The alarm blared repeatedly until I was jolted awake, not knowing what was a dream and what was real. I had to go to work for a few hours; that was real. The dog was curled up between my legs, patiently waiting to go out and there was a growing desire to get the coffee pot going; that was also real. I turned to my phone at the side of my bed to check how many little pop-ups had been sent to me through cyberspace as I slept soundly; seven new, real little red dots lit up the screen. I was substantially falling behind on work, emails, deadlines—all new things in my adult life (whatever that means). And for a few sweet moments, as I lay there half in my dreamscape, I forgot about the day before. I forgot about the hours where I knew what I already knew but had to wait for the confirmation. “Climber dies in Zion National Park” news reports read. I scoured the Internet for any and all information possible, frantic to know the truth and simultaneously resisting the possibility that it could be someone I knew.
Some friends directed to me to the International Mountain Equipment in Salt Lake City, where they had seen a recent post about a lost loved one. I called and spoke with Shingo briefly; the post wasn’t in regards to the fatality in Zion but I gave him my sincerest condolences. He said it had been a rough few weeks on the death front and we shared a comfortable silence on the phone before I thanked him for his time.
You put all of your emotions on hold until you have the hard facts in front of you, and even when you finally have them, there is still that nagging feeling of utter disbelief. I had never lost anybody in a rock climbing accident. I’ve gone through the grief of losing a loved one in my mid-twenties, and pray that I did it with grace and prudence. It took me several years to learn what loss was trying to teach me, which is hard when loss can seem so senseless. Unless we can find meaning in it, it all seems so senseless.
You don’t measure love and friendship in time, I’ve learned. A connection between people doesn’t necessarily require years of history; all it needs is a moment of resonance between two souls. That’s part of the beauty of life—you can have many “soulmates”. It isn’t necessarily limited to one (romantic) partner.
As a climber, it remains the number one reason why I do what I do. It isn’t about summits and sends. For me, it’s about feeling as humanly connected to the world and the people who live in it. It’s about feeling shamelessly alive and sharing the joy of those summits and sends with like-minded people. Eric Klimt and I shook hands for the first time at the campground in Red Rocks, Las Vegas. Gašper Pintar and I were preparing for The Great Roof when he told me about his friend from the Valley coming to meet us: the “man with the mustache”.
Eric, his mustache and I had a few great adventures out west before he left for Chattanooga in November. Only a week after his departure, I drove across the country to see him and tie in one last time. A part of me wasn’t ready for our time to be over. I think I saw something special in him when I met him because he was yearning for a type of otherness, like me (and like most climbers). When we met, I felt that about him immediately; it seemed like traveling filled that desire for him.
Sitting in the Pickle Barrel post-climbing one night, guzzling down one whiskey after another (after another), we rambled on about existentialisms and rock climbing. He mused over a climb he and Gašper had tried in the Creek a few weeks earlier. Gašper told him after he’d taken several repeated falls and chuffed his way up some iconic crack: “Your feet were sloppy.”
Eric laughed at Gašper’s honesty and said, “He was right!”
He raised his glass and—maybe it was the whiskey talking—began talking about becoming a better climber by being more empathetic. “You’ve got to be bold, Kathy.” he leaned over and told me. “Bring everything you’ve got with you—bring the goddam kitchen sink. You can listen to others; you can be soft and listen hard.”
We’d talked about climbing Separate Reality and were making plans to spend a summer in Vedauwoo. He was excited about his new job which gave him lots of time off to climb, and I was happy to meet him anywhere. Whether these trips were going to happen or not isn’t important; what was important was understanding that, within those moments we shared, the possibility of anything and everything existed in our words. There’s a magic in that.
Before I was a climber, an old friend imparted a few words of wisdom upon me: “Live your life. Don’t look back and limit the things you regret because nothing we do is in vain as long as we can look back and say we were in it for the right reasons at the time.”
People have asked me if I’ll consider not climbing after something like this. Quitting climbing would be doing Eric’s memory a great disservice. If death is what befalls us, it’s because we chose to do something that we love. And Eric loved climbing because he loved freedom; he existed on his own terms and believed in infinite possibilities. I need to believe in infinite possibilities because, for me, it’s what makes life and climbing relevant.
He was a good climber, but more than that, Eric illuminated in a mysterious, visionary, and ultimately, hopeful manner, the constant divisions in our hearts that make us so very human. His words often articulated what all of us are yearning for: a meaningful camaraderie with a preposterous and beautiful world. And for right now, I’m simply grateful to have been a part of it.
“Get outside. It’s where the good stuff is happening.”
In loving memory of Eric Klimt
(February 8, 1980 – March 9, 2016)