“We should climb together.”
Mark and I said that to each other at least a dozen times. We were the kind of climbers who knew each other from around the gym and the crag. We’d run into each other and 20 minutes later, the conversation would inevitably end with that phrase.
There are many types of climbers in my world, and that is definitely one of the categories; the we-should-climb-together’s. Mark fit in there by being genuinely kind, charismatic, and adventurous.
If we were kids at a playground, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation; we would have plopped down in the sandbox or made up some variation of tag or blown up GI Joe’s together. Mark was younger than me, however, so who knows what kind of toys he was playing with during the blowing things up phase of a young boy’s life. The reality of adulthood, though, is work, family, friends, commitments, chores, errands, and on and on. I was grateful for those passing moments with Mark and remain grateful for the few times we actually did share a rope.
Mark Mahaney was one of six climbers that perished on Mt Rainier at the end of May this year. News of the event began to spread through the climbing community on a Saturday night; a festive Saturday night. It grabbed me by the heart and squeezed for a solid week. Everything that I did for the next several days was filtered through this news. Nothing seemed to carry any importance and I was riddled with guilt anytime I caught myself laughing or smiling or doing anything other than grieving. It feels so wrong to carry on with day to day life in the wake of a tragedy that hits so close to home.
The tragedy, though, is to not carry on.
There is no way that Mark, or any of the other five climbers for that matter, would be served by shutting down. It took several days to see this. Mark’s memorial service was held on Friday last week. Members of his family, church, and community turned out in the hundreds to honor his life. There were traditional prayers and songs offered up, readings from scripture, and a eulogy from his brother Max that brought me to tears. His brother was strong, though. He didn’t waver on a single word. His composure would later bring me the comfort to start turning my own emotions around.
Max spoke about his brother’s life and his two passions; climbing and his girlfriend, Desiree. He talked about his family not knowing where Mark’s climbing infatuation came from, but how they rallied behind him anyway. His excitement about his adventures was palpable. His father would later tell me of how Mark would make them watch all of his climbing footage, as Mark would frequently wear a helmet cam. They didn’t necessarily understand where a climber’s obsession came from, but they recognized that Mark was gripped by it. And that was all that mattered.
You support your loved one’s passion. That is part of the golden rule.
After Mark’s service, a handful of climbers and I went to Barn Bluff in Red Wing. Mark had a to do list on Mountain Project, so we took to the crag to climb a few Red Wing routes that he had plans for. We brought his beverage of choice for ice festivals with us, a 40 of Mickey’s, and shared it along with memories of our time with Mark. It was cathartic.
People have asked me if I knew Mark well. I didn’t. But, I didn’t see him without talking to him. We spent time together at the gym. We shared ropes at the ice park. I followed his life on social media, including his preparations for his second run at Mt Rainier and his inspiring love for Desiree. If knowing Mark was a competition, I wouldn’t have placed. Luckily, it’s not. If you know any climber, you’d understand Mark’s love of the sport. If you’re part of any community, you’d know how the loss of one of its members feels. Mark was any one of us, except with dimples, and jokes, and good vibes for all. I knew Mark well enough while simultaneously wishing I had known him better. He was a good man and I will forever hold him in my heart.
Mark’s family is creating a foundation to honor his life and his passion for climbing; the Mark Mahaney Memorial Foundation. “Those interested in donating can make checks payable to the Mark Mahaney Memorial Fund. The fund has been set up at Prior Lake State Bank, 16677 Duluth Ave SE, Prior Lake, MN 55372 – Tax ID 47-1021168.”
Professional climber, Conrad Anker, wrote an opinion piece following the Mt Rainier tragedy entitled Why I Climb Dangerous Mountains. He ends it with this quote from George Mallory, and I will leave you with it as well: “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”
One final thing, I suppose. If you find yourself reading this far… we should climb together.