Thoughts on the passing of Scott Adamson, an extraordinary human
Scott chucking inverted laps in the Crack House
Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster no longer walk among us in this life. They died in Pakistan some time in the last two weeks, attempting to climb one of the great mountaineering challenges of this generation, the north face of the Ogre II. The Ogres are formidable mountains, and even to gain entry to the 'easier' routes on that massif one must be numbered amongst the world's elite. These guys were the real deal: strong, well trained, experienced, and committed. And now they are gone.
As always happens in the aftermath of death, many people are left with questions and introspection. Scott and Kyle were well loved and integral members of the SLC and Utah climbing community. I never met Kyle, however I shared some special times in the desert with Scott and always considered him one of my mentors. I should say CONSIDER him still my mentor, because today I got my ass out of bed and drove over to the gym and did a workout, with proper integrity, because that's what Scott would do, and want me to do.
We shared some great adventures in the desert, like the time we were camped at the Creek and it dumped rain all night, one of those intense fall rains. Scott didn't hesitate to wade out into the swollen river in his skivvies and check the depth, then proceeded to ford it in his truck as muddy water seeped around the doors and up through the floor. Needless to say, 12 hours later his alternator died...sending us on a midnight run through the star-studded desert canyons.
There was another time on a Zion wall when we arrived at a gaping offwidth that none of our gear would fit. It was my lead so I started up, but quickly got mired in hesitation as I assessed the obvious ledge-fall I would take if I fell. “Gimme the rack,” he said. Scott just took the gear and sent the thing without gear, executing with perfect form.
Another time that comes to mind is on the infamous ‘Ear’ pitch on Primrose Dihedral on Moses, one of the tallest towers in the desert. Scott fell while transitioning from an awkward sloped undercling to a lieback around the Ear. I expected him to pull back to the bolt. “Man, what is this? Hanging on towers? Lower me!” Surprised, I lowered him to the anchor, he pulled the rope without saying a word and then fired the pitch. I heard him hooting from the summit and realized what a guy I was climbing with. Whenever things got burly, Scott's answer was "Yarrrr!"
Scott is a mentor for me not because of his climbing skill, but for the way he WORKED. His talent in the vertical world may have been natural, but his strength and tenacity were hard-earned though sweat and effort. Scott truly beleived that he could realize extremely long-shot goals, and make himself a better person in the process, by devoting tremendous energy and heart to the betterment of himself. He trained really hard, and often while working in the construction trade, or as a wildland firefighter. He was a true blue-collar badass, proof that you don't need a fancy gym, money, or status to be a successful athlete, all you need is tons and tons of heart. He loved it. All of it, from the truck bivies to the daily pain fests to the cold belays and suffering to the satisfaction of sending hard, mentally demanding pitches. And he did it all without apology, refusing to shoulder the burden of other people's judgment like so many of us do. Beyond his strength and stamina, he had a rock-solid sense of himself, and you could take it or leave it. He didn't bother bullshitting anybody - he had no need to, because he knew who he was.
Scott set an example for me by his two main strengths: heart and discipline. He is an example for how hard he was willing to work, and how he refused to let fear cripple him once he committed to seeking the limits of what is possible. He knew as well as anybody that when you really are searching for that limit -- the boundary of what a human can do -- truly terrifying things can be found. This is what Scott and Kyle were doing in the Karakorum: striving to find the limit of human will that exists somewhere in the sharp horizons of mountains and within the vast and shifting spaces of our minds.
I fall short of these strengths on a daily basis. I continually fail to believe in my abilities to improve myself; I fail to trust the process of hard work; I fail to find the motivation to engage in work with heart. I forget the successes of my past in the face of fear and pain. I yield to my comfort-seeking mind, again and again. Sometimes, however, I am able to believe, to act with strength, and to trust in forces larger than myself. These are the finer moments of my life, the defining truths that allow me to say: I am a person. I have a will. I am worthy.
I'm thinking mainly of climbing and athletic feats as I write this (and many of you may identify with this as well), but as I take a mental step back I realize that, of course, this applies to every dimension of life. Whether it's doing the rehab for my hip surgery with integrity, working on core stability instead of fun climbing so I can avoid injury, finishing grad school, sticking to my budget so I can pay my credit card on time, maintaining oil changes on my rig, keeping up with job applications even though I get denials back, wiring a house well so it will be safe and last for the owner, or continuing to support my fiancé so she knows she is loved and special, these are all struggles that require heart and discipline.
People like me (and maybe some of you) need people like Scott. We need people who know, down to core, who they are, and let you take it or leave it. We need examples of drive and sacrifice to aspire to. It can be the smallest thing, like an evening after a long day when I feel overwhelmed and just want to eat cereal and watch a TV show. These are just crutches to assuage my mind, which want to be coddled. Sometimes I think, what would Scott be doing? He'd tell me to eat real nutrition so I can gain strength from the day's labors, and to do a few planks or physical therapy exercises before I relax, and I'll relax better after that anyway. I know he'd be right. This is just one small way that Scott will continue to live in my life, and I'm sure he lives in more vibrant ways in a lot of other people's lives.
Sadly, whenever young people die and the circumstances involve their own decision (as opposed to be taken out by a drunk driver, etc), there will always be bystanders, particularly on the forum of the internet where courage is not a requisite for speech, who will criticize the dead for being reckless or selfish. I guess I've been around long enough now to refrain from reading the comments below articles.
I would say to these people: yes, Scott and Kyle put themselves at risk, tremendous risk. At this high standard of mountaineering, there is some certain probability of no return. Is that unconscionable? Is that selfish? Answer me this: we all have a 100% probability of dying; it is perhaps the one fact that is absolutely certain. What are you doing with the days you have? Are you applying yourself as much as you know you can? Are you living with heart and discipline? Are you doing anything that will grow beyond your self and live in others?
The death of younger people always starts this conversation about acceptable risk. There's another conversation that I almost never hear: about the risk of so many choices that people make that don't seem as 'risky' or 'extreme' at first glance. Like people that choose to smoke, or drink heavily, or to not take care of their bodies. People who don't do the work to find and keep motivation. People who don't honor their word. Depression is very unhealthy; I know this from experience. I guarantee you that all these people (and I may be amongst them) will die earlier than they may have, yet they are usually not called out publicly as being 'reckless'.
I'm not going to call out these people either. Who am I to do that? I'm merely going to question our societal norm that we put longevity - the numbers of a person's life - on such a pedestal above other things. Perhaps we can look at the quality of the life that has been lived, and that can speak for itself.
I will dearly miss Scott. I am sincerely grateful for his life, what he has given me and what he has given many people. His example for me does not diminish by the fact that he died. It will always burn inside me. How can I repay that gratitude? By living with integrity, believing in the process of work, and taking on my own challenges with heart and discipline. I already know that I'm going to fail at one million of these challenges. But I can perhaps succeed at a few more because I have examples like Scott.
Someone wrote on Scott's Facebook page:
"They didn't die doing what they loved, they LIVED doing what they loved."
Or was Scott would say, “NWS”.
A warrior surveying the next days' challenge.
There has been an outpouring of love and community support after Scott and Kyle's disappearance. It's always good to be reminded that community exists and we are stronger together. Some links:
A well-written article summarizing their climb, the storm, and the rescue effort:
Memories of Scott for his friends and family. Please share if you have them!
A tribute from Alpinist that expands on the talent, drive, and genuine good nature of Scott and Kyle