As we get older in life we increasingly experience the bitter sweet passing of friends and family. Bitter because they are gone but sweet in the memory of all they were. They are never truly gone if we take a moment from time to time to cherish the gifts they left behind. I've made it my job to keep their spirits alive. Whose passing will you acknowledge today?
In the late afternoon of August 29th 2000, a rock tore loose from a ridge high on Mountain Little, and with divine force, snatched the life from my best friend Karl Konrad Nagy. The 36-year-old mountain guide was examining a small group of prospective guides in a supposedly benign area. The rock was as large as a basketball and struck him in the head, putting the lights out in one of the brightest figures I've ever known.
Some of his final words, written in the journal of a guest were, "The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing." Carpe Diem was his personal tag line. I've had some difficulty reconciling that philosophy with the depth of loss I feel and the price he paid to live in accordance with it. It's hard to go anywhere in the mountains without looking at something that triggers a fond memory of some painful and fun adventure we went on and came back from. Sometimes barely.
When we were just 19 and full of vigor (and shit), we embarked on an ascent of the Skyladder route on Mount Andromeda. We had a great deal of difficulty navigating the summit ridge and got lost for a time up top. It was getting late in the day and out of nowhere tracks appeared to lead us down the intricate path off.
It took longer to gain the summit than we had planned and dangerous avalanche conditions had developed while we were climbing and beginning the ascent. As it was getting dark we decided to "bivouac" (sleep without any gear) near the summit on an exposed rock. For the first few hours we laid on the that slab, shivering, and proceeding through the stages of hypothermia. It took us that long to get over our youthful homophobia and begin spooning. Clouds miraculously came in to preserve the daytime heat and, mercifully, there was no wind. Providence moved too. We suffered through the long night but came back more alive than we started–a state of profound vitality that his future clients would come to know well and then miss tragically.
I don't know what came before and will come after I take my own final breath. I have some thoughts and theories but nothing is certain. I do know that I have this day to live and I can either spend it with great people creating something beautiful or I can thoughtlessly discard it.
Here's what I learned from Karl: Don't look back on a life of missed opportunities. Look up and see what's possible. And then start climbing.