The Deep Creek area of Riverside State Park was one of Jess Roskelley’s favorite places in the area to climb. Soon, the first phase of a practical tribute to one of the sport’s finest will be completed there.
Roskelley, a professional mountaineer from Spokane sponsored by The North Face and Adidas Outdoors, died at 36 in April 2019 when he and Austrian climbers David Lama and Hansjörg Auer were swept away by an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies.
On May 21, 2003, at age 20, he became the youngest American to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Roskelley was the son of John Roskelley, one of the most prolific and successful high-altitude alpinists in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. In 2014, John Roskelley received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the Piolet d’Or in Chamonix, France.
Phase 1 of the memorial, a public restroom at the trailhead, is nearing completion. The organizers of the project – Bower Climbing Coalition – are hopeful to raise enough funds to proceed with the rest of the plans, which include a nature trail, a memorial bench, a formal parking lot and a picnic structure at the popular trailhead.
“This (project) has always been on our radar because it’s a pretty popular climbing area out there,” BCC board member Alan Shepherd said. “The Deep Creek climbing area is a popular, difficult climbing area – and it was Jess’ favorite place to climb.”
Roskelley was a board member of the coalition before his death. The BCC was started in 2015 after local climber Andrew Bower died in a fall at Dishman Hills while replacing rusted anchor bolts.
The group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to maintaining, expanding and preserving Inland Northwest climbing, with an emphasis in anchor bolt removal and replacement with the least amount of impact on the rock.
Shepherd said the area’s popularity was contributing to its downfall, with so many users and so little in the way of infrastructure. The bathroom and parking area were critical aspects of the project.
“There’s a terrible need for a bathroom there, because there’s a lot of people using that area and there’s not a bathroom anywhere close to it – you can imagine what happens,” he said.
The coalition contemplated the idea and brainstormed about the best way to generate the needed funds.
“It was a large chunk of money for a brand-new small climbing nonprofit to come up with,” Shepherd said. “So we started fundraising for it, and then when Jess died, we decided that it made sense to kind of dedicate it the whole project to him.”
Being a state park, though, provided other hurdles to jump over.
“We’re a little limited on what we can actually do because it’s a state park, so they have very strict guidelines of what we can say and not say,” Shepherd said. “We couldn’t name it ‘The Jess Roskelley Memorial Trailhead’ or anything like that.”
The restroom was scheduled to be finished months ago. But as with everything else in life, the project was slowed by the pandemic and bureaucratic red tape.
“Initially, it was supposed to be done in March or April,” Shepherd said. “But then everything shut down, and the permitting process shut down, so we just now got it in. We honestly didn’t know until the week before when it was going to go in, so it’s been really hard to plan anything.”
The group wanted to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication, but that’s been scrapped for now.
The second phase of the project is an Americans with Disabilities Act-approved nature trail, and a bench that would overlook some of the climbing areas at the Deep Creek gorge, which would include the memorial to Roskelley.
“We have a local artist that’s going to help us design it,” Shepherd said. “That makes the most sense to be able to have something dedicated to Jess.”
Phase 3 and 4 are the parking lot and picnic structure, both of which will take significant fundraising to complete.
There is no formal parking area at the trailhead, so users park along a dirt road. A picnic structure would allow for groups to congregate and share a beverage after hikes and climbs, including JessFest, a climbing competition started in 2019 to help raise funds for the project.
“All of our fundraising basically dried up, you know, when (the pandemic) happened, because we couldn’t do any more events,” Shepherd said.
The coalition’s biggest fundraiser, planned to be an annual film festival called “Reel Rock,” has been delayed until December, and the organizers hope that they’ll have the event in person by that point.
“Typically, we’ve raised around $10-15,000 or so, and we pretty much spent everything we had – we still had some leftover to go into the trail system – but we mostly spent everything on the bathroom,” Shepherd said.
He said the Jess Roskelley Foundation (started by the climber’s family after his death), the Friends of Riverside State Park and Evergreen East Mountain Bike Coalition, along with local businesses, have also contributed to the project with donations of time, money and gear to auction off.
“We are currently trying to figure out another way to fundraise,” including an online auction, Shepherd said. “I mean, folks can donate to us anytime they want. But it’s nice to have an event.”
While the pandemic and resulting government slowdown have hindered the timing, the coalition is dedicated to seeing the vision though.
“We’re not sure how long it will take to complete the whole project,” Shepherd said, “but you know we’re committed to keep going with it.”
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