|By Buff Johnson
Jul 7, 2011
The Compassionate Lion - by Mark Nelson
Craig Luebben lived the enormous smile of the Cheshire cat and imposed a shadow seemingly endless in shaggy looking hair. Laughing children instantly became tossed upon his broad Sherman tank shoulders that could power through anything placed in his path. He embodied a big, strong, and handsome family man exceptionally talented in technical mountain climbing; a freely expressed force of nature. I admired his energy, always positive, though he told me: “Making a living as a climbing guide sure doesn’t pay the bills all that well.” The emotional difficulty to perform something loved and at high proficiency must have been a point of family contention. Perhaps exasperation mounted when money lacked and selfish absence from home escalated, traveling regularly, but he continually wished to spend more time with family.
Highly dedicated to accomplishment, a hero commands admiring respect simply by presence. They bravely look to others without expectation of reward, passed judgment, attention for their deeds, or bestowment of political medal though may become justly accolade. A hero humbly forgoes themselves for the betterment of others but does not needlessly risk or intentionally martyr, though, in defense or by chance, may sacrifice ultimately.
Comparable to a high level of tension shared between mates, climbing encompassed a life’s pursuit; a journey of physical attentiveness, passionate fortitude, and primordial animalistic survival. A lioness in her own right, his wife also climbed and I’m sure they had their moments as a couple ranging from utter frustration to ecstatic jubilation and accomplishment that roared the high peaks. This relationship correlated uniquely along society as their journey together meant literally holding each other's life itself. I wonder if the heroism described here belongs just as much with his family, a wife, an accomplished Ph.D. as a chemist, and with his young daughter playing on a sandy beach and proudly standing in between his oak tree legs, peering through, having that same feline smile with squirrelly hair. Craig devoted his passion to them.
He once told me that he’d like to have people see science with an open mind. Just because something has been done a certain way for so many years, doesn’t necessarily mean the only way, or even the best way, to effort a solution. He spent many hours going over safety rigging and rescue methods with climbers to show methodical ways to solve a problem. His imagination to take ropes and climbing equipment and create rigging systems displayed like refined oil-canvassed paintings. An inventor conceptually inspired, he carried creativity that seemed decades ahead of his time. He featured in magazines and wrote proficiency books about science applied to climbing. One scientific idea turned out to be a pretty sensational piece of climbing equipment, a cylindrical device called a Big Bro capable of holding directional energy from a falling climber. This concept offered an ingenious new type of anchor point on a vertical cliff wall when placed in wide cracks unsuitable otherwise.
Educational importance fulfilled life’s pursuit. He aspired in engineering, a mechanical focus; from the looks of his hair probably seemed as if he one day undertook an electrical project disastrously and then decided that mechanical may suit his needs a little bit better. More than exceptional intellect in science, Craig reached out to others. I had heard he helped one such climber by offering payment for tuition and assistance toward earning a degree. Times in life played as an icy river torrent that tossed attainment of an important goal as through boulders on the rapids which needed a helping hand from the shore that Craig offered.
Craig instantly became a likeable person and could drink beer with the best of anyone. We had this wonderful brewery in Golden, Colorado with a notable libation called Golden City Red tasted as if biting into a delicious juicy red apple from the Pacific Northwest. While sitting at the many picnicked tabled beer benches, if any opinion focused toward me from those helped in the cliff sides, I made it quickly evident that without acknowledging his teaching influence, that I felt ill worth any appreciation. Those conversations certainly seem so long ago after I have participated in countless emergency situations, difficult rescues, and dead body recoveries that I almost doubt they ever happened. Honestly, he probably possessed little opinion of me, and quite possibly a family member or close friend could have justifiably called me out to disrespect. Such beloved memory should be revered, but not change Craig’s demeanor as a hero in the mountains with his well mannered teaching of science applied to life and death situations.
Though I once believed his indestructibility, sadly, Craig succumbed to a climbing accident in passage of his life’s purpose. A testament to this pursuit, the American Mountaineering Center held a wake celebrating his life which occupied full capacity, not just of climbers, but of family and many other friends and colleagues; hundreds of well wishers, possibly thousands more counting information technologies.
Craig taught that the mountains will never be safe or fair to anyone, and they punish unmercifully. A nation leading mountain guide, he donated service time and instructional books to mountain rescue as a fundraising benefit to help others that had a bad day in the mountains. His conduct exemplified learned proficiency for me to become a rescue climber and successfully weigh the meaning of acceptable risk in the mountains. Notwithstanding such a high price of participation, Craig indirectly served my effort that countless families reunite with loved ones on more than a few joyous occasions, or were brought closure should those have passed on. Though I must admit to envy Craig’s marked climbing talent, due credit to his energetic character saved many lives in spirit through me by assisting my rescue team’s mission: That Others May Live. He exemplified heroism more through compassion as an accomplished man that held family to a high regard. I aspire to his example in life that offered laughing children a shouldered ride.