Climbing reminds us what matters, even during it’s hardest lessons

In response to all the recent and very tragic deaths of climbers, I want to share with you a few articles which have touched me and my own personal experience with loss in the mountains.  It’s hard sometimes to make sense of lives being cut short.  We try to tell ourselves that it won’t be us, it won’t be our friends, it will always be someone else.  But, when it hits close to home we get a heavy and somber reality check on how dangerous the sports we love can be.  Should that stop us from taking part, from climbing and carving up those mountains and peaks?  No.  Life is dangerous.  People get hurt and die in car accidents while going to the supermarket, in plane crashes, from heart attacks, from house fires.  We don’t know how long we have in this life.  It’s important to live everyday to the fullest and love our loved ones each day, taking nothing for granted.  Leave nothing unsaid or undone, no matter how scary it seems or how much it forces us to stretch and grow.

I had a taste of loss at the end of July.  Three days before I climbed Mt. Rainier for the first time, a former climbing instructor and current co-worker in the Washington Alpine Club, Lee Adams, died on Mt. Rainier.  Someone slipped on his team on the Emmons descent and the whole team slid into at crevasse at 13,000 feet.  He was so experienced.  He had climbed routes and peaks that are much more difficult.  He had so much life in him. He was one of the nicest and coolest people I knew.  Lee was the person we all thought would be climbing well into his 80s, long after we had all stopped climbing.  He was the last person I thought I would lose to the mountains.  But, the mountains don’t care who you are.  They take the best of us and the beginners.  It was a very sobering reality as I prepared for my first attempt of The Mountain.  I was climbing the Kautz route with a good friend.  It is an intermediate climb with 2 ice steps.  This loss three days before my climb made the climb very real for me.  I knew I was ready for The Kautz.  Whether Lee had died or not, I was prepared.  And so I made the call to still climb.  I felt heavy inside, carrying the weight of the gravity of what happens if you screw up with me the whole way up the mountain.  But I didn’t let it distract me.  I had to stay focused.  Almost hyper focused.  I just kept the montra of “it won’t be me” running through my head.  For those three days before the climb I couldn’t talk to my family, I couldn’t risk having them place on me their fear.  I couldn’t risk them distracting me with that fear.  I had to be focused on the climb, focused on being safe.  I had no room for the distraction of doubt and fear.  The climb was a great one.  The route was beautifully in, the few crevasses on the Kautz were barely open; the ice wasn’t as exposed as we would have liked but the route was in such good shape one could hardly complain.  The weather was perfect, not too hot, not too cold.  The wind was minimal, just in the wind tunnel at 13, 500.  For me though, it was still overshadowed by Lee’s death.  How could it not, being only three days after the accident.  I was proud of myself for keeping focused and not letting Lee’s death deter me from climbing or distract me on the climb.  It was still a tough climb, both physically and emotionally.  Every crevasse reminded me of him and I would just continue with my montra “It won’t be me” and push from my mind what had happened three days earlier.

I was surprised when I talked with many of my friends who had climbed for many more years than I had that so many of them had not lost someone they personally knew to the mountains.  I knew at some point I would lose someone I knew to the mountains.  It’s the reality of climbing.  Climbing, yes is dangerous.  But as I said earlier, so is life.  I want to look back and say I lived life, that I didn’t let fear stop me.  I didn’t think though it would come so soon in my climbing career.  It’s a reminder though to live each day to it’s fullest.  I know it’s said a lot, but that message can get lost sometimes in day to day life.

This past week more climbers have perished.   Joe Puryear died on LaBouche Kang and Chhewang Nima Sherpa, who had summitted Everest 19 times, was killed by an avalanche on Mt. Everest. I did not personally know them, but I’m sure if I played six degrees of separation, I would only get one degree away before I found someone I know that knew them.  As a climber it makes me take stock of my life.  Am I enjoying each day?  Am I telling the people I love that I love them?  Do I have any regrets?  Am following my path in life or someone else’s? Am I leaving anything unsaid?

Here are a few articles written by friends and fellow climbers in response to the passing of climbers they knew or did not know, but who either way touched their lives.  These articles have touched me and I’m sure they will touch you.


~ by Genevieve Hathaway on October 31, 2010.

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