By Rod Raglin

They found your body on the third day. It was where I told them it would likely be, a treacherous spot at the bottom of the gulley you had to descend before the final push to the summit. At this time of year, it’s in constant shadow, slopes coated with ice, a micro-glacier at the base formed by snow sloughed off the steep sides.

I’m sure they found the fall didn’t kill you, though you likely broke some bones. You died of hypothermia, alone, in the dark, probably as you imagined, probably as you wanted. A far better way, as you liked to remind me when you pushed us precariously close to exceeding our skill level, than drooling, in a diaper, after years of being in the care of indifferent strangers. 

They said you shouldn’t have been out there alone, but like you said, you didn’t go there for companionship, you could find that in the pub or coffee bar. Communion with the mountains is a spiritual quest, you don’t take along the hiking club.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have encouraged you when you asked if you could borrow my crampons. But you liked to take risks and this solo winter ascent would be one of the biggest. I cautioned that a false step on loose scree, rock fall ten feet above your skull, a weak crampon strap breaks – it happens to the most experienced. It’s easy to die on the crags and though that wasn’t your intention, it definitely was part of the appeal. As you liked to brag, “never more alive than when close to death”.

I didn’t attend your service. She asked if I wanted to say a few words. I declined. It seemed awkward considering that just a year ago she was my fiancé. Besides, what was there to say? Sooner or later we all die, and I can’t think of a better way. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to hear that. She would have misunderstood. I’ll call her in a few months once she’s finished mourning and is ready to move on.

Some of the guys say they’re going to make a summer ascent and spread your ashes on the peak. Better they left your body in the couloir where, come the spring, it may have been a meal for a hungry mother bear just out of hibernation with two cubs to suckle. If not a bear, then coyotes and foxes leaving the leftovers for the ravens. 

To nurture and sustain something you loved, you’d have appreciated that.

I’ll do the climb again at some point, more out of curiosity than remembrance. I miss you, but I don’t mourn you. I’m not one who imagines I’ll hear your voice as the wind whistles through the gaps of granite. The mountains are too unforgiving to allow the spirit of dead climbers to linger for long.

Rod Raglin is a Canadian journalist, photographer and author of 13 self-published novels, two plays and a collection of short stories. His short fiction has been aired nationally on CBC radio and he’s been a prize winner in Vancouver West End Writers’ Poetry Competition. He lives in Vancouver, BC, where he is, among other things, a paid facilitator of creative writing circles.


One thought on “Death of a Mountaineer

  1. This story bravely plumbs the heights and depths of the human condition. It explores the poignancy of death from a fresh and wholesome viewpoint, providing an unexpected positive empathy to an otherwise tragic event.


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