19 March 2014

Losing a Friend to The Mountains

On February 19, I lost a friend to the mountains. Loren Miller was an expert telemark and downhill skier and an accomplished mountaineer and rock climber. While I was not one of Loren's closest friends, I have known him for many years and spent a few days chasing him down the ski hill, where he often made me feel like a lowly beginner. This guy Loren. This guy could ski.

We were actually supposed to ski together on the 18th, and even saw each other in the ticket line, but he headed down early with his ski partner to return the next day with fresh legs. Loren did return to the hill the next day, and skied some of the same lines I had been skiing in similar conditions when he fell into a tree well. He didn't make it home.

Loren was an expert skier traveling in-bounds with a skilled and experienced partner. By all measures he did everything right, and his passing is still pretty hard to fathom. The last month has been difficult for all of us - his friends and family - as we try to adjust to the new "normal" without him; reconciling our lives before with our lives after. I feel lucky that I knew him, and am honored to have been e a part of his memorial ceremony.

As I become more and more enveloped in this outdoor community, my sphere of friendship gets both larger and smaller, and really it's only a matter of time until I lose another friend to the mountains. I view this reality with a heavy heart. A few other bloggers have written thoughtful pieces recently on losing loved ones to the great outdoors. Their posts are more eloquent than I can be right now, and I'd like to quote their words with the hope that they will touch you as they have touched me (my highlights in bold):

Sean Leslie, in Learning to Tie the Most Important Knots, says:

One of my best friends died in a climbing fall at Temple Crag in the Sierra. Linnea was climbing by herself, soloing a route called Venetian Blind when she fell....I know some people think Linnea died doing something reckless. I’ve heard people say that before, and sometimes I agree with them. But that was Linny. That was the life she led. She was constantly pushing herself, constantly defying what other people told her she could and could not do. Linnea was herself a force of nature.
The day before the funeral, there were hundreds and hundreds of pictures of Linnea on display at her mother’s house. I still remember thinking—looking at those images of Linnea summiting snowcapped, jagged mountains and topping out on wind-blasted sandstone cliffs—besides my own loss of a friend, an amazing wealth of knowledge and experience had been lost to the world. She had seen and done so many incredible things.

Mary Emerick, in On Mountains and Avalanches and Risk, says: 

The mountains are our barometer and our playground, and, on occasion, our tomb. “We don’t live here to stay inside,” my friend says, hearing the news. She is right....The mountains are the first place we look at sunrise and the last thing we see before darkness closes us in. The mountains are part of us, not separate.
So when an avalanche sweeps down in the remote backcountry and two people never go home again, it feels almost like a betrayal....I love the mountains, but I am reminded again and again that they do not love me back.
I came to the mountains as a brittle young girl, afraid of just about everything, and the mountains taught me to be brave. They taught me when to back off and when to go for it...I still have plenty to learn from the mountains....each death in the wilderness brings back all the other ones, all the other people you have known or maybe not even really known, but heard of... and each time someone is taken from us, it is a rip in the fabric that makes up our personal landscape. 
We still stare up at the mountains. We still love them. Somewhere inside, there is still delight.

I feel all of these things about Loren. He had so much more to share with the world. His wealth of knowledge and passions for skiing and climbing and cars are now lost forever. I feel like the mountains have betrayed me, and as Mary said: no matter how much I love them, they will never love me back.

But then I look outside. And I'm reminded of the beauty that surrounds us every day. I'm motivated to grow my skills and knowledge so that I can continue to be as safe as possible while outside. I'm inspired to continue to seek adventure.

And I hope. I hope that Loren found happiness in his final moments. I hope that we can come to terms with his passing. I hope the mountains will continue to greet me with smiles when I am lucky enough to find myself there.

RIP Loren Miller | April 5, 1980 - February 19, 2014


Cori said...

Well written, friend. <3 I can't imagine what a challenge this last month has been for you. Sending big hugs from afar.

Anonymous said...

Very touching piece, Kristina. Thank you for sharing.