He Is Remembered
by Chris de Serres
There was a stretch of a few years when I was new to climbing. Everything I did, everything I learned was an exciting discovery. So many treasures did I unearth in the Pacific Northwest. A place I called home but, up until that point, hardly knew.
Climbing this place began my awareness of the land, the mountains, and the trees. The animals too. Oh, how they filled in the natural features with sound and life. One could feel a sense of solitude, but never loneliness.
There was this leader, his name was Jack. He had a reputation in our circle. He rubbed folks the wrong way. There was the story about how he led a crew up to the summit of Mt. Rainier in bad weather. He should have turned back, but he didn’t. He wanted that summit. They got socked down due to high winds and swirling snow and ice. A rescue helicopter had been called to pluck them back to civilization. It was said he endangered the lives of the climbers he led that day. Some criticized him and called him dangerous. For that trip and others.
When I finally met him the first thing I noticed about him was his smile. It was ever-present and infectious. Like a joke being told without words.
Each summer we would have our cozy campfire in the Icicle Creek valley. There was drinking and laughing. Brian had the coals over his dutch oven with cherry cobbler bumbling underneath. It had to be done just right and only he could do it. We always gravitated toward Jack. He was the center of the swirl of activity, holding court in his camp chair. The campfire flickered across his thin, featured face. You could always see his eyes, they felt so alive and feverish.
The first time I took my then girlfriend Ophelia he put out the welcome mat and made her feel like she was one of the clan. She wasn’t a climber or a mountaineer, but she was part of the circle. They talked and laughed and argued and debated, then laughed again.
I didn’t always get to see Jack, but I knew he wouldn’t miss the campfire. Neither would I.
A time came when I aspired to be a climb leader myself. He was the first person I came to. He became a mentor and key figure in my own climbing story. We planned a trip. The idea was that he’d let me lead the trip and he’d sit back and make sure I didn’t kill myself or any students. He was a strong personality, so I was a little concerned he would take over the entire trip. What happened was the furthest thing. He let me run the show. He answered questions when I had them. He made me look good.
Sadly I didn’t see a whole lot of Jack after our brief mentorship. A couple of years later I heard that his wife called the mountain rescue. He planned to climb Morningstar Peak solo and he was overdue. No call. No nothing.
They found him at the base of a mountain slope. His dog was there by his side, in the snow. Shivering and confused.
In the report of the accident, they found a blow to the back of his head. It was thought that maybe he stopped on the slope and bent over for something and a piece of ice came down and struck him.
Life is funny like that. People shuffling in and out of it. Never knowing the significance they hold in one person’s journey. In a hundred or a thousand. They just go away one day, without so much as a goodbye.
Jack was strong of spirit. No matter what we were doing, he was a source of great comfort to me. Just knowing he was there. It’s been many years now but I will always imagine him in his beloved mountains. His “cathedral” as he always called. High up there in on the throne of his god.