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Jonathan Copp, 1977-2009

Jonathan Copp 1974-2009

Of all my friends who live their lives, I never thought that he would die. And even if he did, I thought he would surely rise like a Phoenix and keep on living.

We last climbed together in the summer of 2008—life gets busy, I guess—and not much had changed with our usual late- start junk-show reminiscences of airport and travel fiascos. By mid-morning we stood in the Chasm Lake Cirque.

“What should we climb?”

“Maybe something up there?” came Jonny’s characteristic reply. “We’ll figure it out.”

Strong as hell. Good at everything. Wild eyes that burned with life. A mystic who embraced the unknown and unknowable. The best hugs. Huge, toothy grin. Without a doubt the partner you wanted if—and when—the shit hit the fan. He’d just laugh. The greatest laugh. He had an unrelenting optimism.

“Nah, I think it’ll work out!” seemed the most common phrase when we climbed.

Some partners offer an unspoken gift that, just by being with them, somehow makes you better than you thought you could be. And then, sometime, before you really know it, you begin believing in yourself.

As we racked up I saw what looked like a dowel hanging from his harness.

“Dude, what in the hell is that?”

“Its a flute!” he said, and kicked steps up the snow toward the wall.

Oh, well, of course.

I tried my best to mock the hippie flute, but I got quiet when the crux randomly came on my lead. “This is too hard for me,” I thought. But I knew he’d tell me to try, and I knew he’d be right. Toward the top of the pitch, as notes drifted upward from the belay and without even realizing it, I danced.

Now he’s gone. Some things are too big, too powerful and there is no Santa Claus. Later we console ourselves with talk of inspiration and memories, and how the ones we lost wouldn’t want us to be sad. We whisper wistful “if onlys,” but it remains undeniable that risks are part of the equation, as are all the experiences that make us who we are—that the close calls and willingness to go come with the love and laughter and joy and inspiration, and you cannot go back and remove one component from an integral whole. It was him. All of it.

Higher, he saw a chossy corner: “Let’s head up that!”

We’d find another way to return to our packs—it’d all work out. Now I struggle to believe that everything will all work out, but I guess it has to, somehow.

The summer of his death I returned to the cirque. While kicking steps up the sun-cupped snow, as firey alpenglow bathed the rock, I stopped. I looked everywhere, studying the air and the wind and the rock, and though Jonny didn’t rise from the ashes, I still heard the sounds of his flute.

Jonathan Copp was born on March 26, 1974, in Singapore. His parents, John and Phyllis, loaded him into their camper van when he was one year old, and they took a 28,000-mile road trip from Bangkok to Amsterdam. Jonny was held by holy men in India, monks in Nepal, and nomadic horsemen in Afghanistan. From the start his world became one of adventure, love, and life. He climbed around the world, establishing standard-setting alpine climbs practically everywhere. A world-class climber and photographer, and a brilliant writer, he created the now international and growing Adventure Film Festival, touched everyone he met, and left too soon when an avalanche in the pre-dawn hours of May 20, 2009 took him, Micah Dash, and Wade Johnson below the unclimbed east face of Mt. Edgar, in China. The Jonny Copp foundation has been established in his memory (www.jonnycoppfoundation.org). He will never be forgotten.

Kelly Cordes