The Polish-American writer Czeslaw Milosz — 1980 Nobel Laureate in Literature — opined that, “When a writer is born into a family, the family is finished.” Serious writers reveal themselves as earnestly as they divulge the lives and situations of others: One descends into decorative activity if disengaged from self-examination.
I would disserve readers not to detail the most disturbing event in my life; twenty-five years ago, this week; a near-death experience which I survived.
I said, then, that it is difficult to lose a friend, it is difficult to come close to dying, and it is difficult to watch someone else die: To experience the three simultaneously is substantially worse.
I additionally allowed that one never wishes to see one’s name in the American Alpine Club’s “Accidents in North American Mountaineering:” I am found, in 1998 [covering 1997], on page 74: FALL ON ROCK, INADEQUATE BELAY AND PROTECTION. Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Teton, Owen-Spaulding:
“On July 4 [sic: Saturday July 5th] at 0925, Jackson Hole Mountain Guide Allan Bard (44) took a fatal leader fall while guiding on the Owen-Spaulding Route on the Grand Teton. He and his client, Jay Wiener, were on a section of the route known as the Double Chimney when the accident occurred. Bard fell approximately 130 feet to the end of the rope before his fall was arrested. Other climbers in the area became aware of the accident and came to Wiener’s assistance, but they were unable to reach Bard.”
Analysis concluded, “The equipment used by Bard and his client performed exceptionally well and probably had no bearing on the cause of this accident. The rope and harness took an extreme fall and was apparently undamaged. It was fortunate that a single stopper placed at the belay held or the fall would certainly have resulted in a second fatality….
“… It is unlikely that someone could have rappelled to Bard following the accident and properly treated his injuries fast enough to save his life.
“Bard was climbing well within his abilities. He was well known and respected by other climbers for both his climbing ability and guiding. He apparently had an accident-free record throughout his career as a climber and guide.”
I met Allan five summers earlier. A guide engaged could not fulfill his commitment. After explaining to me that he made other arrangements, he described Allan as “legendary” — possibly understatement. Our first climb was on Allan’s 40th birthday; after which he signed, as gift, his guide to that section of the Sierra Nevada.
We climbed together repeatedly, thereafter, cherishing each other’s company and counsel. I well remember his exuberant “Mister We-NUR!”, whenever I called.
John Nicholson, one of my Troop 1 Scoutmasters, asked, after the accident, whether Allan was a friend. I responded, “You understand as a fisherman: The relationship began as a commercial engagement. We became friends, spending time together.” Nick grasped the comment intuitively. Doing what energizes one, outside, with a guide, transcends any economic equation — among life’s most meaningful moments.
I will always miss Allan, acutely aware that, if the sole piece of protection between us failed, I would have fallen four thousand feet down the north face of the Grand Teton — the subsequent quarter-century unknown.
Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” encapsulates sentiments:
“I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down
“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
I become tearful listening.
I cried myself to sleep for awhile after the accident; unable to sleep upon awakening, my mind racing. I have issues sleeping still — unconsciousness paralleling death which came too close.
All of us ponder death post-pandemic: No one controls who lives and who dies.
We determine our joy in life. Cherish each day with heartfelt appreciation.
Jay Wiener is a Northsider