When I got home today, I read that Craig Luebben was killed in the Cascades. Craig was not only a great climber, but also a husband father, mountain guide, and inventor of BigBro tube chocks. He authored numerous books on climbing and was previously on the Board of Directors, American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA).
I didn’t expect Craig to be killed. When John Bachar died climbing last month, it did not surprise me, since John soloed so many climbs that I did not think it unlikely that he would fall to his death sooner or later. But Craig mostly climbed in the U. S., and mostly on rock, using a rope, so I gave him a good chance of survival.Plus, he had a wife and young daughter, and in my experience, many parents climb more conservatively.
After reading the shocking news, I walked out into the living room.
“This is not a good year,” I said.
My son turned and looked at me. “Who died now?” he asked.
How sad, and what a statement about our passion, climbing, and the lives of our friends, that when I say it’s a bad year, or day, my son doesn’t ask if it’s money, or my job, or the economy - but immediately asks the obvious: who died now.
I wonder if that’s the right reaction for a teenage boy, that when I say it’s bad news, he immediately thinks it’s death. Of course, there have been a lot of deaths lately. In June, our good friend Micah Dash disappeared in China. I first met Micah in 2001, when I lived in Yosemite’s Camp 4 on the SAR (Search and Rescue ) site next door to Micah and Amelia’s tent cabin. Tristan, then 10 years old, spent a month there with me, and looked up to climbers like Micah and Craig Luebben.
He’d gone to Micah’s birthday party at Indian Creek, and as he learned to climb harder, was excited to know so many of the country’s top climbers. Now, he’s learning a sad reality of life: it is so very, very short.
I learned this truth early, since my father was also an avid mountaineer. I learned to love climbing when my family and I joined him in the mountains, and I learned to love the high places that he loved. And I learned that there’s a price to pay for our joy and for the beauty: it may take our lives. Yet I never felt that I would give up climbing because it was dangerous. After Tristan was born, I gave up climbing in the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, and I gave up climbing ice in the Canadian Rockies, Europe, and similar places, but continued to climb rock throughout the world. I missed ice, and the spectacular beauty of high mountains, but I loved to rock climb, so that was ok.
I wonder if some climbers can’t limit themselves to rock, with a rope, and feel caged by those boundaries and must continue to push themselves on harder, and more dangerous terrain?
People always say, “He died doing what he loved”, but to me, that’s not as good as living doing what we love. I hope that my friends who are climbers will find a way to joy in the mountains that allows them to survive to climb again, and to enjoy more days with their friends.