A Strange Paradox

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A Strange Paradox
Created On: Nov 5, 2006
Last Edited On: Jan 17, 2008

Living and Dying in the Mountains

This has been a tragic season for many mountaineers, their loved ones, families, friends, and partners. From Mount Everest to the Mont Blanc Massif, to the High Sierra of California, the number of fatalities in 2006 has been staggering.

The loss too, of so many Summit Post members this summer is probably a statistical anomaly, but none the less the toll it takes on our collective psyche can be substantial.

Fellow member Luciano136 has built a very nice memorial page that can be found here:

In memory of...

It is a sobering experience to visit this page, and reflect on a season of climbing. Focusing on the people we climbed with {or hope to}, the mountains we have climbed {or hope to}, and thereby, gaining perspective to analyze the reasons we took {or did not take} the risks that we did.

I personally have lost 3 climbing partners to tragic climbing accidents. I will try to recount the events that led to their deaths in a way that is objective, but not devoid of the feelings I have for them, or the emotions caused by their passing. Perhaps in this way my experience can lend insight to the burning question "Why do we climb?" or more succinctly, "Why do we continue to climb?"
Tim and ScottTim and Scott
In the late summer of 1998 my backcountry ski and rock climbing partner Scott died in a free solo fall of 150 feet in the mountains of Idaho. He was climbing back up to his camp from a day of swimming and fishing at one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen, when he slipped on a sandy granite ledge. His two companions watched him fall to his death. I witness the devastation his parents, family, friends, {and I} still cope with some 8 years later. Especially on occasions like his birthday or the anniversary of his death. In the aftermath of this tragedy I completely lost my desire to climb, I internalized my emotions, and I blamed myself for not being there to prevent the accident. I sank into a restless and discontented funk that lasted over a year.

A seed planted years earlier came to life in 1999 when I was invited to join a team on Mt.Rainier. As I prepared for that endeavor I could feel myself start to ascend out of my sorry state. Even as I climbed the Disappointment Cleaver Route on that famous peak, much of the grief I felt fell from my shoulders. I dedicated that climb to my fallen partner Scott in the summit register.
Summit of Mt. RainierMy Summit Dedication

On a more even footing, I began to seek out friends who climbed. I joined The Rocky Mountaineers here in town where I met some terrific people, {as most of us climbers are}, and began doing some 4th class peak bagging and sport rock routes.

On a club climb of the N. Couloir of Warren Peak, I met Luke. He had moved his young family to Missoula to embark on a Masters Degree in mathematics, {he already had a Masters in Education}.
We hit it off immediately, and became fast friends. He was very understanding of my tribulations, and encouraged me to continue to climb, and thus, work through my anguish. I was an eager student of this world class mountaineer, and as we journeyed, the re-creation of my spirit was evident to me, and all who knew me.

We climbed extensively in the Bitteroots of Montana, and the Cascade Volcanoes of Oregon, and Washington, in all seasons and weather conditions. If we got stormed off our objective, we would head for Smith Rock, or a local crag.

We eventually formed the Apine Club of Missoula {ACOM} in an effort to expand the sport of Alpinism in the Missoula area. One of the first to join the club was Ansel, a botanist for the National Park Service, stationed at North Cascades National Park. Ansel was an avid mountaineer and backcountry skier, and an all around fun person to climb with.
Ansel {R] Me[L]Ansel {R}, Tim {L}
It was on an early June, 2004, ACOM climb of the Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainier, that Luke and Ansel were swept to their deaths by a massive avalanche. They had been forced to bivy high on the mountain, at @ 13,300 ft. by a very fast moving storm. As they waited out the storm, a slab formed on the slopes above them. They awoke early, broke camp, and were tying back into the rope, when the avalanche struck, sweeping them all the way down the Willis Wall to the Carbon Glacier, 4,000 ft. below.

The same feelings overwhelmed me again when I got the call from Lukes wife, that his remains had been spotted by climbers on the glacier 3 days after the accident. Ansel was not recovered off the mountain for almost a month.

Lukes family graciously asked me to say a few words at his memorial service, I can hardly remember the words I spoke, but I will never forget the feelings of extreme sadness, followed by numbness. Our club held a memorial, hosted by the University of Montana, where many of Ansel, and Lukes` family and friends were able to attend, to share their favorite stories, and photos of these two great men.

But there was something different in me after Luke and Ansels` death, very deep in my psyche was an undeniable knowledge that I held the key to my emotional healing.
Mt. MoranThere is a ray of light

I had learned that what I had to do was re-create my spirit. The only way I have ever known to do this is by going out into the mountains, and submitting myself to their rugged power. For it is there my mind and heart open to the beauty of the Universe, and thereby, somehow, internalize enough of that experience to grow spiritually that day. Every day of growth brings me more understanding of the bigger picture, of what is the essential me.

I believe I grow a little every day, but my spirit soars on days spent on a mountain. For there I walk on rocks that have the words of all creation written on them, and to paraphrase the late Norman Mclean "..some of the words are theirs..". On that mountain, I walk on rocks that challenge me to learn and own my words. My senses tell me of the mountain, but my feet translate its words to my soul. Some of the words imprinted are; impermanence, metamorphose, permeate, transform, and all speak to the intransigence of change. My soul then is altered, as limestone to marble, or granite to sand.

I have come to believe that we all have a role to play in the Universe. That the Universe is incomplete when we are not in our role, and that some peoples roles are complete in a very short time. I also believe that the entire weight of the Universe will see to the completion of each of our roles, perfectly.

So I endeavor to get out craging and continue my trad apprenticeship with my friend and partner Fred, a caring and patient {with me} teacher.

F_Rhoderick on the Summit.F_Rhoderick On the Summit of N. Trapper.

Some days I have not really felt much like climbing, but I know that if I can feel the rock under my feet, I will enjoy the day and I will continue to heal.

I find it a strange paradox, what threatens me in ways, heals me in others, an endeavor that has taken the lives of my friends, can add so much to mine, and the days I spend in the mountains are not "self will" run amok, but rather, my spirit seeking equilibrium. Then further, I go to the mountain to learn how to live, whilst there, I learn to accept change, and thus death.

So to my friends who have passed before, I salute your kindred spirit. To my family, friends, and climbing partners now, I say thank you for helping me heal. To all who read this I say "Climb On", for the power to grow can be found in the High Mountains.


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Viewing: 1-18 of 18

Saintgrizzly - Nov 5, 2006 5:50 am - Voted 10/10


"...the power to grow can be found in the High Mountains."

Tim, I'd say Scott, Luke, and Ansel are still very much with you.

Thanks, my friend, for doing this.


T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 5, 2006 6:21 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Wow...

They are indeed... Thanks Vernon, I really appreciate your input on this project.

Michael Hoyt

Michael Hoyt - Nov 5, 2006 4:43 pm - Voted 10/10


Not many are willing (or able) to bare their souls, as you have done in this piece. The rest of us have much to learn from your example.

Your friends live on in you, and I’m sure would ask for nothing more.

Thank you for sharing.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 5, 2006 6:59 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Excellent

Thanks Michael; your counsel on this article was also greatly appreciated.


jordansahls - Nov 5, 2006 8:30 pm - Voted 10/10

Very Moving

Thanks for taking the time and effort to share what must have been something that was emotionally draining for you.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 5, 2006 8:48 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Very Moving

Thanks for the nice comment jordansahls, time in the mountains is great therapy.


Blair - Nov 7, 2006 10:54 pm - Voted 10/10

Very Deep

Well written, really makes you think.Thank you for sharing a very tough to talk about situation,and I hope you are well.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 8, 2006 7:22 am - Hasn't voted


Thanks for the very nice comment Bnicodemus. The rocks are talking to me! All is as it should be.


klwagar - Nov 9, 2006 1:17 am - Voted 10/10

very moving

We did a climb this year to commemorate the death of Rex Gibson, Alpine Club of Canada president (50 years ago). With us was his friend from those times. He had not climbed with them that time. When he saw the mountain again he broke down and cried - all the memories of those days and feelings that had been submerged came back to him. The mountain became a being to us (I know that sounds strange)- one that shelters a friend. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I try to be mindful of the mountains - I know there are many of us still there.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 9, 2006 3:56 am - Hasn't voted


Thanks for relating the story of Rex Gibson, his friend, and the Sheltering Mountain. I am sure that day will stay with you forever.


gimpilator - Nov 9, 2006 2:23 am - Voted 10/10

Strange Paradox

I lost a friend in a tragic climbing accident this year. Since then, Ed Miller's friends have banded together and created a travelling summit register so that Ed can continue to be in the high places in spirit. I have had the honor of going up 3 different peaks with the register and sometimes I feel like Ed is there with us. Thanks for the article.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 9, 2006 4:14 am - Hasn't voted


I was struck by the outpouring of condolences when Ed Miller died on the traverse, and that was in part, along with the loss of others, the reason I decided to write this article. I think, perhaps, our paths and experiences since losing close friends are very similar. If the traveling summit register ever makes it close to Montana, I would be honored to join in day of remembrance.
Best Regards;

Bob Sihler

Bob Sihler - Nov 10, 2006 4:43 am - Voted 10/10

Inspiring, and sobering

This is a beautiful tribute to your friends. It also reminds us all of what is at stake, but what there is to gain, too. The people who love me worry themselves sick because I go off climbing alone, but it's in doing that that I find my peace, inspiration, and redemption. It is a paradox.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Nov 10, 2006 5:10 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Inspiring, and sobering

Thanks for the thoughtful comments on this article. My people also have a hard time understanding that I climb because I can`t not climb.

T Sharp

T Sharp - Dec 14, 2006 2:57 am - Hasn't voted

Re: whoa

Thanks for the very nice comment dgreaser. To live each day to its fullest, to the best of our ability is the BEST we can do. Learning to accept that is all we can do is the tough part.

Fuzzycake - Dec 25, 2006 4:03 am - Hasn't voted

Living and Dying

This was on the refrigerator of a lady I admired. She died last year in a climbing accident. “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the
intention of arriving safely in an attractive and wellpreserved
body, but rather to skid in sideways,
champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body
thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming
‘WOO-HOO—what a ride!’”

T Sharp

T Sharp - Dec 25, 2006 5:48 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Living and Dying

She must have been quite a Gal! People like that are a true joy to have known.
Best Regards;

William Jenkinson

William Jenkinson - Feb 26, 2007 12:53 am - Hasn't voted

Living and Dying

From an old Irish Ballad, "contentment of mind is not found in the valley but high on a mountain".

Viewing: 1-18 of 18

A Strange Paradox

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