Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I've put off writing about this for as long as I can.
On August 24th, 2010, Seth Holden died in a plane crash with Brandon Reilly. He had texted me earlier in the evening, saying he'd climbed Summit Peak in Girdwood with our friend Ben. He seemed really excited about it and in the later photos, it was apparent he had enjoyed it greatly. When the plane crashed at around 7:45 PM, the late August sunset painted the sky in a spectrum of oranges and reds, pinks and purples. It was beautiful.

Seth was many things to me. He was my most continuous climbing partner. I looked up to him in certain aspects, from his nonchalant attitude to his work ethic and quiet demeanor. His impeccable outdoor knowledge spanned the spectrum from climbing and skiing to hunting, fishing and extreme survival skills. When I first met Seth, I was far from calling myself a climber. Seth had already climbed Denali, completed numerous big wall routes in Yosemite, endured week-long ski winter traverses, scaled volcanoes in South America, alpine routes in Chamonix, the Ruth Gorge, Cascades, Chugach and beyond. I finally mustered up the courage one day to invite him on a climb of North Suicide, a mere winter peak bagging trip for him but a test-piece for me at the time. It was fun then, over the next few years to gage my increasing skills next to Seth. As I gained experience I began to see myself as Seth's equal on the rope and that brought me endless amounts of pride.

Seth and I went on to share five serious trips to the Alaska Range in three years. Together we attempted the Mooses Tooth, a bold winter ascent of Peak 11.300 and three trips to the Revelation Mountains. It was in our cherished Revelations where Seth and I melded the best. Here, in a remote and mostly uncharted range, we stood under tremendous unclimbed peaks. Here we were reliant solely upon each other. It was in the Revelations where I think we both shared some of the happiest moments of our lives. Seth and I completed two first ascents and attempted countless others.
On the last climb we ever did together, we attempted the South Ridge of the Angel in the Revelations. The route had been attempted 43 years earlier by Dave Roberts, but remained unclimbed. We trained together, analyzed grainy black and white photographs, memorized it's lone trip report and kept each other motivated. When we finally got on the Angel in early June of 2010, we had already waited for 12 days to fly into the range and had been swatted back on another of our obsessions, the unclimbed Mount Mausolus. But, on this day, Seth and I both found that rare type of perfection that a climber always seeks. We had perfect weather and a beautiful, complex route ahead of us. We climbed fast and with a zeal that I have experienced on only a handful of occasions. We made it half way up the route in about six hours, but had to turn for lack of appropriate gear for a small section of aid. We intended to get back on the route the following day, but it quickly became apparent that we were out of time, since our runway was becoming spotted with rocks as the snow melted in front of our eyes. With much disappointment, we looked up at the ridge from our base camp with a promise to complete it as soon as possible. I still remember how Seth hooted and screamed in elation, something very surprising coming from a usual quiet person. I smile still, knowing that we both agreed that it was the single best day of climbing either of us had ever had. I feel lucky to have shared that time with Seth.
Seth was a fighter and survivor. A close friend said “if you just gave Seth a chance he could survive anything.” Sadly on this occasion, he didn't even have a fighting chance.

I miss the way he tossed his head back when he laughed. I miss the times we spent sitting under massive unclimbed mountains, pondering their seemingly impenetrable defenses. I miss scouring over maps and photos, plotting our next adventure which was never far off whether it be in the Chugach mountains, Yosemite valley or the Alaska range. I miss the comfort of knowing that he was keeping me safe. Most of all though, I just miss my friend. Seth was the best partner I've ever had. How do you replace something like that? I really, really miss him, and will carry his memory with me forever.


AlpineEssence said...

Awesome, Clint. Way to share about your dear friend and climbing partner.

Seth's mom, Leslie said...

Yes, awesome Clint. Thank you so much for your partnership with Seth, your friendship, and your eloquence in writing about your experiences together. If not for you, I would know so much less about Seth's climbing trips, as he understated most of his adventures to me. And the pictures, of course, are priceless. What would I do without you to help keep Seth alive? Bless you.

Don said...

A life experience well shared Clint. Climb on!