Perhaps the best nature photographer to come around since Ansel Adams, Galen Rowell was killed, along with his wife, on Saturday. I got turned on to his work way back in ’82, when I first started reading Outside magazine, and always aspired to be at least 10% as good as he was.
People are dropping like flies, I tell ya. As I wrote before, an acquaintance through the Alpine Club plummeted to his death this spring when the wall of ice he was on collapsed. Last week, as I’m sure most people have heard, a couple fell to their deaths on Cap Trinité, most likely in their sleep. Then again, a lot of fellow climbers I spoke with all had the same initial thought; they fell out of their portaledge while, um, exchanging vital bodily fluids.
The saddest event, however, is the disappearance of Brian Faughnan. I met Brian a few years ago on a telemark trip, and we pretty much hit it off. Brian had a rapier-sharp wit and, while he would never be in the elite of any sport, pursued everything he did with a passion. Every year, he would scan the papers out of the Adirondacks, hoping to find news of any slides and avalanches that had occurred the previous winter, so that he could go scramble them in the spring and summer. (Clarification: Scrambling is considered 4th class, i.e. climbing dangerous terrain without the use of a rope. Severe injury is a certainty in case of a fall, and death a distinct possibility.) I personally never went on a climbing or scrambling trip with Brian for, if anything distinguished him more than his love of the outdoors, it was the fact that he was famous for epics. On almost every hiking or scrambling trip that Brian led, the group would inevitably get lost high up on some hill, usually without headlamps, and would eventually find their way out several hours later, tired, scratched, and miles from town. Heck, one time him and his roommate Michelle had to wedge themselves into a crevice on top of a cliff in order to spend the night.
I was aware of three major climbing accidents involving Brian; twice in Ontario (once when he broke his back and had to be helivac-ed out) and, a few years ago, he fell down a cliff at Montagne d’Argent near Mont-Tremblant. The latter was horrific: the fall was witnessed by a lot of friends, Brian broke his hip, his legs, his face, his arm in a few places, and he was blinded in one eye. He was hospitalised for six months, and needed mucho reconstructive surgery. Rehabilitation was a long, drawn-out process, and led to Brian losing his job. He and his girlfriend Lea also split during this time, but remained friends. Finally, this past year, things started to get better; Brian was able to go hiking again and started pushing his limits. Hell, he even started climbing again, and we were down at the Gunks earlier this spring.
Long story short, Brian left for British Columbia back in July and, on July 12, decided to solo climb a glaciated mountain. He hasn’t been seen since. My only wish is that he didn’t suffer, since he had done enough of that in his short life.