This is one of those posts that has been sitting on my hard drive, 0’s and 1’s, since last September. Two accidents in about as many months left me thinking about doing what we do. It’s been revisited, tweaked, but still hidden until now. Why? This last weekend we lost a Friend and an employee and now just seemed like the time to let this fly.
It’s a strange thing when someone you know dies. It a far stranger thing when someone your age who is vibrant, strong, and who has plans similar to you own dies. Stranger still is that around here this dieing happens, all too often, and while playing.
When I moved here in the late 90’s I did so with the pictures I’d seen and the stories I’d read in magazines filling my head. Wonderful stories of huge powder days, remote rivers and beautiful rock climbs all done with close friends. There were also stories of tragedy and loss. Stories of avalanches, mistakes made in very high places and of the undeniable power of water and our inability to breath it, all taking close friends and leaving the world a little more empty.
Both sides of this coin seemed so remote to me when I left the East to come here. The mountains were a far off place that I was sure I would visit like a tourist, observe and then likely leave. I couldn’t picture myself being a part that world and the culture that I’d so often read about.
I’ve been here 11 years now and in that short period of time have been witness to my own stories of both bliss and tragedy. Fortunately the, can’t wipe the smile from your face, great times I’ve gotten to experienced first hand. The wipe your mind clean sad times, still to this day, through one degree of separation.
I can remember the first time a close friend of a friend was killed while playing. I’d been in the mountains for 2 years and through a weird set of coincidences I met and become friendly with those very guys I’d read about while living “back East”. The stories of folks that filled the pages of the adventure mags had become people I knew and did things with.
It was one of these magazine worthy adventures that prompted the need for the first “slide show” that I would attend. An avalanche had occurred during an expedition to the mountains halfway around the world, two miles higher than were I currently sit writing this. Snow had moved and lives had been lost. My new friends had come home broken and I went in a show of support.
The Slide show is the mountain equivalent of an Irish wake. Folks get together and look at pictures of the lost friend and his or her exploits. Alcohol flows, stories are told and for a brief period I don’t think it hurts so much.
At first it was easy to disregard these occurrences, after all I’d only just arrived. I was still getting the lay of the land. I didn’t think of myself as a climber or a boater or a real skier. Since that night there have been many more slide shows. They are results of drowning, avalanche, misstep, equipment failure, poor judgment and poor luck all while playing. Pretty much the same story over and over. Tragedy always happening to someone I’d met but not really gotten to know. This made the loss real but somehow distant. I still felt like a tourist, observing from the outside, not really a part of the picture.
But now as time, and more people have passed I no longer feel like I’m am an observer. I realize I am part of this shrinking tribe yet I continue to play. As I sit here I can’t tell you exactly why I do so. I’m really not sure how I and others deal with the reality that playing can not only get you hurt but may actually kill you. A few have thrown in the towel. Most are still out there. Some have backed off, some continue on as hard charging as ever.
We’ve just lost another one. Someone I knew fairly well and I wonder if maybe, just maybe I should be watching the world series instead. Is it crazy to continue to do the same things that have been thinning my herd for a decade? Probably but if I or any of us stops isn’t it a bit like dieing anyway?