On this fall morning in Colorado, I get up to light the wood stove and fix a cup of coffee. I sit down to a view out the window of hillsides sprinkled with the colors of autumn, the pines and the newly whitened peaks. The horizon slips through the shades of early light into a brilliant reddish alpenglow against a bright blue sky. I wish it would stay the same, just like this, but I know it can’t and probably it won’t.
I must write an obituary for another friend I have lost in the mountains, but this morning I am reminded more of life and the importance to live in the moment. Michael Koshuta and his companion, Stuart Jones, were close friends of mine, having joined me on adventures over the years. One in particular was the Harvard route on the west face of Mount Huntington in Alaska.
The climbing was much harder than any of us had anticipated and the weather was relentless throughout the twelve days we spent on the face. Huntington demanded the best of each of us and our fourth companion, Rudi Bertschi. Regardless of what it threw at us, we dealt with each new challenge as an opportunity to exercise our imagination and skills to their fullest.
When we arrived at the summit snowfields and heavily corniced ridge leading to the top, there was a brief quiet lull. To continue on would almost certainly mean an epic getting back to camp below the great roof and possibly being stuck on the face for another couple of days. Our supplies would not allow for this any more than the weather. We reluctantly agreed to descend. Back at Base Camp, we had a couple of days to relax until the plane could come to pick us up. We hypothesized as to whether or not we could have made it. All that didn’t matter any more then than it does now. We had survived a great adventure together.
It is hard to guess what happened to Michael and Stuart as they were traversing off the Cassin Ridge of Denali via a route that some companions and I had established only weeks before. Somewhere, very near the end of the traverse, they fell. Their bodies are hanging over a rock outcropping, still attached to the rope which bound them throughout the climb. This time they lost the struggle and it cost them their lives. But more important, it cost the rest of us the opportunity to enjoy their company as we had hoped to for many years to come.