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In Memory of Kyle Dempster

[On September 3, 2016, the search for Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson, missing on the Ogre II in Pakistan, was called off. We will be working on other memorials for both Kyle and Scott in the weeks ahead.–Ed.]

Kyle Dempster on a rainy day in Salt Lake City. [Photo] Nathan Smith

Kyle Dempster on a rainy day in Salt Lake City. [Photo] Nathan Smith

It’s Tuesday morning. I’m sitting in my office. Not much has changed here since last Friday. There are a few extra rings lining the coffee mug I left on my desk from evaporation. I should probably rinse that out. Coffee is brewing after all.

Coffee. Kyle.

I thought today would be easier, and many out there hurt worse. I recognize that. When I heard about the search ending, I still believed deep, deep down that they would pop out of a snow cave somewhere wondering what the fuss was all about. We all did. I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend looking at things, or through them, with a furrowed brow trying to figure out what this means.

Kyle, you are my hero. Not only as a climber, an athlete and an adventurer, but as a person. Because of how you lived your life and how you treated others. Because of your thirst for knowledge, your dedication to training and preparation, and the never-ending espresso shots you poured when we shared stories in your mom’s kitchen. I didn’t stay as close to you after our shared time in Tahoe as I should have; I didn’t get it back then. But we always stayed in touch just enough for me to feel as if somehow I was a part of the greater story of you, and I could share in that greatness even if it meant only touching the edge. I tried to catch up: I honed my skills, and I looked forward to the day when you would haul me up something terrifying, and I’d be better off for it, but my schedule was always too full of what now feel like utterly meaningless responsibilities, and yours was too fluid for me to pin down.

I remember one of the last times I saw you. Jackie, another member of our Tahoe-tribe, was driving me back from Moab after one of my biannual trips to the Creek, a brief respite from the muddied reality of my pseudo-corporate, pseudo-dirtbag existence. I always ran into you when I was stressed about work and other shit that didn’t really matter. I always felt as if I were talking twice as fast and somehow moving through life twice as slow. There was this sly smile that would come across your face during those chats, as if you were saying “Well, what are you going to do about it? You know what you are supposed to do, so go and do it, and it doesn’t have anything to do with your job.” You knew I was smart enough to see the answer, but you were kind enough to point me toward it without criticism or judgment.

It seems absurd, but one of my favorite things to do when I needed a dose of inspiration, was to Google your name. Sure enough, each time there was something awesome, some new video or thoughtful article for me to ponder, or some amusing clip of you awkwardly responding to interview questions in a spotlight you never wanted. You were the opposite of a self-promoter. This past week, I’ve spent every waking moment hitting refresh, searching, hoping for good news, any news. I physically shook the dark thoughts out of my head and never stopped believing. I spent Saturday night in the woods, somehow with enough signal to get the news I never hoped to read, and I embarrassed myself once I heard, breaking down completely. I’m sorry. I think I’ve seen every single Instagram picture with your name tagged this last weekend, I watched your videos and stared into your eyes, listening harder than I ever have before. At some point in time, I’ll have read all of the news articles, all of your blog posts, but I keep searching because every last scrap I find is another memory of you.

I know you would be pissed if we sat around, moping. That’s what I wish we could hear most, what you would have us do now. I wish we could receive a letter from you, and I know that it would only be full of love. I went on my first hike since getting my cast off yesterday. Adventure is relative, as I know you’d tell me, and I’m sure you’d appreciate the effort. I thought about riding thirty-three miles in your honor but as I’ve barely walked one, I didn’t. But I did hike. I headed to the mountains where I hoped I could find you, where I knew I could at least look for you. As I drove up the valley toward the San Juan Mountains, I noticed the changing leaves for the first time this year. Somehow I had missed them; maybe they turned this weekend. The wind has captivated me since Saturday. It sounds different. Everything feels different. Yesterday, up on Lizard Head, it blew fiercely. I opened my arms to it and welcomed its embrace. It blew with wildness and warmth. Uncontainable, it seemed like you.

I have this weird feeling that this is all a ruse. That you realized what the next step was, and you transcended beyond our reality, or you escaped to the mountains where your beard will grow long. You’ll write crazy beautiful Han Shan style poems and come back one day to share what you learned. I imagine you messing around high up on each face that catches my eye, and I think, “that’s where he must be, he just forgot to tell us where he was going.” I don’t know how to describe it, but I feel stronger today. We all have a greater responsibility to be more like you, to be the example for others that you were to us. You lived with the courage to find your path, never at the expense of others and usually for our benefit. We’ll never match it, your example, we never could.

Last Tuesday, hours before I received word that Scott and Kyle were overdue, I happened to be wearing a Higher Ground shirt–Kyle’s shop. It was a beautiful day that ended with a few close friends hanging out in the backyard, watching the light turn gold on the sandstone cliffs and pine forests above town. There was a reason why we stuck around after the light was gone, why we watched your movie, The Road to Karakol, for the hundredth time. As always, your energy and joy left me close to tears, but I smiled and slept warmly wrapped in the comfort of your adventurous spirit and perpetual optimism. I would like to think I was touched by a supernova-esque outpouring of your energy to the universe. I’d like to think that you were there, gazing upon a wild landscape with us and with everyone else who loves you. You were sending a lot of energy out to the universe that day. I’m glad some of it made it to me and I will never, ever forget you.