I went climbing for the first time after reading Joe Simpson’s incredible Touching the Void. Fucked up eh? Read a book about someone surviving a horrific climbing accident and that’s what gets me into the sport? What can I say? Something about that book resonated with me. Joe survived because was just insanely fucking tough and driven to survive. I wondered if I had some of that in me. So I tried climbing.
I nearly quit climbing after reading his ‘This Game of Ghosts’ a few years later. The book’s awful. Joe uses his incredible narrative voice to basically just lament all of the friends he’d lost to the mountains. I hadn’t lost anyone back then, but it was the first time that it occurred to me that even if you ‘win’ in the mountains, you’re going to have to live with the loss of friends who got unlucky.
This got driven home in a pretty powerful damn way when my Dad died skiing a few years later.
I stopped skiing and climbing for a while after that one. But I came back to it. Skiing had always been a vital part of me and climbing will never replace skiing for me, but I love it. I tried life without them, but it wasn’t a life that made me happy.
Since losing my Dad almost 13 years ago now, since getting back into skiing and climbing, I’ve been reminded about consequences many more times. I’ve lost a bunch of friends now. Steph is probably the toughest one for me. I still think about her a lot.
I’ve written about this before. Tried to use words to reconcile these emotions. It helps a bit I guess.
I’m so scared of losing friends. I used to have nightmares almost weekly in which I witnessed something awful happening. I’ve done beacon searches in my dreams. I’ve stared at my best friends’ lifeless faces only to start awake trying to remind myself that they’re fine.
I don’t dream about the friends I’ve lost. Don’t dream about my Dad. Never realized that before. Huh.
If you’re a skier or climber, you’re going to witness the community losing someone. In fact, you’re going to witness it several times a year. Forever.
Most of the time I read through the accident report pretty clinically. Assess what went wrong then file useful tidbits away in my memory so that I might stay safe someday thanks to learning from others’ bad luck.
Sometimes though, sometimes it really affects me. Something connects me to that person – even if I didn’t know them.
Growing up, Shane McConkey was my hero. Then he died and it felt like I got gut punched. I never met Shane, but he was a part of my life. Same thing when JP Auclair died. When an anonymous skier died out at Fairy Meadows the day before I flew into that same hut I went to look at the slope where she died. I realized I would have probably made the same mistake which cost her her life. I realized maybe I’m not as good as I think I am – she reminded me of my own mortality.
The other day Hayden and Inge died. I didn't know them, but this is one of those 'affecting me' ones.
Approaching a slope, it remote triggered above them. Inge was fully buried, Hayden partially. He couldn’t’ find her. He had to leave her buried for a SAR team to recover. The next day Hayden decided he didn’t want to endure a life without Inge.
As evidenced by those fucked up dreams I had for years – my biggest fear is to lose a friend on a trip. To dig a friend out too late. To watch a friend go hurtling past me on a bad rappel. I just cannot imagine how I could possibly handle that.
I don’t judge Hayden for deciding to end his life. I sympathize. I don’t know how people go on with their lives after going through what he went through. I think that’s why this accident is affecting me so profoundly.
Hayden lived my worst nightmare. He decided he couldn’t continue his life.
I think about what it would be like to walk away from a slope. Walk away from Christine buried, unable to find her. Knowing she was gone forever. I wonder what I would do?
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.