"Hello, my friend, it's been awhile." *
Back in 2005, I posted my first mountain page, since deleted and redone. It was the kind of page that would have many SP members, myself included, annoyed today. Although the text was all there, there was not a single picture. At that time, I did not own a digital camera and did not have a scanner at home; as I told people at the time, it would be a few days until my wife got a chance to scan my pictures at her workplace. Furthermore, I described the guidebook route that I had climbed, a route that entailed awful bushwhacking from the parking area to timberline, and I referred to it as the standard route, unaware that there was a good trail on the other side of the drainage my route paralleled.
In short order, I heard from Vernon Garner, SP's Saintgrizzly. He downvoted my page not to be mean but to get my attention, and then he politely and constructively offered corrections and suggestions. Instead of feeling angry and chastened and turned off from contributing, I found that I wanted to be a good contributor and that I had made my first friend on SP.
If not for Vernon's gracious way of approaching my deficient page, I might have left SP or refrained from being a contributing member, so thank him or curse him accordingly.
But I thank him not just for his help but also for the example he set. As much as I possibly can, I try to be constructive when weak pages go up instead of swinging a hammer. Sometimes it doesn't make a difference, but sometimes it does.
Although I did not enjoy the long, extraordinary friendship with Vernon that some others did, I knew him and, as many others who knew him would say for themselves as well, he touched my life. Only once did I ever get the chance to meet Vernon in person, and that was for dinner, not for a climb, but he and I always counted each other as friends, and it was a friendship born from a mutual love for Vernon's great passion, Glacier National Park, and from a constructive working relationship on this site.
As many know, Vernon shuffled off his mortal coil on March 1, 2011, after a two-year fight against pancreatic cancer. His struggle was both inspiring and heartbreaking; never did he quit or abandon hope of returning to his beloved mountains, even though we, and he, knew the odds, and even though the rest of us, and perhaps Vernon himself deep inside, bitterly expected he would not beat them.
But this is not a lament over Vernon's passing, lamentable though it was. It is instead a celebration of his life, and the places he loved, and seeing with my eyes what he saw with his, and placing my feet where his had been.
Soon after Vernon's death, a group of us began talking about memorial climbs, some during which an objective would be to scatter some of his ashes. These climbs offered not only the opportunity to honor Vernon but also the chance to greet old friends and finally meet, in person at last, some SP folks I had long been friends with but had never met in the real world.
Success was mixed. Vernon got many well-earned salutes, and I did meet one SP member I'd long wanted to while also getting together with some other SP friends, but some others I very much wanted to meet were unable to make it.
If there's an afterlife, Vernon, I think that during rest stops while climbing every Glacier peak on an endless perfect summer day, you are checking SP for the latest on Montana, the "Last Best Place."
So here you go, my friend...
Old Baldy-- Saturday, July 9, 2011
Hold the presses...Old Baldy is not a Glacier peak, but Vernon climbed it.
Okay, that's not totally fair.
A resident of Missoula, Vernon naturally took advantage of the opportunities presented by the closest great range, the Bitterroots. The other mountains he loved with a contagious passion were the Missions, a small but jagged, glaciated range between Missoula and Glacier National Park.
Somehow, it took Vernon a long time to get around to experiencing the wonders of the Rocky Mountain Front, on the other side of the Continental Divide from him and at least as long a drive for him as Glacier was. Anyone who has been to Glacier can understand why it would be easy to forget all other mountains after being there, so Vernon can be forgiven for taking his time to experience one of America's greatest wilderness ranges, a place just as wild as Glacier but vaster, a little less rugged, all but missing the glaciers, and far, far less popular. But he made his way there at last and managed to climb two of the highest peaks, including Rocky Mountain, the highest peak of the Bob Marshall Wilderness (though not of the entire contiguous complex consisting of the Great Bear, Bob Marshall, and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas).
Old Baldy was Vernon's first summit in the Front; it was my sixth (my first climb of Old Baldy was in July 2008). Vernon climbed it before I did, and the reason he didn't make the SP page was that his climb was on a rainy day and he had no decent pictures. While I know that my posting Rocky Mountain was not the sole factor driving Vernon to climb in the Front, I know it was a contributing one and have always been glad to know that a page of mine helped influence him to get out and climb something.
In July 2011, I climbed Old Baldy (my second climb of it, and via a different route than my first). The day began as a family outing; I was leading my family-- wife, kids (almost 7, 4 1/2, and almost 3 at the time), mother-in-law, and a sister-in-law with her husband and their kid (not even crawling yet)-- on a trail hike to Our Lake, a moderate outing to a beautiful setting that would serve as a great introduction to the high country of Montana. Maybe a mile from the lake, we encountered a somewhat steep snowbank blocking the trail. Although I demonstrated that one could safely cross it, no one else wanted to try, and it was all I could do to get people to clamber up the hillside, go around the top of the snowbank, and then descend to the trail again. Five minutes or so after that, there was another snowbank, longer and steeper, and not something even I would want to cross given an option. And the only option was climbing a rock wall above the snow in order to bypass it. Nobody was up for it. They all decided to turn back, and I proceeded to the lake and from there to Old Baldy alone, and I arranged to have my wife meet me at another trailhead so I could do a full circuit and return a different way.
Not a bad turn of events at all!
I did not climb Old Baldy for Vernon-- I had for three years wanted to try a different route-- but as I reached the summit and descended the ridge I knew Vernon had ascended, I could not help but think, and appreciate, that I was treading where Vernon had as well, and maybe placing my hands and feet in some of the places he had. All along the descent back to the trail and the trail down to the trailhead, wildflowers were everywhere. Vernon would have liked that.
Altyn Peak-- Monday, July 11, 2011
Vernon was a guy known for liking to stop and smell the flowers or, more accurately, take pictures of them and everything else. Although he loved the summits, he was also very clearly one of those "it's the journey that matters" climbers. One to find something to love in the mountains even on a drizzling, overcast day, Vernon appreciated the details.
Thus, I was not too surprised in 2009 when he put up the page for Altyn Peak and described a route far longer than any I ever would have wanted to take up the peak since there are much shorter, though more leg- and lung-punishing, routes on its south side. Of course, it was yet another beautiful page.
And a good thing at that. Altyn had been on my list that summer, but weather and other considerations prevented it. Had I climbed the peak when I was there, I probably would have put up the page before Vernon would have, and although I'd have done my best, Vernon did better than I would have done. No one makes a Glacier page the way Vernon did, and some of us almost feel guilty making a page for a peak he would have liked to climb, for we know the love and thought he'd have poured into the creation.
When I got a second chance at Altyn, weather and other conditions were more favorable than they were the first time, and I hustled up via the South America route, the shortest and probably most technically challenging (very steep, Class 3/4 near the end) established route up the peak.
At the summit, I took in the remarkable sea of carved peaks that summits in the Many Glacier area reveal-- some of which Vernon climbed, some of which he didn't, all of which he venerated-- and, overcome as I stood where he had by an uncharacteristic wave of sentiment and vocalization of it, I shouted above the winds, "Climb on, Vernon!"
Yes, my friend, climb on indeed.
Divide Mountain-- Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The page for Divide Mountain was one of Vernon's earliest and best. Although it's not in the heart of Glacier, Divide Mountain, because it is at the edge of the park and accessible by a short drive from U.S. 89, is great as a short outing or as an early-season climb. Despite being lung-burstingly steep in some places, the route is short-- less than two miles-- and enjoyable, as it goes up a nice ridge with excellent views and even some easy scrambling if you want it. Along the way is an historic (now abandoned) fire lookout that-- get ready to laugh-- has a summit register in it.
The accessibility and the relatively short time commitment also made Divide Mountain a good place to meet FlatheadNative (Blake), also a friend of Vernon, for a climb. Originally, we had wanted to put in a longer day, but he had a work conflict that afternoon, and the 13th was the only day he had available that week to get together. But we would be able to meet our goal-- climbing a peak that Vernon had climbed in tribute to him. And so it was that Blake, two friends-- Mike and Rod-- and I set out at about nine to reach the summit, and once both of us were up there, we gazed at the magnificent peaks quickly drowning in a sea of clouds and uttered a "Climb on, Vernon" one after the other.
As well as being a favorite peak of Vernon's, Divide Mountain is also where legendary Glacier climber/explorer and guidebook author J. Gordon Edwards died (of natural causes) while hiking there. In light of that, it seemed especially appropriate to have chosen this summit that was so significant in the lives of both men. And one can't help but think that Edwards found the perfect way, and place, to go. Climb on, J. Gordon and Vernon.
Scenic Point-- Friday, July 15, 2011
SP member thephotohiker (Mike) had been entrusted by Vernon's brothers with his remains and the task of scattering them in various places that had been dear to Vernon. This day was the one that Mike was going to lead several of Vernon's coworkers on a memorial outing. None were climbers and not even all were hikers, so he planned a hike to Scenic Point, which involves a trail journey to what is not really a peak but rather an outcrop on the edge of a mountain massif affording fine views of the Two Medicine area and the Great Plains. I had never been there before, and I wasn't thrilled about a trail hike to pay respects to Vernon, but I understood the reasoning and considered my friendships with Mike and Vernon more important than my desire to climb a "real" peak.
Mike told me he wouldn't get there with the group until around noon, which was way too late for me since I would have gone nuts all morning waiting around, so I told him I would go out early and have my wife drop me off, after which I would climb Mount Henry, which is near Scenic Point, and then head over to Scenic Point and meet the group around 2:00.
Since Vernon was an avid signer of SP climber's logs and there isn't an entry for him on the Mount Henry one, I have to assume that he never climbed that speak, but he was on my mind as I took in the spectacular views (gee, that never gets said about Glacier), including those of Grizzly Mountain, another of Vernon's favorites, and Flinsch Peak, Rising Wolf Mountain, and Sinopah Mountain, all peaks for which Vernon made pages.
At the summit of Mount Henry, I realized I was way ahead of schedule, as often is the case, but that I didn't have time to climb Appistoki Peak, the third summit of what J. Gordon Edwards calls the Scenic Point Ridge Walk-- a climb of Medicine Peak, Mount Henry, and Appistoki Peak that actually does not include Scenic Point unless one goes a bit out of his way to include it. What I did have time for was a visit to the two unnamed, unranked summits directly west of Mount Henry, so I visited them and then headed back, getting to Scenic Point at about 1:45.
2:00 came, and Mike and the group were not there yet. This was not good because, as is often the case on the east side of Glacier and especially in the Two Medicine area, the day was a fiercely windy one and not exactly cut out for lounging in the sun. Finding a fairly sheltered spot, I huddled up and waited, trying not to sit on or put my hands on the abundant marmot crap.
Fortunately, I did not have to wait long. Mike soon arrived, accompanied by only three people-- his wife, SP member T Sharp (whom I'd long wished to meet), and a coworker named Leslie. Apparently, the rest hadn't been able to make it, which was probably a good thing considering the conditions that day and the fact that some weren't hikers.
Here I have to be somewhat vague due to park regulations: we chatted a bit and then paid our tribute to Vernon, being careful to avoid a "Big Lebowski Moment" and being mostly successful.
The hike back down was fast and uneventful. We stopped a few times for pictures, including once for something Leslie spotted and which we thought was a fossil but which instead was a dendrite (see caption to image above). Vernon would have liked that, too, and I subsequently moved it well away from the trail to lessen the chances of its being stolen. Another time, it was to appreciate a dead limber pine that was Vernon's favorite tree and which Mike had featured in a moving DVD he made to commemorate Vernon's life.
Later, we all had dinner with my family in the Great Northern Dining Room, located in the Glacier Park Lodge, a fortress of timber built by the railroad back in the day and a National Historical Landmark.
As the day approached, more and more I had expected it to be a sad one, but it wasn't. Instead, there were a lot of laughs, some fond recollections of Vernon but without the melancholy, and a sense of happiness just to be in the mountains. That, too, was something Vernon would have liked.
Right as we paid our tribute, the wind picked up and verily howled. Tim had to hold Mike's jacket to keep him from falling over. It made us wonder.
Vernon, you exemplified what this site is supposed to be and were one of the best of us. The next time I see you, I hope it's on some desolate mountaintop in Montana and we use our ice axes to open some cold bottles of IPA and drink in the scenery and the sunset.
Thank you for your friendship, your courage, your living example, and all you did to build SP and inspire its members.
And if you haven't gotten up Mount Cleveland yet, get out there and do it, for crying out loud!
"All good things come by grace. And grace comes by art, and art does not come easy."-- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."-- Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
* from "Just Like You" by Keb' Mo'. This song was featured in a DVD thephotohiker made in tribute to Vernon. My first time watching the DVD was my first time hearing the song, and I loved it right away.