Pick up any publication pertaining to the sport of rock climbing, and chances are, you will see a smattering of descriptive chronicles highlighting the travels and adventures of the prolific scribe Abbey Smith. A climber and writer for over 10 years, Abbey travels extensively, financing her jet set lifestyle though her writing, allowing her more opportunities to pursue her love of adventure. Abbey has reported on a myriad of topics. From the exclusive hobby of vintage motor racing, to sassy, healthy-savvy posts on BeThree.com, to being on the editorial staff of the independent green publication elephant journal, a quarterly magazine devoted to living the "mindful life" through conscious consumerism, sustainability, eco-fashion and non new-aged spirituality.
Abbey's energy for writing is ravenous. When she speaks of it, her article ideas roll out of mouth in constant barrage without commas, periods, or other punctuation, but when placed in front of a computer, the word stream subsides into descriptive prose reminiscent of Joanne Harris. Dead Point Magazine is privileged to have her as a contributing blogger.
I don't even know where to begin. Three weeks ago, I was at the zenith of happiness and success. I was riding the creative wave, writing daily, climbing strong and enjoying the warm summer rays with friends by the pool. On Thursday, June 4 I received a voicemail from Pete Takeda that he was going to be late for dinner, had cancelled his trip to Pakistan and was instead leaving for China to look for Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson. In that instant, my life changed forever.
No one had heard from them since May 20 and they missed their flight from Chengdu on June 3. Their objective: the east face of Mount Edgar (6,818 meters/22,368 feet) on the Minya Konka massif in the Western Sichuan Province, China. It's common for expeditions to run late and Jonny was rarely punctual. I remained hopeful as six highly experienced alpine climbers-and also friends-were deployed to the area. But by that weekend, we knew they were gone.
For the last month I've been slogging through the thick fog of despair trying to pick up the pieces of my shattered heart. As I write this, my hands are trembling, eyes tearing and stomach knotting. My computer is dusty and my inbox is filling with unanswered emails.
Countless times I've said goodbye to Jonny and Micah the night before embarking on epic expeditions, but I never thought I'd say my final farewell so soon. They were at the top of their game in all aspects of life-as world-class, all-around climbers, innovative business leaders, community activists, talented artists, loyal friends, loving sons and devoted lovers. They were two of my closest friends, a part of "the tribe," and the heroes who taught me how to live life to the fullest by leading with the heart. Together, we dreamed big, climbed hard, and shared a passionate lifestyle. When life got dark and heavy, they always brought a ray of light with profound wisdom and comic relief. In serious situations they reminded me it's about having fun. Jonny and Micah had a way of cutting though darkness, disarming fear and forcing though suffering. They lived in the present moment and proved that you can make your wildest dreams come true. They broke barriers and carved out their own path that brought happiness, strength and courage to all who were touched by their lives.
On day 6 the wound was getting infected and needed to dry out and heal. I was emotionally exhausted and wanted to feel alive again. Luckily, I received a golden ticket into the Hueco Tanks guide training, which ideally landed while we waited for the China rescue team to return with our buddies. On Wednesday morning, in the midst of the storm, I packed my bags, scooped up Trevor Turmelle and GP Salvo and drove south to the desert oasis to cleanse.
For years, Trevor and Ty Foose have talked up summer as the best time to climb in Hueco Tanks. I always said they were crazy, but I was intrigued. While debating whether or not to attend the guide training, Ty Foose enticed me to West Mountain with an undeveloped boulder. On Monday, he went exploring and established Copp Out on what we dubbed the Tribute Boulder in the Jungle area. That sealed the deal. On Friday morning, in scalding 95-degree heat and direct sunshine, we crawled into the shady cave to pay tribute the best way I know how. Copp Out follows a stunning line through a 70-degree overhanging compression roof on openhanded scoops with big, thuggy moves. Just like Jonny, the movement is powerful, sustained, engaging and you can't back down.
For the next three days, I sat in an air-conditioned classroom with my wandering mind and tried not to cry whenever death or human remains were mentioned (Yes, I even cried during the orientation video). Each day, the class trailed behind Superintendent Wanda Olszewski on rock art and bouldering tours through the vacant park that was blossoming with new foliage and swarming with mosquitoes. At night, we enjoyed the comfortable temps, grilled out, skateboarded on Ty's rooftop and played poker. After three 8-hour days and two dozen bug bites, I received my guide certification and it was all worth it.
Now that I'm back home, life suddenly looks different on the other side of grief. In the wake, all that's left are the raw particles of my existence--misshapen with jagged edges. My emotions are like a roller coaster between extreme nausea, stomach cramping laughter, violent anger and dark depression. I attempt to regroup and focus on the next phase without the two men who instilled me with strength and courage and helped me shape who I am today. Despite saying goodbye at their memorials, I still have the feeling that Jonny's going to stroll through the door cackling with his genuine smile from ear to ear. I can't help but grin and laugh in their remembrance. Now it's my turn to take the lead.