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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Life on the edge: Reaching new heights with mountaineer Jose Iglesias

May 01, 2018 06:34AM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Tom Steffens climbing Independence Monument.

Jose Iglesias has brought many people to tears—tears of joy, that is. A world-class mountaineer, he literally guides people to reach new heights and accomplish things they never thought possible.

Mountain warrior

Mountaineer Jose Iglesias

Iglesias, 57, has called Grand Junction home since 1994, but he’s called the world his playground since he began mountaineering at age 12. He’s been guiding and climbing professionally since 1983, with countless successful climbs in the Himalayas, the Andes and throughout Africa, Europe and North America.

He still guides internationally, but now prefers adventures closer to home through his business, Summit Ridge Guides.

Iglesias is one of a few elite

mountain guides fully certified through the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association. Certification is a six-year process of demonstrating knowledge in rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, alpine climbing and canyoneering. Iglesias said just six people in the U.S. and approximately 100 in Europe have been certified.

“Mountaineering is like being a warrior,” said Iglesias. “You have to know your surroundings and respect them. Compared to the mountains, we are the smallest thing, and you are in trouble if you don’t respect them.”

Adventurers are in good hands climbing with Iglesias, who speaks four languages, is an emergency medical technician, a member of the Powderhorn Mountain Resort Ski Patrol, and the co-founder and director of Mesa County Search and Rescue’s technical team. He also teaches technical rescue for the Grand Junction Fire Department, the National Guard and Green Berets.

But there’s nowhere he would rather be than outside, climbing.

He believes indoor climbing at a gym doesn’t compare to the outdoors, where climbers face varied terrain, exposure, water, ice and weather.

“You can sit inside and look at a picture of a beautiful mountain scene or you can be out there in the picture,” said Iglesias. “Challenging yourself and the feeling of being in nature is amazing. I love teaching people and taking them to beautiful places.”

A life-changing hobby

Mountaineer Tom Steffens celebrates

Iglesias leads climbers of all ages and abilities. Among this group is George Briner, who summited Independence Monument with him at age 75.

“Climbing can be life-changing,” said Briner. “I was a smoker and had two open heart surgeries. In my mid-50s, I made a value and lifestyle change and started climbing all the Colorado fourteeners. I’ve done all 54, many more than once. I’ve also climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa.”

His hobby gives him a sense of strength.

“Climbing gives you self confidence and sticktoitiveness that you can [use to] meet new challenges,” Briner said.

Now 83, he’ll climb Independence Monument with Iglesias for a second time this summer. But not all climbers need to keep up with Briner.

“One great thing about climbing is you can choose your pace, your level,” said Iglesias. “You don’t have to be a master. It’s about your level of confidence. I can do pitch and incline scoping, and customize a climb for the physical and comfort level of each client. Climbing is about enjoying the challenge. It’s not meant to make you suffer.”

Briner’s wife, Jody, 69, recently climbed Unaweep Canyon with Iglesias.

“It was thrilling,” said Jody. “I did something I never thought I could. It was very safe, and is very doable for the normal active person.”

Tom Steffens is an Air Force veteran and surgeon with the VA Medical Center. When he and Iglesias climbed Independence Monument in 2015, it had been 40 years since his last climb.

“It was a fantastic experience,” said Steffens, 64. “Jose is a monkey/mountain goat hybrid! He is very calm, reassuring and professional..”

Briner echoes this sentiment.

“Jose is an incredibly good encourager who makes you feel confident,” he said. “He takes every precaution so the climb is safe.”

What's next?

Iglesias loves life in Colorado, but misses Europe’s mountain club culture, where mountaineers socialize with other climbers and plan trips together. In the U.S., most climbing connections are made through social media. Iglesias would like to change that.

He also wants to start working more closely with veterans and trauma patients. He recently took a group from Grand Junction, including three veterans, to do the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt in the European Alps.

“Focusing on something like climbing gives you a good distraction,” Iglesias said. “It keeps your brain busy and lets you be part of a fun group of people.”

Contact Iglesias by calling 216-2953 or emailing [email protected].

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