished athlete who had recently posted public videos of himself ascending challenging routes rope-free.
He free-soloed Jacob’s Ladder, a 5.12b, an expert-level route in the Smoke Bluffs.
He also free-soloed a climb commonly known as Rug Munchers, a 5.11d sport route, another highly-sought feather in the cap for many sport climbers.
Athletes who can climb 5.12 and above are considered exceptional.
Roberts fit that definition.
According to the records he logged on his sendage.com profile, he regularly climbed routes of that difficulty or more.
However, those closest to him remember Roberts for more than just his athletic accomplishments.
In a written statement sent to The Squamish Chief, Roberts’ partner, Brianna Geoghegan, remembered him as a bright light.
“Nathan made you see the world differently,” wrote Geoghegan. “He was filled with youthful sunshine and contagious smiles. Anything you did with him could be turned into an adventure. Nathan was a dreamer; he talked about big outrageous plans for our future together and I would laugh, but somewhere deep down, I really did believe we would get there together.”
She recalled that she and Roberts were inseparable from the moment they met. Early in their relationship, they moved into a bus, worked and climbed together.
“I remember people asking us how we could spend so much time together and never get tired of each other; we would laugh because that just wasn’t possible. And to this day, 7.5 years later, it still isn’t possible,” Geoghegan said.
She said her partner was a genuine, honest person who never hid how he felt.
“When he smiled at you and you saw that sparkle reach his eyes, you knew he meant it,” said Geoghegan. “When he laughed at your jokes, you knew he meant it. And when he told you he loved you, you knew he meant it. Nathan was somebody who could make you believe in magic.”
Roberts’ brother, Caleb, said that he spent most of his life looking up to his elder sibling.
He remembered him as someone determined to find a solution to any challenge.
“Nathan always had a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile on his face,” wrote Caleb to The Squamish Chief. “And, for him, the moon wasn’t far enough away for his dreams.”
Roberts was also determined to share his adventures with his friends and family, no matter the obstacle.
“You don’t know how to climb outside? Here’s how you hand jam against the fridge. (The day before leading me up the Chief.),” wrote Caleb. “Want to go to Revelstoke and snowboard for a week? We’ll sleep in the Jetta. Have a dream to go to the Cirque of the Unclimbables? Talk to Parks Canada about funding a film shoot. (That one hadn’t happened yet.)”
A friend, Alex Woodroff, commonly known as Alex Grace, said Roberts was exciting to be around.
Woodroff remembered her friend as a person who introduced her to many of his passions, which broadened her world.
“He helped me learn to rock climb, snowboard, and skateboard,” she said. “He was a patient, and thoughtful teacher — the type who made you feel like you were capable of doing anything you were brave enough to try. Nathan empowered his friends and those around him to have more fun, try new things, and face their fears. Those who knew and loved Nathan will carry these parts of him for the rest of our lives.”
Next level climber
On the athletic front, Ben Webster, Roberts’ regular climbing partner, said that his friend was having the best season of his life. Roberts had recently reorganized his schedule to cut down on his work in the film industry and concentrate more on his interest.
The schedule change allowed the athlete to unlock a new level of skill in his sport.
Webster said that some of his friend’s proudest achievements included sending The Contrarian, a 5.12c, in one day. Roberts also sent Mr. Negative, his first 5.12d.
Both climbers also celebrated making their 50th 5.12 ascent this summer.
“We kind of timed it that way so we could share that experience,” recalled Webster. “This summer was over the top for him in terms of just his climbing finally taking off.”
That being said, Webster said Roberts would drop everything immediately to take care of whatever Geoghegan needed. That level of dedication was rare, he said.
Back at the start
Delving further into Roberts’ past, Eric Chan, commonly known as Eric Tran, recalled that he met Roberts when the climber first began showing up in Squamish.
Chan met him in 2011 through a climbing forum. At the time, Roberts had just started learning how to trad climb.
Chan said he helped show Roberts the ropes, and the climber turned out to be an exceptionally quick study.
“I remember one day, we went climbing, and we went to The Zip,” said Chan. “And he’s like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna climb it.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I don’t think you can do it.’ So he went up and did it. And he onsighted The Zip that day.”
An onsight occurs when an athlete cleanly climbs a route in one go without ever having seen it before.
It was a remarkable jump in ability. The Zip is rated 5.10a and Roberts was leading 5.8 at that time — two grades of difficulty below that route.
By Chan’s account, Roberts progressed even further that season, sending a 5.11 route called Kangaroo Corner, another massive jump in difficulty. That same year, in 2011, Chan said Roberts started free soloing, and managed to complete a rope-free ascent of the Stawamus Chief’s most popular moderate top-out — Butt Lite, which rates at 5.9.
Joseph Wong is another climber who knew Roberts during his early days in Squamish.
He said Roberts was generous in sharing his knowledge with others and was willing to climb with anyone — beginner to advanced. Some of Wong’s favourite memories of Roberts were out on the crag.
“You know, we’re free soloing the Smoke Bluffs together, and those are the good times … his mind is an iron mind,” he remembered.
But the toughness required to stay focused during those challenging ascents did not take away from Roberts’ amicable nature.
Wong said he was the kind of person who went out of his way to say hi whenever he recognized you at the crag or gym.
“Every time we talk to him, you know, he’s always got a big smile,” he said.
A celebration of life for Roberts will be held on Saturday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m. at The Ledge Cafe at 38055 Cleveland Ave. Rather than flowers, loved ones ask folks to consider donating to Squamish SAR or the Squamish Access Society.
**Please note that this story was updated after it was first posted in order to include donation suggestions in lieu of flowers.