David Roberts
Born(1943-05-29)May 29, 1943
DiedAugust 20, 2021(2021-08-20) (aged 78)
Alma materHarvard University (B.S., Mathematics)
University of Denver (Ph.D., English, 1970)[1]
Occupation(s)climber, author
Known forauthor of books on mountain climbing
Parent(s)Walter Orr Roberts (father)
Janet Smock (mother)

David Stuart Roberts (May 29, 1943 – August 20, 2021) was an American climber, mountaineer, college professor, and author of books and articles about climbing and the history of the American Southwest. He was particularly noted for his books The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah: A Wilderness Narrative, chronicling major ascents in Alaska in the 1960s, which had a major impact on the form of mountaineering literature.

Early life and climbing in Alaska

Roberts was born in Denver, Colorado, on May 29, 1943. His father, Walter Orr Roberts, was an astronomer and scientist who headed the Harvard College Observatory in nearby Boulder; his mother, Janet Naomi Smock Roberts, was elected to its city council.[2] Roberts attended Boulder High School, before studying mathematics at Harvard University, graduating in 1965. He was a member of and former president of the Harvard Mountaineering Club where he led exploratory first ascents of many peaks in Alaska. He went on to receive a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver in 1970.[1]

In thirteen seasons spent in the Alaskan wilderness, Roberts was well known for many first ascents, including the Wickersham Wall on Denali, the west rib of Mount Huntington, climbing in the Western Brooks Range and the Kichatna Spires, and on the east face of Mount Dickey. Roberts also named Alaska's Revelation Mountains, giving many of the peaks Biblical names because he had been reading the Bible as part of his English literature studies at the time.[3][4]


Roberts was a professor of literature at Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970 to 1979. He also designed the college's Outdoors Program.[1] He was often acknowledged as the "dean" of American climbing literature and published extensively on mountaineering.[5] He ultimately authored 32 books on the subject, as well as the celebrated adventures of historical figures. These included books on the Ancestral Puebloans and a biography on Jean Stafford.[2]

Roberts also mentored other writers, most notably Jon Krakauer, who he taught at Hampshire. He contributed to Outside, as well as National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, and The Atlantic Monthly. His final book, Into the Great Emptiness: Peril and Survival on the Greenland Ice Cap, is scheduled to be released in mid-2022, one year after his death.[2]

Personal life

Roberts married Sharon Morris in 1967. They did not have children. They resided in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before moving to Watertown.[2]

Roberts died on August 20, 2021, at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He was 78, and was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer six years before his death.[2]


Co-authored books

Edited books

Selected awards


  1. ^ a b c "About: David Roberts", Facebook page
  2. ^ a b c d e Bailey, Michael J.; Marquard, Bryan (August 23, 2021). "David Roberts, mountaineer and dean of adventure writing, dies at 78". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on August 23, 2021. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  3. ^ Clint Helander, The Question: The Direct East Face of Golgotha, Posted on: March 16, 2015 http://www.alpinist.com/doc/ALP49/64-direct-east-face-golgatha
  4. ^ David Roberts, On the Ridge Between Life and Death: A Climbing Life Reexamined (2006)
  5. ^ Does Climbing Big Mountains Prepare You For Fighting Cancer?
  6. ^ "Award Winner 2018". Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Sherwonit, Bill; Romano-Lax, Andromeda; Bielawski, Ellen, eds. (December 27, 2011). Travelers' Tales Alaska: True Stories. Travelers' Tales. p. xvii. ISBN 9781609520724.
  8. ^ a b "Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival Program". Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival. October 21, 2014. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  9. ^ Dougald MacDonald (November 5, 2004). "Banff Book Awards". Climbing. Archived from the original on March 21, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2018.