Angela has loved to the end of the earth, which is exactly how far she would travel in order to say goodbye to Scott. After two flights that covered every aspect of the Ogre II, search and rescue could find no trace of Scott and Kyle. Adventurous souls leave broken hearts behind, but what about the aftermath? This episode is in loving memory of Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster, who left the world with the question: What will you do with the days that you have? #NWS
This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Enigmatic”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Hélice” by Monplaisir, “Our Home” by Borrtex, “Bloom” by Jahzzar, “Eastern Thought” by Kevin MacLeod, “Tech Toys” by Lee Rosevere, “Pandora’s Delight” by Krackatoa, and “Arboles” and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear.
(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.
Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.
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(ANGELA VAN WIEMEERSCH): Oh, Scott. Yeah so, I met Scott in 2013 and I was super new to ice climbing. Nobody would go climbing with me. I was at the Ouray Ice Park and I was gettin’ ditched every day. They’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s that gumby chick with the core shot rope and a helmet that’s falling off her head.” You know?
(KK): It’s so hard to imagine you getting ditched!
(AVW): Oh yeah, people loved not climbing with me right at the beginning there.
(KK): The reason it’s hard for me to imagine Angela getting ditched is because she is probably one of the most prolific and tenacious climbers in the US. Not an exaggeration. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting her IRL, then you know that she absolutely lives up to her reputation. And if you’re lucky enough like me, to be able to call her a friend means you’ve got someone pretty solid in your corner. And—did I mention this girl can climb?
Her adventure resume isn’t limited to first ascents in the alpine, though; Angela has ice skated, bike toured, paddled, and hitched hiked her way through life (and Canada) before she learned how to swing picks, which is how she met Scott Adamson. And was it fate? Or just happenstance? Who knows. Like most things in life, true love is unpredictable. It’ll find you when you aren’t looking, and usually in the most awkward moments at the most inconvenient times. And, hey—sometimes it even shows up in ripped Levis.
(AVW): So, it was super funny ‘cause I was begging people. I was like, “Will you take me climbing?” and they’re like, “Yeah, maybe Thuuursday.” And I was soloing the kiddie wall just trying to figure out how to kick and swing. I was just so desperate to try to get on some ice. And somebody came over to me and was like, “What are you doing? Like, what are you doing?” I was like, “I’m learning how to be an ice climber.” And they were like, “Do you wanna actually get on a rope?” and I was like, “Yeah!” Then they were like, “Ok, well we’re going to rap in over here.” I was like, “What?” They’re like, “We’re going to rappel in over here.” And I was like, “What’s rappelling?” And he was like, “Oh god. I don’t wanna deal with this.” I was like, “No, no, no! You invited me to go ice climbing.” He was like, “Scott, can you teach this chick how to rappel?”
So, Scott comes over and he’s wearing a pair of Levis. And he tried to put his harness on and he tripped and he fell face first into the snow and was like, “Don’t worry! I’m a guide.” Anyways, we go to rappel off this little tree and I’m all freaked out—so he puts in a bunch of ice screws. It’s so funny: I’m rapping off a tree and three ice screws ‘cause I’m like, “This is so scary!” Anyways, we go in. We climb and over the next couple days, basically I climbed with this crew and I just was so keen that I think he was like, “Aw man, everybody’s really busy with the ice festival competing and sponsor obligations and slideshows and this girl has nothing to do. She can belay me on all this backcountry ice.”
And so, I think it might have been like my fourth day of climbing or something and we did Gravity’s Rainbow, which is a super cool backcountry ice climb that never comes in. And I’m hammering out pitons and I’m like, “How do I work this thing with the lever that you pull?” and he’s teaching me as I’m climbing how to take out cams, you know? Super fast-tracked. But so, we went on to climb, I think seventy days on of ice climbing? And I moved into his truck without even asking. We weren’t even romantic at that point. It was so funny. It was like, everybody was going to Cody, Wyoming to climb and I just wanted to be part of the gang. And I had this rent that I was paying in Ouray—I’d paid cash. And I went to the real estate lady and was like, “Can I get my money back? I don’t actually want to be here anymore. You see, these climbers are going to Wyoming and I want to go, too.” And so, she gave me my money back and I got to bail out of rent and moved into his truck and then I was like, “I hope this guy doesn’t mind that I just totally moved into his truck with him.” And off we went, and we climbed in Cody, we climbed in Santa Quinn, we climbed in Maple, we went to the Vail cave.
And then it was time for Alaska and he was like, “Well, I got big objectives but if you can wrangle a partner up, you should probably come to the central Alaskan range.” So anyways, this was my foundation for meeting him. And I also had no clue that he was “cutting edge”. I didn’t know that he was sponsored. He didn’t tell me any of this. I mean, he gave me Conrad Anker’s biner and I’ll never forget this ‘cause now it’s super funny: he was hooking me up with stuff ‘cause I didn’t have anything, like biners and slings and just things that a climber should own, you know? And he was like, “Oh. This anchor’s Conrad Anker’s.” and I was like, “Who?” And he was like, “That’s awesome. Hang onto that one, ok?” And I was like, “Ok!”
It wasn’t until days before Alaska that I realized that he was super cutting edge and sponsored—not that being sponsored means anything. It just was like a certain stature. I had no idea when I was getting dragged up all these water ice sixes that he was the bee’s knees when it came to climbing. Then I got mad at him and I was like, “How come you didn’t tell me?” and he’s like, “Tell you what?” And I was like, “That you’re this dude with these big goals and these things and you’re cutting edge in this sport.” And he was like, “‘Cause it doesn’t mean anything about me.”
Sure, everybody was like, “Yeah, well you’re a blonde chick. Of course, he took you climbing.” But it wasn’t like that. He took gumbies out all the time. That was why I loved him so much, you know? There’s these kids in Provo that would look up to him. It’s like hometown, small-town Provo, Utah. All the climbers know everyone and he’d be like, “Yeah? You want to go ice climbing? Let’s go.” He’d take out kids that couldn’t climb water ice two. What pro athlete do you know that’s making an effort to go to the local climbing shop and pick up some kid who doesn’t know how to put on his crampons? Scott was always like, “Yeah if you’re psyched—let’s go.” And, I don’t know, he was always like that.
He was always really sarcastic, really funny—his sense of humor was really dry, though. People didn’t get his jokes half the time. He had a flip phone and his jeans were always ripped. The back left pocket of his pants on the seam always ripped. He had five pairs of Levis that were all ripped on the back left pocket and it was so signature Scott. You’re like, “Oh. I can see his underwear.” But he never got new pants and, I don’t know, he was just so Scott. He always came up with these little sayings like “chimpleton”—like when it was really easy. He’d be like, “That’s chimpleton!” and I’d be like, “What are you talking about?” and he’s like, “A chimp could do it! It’s easy!”
(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.
– Before we start this episode, I want to take a minute to emphasize the impact that Angela’s story has had on me. There is a pretty lengthy list of people who are definitely responsible for this podcast, but Angela was the one gave me the guts to actually do it. Just as I’d sort of finalized what I wanted the podcast to be, I thought to myself: “NOBODY IS GONNA TO WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT THEIR SHIT.” Like, their life shit. And I went back and forth in my brain for days and weeks, thinking I couldn’t possibly ask people to share these deep, dark feelings. Those feelings belonged to them. I had no right.
But shortly after, I read a blog post that recapped Angela and Jewell Lund’s trip to Pakistan. In 2017, the girls crossed rivers and glaciers to commemorate Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster’s memory. It was incredibly hard to read, but I felt like I was fat biking down the same roads, indulging in the same fields of wildflowers, and staring up at the same daunting peaks.
Angela wrote: “Pakistan is a beautiful place full of beautiful people. I’m eternally grateful I got to go see the place that brought so much magic to our boys. I hope for all of you close to the boys that I run into you and share all that I can. It’s hard for me to write about because there’s so much I don’t even know where to start. So, don’t be scared to ask. I want to share.”
(AVW): The thing that’s so crazy about all this stuff is that you don’t know how you’re affecting other people. I would have never, ever assumed that somebody reading it would find their own meaning or whatever. It’s funny—the same way that you felt about me writing that, I felt about coming to Hayden’s service and seeing all the people who had gone through so much shit. And everybody was there and strong and trying to be present with it, and that was why I was like, “Oh my god. I have to write something.” You know? And I haven’t written a post since. Great blog. A once a year blog.
(KK): I don’t know anyone who can keep up with a blog.
(AVW): It’s just—I know. But, yeah. I guess you just never know who you’re affecting by just doing what you’re doing or sharing what you’re sharing.
(KK): Definitely. Yeah. There’s a whole ripple effect that I think we’re just completely unaware of, all of the time.
(AVW): All the time.
(KK): Is my light blinking?
(FEMALE NEWSCASTER): It’s been thirty-nine days since the search for two alpine climbers from Utah was called off. Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson were trying to conquer a Pakistani peak that had never been summited.
(MALE NEWSCASTER): The sport of alpine climbing can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. As one Utah doctor knows personally. Kathy Aiken has her story.
(RECORDING OF KYLE DEMPSTER): Risk is—it’s synonymous with life.
(FEMALE REPORTER): The life of an alpine climber is risky. A journey Kyle Dempster knew well.
(KD): On that journey, you go through the feeling of fear to an eventual outcome.
(FR): Dempster made those comments a little more than a year ago, just before he and fellow alpinist, Scott Adamson, attempted to climb the north face of a 23,000-foot mountain called “Ogre II” in Pakistan. It had never been done before, and the outcome last year was nearly fatal. Both men survived falls of several hundred feet.
(KATE WILSON): Ogre II is one of the most challenging and inherently dangerous peaks. It’s not just something that you can walk up.
(chatter in the background)
(FR): Dr. Kate Wilson knows all about the dangers alpine climbers face. Her son, Drew, fell to his death on Baffin Island in northeastern Canada in 2005. Dempster, her nephew, was Drew’s climbing partner that day.
(KW): This is where Drew landed and where Kyle, at great effort, retrieved him. I used to say, “If Drew lives to be twenty”. A good friend told me that I should quit putting that out there, which I did, and he made it to twenty-four.
(FR): Dempster continued his adventures even after Drew’s death. For years, he’s traveled the world and climbed some of the most dangerous peaks.
(KW): Life with passion is the way we should all live—and not everyone has the opportunity to do that.
(KD): I’m loving life, for sure, right now.
(FR): On August 21st, Dempster, age thirty-three, and thirty-four-year-old Adamson wanted one more try on that Pakistani peak. It was supposed to be a five-day trip.
– What was your greatest fear when you knew that Kyle and Scott were going back?
(KW): Certainly, there were fears of an accident. There were fears of weather systems. It’s certainly something that you have to think about when you consider that mountain range.
(FR): The two were last seen August 22nd. The cook at basecamp saw them near the summit before a terrible storm engulfed the mountain. A helicopter crew could find no sign of the climbers. Dr. Wilson’s sister, Terry Dempster—Kyle’s mother, spoke with a climber she knew at the scene.
(KW): She asked him if it was a beautiful place and he assured her that it was. And I think she was comforted in that image of him being lost in a part of nature that he would have cherished. Adventurous souls leave broken hearts behind.
(FR): Kathy Aiken, KLS 5 News.
(KK): Sunday, August 21st, Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson started up the North Face of the Ogre II in the Karakorum. The Ogre II sits over 22,000 feet. Their intent was a five-day climb and descent, however, the following day Ghafoor Abdul, their Pakistani cook, spotted headlamps roughly halfway up the peak. One day later, a storm moved in.
On August 28th, Scott and Kyle were overdue. Climbers from all over mobilized in an effort to initiate a search and rescue effort. A fundraising page was launched and raised almost $200,000, which was critical in covering significant costs incurred in the search and rescue effort. Despite the gravity of the situation, there was hope.
(Facebook message alert)
People posted thoughts and encouragement all over Facebook and social media: “Kyle and Scott, get your asses out of your tent or snow cave and get back to camp. We need you back home!”
A rescue helicopter was launched early on September 3rd, 2016. Given the complexity and scale of the terrain, as well as the weather, the family called off the search. After two flights that covered every aspect of the Ogre II, search and rescue could find no trace of Kyle and Scott.
(AVW): So, in 2017, the summer after the boys had gone missing, Jewell Lund, Andrew Burr, and Steve Fassbinder (also known as “Doom”) trekked over to Pakistan. And the whole meaning behind the trip for me was some sort of intimate experience with this place that Scott and Kyle had felt super close to. More so, I had this compelling feeling to be where Scott was and as the whole rescue was going down, we were orchestrating it out of Salt Lake City. And, I mean, I got overnight visas through the embassy in Pakistan. I was like, “I’m going!” And they were like, “You can’t just go. We need to be on the phones. We need to be dealing with the bureaucracy. We need to be dealing with visas, long-line rescue, helicopters, you know? And it was really hard for me ‘cause I just thought, “Well, if there’s any chance of them being alive, I want to be on the ground. Like, I want to be there.” And so, going back a year later, even though obviously, the search was inconclusive, was a really important thing for me ‘cause I just wanted to be closer. I had this like, “I just really wanted to be there” feeling.
(KK): Physically close. The distance, I mean.
(AVW): I don’t know why. But the physical was so huge for me.
(KK): Angela and Jewell are both well-seasoned climbers. And neither of them had ever imagined going to Pakistan and not climbing. But that’s exactly what they did. With the help of Andrew Burr, “Doom”, and others, they organized a trip to establish a memorial at the base camp where Scott and Kyle stayed. They rode fat bikes up to the Choktoi Glacier, navigating cobblestones and steep cliffs, where they eventually had to carry the bikes.
Jewell and Angela spent days walking around the glacier, talking to someone who wasn’t physically there, sleeping in Scott’s tent at basecamp, listening to old voicemails, and piecing together parts of the boys’ time in Pakistan. Because Angela struggles with high altitude, she thanked the universe for keeping her healthy enough to get her there. She was as close to Scott as she could be. Even though the summit of the Ogre II sits in a thick fog of clouds, they lifted for a few days and the girls felt lucky to see the summit. Angela had dreamt of traveling there with Scott, and it was bittersweet to be in such a beautiful, mountainous place without him.
(AVW): It’s the Karakorum. We’ve looked at objectives, looked at Laytok II. I mean, these mountains weren’t unfamiliar to us. These were also dreams and goals that we have had. And so, deciding to not climb was a really hard thing, which seems funny ‘cause we already had irrational and rational fears about the alpine since losing the boys. But it was just strange. You know? You dream about climbing somewhere and then you’re going to go there and not climb. But we wanted to make sure that it was an adventure and that we were doing something besides sitting and crying in Pakistan. And so, we decided that we would fat tire bike, which was super hilarious. We became the first people in the world ever to take our bicycles up to the Choktoi Glacier, which for a good reason, we were the first people in the world to do it. But it was an adventure. I mean, we basically carried bikes for a long way.
(KK): In death and loss, we find ourselves in a tunnel of grief. Like with most traumatic events, we can actually function pretty normally, at least—part of the time. Making breakfast, answering emails, driving to work—because we have to, right? It’s life. But then, sadness creeps in or the feeling of loss is suddenly overwhelming, and we feel like life will never be unclouded again.
People talk a lot about closure, but closure is pretty prescriptive and tries to put a limit on grief. And I get the feeling that the people who talk the most about closure are the ones who might not understand it, or haven’t necessarily experienced deep loss. Instead of understanding that grief is a part of mourning, and life, people want to timetable it (such as: you have to see the body at a funeral, otherwise you can’t accept the finality of death.) But mourning isn’t like a singular event that eventually comes to a close. This isn’t some Beyoncé concert; it doesn’t sooner or later come to an end—it’s a long, complex, and individual process. And part of it involves working out what aspects of someone you’ve lost are, and which aspects endure.
(AVW): So, my biggest struggle—I mean there’s a whole list of struggles that I’ve obviously had—most of which, just being super fucking sad. Just sad all the time and just missing him a lot. But I think a hard one for me has been kind of realizing that I don’t have what I used to have and having a relationship with someone that you love so much—like having that person to talk to, all these things that you have when you are in a relationship—you get to see these people and create memories with them and watch them grow and you’re just proud of who they are. Something that was really hard for me through this whole process was realizing that that was gone and that his spirit and his energy and all that we’ve learned will live on, but I don’t have that anymore.
You know, I still call him my boyfriend even though there’s…what do you call someone who you spend the longest period of your intimate life with and then they pass away? It’s not like we broke up. It’s not like he’s my ex-boyfriend. But I think a lot of people were like, “Ang, you gotta move on. You can’t keep calling him your boyfriend.” I was like, “Well, he is.” And I still very much talk about him in the present tense and it’s ‘cause I just feel like I wanna keep him present in that sense, you know?
My good friend Thad, who’s really wonderful, also lost his girlfriend, and it’s been a really interesting and beautiful friendship and I think we understand each other a lot. But he told me that people die twice and they die in the physical when they leave us and then, and then they die when their name is said for the very last time. And I feel that we don’t have to lose these people twice and that it’s important to cherish and honor and keep their spirit alive. So, going to Pakistan made me realize that I didn’t have that and that even though he was gone and I didn’t have this relationship and we were no longer us, it was still really beautiful and I was so grateful for all the time I spent and I’m so lucky to have met him. It just helped me be like, “Ok—that was what it was but you don’t have it anymore.” And I don’t think it’s moving on, but I think it’s having a little more grace with the situation and just being honest about it. And being like, “Ok—this sucks so much but it’s the card you’ve been given and there’s so much beauty that’s happened in my life and maybe it’s a tradeoff, you know? Like, you can’t have it all. Like, at least I got to know him. And, I mean, he essentially has made me who I am. So much of him is me. So, I’m really grateful for that.
I think what people don’t know, too, is: people know you at a certain point in your life. Like, nobody knew me in the industry before Scott. And so, I’ve gotten this a lot since he’s passed—everyone’s like, “Oh, I just thought you followed Scott around.” And I was like, “Well, yeah—he taught me essentially how to be an alpinist, per se but before I’d met him, I had paddled four hundred thirty miles of an arctic river and gone on a bike tour. I was hitchhiking solo for four and a half years before I met him. I was planning a trip to Antarctica. I mean, I essentially have been in motion since I was nineteen. So, a lot of people, when he passed, were like, “You’re running.” I was like, “No, I’m just doing the only thing that I know.”
(KK): The frustrating thing about grief and losing someone is that physically you’re fine. Like, you can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and get diagnosed for “heartbreak”. But emotionally, it’s all fucked up—and not all of the time. There are so many different feelings working in conjunction with one another. Like, you can be sad, but still have these little bursts of happiness. You can still laugh and smile and walk your dog and sneeze and go grocery shopping—and still be mourning loss.
(AVW): I went through this period of time where I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t do much. And you start to be like, “Ok—I have to do these things.” And I think the hardest thing was: I would go through a few moments without thinking about the loss, without thinking about Scott being gone, and then I would immediately feel guilty about not thinking about it, for like, literally I’m talking like, thirty seconds, like, a minute and a half. And that’s been a really hard process. You just feel, I don’t know, like you should be keeping these people super present, but I think part of dealing with it is giving your mind a little bit of break.
You know, there’s honestly not an hour that goes by that I don’t think about him. But sometimes, you just have to be present and I think for me, being in new and different situations was a really essential part of my healing. I left Salt Lake City when shit hit the fan. I moved into my truck. I went from place to place and everybody told me I was running. And I was like, “I’m creating something new. I can’t go back to an empty house with his dirty socks on the floor and this void.” So, I created new experiences and new memories and I met new people and it’s not like I don’t still obviously cry all of the time and deal with this. It’s an ongoing thing but it’s definitely in shorter frequency and there has definitely been people that have been monumental for me.
There is somebody right now who I’m starting to see. It’s been an ongoing, kinda interesting situation where I met him back in 2015 when we were climbing the Hulk and I was together with Scott and he had a girlfriend and whatever—it was totally platonic. We had kept in touch over the years and his name’s Dave and he is an avid big mountain snowboarder. And he’s lost eleven friends now, you know? And this is something we all deal with in these sports. And so, he reached out after things went south and was like, “Hey, I don’t know where you’re at, but if you need an out and you wanna go climbing, my friend Gavin and I—we’re on a road trip. You’re more than welcome to come.”
And so, I took him up on it and we met up. It was huge for me because I didn’t know Gavin and I didn’t know Dave, and they were just being themselves and not treating me any different because they didn’t know me before. You know, my friends were like, “You’re so sad and you’re not laughing and you’re not bubbly and you’re not you.” And I think it was just hard for my friends, but these two perfect strangers could just treat me how it was and give me shit for stick clipping and gave me a hard time for not keeping up with them on the trail. I mean, it was really good for me. That was a huge transformation because—I mean, I always tell people this story, but it’s such a big deal. Nobody will ever know how much this small act meant to me.
So, I would sleep in my truck and Dave has his truck with Gavin and then, every morning when I would wake up, I would feel like I was living this recurring nightmare, you know? Like, I’d wake up and Scott was gone and my life had fallen apart and I’d lost him. And it would just crumble me, you know? I’d just sit there and bawl my eyes out and it’s like I didn’t want to wake up. So, at some point during the trip, Dave would open my tailgate
and he’d put a cup of coffee on my tailgate for me. And he would put a song on his phone and he would leave the phone there and just let me cry it out. And it went from me, not wanting to wake up, to me, wondering what song was going to play in the morning. Like, I’d hear the creak of the tailgate open and I’d be like, “Oh, I’m going to get a song. This is so great!”
You know, it’s such a small gesture but it meant more to me than anything. It shifted not wanting to essentially be alive to having something really small to look forward to. So, it’s things like that—that’s kind of how I started with the little moments of clarity and moments of, I should say “lightness”, you know? You sending a climb you like brings you a couple minutes of peace or seeing a really beautiful sunset or, you know, whatever. Life does move forward. Sometimes my hardest days are my best days—like when something really great happens that I just really want to share it with Scott and it’s a weird feeling to not be able to. Oh man, like the Dawn Wall got climbed? I was like, “Fuck! I wish I could tell Scott. What would he think of this?” Or even more so, Laytok just got climbed. Like, I started bawling when I found out Laytok got climbed. I mean, it’s been this unclimbed mystery for years and years and it’s taken a bunch of lives and it’s honestly been the sole focus for so many alpinists all over the world. I mean, all their hopes and dreams and everything that they put their time and effort into has been to climb Laytok—and it’s finally been climbed. Not being able to share that has been a trip. I’m just like, “Babe, all this shit’s happening.” You know?
(KK): You’re missing it!
(AVW): ”You’re missing it! People are climbing shit! Donald Trump is president! What is going on?!” You know? Ugh, so crazy.
(KK): Road tripping with Dave and Gavin gave Angela something that she needed: the chance to just be herself and feel whatever she needed to feel. She could be who and how she wanted to be in any moment and didn’t have to try and put a face on. It turns out that the essence of what Angela had with Scott could be found in other things and places and people. And it doesn’t mean that it was replaced, or anything was taken away from what they had. You know, my theory about love has always been: as long as you have love in your life, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from or how it’s dispensed—all that really matters is that it’s there.
(AVW): And it was the most fun thing ever. And it was nice to not be bawling every minute, you know? It was nice to play a game of, I don’t know—it was like this putt putt game they play in Canada with these wooden mallets? I don’t know—it was like croquet, kind of. But, just to spend time with those boys and to see the evolution of who they’ve become and who I’m becoming, and how we all harmonize now. The same thing that I was so excited to see with those boys is the same thing that I lost with Scott, and it’s just made me realize, “Man, that is essentially what I love about my friends and my people. You get to see who these people are and watch them grow and it’s super beautiful.
(KK): I’ve always noticed how climbers often comment on how many people we’ve lost. Like, “Man, we lost a lot of good people this year.” But I just keep going back to—that number didn’t just randomly increase. We’re always dealing with death and loss in these sports, but I think that we tend to notice more often when it’s “mainstream” news or relevant to our own lives. I don’t know…
(AVW): No, that’s exactly what it is. You don’t have to sugar coat it. It’s exactly what happens.
People think that it’s happening in these outside reaches—that it doesn’t pertain to them and then it hits home and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, everybody’s dying!” Everybody has been dying—they just weren’t your friends. Months before Scott and Kyle passed away, somebody else had passed. Chad Kellogg, I believe, was a year before the boys, and then there was another loss and I just remember Scott being like, “Man, we haven’t had a loss in almost a year.” He was like, “I wonder who’s going to be next. It sounds bad, but I just know that somebody I love’s going to die.” And then it was him.
We talked about it all of the time. I feel so lucky that I had as many conversations as I did. And our last conversation from camp was so good, and he told me how much he loved me. He’s not as a mushy gushy dude for all the people who know Scott. To get a phone call from Scott being like, “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me!” I was like, “Wow! He’s really maturing out there in Pakistan.” (laughs) I was like, “This is great news. He’s going to climb safe, he’s going to come home.” I don’t know if he somehow knew, deep in the bottom of his heart that maybe this was the time, but it felt like he was at some apex of understanding of his friends and his family and that’s what he talked about on the phone to me—in three-minute intervals with the satellite phone cuts out and he’d call me back and kind of reiterate the same thing. And I feel so lucky to have had that. You know?
(KK): Yeah. Definitely.
(AVW): Yeah. Ugh.
(KK): When she started climbing, Angela always prided herself in having a good head. That was something that was always relatively easy for her.
(AVW): I soloed big alpine routes my first and second year of climbing and I just remember so many people being like, “Wow that’s really crazy.” and I was like, “Nah, it’s not that crazy. You just don’t fall and if you get hit by a rock, well—that’s your time. It is what it is.” And I think at the time, I didn’t have that much to lose. I know that sounds crazy ‘cause life is valuable—but I hadn’t loved someone to the end of the earth. I hadn’t experienced something like that. And my friends, believe it or not, just a few years ago—I didn’t think that they were the most important thing. I thought whatever vision quest I was on was the most important thing to me. And as that shifted, I still love going to the mountains and I still love climbing but I have these moments where I’m like, “I don’t give a shit that it’s proud. I don’t give a shit that I can brag about it. This is where I draw the line. This isn’t worth it to me anymore.” I don’t think it was till I took basically a whole summer off climbing that I’ve kind of moved past that expectation a little bit.
So, the summer before Pakistan, I trained my ass off and ran marathons above 10,000 feet and lived outside of Durango, Colorado. I was actually working for Alpaca Rafts to help pay for the trip because Pakistan’s not a cheap trip. I have health issues and I actually can’t go to altitude, really, which I am still dealing with. But I wanted to go where Scott was and that was between 18,000 and 19,000 feet at the base of the Ogre II. And so, anyways I just ran and biked and did big link ups where I’d ride a hundred miles, then I ran from Telluride to Ouray up and over this mountain pass. And I was ok with not climbing. And I was like, “Weird.” because I still wanted to go climbing, but I was just like, I can’t deal with this right now. I mentally don’t have the capacity to deal with this because my identity is wrapped up in it, you know? When you place importance on your accomplishment in climbing—it’s a kind of messy thing and I think that’s really common. And some people talk about it, some people don’t. We don’t have to talk about everything. But I think that that’s really common. You see people rupture a pulley tendon and they are a mess of a human being. You’re like, “Dude—you ok? It’s just your finger.” They’re like, “Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Am I living the way that I am meant to live out my existence?” And you’re like, “Dude, it’s just a pulley.”
(KK): Ok, be honest—like half of you can relate that. Anyway, taking a step back from climbing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe the reasons why aren’t always so fun but someone once told me, “You can’t hold climbing too close to you—it becomes like anything else in this life. If you hold it too close, you can’t see it for what it really is and truly love and appreciate it for the same.”
Stepping back was necessary for Angela in order to train for Pakistan last year, but she’s back and she’s still climbing. And she, like so many of us, asks herself: why do we continuously stack the odds against us like that? And I think the answer is: because that’s the whole point. To go big, and be bold. We’re all bound by the same thing: mortality. It’s a pretty glum truth. And like most of us know, there is a risk that comes with doing something we love. But nature, at its core, is unknowable.
(AVW): We had a close call this winter and that was really hard. I was climbing with Sasha DiGiulian and I was doing everything textbook safe—as much as you can when you’re trying to put up first ascents and it’s all unknown. Really, I felt like I was doing so good—I was picking routes that didn’t have overhead hazards and if it did, I was making sure the daggers got kicked down before I put her on the route. I just don’t want to take somebody who isn’t signing up for the risk fully, ‘cause, you know, with every style of climbing, you accept a certain risk. Whether it be a runout pitch or an ice climb with a dagger overhead or whatever. There’s acceptable risk. And then, there’s risk that is only acceptable if you know it’s there. So, as a new ice climber, I wanted to kinda child proof it so that she didn’t have to make those decisions.
And, ironically enough, a climb we were going to get on just fully collapsed. And I was like, “Wait, what did I do wrong? I’ve been doing everything that I can to make sure this is as safe—“ and I mean, I’m like, paranoid trying to be safe. Everyone’s like, “Whoa, Angela. You can chill out. She’s a pro climber. Like, one of the best climbers in the world. I’m sure she understands.” I was like, “Yeah, she totally understands, but I don’t want to put people in objective hazard.” So, it was a really tough call.
We’re coming on this hovercraft boat essentially over open water to an ice climb. I spot it and as we skim close to the corner, the ice climb goes out of view, you know, there’s a big bluff in front of it. And then, as we pop out around the other side of the bluff, the climb’s gone. And the water’s just a huge wake, and I’m just like, “Where did the climb go?” And what had happened was: the lake freezes over and the temps had warmed up, and underneath this pillar, there was no rocks, whereas these other climbs that had formed around it, they had rocks underneath the pillar, and so they were supported. So, this was essentially on a veneer of thin ice on open water. And so, it collapsed under the pressure. I had a camera crew above and I had somebody dropping daggers. I called Jackson and was like, “Yo, Jackson. Can you drop daggers so that they’re not in the way of the belayer?” Ordinarily, we don’t have this privilege as an ice climber but on a big feature production, it was so nice. I was like, “Yo, make this thing safe! Just get rid of some objective hazard.” People are probably like, “Those girls had people getting rid of the dangers?” but it’s kind of a nice luxury. I’m not going to say that if I had people on the rim that I wanted it to be just as dangerous as normal. Get rid of that stuff!
So anyways, a dagger got dropped and that shock loaded the base and the whole pillar collapsed. Basically, what it was standing on gave out. And this thing is tons and tons and tons of ice. It would have killed the film crew, Sasha, me. And I just was like, “Oh my god. There’s no winning. You can’t avoid the risk in these sports. You just can’t mitigate it, and if you can—there’s always a freak accident. You’re signing up for it and whether you wanna keep on doing it or not, that is your call, but sometimes I’m just like, “Yeah, if you don’t go alpine climbing you might not die, but you might accidentally get dropped at the crag. Shit just happens. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just part of it.
You know, a lot of people are like, “Are you going to stop alpine climbing?” and there’s not a way in hell! If I stop climbing, my friends are gonna still keep on dying. I’m already in too deep. Every single person that I love is doing the craziest shit in the world. And I am super proud of them for it, but I’m not going to stop experiencing loss and I don’t want to waste a minute away from these people that I love so much. And really, I don’t want to waste a minute away from climbing. It brings me a huge amount of joy in my life—a lot of challenge and a lot of focus. There’s not much out there that brings you to these incredible places—ridiculously beautiful shiver bivvies, which I experienced just a few days ago. But, you know, that’s all part of it.
(KK): Do you use the internet? Of course, you do—you’re human. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you’ve probably seen some pretty great hashtags. And then, you’ve also probably seen others and wondered, “What the hell does this mean?”. “Stay shitty” and “NWS” are two hashtags that Jackson Marvell adopted and popularized. Angela tells us the story behind both:
(AVW): So, this has been super funny because hashtags rule the universe. So, “NWS” has been this thing “no weak shit” that Scott had as a child. Him and his brother have done an immense amount of climbing together and some really badass stuff, like expeditions all over. And when they were learning how to climb with their friends, you know, partially homemade gear or whatever they could scrounge up, nuts on limestone, like they were just going for it. And they would shout up to each other, “No weak shit, dude! Finish your pitch! You got this!” type of deal. And it became this theme and there’s a party every year in the desert that was for his brother’s birthday and everybody would climb a tower, and it’s the NWS party. And so, that was my first desert tower. It was on top of Castleton for the NWS party, which happened to be on my birthday. So, it’s this big group of mostly Provo climbers that adopted this saying of “no weak shit” and it had always been this thing in Scott’s life. It’s not like he ran around being like, “Oh, I live by this.” But it was just like this funny thing where he would write it on my tools and so when I was scared, I could look at my tools and be like, “Come on, Ang. You got this. No weak shit. Finish your pitch. Dig deep.”
And then, Jackson Marvell is a local Provo climber. Jackson, I think, is Scott in a younger form. When Jackson was working in a little gear shop, Scott would be like, “Man, that kid’s gonna do things.” And when Scott passed away, the first thing I said to Jackson was, “Scott told me that if you could make it through your twenties, you’re going to be one of the most prolific climbers of our generation.” And I still feel that way about Jackson. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever come into contact with, but he had the same rowdy, desert, sarcastic, dry, politically incorrect essence that Scott has. And so, I think I’ve latched onto Jackson super hard because he reminds me of Scott a lot and he’s become a really dear friend.
But there’s this rivalry between snowboarders and skiers. And the whole thing was that the snowboarders were always shitty. They were always gettin’ a little tipsy or smoking pot. And the skiers were all prim and proper and at the resort being like, “Those snowboarders—they’re dangerous! They’re like torpedos going down the hill!” You know? And so, it’s kind of like the skiers versus the snowboarders, or like the trad climbers versus the bolt clippers, or the people driving four by fours versus van life, you know? And it’s not saying good or bad, but it’s like: keep it shitty, keep it old, clip rusty pitons, whatever. You know? Just like keep it shitty. And it’s transcended the friend group, so it’s been like “no weak shit”, try hard, and keep it shitty: like, “stay true to your routes” kinda like in this olden world. But oh my gosh, Jackson’s friends got “stay shitty” tattoos on their thighs! I found out. It was so upsetting.
It is funny though ’cause I did an Enormocast—it must have been of my first year climbing or second. And I’m sure the contrast is hilarious because I remember Kalous being like, “It will be interesting in a few years when uh—“ (laughs) I think essentially what he meant was like, when shit gets serious and you start seeing the impacts of the sport, you know? ‘Cause I was just so sparkly-eyed and was just like, “This is the best thing ever!” And it’s still the best thing ever! But there’s a weight that comes with it for sure, and I couldn’t possibly feel that way without experiencing stuff.
(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good. And a big thank you to everybody who knows how to speak another language. You are infinitely cooler than I am—I gotta get Rosetta Stone.
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