In the mid-90s, I spent a unique Christmas morning under a full moon on top of Mt Cook in New Zealand. My guide was a young man called David. On the descent, he rappelled off the end of our rope. A common accident, which had no consequences because the end of our rope was only a couple feet off the ground. The mountains got him several years later when he was killed by a Himalayan avalanche.
Roll forward a bit and I was flying into Denali. As I was landing, the rangers were dragging a body bag across the snowy runway. They flew a young man out on the plane that flew me in.
Later that trip, I was shuttling loads between camps. I was solo and approaching a higher risk area near 14K. There was a commercial group nearby and I asked to clip into their rope to get past a sketchy area. The guide said sorry, but no. He was blown off a high ridge a couple days later when his group was caught out in a storm. He’d unclipped to help a client.
My biggest ghost is the father of my dead friend, Stuart. I met him shortly after placing his young son’s casket in a hearse. The depth of his despair as been with me ever since. He gave me a hug, which felt like his soul was collapsing into my heart.
My ghosts are always with me in the mountains.
What do they say?
My ghosts remind me that it is impossible to see the number of lives that await us.
Since my friend died, I’ve had many lives: financier, elite athlete, father, husband, entrepreneur…
Stu lost his lives, his children’s lives and his grandchildren’s… not a fair trade.
The magnitude of his loss grows as I move through my own life and have the opportunity to share the world with my children.
Yesterday, I didn’t tell my son about “the Dad at the Funeral.” It remains a difficult story to discuss.
Instead, I gave him a soft hug while telling him that I’d like to keep hiking with him for the rest of my life and that means we’re going to have to turn around sometimes when I don’t feel right.
He asked what scares me and I told him, “losing you.”