This last weekend my friend Dave Marcinowski and I travelled from the Western Slope of Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah, to attend a memorial for Adam Lawton, who was killed in an avalanche in British Columbia earlier this year. In addition to the wonderful ceremony up at the Alta ski resort, we paid our respects by climbing and remembering the light and spirit that was/is Adam Lawton.
Adam’s departure has been my most intense encounter with death. Because death is part of everyone’s lives, I thank him for the learning lessons that have occurred over the last two months. Someone had to go first, and in our circle of friends it was him.
That’s where I want to start, and what struck me so much, his circle of friends. I walked into the memorial, with around a hundred people or so, and only knew a fraction of those in attendance. Immediately I felt uncomfortable and wanted to sulk in a corner or something. Then I started seeing familiar faces, many I hadn’t seen in years, and the next five hours flew by in a whirlwind of fond memories and countless tears.
For me Adam Lawton was a verb, not a noun, he was the definition of engagement, of thrill seeking, soul searching, indulgence, compassion, love; he made me feel like I was his best friend when we were together. He had this impact on many, many people.
People spoke bravely, even when they were engulfed in crying. I felt a profound connection to their tears and words, and even though I’d never met several of them, they all knew the essence and spirit of Adam Lawton in the same way I did. My heart goes out to those who were with him and survived the avalanche. I can only imagine their pain and sorrow.
I could feel Adam’s spirit in the memorial, and met many new people. Adam had a way of bringing people together, and was always yearning to connect with people, and to get out of his comfort zone. I hope to be more like Adam in this way, for the rest of my existence in this body.
After we left Salt Lake City we decided to try to climb a desert tower, in Adam’s memory. We only had a few hours in the morning, the following day, because Dave and I both had to get back to our respective homes in Telluride and Durango.
We chose Castleton Tower, near Moab, because it has a couple of relatively moderate climbs (for the desert) and it is also incredibly accessible. We rolled into the campsite in the dark, and we were slightly surprised how crowded it was. There were several other vehicles, mostly college students on Spring Break. So we enacted the rule that we would just have to get up earlier than everyone else.
That is exactly what we did. We woke up in the dark, and quietly made coffee and bacon and eggs. We started hiking up to the tower just as the first rays of light were coming up, well before anyone else. I will forever think of Adam when I am in the red rock desert. When my feet are planted on its red dirt, when I look to the blue bird skies and feel the sunshine, and when I am sitting around a campfire with good friends. Adam loved the Utah desert, and the last time I hung out with him was at Indian Creek over Thanksgiving.
I try to keep up with Dave as we hike up through a wash, then to the climber’s trail that leads to Castleton. It’s such a beautiful, striking tower that soars some four hundred feet in the sky, nearly perfectly shaped with four equal sides, and obvious crack systems that beg the climber to enter. To the west are the La Sal mountains, the snow quickly fading with spring in the air. All around are other red rock walls and towers that seem to go forever.
Dave shouts, “We love you Adam” as I start up the first part of the climb, jamming my hands and feet in the hand crack. Every move is a tribute, and we talk about Adam, and reminisce at each opportunity. He’d done this climb, The North Chimney, previously, and it was a fitting route to do in his honor.
Higher up I yell to the desert, “This one is for you Adam,” as I exit the chimney on big hand holds and foot holds. The climb is over just as quick as it began, and we’re on the summit. We write in the summit registry, and place a sticker that our friend Lisa Slagle designed for Adam. It reads: This is what we do.
And indeed this is what we do. Adam left a void in many people’s lives with his departure. But we’re all still here for one another. The snowy mountains are still here, the desert is still here and the rivers are still here. And though Adam is not here in his body, his spirit lives on; I know this because I can feel it. We love you and miss you Adam.
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