It was on the mountains where friends said Pueblo climber Steve Gladbach felt the strongest connection to nature.
“He always said the mountains were his church, where he felt closest to God and spiritual,” said Bill McAuliffe, a longtime friend and colleague. “He loved the mountains. He loved climbing them and he especially loved helping others climb.”
It was bittersweet that Gladbach — a legend in the Colorado mountaineering community — would lose his life on the mountains he so loved, McAuliffe said.
Gladbach’s body was found Monday on Thunder Pyramid Peak of the Maroon Bells, less than 24 hours after he was reported missing by other members of the group he had been climbing with on Sunday.
Gladbach, 52, died as result of head trauma after he fell while descending the mountain.
Members of the Colorado mountain climbing community were grieving the loss of Gladbach, who had more than 30 years of mountain climbing experience and was one of only four people to have climbed all 14,000-foot peaks during the winter.
McAuliffe worked with Gladbach at Pueblo City Schools (D60) Health Academy at Centennial High School, where Gladbach taught math.
“We worked together, but more then that, he was my best friend,” said McAuliffe. “We climbed mountains together, we trained for marathons and we had family outings together.”
McAuliffe said Gladbach, the father of two daughters, was one of the most generous and caring people he ever met.
He said Gladbach had hoped to become a mountain guide after he retired from teaching.
Condolences offered on the website 14ers.com, devoted to mountain climbers, was flooded with posts Tuesday with numerous examples of Gladbach’s generosity.
One hiker wrote of how Gladbach spent an hour in below zero temperatures trying to help him get his car out after it had gotten stuck in snow on a mountain.
As a teacher, Gladbach was well liked by students and staff, said Centennial Principal Tharyn Mulberry.
“He had a great rapport with his students. They all loved him,” Mulberry said. “Everybody knew he had a passion for hiking. He talked about it all the time and he was always offering climbing trips to people He’s going to be greatly missed.”
Funeral services for Gladbach have not been announced.