American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Dave Bridges, 1970-1999

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2000

DAVE BRIDGES 1970-1999

“The only death you die is the death you die every day by not living. Dream big and dare to fail.”

—Norman Vaughan

Adventure as an addiction, as a passionate need, true compassion for life on the “front lines”—there was no other way. Dave Bridges just had to have it. Dave always used to say, “It’s not the age, it’s the mileage.” At only 29, he had managed to accumulate more mileage and accomplish more than most people would dream of doing.

Dave had climbed throughout North and South America, Asia, Europe and Australia, moving from technical alpine testpieces in Chamonix to sport climbing in Thailand, alpine rock routes of the High Sierra to the world’s highest summits. In 1994, he led the successful American K2 South Spur Expedition, personally reaching 8300 meters, 311 meters shy of the summit. A total of eight expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram yielded success on Annapurna IV, Island Peak, Ama Dablam, Baruntse, Kusum Kangaru and most recently, Makalu. Dave’s passion for high places fueled a competitive edge that rewarded him with two consecutive United States National Paragliding Championships, in 1995 and 1996.

High-altitude filmmaking suddenly entered Dave’s repertoire of talents on the trips to Baruntse and Makalu. His footage was impressive, but when given the opportunity to join The North Face American Shishapangma Ski Expedition, Dave just couldn’t believe his luck. He politely asked what I thought of the invitation to work for American Adventure Productions as their high-altitude specialist. My first thought was that any footage Dave took would always be looking down on the climbers or skiers in a broken track—certainly an embarrassing angle to document lead climbers. I also imagined the pleasant surprise to fellow team members when they realized they had a second “secret weapon” with them (Alex Lowe being the first).

The postcard Dave sent from Kathmandu confirmed the solidarity of the group and his excitement to finally be “out there with the big boys.” Without a doubt, Dave Bridges was on his way to the top of the stack, the heir to the alpine throne of his 11 -year senior, Alex.

When the avalanche sheared a full monsoon season’s snowpack down the southwest face of Shishapangma, the luck for Dave and Alex ran out. Thirty seconds after the initial, “Oh, shit! It’s an avalanche!,” the deed was done. Conrad Anker miraculously escaped burial, his injuries masked by adrenaline and the urgency to search for his friends. Not a trace. The devastated team reluctantly returned home with the empty, sick feeling of leaving the mountain without their friends.

What couldn’t Dave do well? All disciplines of mountaineering, plus the rigorous demands of high-altitude super-alpinism and filmmaking, were as natural to Dave as world- class competition paragliding. His enthusiasm for this last adventure was as extreme as the undertaking. Dave was on top of his game. He was absolutely in his prime, an aerobic monster, mentally focused and passionately committed in all aspects of his life. His strength and stamina were second only to his humility and modest approach in his relations with others. He was a minimalist when it came to self-promotion, and he constantly joked about the abundance of opportunities to do so. Dave could and would laugh at himself, and none of us will ever forget his unique way of laughing. What a privilege it was for anyone to have spent time with Dave.

Friendship as an intimate relationship is not as relative to the amount of time shared as to the quality of the experience. Dave naturally connected with people. He literally shared quality time with hundreds each year. He guided rock climbs and alpine peaks, introduced many to the freedom of soaring flight through tandem paragliding and just could not get enough time skiing the soft snow of the high country. Dave was a great friend and teacher to all of us. His spirit knows only success, as he totally displayed in his hold-nothing-back lifestyle. Even death for Dave is life’s next great adventure. He was ultimately mature in his selfesteem, confident in his actions to speak for themselves and sober in his awareness of life’s fine line of existence when close to the “edge.” He felt the pain of other close friends lost in the high mountains.

The very real connection of spiritual soaring with physical death lends comfort to Dave’s rendezvous with Alex and the avalanche on Shishapangma. Close encounters with the soaring birds of the high mountains leave no question as to the appropriate metaphor in this case: Dave Bridges’ passion for flying and high places is now one with the higher performance of winged carriers of the spiritual realm.

Dave Bridges settled in Aspen, yet he was a resident of the mountains everywhere. All his family and friends in so many places have gained a part of him simply through his authentic love and friendship. Dave was certainly very good at living in the moment, accepting the reality of his impermanence as he resisted the possibility of failure.

There are no guarantees in the lives that we lead. The entire worldwide mountain community is once again reminded of the risks that we assume. The distance and time away mean so much when a friend leaves on a one-way trip. While Dave may no longer out-run, out-fly, out-climb and out-power-mow us in tacos and margaritas, his spirit will live on in the countless people that he touched and inspired day in and day out. Those of us who got to share these experiences with him know that we lost our greatest partner—but more than that, we lost a great friend.

Namaste, Dave.

Dick Jackson

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