By Mallorie Estenson
[This story was first published by Mallorie Estenson on pnwclimbergirl.wordpress.com on July 28, 2016.]
It finally happened. I lost a climbing friend.
A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece for a magazine about accidents in the alpine. I asked a few climber friends for sources on the subject, and eventually got directed to a couple of climbers that had a boulder pull on them while climbing Mt. Goode. Luckily, the climber got out. But that’s not always the case.
I don’t remember all of the exact details – how high they were, how long it took Search and Rescue to save the fallen climber – but I will never forget a quote from one of my interviews.
“No matter who you are – if you’re around ski mountaineering or climbing for a long enough period of time – you’re going to have friends or friends-of-friends who die or are seriously injured in the mountains.”
At the time, I appreciated the gravity of the statement. It stuck with me, lodged in my memory. But it finally happened and the shock hit me like a tidal wave.
I was home alone last night. I’d just finished writing a piece for the Mount Baker Experience and another collaboration piece with my boyfriend about an incredibly fun climb on Forbidden. I opened Facebook on my phone and there was the news.
A woman with an amazing climbing resume, years of experience and incredible humility had died climbing in the Waddington Range.
I met Laurel Fan the first time I went ice climbing in Marble Canyon. We chatted beneath frozen waterfalls and later hung out back at our dumpy little motel. She was leading WI3+ with grace and confidence. While I didn’t realize it at the time, Laurel left a huge impression on me because I hadn’t seen a woman be that bad ass before. That casually confident, strong and sure of herself. I have since followed her on social media and been in awe of her numerous accomplishments. She’s the type of lady I aspire to be.
And you know what’s funny? Laurel was the one to give me the sources for the story I mentioned earlier.
When I read the news, I was shocked to my core.
Have you ever watched a bubble pop? You know that moment of transition where there’s a perfect circle and then it’s suddenly gone, just a few drops left falling to the ground?
My attitude toward mountain shenanigans is a popped bubble. While I love to laugh and have fun in the alpine, I recognize how fragile and utterly mortal I am – we all are.
Last night, I just sat at my computer and cried. I cried for Laurel and all of the people who lost a friend, a partner and a source of inspiration. I cried for my lost naivety. This thing that we do is serious. There are consequences. No matter who you are, how experienced you are, how many peaks you’ve bagged, there’s always a chance that something could go horribly wrong whether it’s directly to you, a friend or a friend-of-a-friend.
I’m going to remember Laurel and think of her when I dream about the climber I hope to eventually be. I’m going to take it slow in the alpine and strive to recognize the constant risk.
If you’re a climber or know a climber, show love whenever you can. You never know when that bubble might pop.
Mallorie Estenson is a climber, writer and photographer based in Bellingham. She lives her life on the cusp of being considered a dirtbag, and likes it that way.