THE BUZZ 3: A Mighty Life Lived
During his brief time on Earth, John “Jack” Fields left an indelible impression on Jackson Hole and abroad.
JACKSON HOLE, WY – John “Jack” Fields Jr. never shied away from adventure. It’s what took him to Nepal, India, Patagonia, Canada, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and, most recently, Jackson Hole. He moved to the valley in December to join his parents and his older brother Sam.
Fields died last Wednesday from a 1,400-foot fall off a couloir on the south face of the Teton. He and three other skiers were attempting to ski the Amora Vida Couloir. According to reports from friends, instead Fields and his group navigated into a different, identical looking couloir. He fell trying to reinsert his heel into his Dynafit binding after it unexpectedly popped out.
Fields was a recent addition to the Jackson community, but the Q Roadhouse filled to the brim with friends and family in a celebration of his life on Sunday. People close to him painted a picture of a young man who was no stranger to the mountains. “He lived an incredible life,” said Charlie Fields, his younger brother, who joked that his own memorial would be filled with pictures of him drinking from solo cups (he’s a senior at the University of Colorado in Boulder). Pictures of his brother, meanwhile, are all on top of mountains.
Fields grew up in Wilton, Connecticut, and learned to ski over winter breaks in Jackson. He attended Teton Valley Ranch Camp every summer and “developed a love for the Tetons,” his brother said.
His affinity for the outdoors blossomed further over a summer at High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colorado. As a junior in high school, he learned to telemark ski and rock climb, and pursued both with passion for the rest of his life, his brother said.
Fields funded adventures throughout college with a pair of grants from the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund. One grant allowed him to summit and ski seven peaks in the Selkirk Mountain Range. Another took him to British Columbia for two weeks of rock climbing. The mountains were where he felt most at home.
“He was a super crusher,” said longtime friend Max Pramer. Just being around him, “watching him go through the forest … the course he’d take, was super noteworthy. It was clear that he was in his element.”
“[Fields] was definitely one of the most graceful, beautiful skiers,” Pramer continued. “And a fearless and confident rock climber.”
Fields’s adventuresome spirit was matched by his sense of altruism, which guided many of his journeys. During a gap year spent in India and Nepal, he summited Stok Kangri, a 20,000-foot peak in the Himalayas, but only after teaching sustainable farming to a leper colony. After graduating from Colorado College in 2012, he led a group of high school students to Alaska to help repair housing for indigenous people. Once, on a backcountry ski tour, he shared some of his almond butter sandwich with friend Abbott Gilbaine, who happened to be allergic to treenuts. But Fields, always prepared, also had an Epipen on him. “He almost killed me, and saved my life,” Gilbaine laughed.
Fields was also a gifted communicator, friends recalled. He became fluent in Spanish after a year studying in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Pramer noted that what struck him most in his shared adventures with Fields “wasn’t the thing we were doing, it was the conversations we were having.” He had a “voracious hunger for literature,” Pramer said. Every time Pramer was excited to tell Fields about a new book he had just read, “[Fields] had already read it.”
Despite being tone-deaf, Fields was always writing “hilarious songs about relevant stuff,” usually criticizing some aspect of the world around him, Pramer said.
Fields moved to Jackson to pursue his dream of eventually living in Driggs and owning a workshop selling furniture, Pramer said. In addition to his mountaineering achievements, he was also a talented carpenter and blacksmith.
“He wanted to live the simple life,” Pramer explained. “He was totally on his way. Moving here was just a step.”
“[Fields] was quiet and calm, but he had goals,” Gilbaine echoed.
Friends blame his accident on gear malfunctions and a route-finding error. Conditions that day were also variable—Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said that temperamental conditions across the park, including rain from the winter storm, “definitely had an impact on the snow layers. [Conditions] can change several times throughout the day,” she said.
Germann emphasized that all backcountry travelers should have the proper experience and equipment, and always let people know the route they plan to take. “Know before you go,” she said.
Fields is survived by his parents Robin and John Fields, his brothers Sam and Charlie, his paternal grandparents, 19 cousins and 13 aunts and uncles, “all of whom will miss him greatly,” his younger brother said.
Memorial contributions can be made in Fields’s honor to High Mountain Institute or the Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund of Colorado College. PJH
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