Elite mountain climber Chad Kellogg dies on Patagonia peak

SEATTLE — In the world of mountain climbing, Chad Kellogg was a legend.

The elite alpinist has climbed some of the world’s highest and most challenging peaks — charging up mountains and breaking records for the fastest ascents.

Kellogg, 42, of Seattle, was killed Friday night as he and climbing partner Jens Holsten, of Leavenworth, Wash., descended Mount Fitz Roy, a prominent peak in the Patagonia region of Argentina.

The two had successfully summited the 11,000-foot mountain and were hanging together from a pre-established anchor when a rock fell, striking Kellogg and killing him instantly.

There will be no attempts to recover his body.

Word of his death shocked those in the Northwest mountaineering community, who describe a humble guy with unflinching dedication and almost unparalleled skills on some of the world’s highest places.

“Chad had unbelievable drive beyond most high-level athletes,” said his friend and fellow climber Gordon Janow, of Alpine Ascents International. “He was dedicated to the sport and lived to be in the mountains.

“The amount of training, persistence and wherewithal it takes to do what Chad does puts him in a class with 0.01 percent of the climbing population.”

Kellogg grew up in the Seattle area, honing his skills on the mountains here. He turned to climbing after his goal of becoming Olympic luge racer ended.

He once held the record for the fastest ascent-descent of Mount Rainier — a climb he had made numerous times — going up and down in just under five hours. The record has since been surpassed.

Over the years, Kellogg had amassed an impressive record, scaling previously unclimbed mountains in remote parts of the world.

In 2003, he entered his first speed-climbing contest, on a mountain in Kazakhstan, where he took home a gold medal. And Kellogg still holds the record for the fastest round-trip climb at 23 hours and 55 minutes of Denali’s West Buttress route in Alaska.

But Mount Everest continued to elude him.

Three times he set out to break the speed record on the world’s highest mountain — alone and without oxygen, something few climbers attempt. He never summited the 29,029-foot mountain and planned to try again next year.

Kellogg’s success on the slopes of mountains came up against unimaginable loss in his personal life.

On his 2010 attempt to summit Everest, he had planned to spread the ashes of his wife, Lara Bitenieks Kellogg, who had died three years earlier in a fall from Mount Wake in Alaska’s Denali National Park.

Kellogg had received word of her death in a phone call while climbing an unclimbed peak in remote China. Less than a month after he buried his wife, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

More recently, he lost his only brother, two uncles, an aunt and grandparents — all while he was on climbing expeditions, according to his uncle Brent Kellogg. In 2010, Chad told Outside magazine he’s lost 17 friends over time.

Brent Kellogg said he last saw his nephew over the Christmas holiday at a family gathering.

“Chad was never content with climbing the conventional way,” including his attempts at Everest, his uncle said. And he said his nephew was conscientious about safety and often worked to make sure other climbers were safe. “He cared immensely about the climbing community.”

Chad Kellogg started climbing early — though it was trees he was ascending back in his early childhood.

From age 18 months to age 8, the family lived in Kenya, where Chad’s father and mother, Ric and Peggy Kellogg, served as missionaries.

His son loved to climb the trees there, keeping an eye out for poisonous snakes, Ric Kellogg, of Edmonds, recalls. He also loved diving and snorkeling when the family went to the beach.

His son caught the mountain climbing bug in his early teens after the family moved back to the U.S. The family had a house in Brier, and had as a tenant a climber who lived in the basement. Young Chad Kellogg started going on climbs with him.

“He was always adventurous,” his father said.

More recently, Ric Kellogg said, his son had found happiness with his girlfriend, Mandy Kraus, and was “very much in love.”

Ric and Peggy Kellogg had recently moved from a house to a condo in Edmonds. His son called him last fall and said: “‘Don’t sell the solar panel. I want to use them on a house in the Methow Valley,’” Ric Kellogg said. “He planned to build a house, raise a family there.”

Dan Aylward, a close friend who had climbed with Kellogg in the Cascades, said he visited with him in Patagonia in January.

“He was an independent thinker, and a visionary in terms of identifying routes up mountains and perfecting the style of climbing best suited to the route,” Aylward said.

He said his friend, a self-proclaimed Buddhist, used meditation to sharpen his mental focus.

“He always made sure to let those he cared about know it, and always was consciously and deliberately walking the line between maximizing the achievement of his personal objectives and giving back to the community that supported him,” Aylward said.

Robert Page, store manager at Feathered Friends in Seattle, which supplied some of Kellogg’s gear over the past several years, said Kellogg stopped in the Seattle store in January, just before he left for South America.

“He was one of the few people who does what he does, yet maintains a level of humility,” he said.

“He took time out to listen to people, regardless of who they were.”

Chad Kellogg is survived by his parents; his partner, Mandy Kraus, of Seattle; and his father-in-law, Robert Bitenieks, of Seattle.

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