William “Bill” Kees passed away on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at his home in Telluride with his wife Susan by his side. He was 79 years old.
Born on Dec. 22, 1941 to Josephine (Albers) and Herbert Kees in Los Angeles, California, Bill spent his childhood and young adult years in the San Fernando Valley. As the youngest of three, Bill enjoyed the attention of his doting siblings. His brother Greg inspired a love of adventure, and his sister Joan cultivated his commitment to family. He attended Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calinfornia, and graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in geology, an apt foreshadowing of his many years spent up close and personal with rocks — especially granite.
After college, Bill returned to Los Angeles, but his love for adventure soon pulled him away. In 1968, Bill spent a winter bussing tables and bartending in Aspen where he discovered his first love — the mountains. In the early 1970s, Bill met his second (true) love, Susan (Davis). After some cajoling, he convinced Susan to trade in her practical low heels for hiking boots and move where the air is cleaner. In 1972, they loaded Susan’s toddlers Scott and Lorraine up in the van and headed east toward Aspen. Along the way, they stopped in Telluride, where the ski area would open the following winter. They pitched a tent in the town park, did laundry at the Miner’s Union, and quickly realized there was no place they would rather be.
Over the next 50 years, Bill wove himself into the fabric of the Telluride community. In 1973, Bill and Susan got married beside a waterfall at Dunton Hot Springs. Two years later, their son Blake was born in the small clinic in Norwood. After various odd jobs, Bill discovered a talent for carpentry. He worked as a general contractor for many years, but soon realized his gift of gab could be an asset in real estate sales as well. Bill rode Telluride’s real estate wave through the early 1990s, retiring at age 55 to get back to his passion for adventure and the outdoors.
Throughout the 1970s, Bill dedicated himself to perfecting the art of mountain living. Known to many as “The Father of the Ophir Wall,” he was among the pioneer climbers in the area, with dozens of routes to his name. An avid backcountry skier, Bill and his friends got first tracks down nearly every face in the San Juans. In 1979, he co-founded the Telluride Mountain Film Festival to celebrate and share his love for climbing, mountaineering, river rafting, hiking and adventures of all sorts.
Bill’s van became a fixture across the Southwest as he and Susan rafted nearly every river in the region. His rafting swansong took him from the headwaters of the Green River to the confluence with the Colorado, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. This feat is catalogued in Susan’s recently published memoir “Tandem Rowing.”
Above all else, Bill loved his family, which extended well beyond bloodlines to his countless cherished friends, the entire Telluride community, and his second home in Pescadero, Mexico. He is survived by his loving wife Susan, sons Scott (Mandie) and Blake (Deb), daughter Lorraine (Paul) and grandchildren Mira (22), Alex (21), Zach (19), Marius (19), Cricket (12) and Ozzy (11). Details about Bill’s celebration of life gathering will be shared when available.
Bill Kees was a legend
Bill Kees was a legend in the history of climbing in the Telluride region. He was a good friend and a mentor in various ways. I will never forget how he and his lovely wife, Susan, welcomed me to Telluride in 1978. Their door was always open and they were the real deal — very loving, very happy, and extremely gracious.
Climbing with Bill was always an adventure. He was tenacious, he was thoughtful, and he was bold. His list of legitimate first ascents in Ophir cannot be rivaled by anyone. https://www.telluridenews.com/tncms/block/1798244/?disableTNStatsTracker=1
He is a Hero.
Allen Storm Pattie