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Mates, Wakes, and Quakes


Submitted by fjielgeit on 2006-12-01 | Last Modified on 2006-12-02

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by unknown unknown


Todd Skinner had a memorial. Kamps, Pratt, Rowell, Harding, Johnson . . .

When I die and they lay me to rest I want
my mountain buddies there who know
me the best.
(from the song by Credence Clearwater Revival)

I just topped out a Half Dome worth of years. Been climbing up and skiing down mountains since 1975, and my bones feel it.

There was a group of us in Sacramento, California at that time, who eventually went to “look beyond the ranges” (Kipling) of the Lake Tahoe region: Tony Jewell, Terence Phillipe, Joel Moore, Dan Dobbins, Dave Nettle, Tom Manning, Dave Kilokoski, and Susan Brown. We sounded our “barbaric yap over the roof of the world” (Whitman).

By the early 1980’s we all tied the knot, shared a cosmic umbilical cord of perlon (with Sue it was to telemark). We nurtured one another while playing these extreme (you could be extremely dead if done wrong), but vital games.

Over the next decade I moved and lost track of many of these gods. I bet you’ve had this experience. I kept track of their exploits in Climbing Magazine, Rock & Ice. Too bad, looking back on it. These pals and I were melded together with a granite force of nature. We shared the gift of holding one another’s life in our hands. I can’t watch that phony Survivor Hollyweird series. I think of all the shrinks off screen and producers and directors tweaking the scenes, paramedics and helicopters at their beckon call. DK and I wanted no such luxury at Sugarloaf, half way up a climb, me with broken ribs and a numb arm, easiest way down was up. This is part of the gig. That was one era.

Scott Eaton, in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, held many of my falls, as I his. There were several of us who met regularly in Southern Cal, with our own granite force of tight knit fabric: Will Toms, Dana and Jen Webster, Lynlee Sweetland, John Blaubach, Dan Freeman, Scott. Our hands in a crack we were plugged into the energy source of the universe. I’ve lost track of most of these souls. Couldn’t be helped? I wonder.

Today I made contact with Scott, first time in fifteen years. Took me a detective’s worth of searching to find him! Scott said, “Dave, you introduced me to 5.10 lead climbing.” Scott went further up the decimal scale as I declined, moving to Florida. Our last climb – Solid Gold, Joshua Tree, 5.10a – was a five star performance. To watch Scott on the sharp end of his Mammut was to see Baryshnikov on a vertical stage.

OK, you ask, where is this guy going with this nostalgia crap? Here’s where: Martin Buber taught us about deep friendships. He called them “I Thou.” Both partners are sacred when they share an adventure of the spirit. Scott, Susan, and the others were as real as the stuffed bunny in Margery Williams book, The Velveteen Rabbit.

Some are lost and gone forever. Like the Clearwater Revival song, they’ve gone to the spirit in the sky, gone to the place that’s the best. It is because of these I write this note. I cannot tell DK how much I dug our times together. But if I knew where Sue was (Colorado?) I’d contact her and give back the ski gloves she gave me as a gift but were too small, and I’d apologize for a bonehead maneuver I did that caused her much grief.

I’ve had a few deaths in my family recently, and the number of American climbing’s golden era saints that have left us will grow longer. A year ago or so I broke my elbow. Snapped like an aspen twig in winter, CRACK. All of this was an earthquake in my brain. I want to catch up with these compadres before the wake. I want to tell them in person of their value, how they helped grow me up. Got anybody you wish to contact?

We cannot tie the knot again as in the days of yesteryear. But we are still sons and daughters of the earth, connected by at least scar tissue and muscle memory.

We were one, once.

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