When Tomorrow Never Comes

I can only imagine how excited you were, hiking up to the base in the crisp, pre-dawn air. You’d probably been watching this thing grow, knowing it doesn’t come in often. The day before you died, I noticed the same line and thought of you, even though we hadn’t climbed together in a while. You always had your eyes peeled for the next new line, the ones that only come in for a short stretch and then are gone, maybe never to reappear. Redstone is ripe with this kind of climbing, and it fueled your passion.

You left the house early, probably so you could be with your family later that day. You had climbed similar features in the past, knew what to look for. Did you have any indication this thing was unstable? Sometimes we get warning signs, sometimes we don’t. As you geared up for the rope solo, you could probably barely contain your excitement at how beautiful the line was. A slender, singular pillar, hundreds of feet above the valley floor, with no one but perhaps a barking dog in the houses below to keep you company.

We don’t know much about what happened after you started up. You were rope soloing, always one to take the conservative approach. You could keep it together in stressful situations that would have had others weeping like children, but I never saw you push it too far, or in a reckless manner. As you slowly picked your way up, you probably marveled at the beauty of the formation you were on. And then something went terribly wrong, and in an instant you were gone.

When I heard it was you, my heart sank, and I immediately thought of Robin and the kids. When I was younger, I would have been hasty to judge this kind of thing, saying that someone with a family shouldn’t be doing such dangerous things, like alpinism or ice climbing. But with the small bit of wisdom I’ve been granted in my thirties, I realize that like so much in life, it’s not that black and white. And while the larger conversation about risk will go on and on for as long as climbing is around, the bottom line is that none of us gets out of here alive, and tip-toeing around the obvious dangers doesn’t mean something won’t sneak up on us from behind.

You pursued your passions to the fullest, not just climbing, but your family and friends, and your dedication to your job. You’ll be missed, but every time I drive up the Crystal River Valley, you’ll be in my mind. I’ll remember the fun days we had out there, and think of you every time I see something come in that I know you would have been excited about.

 

 

Ryan Jennings on Dancing in the Moonlight in perfect conditions, Redstone, 2006.

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