Charlotte Fox

Charlotte Fox, second from left, on the summit of Mt. Elbrus in Russia with the all-women’s team she put together for the last of her Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent. From left to right: Nancy Tyler, Fox, Diane Kearns, Becky Hall and Angela Hawse. The group raised close to $10,000 for the dZi Foundation in Ridgway. Shortly after this photo was taken, Fox skied off the summit. She had skinned all the way up. (Courtesy photo) 

 

Charlotte Fox, a highly accomplished alpinist and survivor of the deadly 1996 Everest expedition that was the subject of a bestselling book — Jon Krakauer’s 1997 “Into Thin Air” — passed away Thursday, May 24, at her Telluride home on Tomboy Road. She was 61.

Fox was discovered by friends who were staying with her during Mountainfilm weekend, according to San Miguel County Coroner Emil Sante. He said that “it is too early to speculate on (the) cause and manner of her death,” but that “foul play” is not suspected. The Crippin Funeral Home in Montrose is handling services. 

“You’ve gone so far up the mountain, you’ve come so far from home, and you spent six months preparing for this goal,” Fox told a reporter from PBS TV’s “Frontline” production, “Storm Over Everest,” about the day in May 1996, in which eight people — including guides Scott Fischer and Rob Hall — died in a blizzard on the mountain. “There’s no way you’re going to turn around unless things are really going south.” 

The comment epitomized Fox’s grit, determination and commitment to hard work. 

“On the one hand, she was very driven and determined to go high, but she was also very warm and generous and caring and engaged with her friends,” said Kim Reynolds, Fox’s friend of 32 years. 

“She was a force of nature. I really admired her tenacity and commitment and that she always had a goal,” friend and movie producer Connie Self (“Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia”) said. “She was just on her own path, and so well respected.” 

Krakauer called Fox “a beloved member of our strange tribe.”

“With Charlotte, you always know exactly what she thought,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Planet on Tuesday. “She wasn’t shy about expressing her displeasure if you did something that annoyed her, but she was always quick to forgive. I am just one of many who will miss her a lot.”

A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, who friends praised online for her “Southern charm” and fun-loving personality as well as steely work ethic, Fox moved to Colorado straight out of college and never left. 

“She climbed more 8,000-meter peaks than any other American woman,” Reynolds said (in addition to Everest, Fox summited Cho Oyo, Gasherbrum II, Manaslu and, just last year, Dhaulagiri). 

“She had the time to train, the money to do it and the drive to keep pursuing it,” said Ridgway guide Angela Hawse, who served on the Telluride Ski Patrol with Fox from around 2007, when Fox moved to Telluride from Aspen, where she had been a ski patroller for 24 years. “For someone who didn’t have to work for a living, she had probably the strongest work ethic of anyone I know,” Hawse said. “I’ve been to Everest and a lot of big peaks, and it’s a suffer-fest. You’re working hard; you’re cold; you’re hungry; you’re tired. It takes a tremendous amount of will and drive just to get up every day, let alone reach the summit. A lot of people pooh-pooh those who have enough money to be able to make these climbs, but more power to ‘em. And she was a giver … she donated to a bunch of causes.” 

Fox served on the boards of the American Alpine Club and the Access Fund. Along with Ridgway guide Danika Gilbert, she helped to empower young women in Pakistan and Afghanistan by teaching them to climb. 

“Team member Charlotte Fox provided outstanding monetary and time contributions, despite an injury that would have inhibited her participation this year,” Climbing magazine wrote about Fox’s role in a Pakistani women’s climbing camp. 

“She raised a bunch of money for the dZi Foundation,” said Jim Nowak, who co-founded the Ridgway nonprofit along with Reynolds. Fox skinned up Mount Elbrus — the highest mountain on the continent of Europe — and skied down the other side to raise funds for dZi in 2015. 

“I think we raised about $10,000 on that trip,” said Hawse, who accompanied Fox on that tour along with fellow climbers Becky Hall, Diane Kearns and Nancy Tyler.

Fox remained active in alpinism until the time of her death. “I talked with her about a trip to Makalu this spring,” said climber Brad Johnson, of Ridgway. 

Friends are still coming to terms with her loss. On Sunday, a group of Fox’s chums gathered for dinner to share stories and photos. 

“The thing that came up again and again was how kind and generous she was. People also remarked that you couldn’t be in the mountains with anyone better. If you were in the mountains with Charlotte, you knew you were going to be working hard together, and you were going to be safe. That’s the highest compliment in my world: In the mountains, you’re putting your life at risk,” Self said. 

The fact that Fox passed away suddenly and tragically in her own home “has been hard for some of us,” she continued. “We’re used to people dying in the mountains. I’ve lost count of how many friends I’ve lost this way. When someone dies of a long illness, it gives you time to process that; it’s even a blessing. It’s hard to find the blessing in this. It’s a huge reminder of how vulnerable we are; how risk is everywhere. You’ve just got to take stock and live your best, fullest life right now, every day.”

Reynolds had been staying with Fox for Mountainfilm, and found her lifeless at the base of a staircase on Thursday night. “I think her death was terribly tragic,” Reynolds said. “Finding her body was a very shocking and difficult thing.” Even so, “there was something profound about (the experience of) Fox’s death,” Reynolds said. “She gave me a gift when I arrived” late Thursday afternoon, Reynolds remembered. “She recently had a birthday, and she told me, ‘I’m happy to be 61.’” 

With that Fox was off to dinner, “and I didn’t see her again until I found her at 10:30 p.m. Those words ‘I’m happy’ may have gone right in and out of my ears if this hadn’t happened.” Reynolds, an expert mountaineer who has worked as a survival instructor in Antarctica, performed CPR on Fox as soon as she found her. 

“To be the last person with her, with my hands on her heart, and to remember those last words she said to me, I have to look at it as a privilege instead of a horror. I mean, she lives alone: The mailman didn’t find her, and she didn’t lay there for three or four days alone. I got to send her off, with love. People helped me understand that.”

The people she is referring to are the friends Reynolds visited with this weekend in the wake of Fox’s loss. 

“That’s the other profound part of the story,” Reynolds said. “The love, the healing, the conversations I had this weekend helped me make sense of a lot of this. Mountainfilm is always my favorite weekend of the year. It always changes me in some way. And this year it has changed me more than I can even imagine. I still haven’t processed how much yet.”