Last month I wrote an article on bromance, which as it turns out, has been my most popular article I’ve ever written for, the Durango Telegraph. How do I know this? People have been stopping me left and right to tell me they enjoyed it. On the street, in coffeeshops, and where I work, the original version of the Facebook “like”, compliments in person.
[by Luke Mehall]
Note: this article is published in the “La Vida Local” column of this week’s Durango Telegraph. Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine contributes to this column once a month.
I’m not sure how to take this because I’ve always thought I’d make my mark as a writer by writing about important issues. Before and after the bromance article I wrote in The Telegraph about the drug war in Mexico and a film about photographers in Afghanistan. The feedback I received on those pieces was miniscule compared to the bromance article. What to take away from this? I really don’t know. Maybe when people pick up this paper they’d rather laugh than cry; maybe we get enough information about wars and depressing situations that we’d rather read about something fun going on in our backyard. I’m just speculating, like I said I don’t know.
I know I write for you, so I want to deliver. The words are mine for a minute, writing can be therapy, but once they are printed they are yours.
Right now, as I write now, my heart is hurting, and my stomach has been in knots since I got the news. My friend, Kevin Volkening aka “K-Bone”, was killed in a climbing accident last week, in Clark’s Fork, Wyoming.
In 14 years of climbing, he’s the first friend I’ve lost to the pursuit, a statistical miracle, given the dangerous nature of the beast that is climbing. I know I should not be alive today from some of the mistakes I’ve made while climbing. While telling a friend about the loss recently he described climbing as something that involves high risk and huge dividends. I couldn’t agree more.
But a loss isn’t about numbers, or words, it’s the tears you cry, and the tears you know those who are much closer to him are crying. The ache in your heart that you’ll never see him again, and then knowing he has a wife, parents, sisters, a grandmother and many other loved ones that have a void in their hearts bigger than any canyon.
My time with Kevin was extremely limited. I met him through some mutual friends in Salt Lake City, while visiting for the bi-annual Outdoor Retailer Trade Show. He’d just started working for Black Diamond, and we hit it off immediately, mostly due to his welcoming nature. He loved the climbing area Indian Creek, and joked that he thought all Colorado climbers were douchebags until he met us. He was the kind of person that could throw out an insult like that because you knew immediately he was so loving at heart.
He wore his “spirit shirt” every Friday, a howling wolf, and the last time we talked he told me had had over a dozen of them. Even at the Outdoor Retailer (OR) show, when most of us were dressed in some of our finer duds Kevin would wear his wolf shirt. He stood out as a bright light of a human being. At the most recent OR show we met his wife, Marge, and they were obviously in love and very happy.
It takes a very special person to make you feel like you’re friends immediately upon meeting them. Many of us, myself included, let our insecurities or fears get in the way of our true selves. When he died Kevin was a new friend of mine, one I hoped to spend many days climbing with, especially in our beloved Indian Creek, where there’s little but red rock and red dirt, our cell phones don’t work, the climbing is difficult but living in the moment is easy. We were just planting the seeds of friendship, my heart knew we were kindred spirits, and now I know after reading about him he had that impact on many other people.
From his obituary in the Lewis Tribune newspaper I found these words, “Kevin had the ability to bring out that deep down hidden kindred spirit within each person he met and to share that spirit with others. Such was his way to make the world a better place for everyone.”
From that obituary I also learned that his hunger for adventure began young. At 17 years old he and his father rode their bicycles from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago, covering more than 3,000 miles in 45 days. A longtime Bozeman, Montana climber, he also climbed all over the country, including the big walls of Yosemite and Zion. Much of his college work at Montana State University focused on the changing climate and glaciers, and he made several trips to Alaska.
In the wake of death of a loved one, we are forced to examine our own lives. I feel drawn and determined to be the best person I can be, and to put forth my best effort with my projects and goals. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, but with today we can live in the moment and give everything.
Often I feel like I’m running on a treadmill of life. I think that’s why climbing and other outdoor pursuits are so rewarding. They force us to live in the moment, and remind us that the greatest joys of life are the simple, challenging things.
And death reminds us of something too. It’s sad and terrible, and if that person is close to you, you may never be the same, ever again. My heart is going out to the people who Kevin lived close to, may their spirits be lifted of the fond memories, and may they know that Kevin was a bright light in an often-dark world, and his legend will live on.
Donations in Kevin’s name can be made to: Foundations for Glacier and Environmental Research, 4616 25th Ave. N.E. Suite 302, Seattle, WA 98105
If you are so compelled, please feel free to comment below.
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle. You can now subscribe to The Climbing Zine as well!