When I came down from a week in the Cordillera Blanca to learn that Michael had died while soloing in the high Sierra Nevada, my reaction was one of sadness tinged with the stoic quiver of knowing that a friend died doing the things he loved the most. In the brief time I got to know him, I discovered that Michael and I shared an ever-waning appreciation for the romantic intricacies of the human spirit upon which climbing has the ability to shed light; A deep respect for metaphor, the awareness of self which inevitably flowers from the absurd and often dangerous situations we put ourselves in, and the power of that awareness to let us sympathize with our fellow adventurers and those who have risked and thrived in so many other arenas.
Being in his early 40’s, Michael gave me a glimpse of what I might grow into as my years continue to fly by. It’s rare that I see my future-self reflected in older people, not because I will not age, but because I strive to maintain my youth through a free spirited attitude that often goes limp when life’s many tribulations inevitably harden the spirit. But Michael learned and practiced one of the many skills necessary to climbers and writers…the ability to take one’s self lightly. His writing was always laced with a thread of humor, often at his own expense, despite the ever-present and usually unspoken fact that Michael was, in all senses of the word, a rock-star.
I sit here in a coffee shop in Huaraz, Peru, planning another foray into the Cordillera Blanca, where the sense that one’s life is in the hands of the mountains can be as blinding as the endless white glaciers, and a thirst for glory can darken our better judgment more than the blackness of night. Michael climbed in these mountains as well, and no doubt came away from his experience with far more than met his eyes or chilled his bones.
Here’s to you Michael.