Saturday, June 10, 2006

Karen and Sue

Karen and Sue

Two friends, Karen and Sue, are missing in Alaska. They left basecamp on the 12th of May and and started up the challenging Infinite Spur route on Mt. Foraker on May 14. A rescue effort started about a week ago when friends became concerned that they had not been seen on the descent route, which faces Denali and is pretty easy to see with binoculars. At this point the details of where and when they were last seen, tracks, and gear found at the base just do not add up to a good outcome. The pair likely ran out of fuel and food over a week ago, and without fuel there’s no way to melt snow for water. No water means no life. There are stil lingering thoughts of hope along the lines that they have descended the back side of the mountain all the way to tree line and are, to quote a friend, “Roasting porcupines and wondering how the hell to get out of the woods.” If the two are in fact alive it would be the survival story of the century, and I would love to get the good news. But reality is harsh on hope most of the time in these situations. Friends are starting to plan memorial services, and personally I ache for the families of both women.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with both Karen and Sue over the years; Karen has always been generous with her research, time and smiles. Karen had started to really make her climbing life work, yet remained very honest about what she did and how. Some “Professional” climbers seem to be on a quest to support their own egos, Karen was on a quest to climb in stupendous places with close friends, and did so with a modesty that was as refreshing as sticking your head in a glacial stream. I just realized I wrote the above in past tense; I would so love to be wrong!

Last year Sue and I, along with a couple of other friends, had a long discussion about alpinism. She sat on the steps in our house and just went off, it was impressive. Her energy and bounce were all out of proportion to her size, in the best possible way. I also remember Karen sitting on those same steps at a party with glitter all over the place, those two memories make me bust a smile right now.

I’m feeling very conflicted about alpine climbing at the moment. The sublime beauty of the mountains is absolutely worth exploring them, but mountains are so damn big and oblivious to the small human ants scurrying around on them. Karen and Sue are yet two more friends I miss deeply. I so hope they are instilling fear in the porcupines of Denali National Park, but know intellectually that this just isn’t likely. Peace to their families and friends around the world.

WG, up in the Yukon.