Reflecting on 25 years with this little guy
Originally read at the Celebration of Caleb on Nov. 18th at All Souls Gathering, Shelburne, VT
I’m quite familiar with missing Caleb. If I were to draw our trajectories over the last four years, our two lines would look random to the untrained eye – more apart than overlapping. There would be zig zags, asymmetrical rises and falls, intersections. Our relationship has existed in the space between the lines, not bound by distance…nor cell service.
The missing started every time we would part, sometimes even before the final goodbye hug. My journals are full of the missing. And there was – and is – so much to miss. The ease of his smile, his smelly clothes, his unwavering confidence and competitiveness, his romantic side, the bottomless appetite, his emotional support, and his love of life.
Even without caffeine, he radiated with energy and gratitude. He would let childlike yippees tumble out over simple things and he wasn’t afraid to text me in exclamation points. In ordinary moments, Caleb would turn to me and say, “I love my life. It’s just so fun.”
He could love his life so openly because he was the one carefully creating it. His perma-stoke and his introversion often obscured the discipline and years of hard work. Caleb was exceptional at so many things because he spent the time and effort to master them. Behind the scenes, he was retracing difficult climbing sequences, studying two letter Scrabble words and chess openers, watching videos and films on cooking, and studying the brain to realize human potential.
The rises and falls in our lines would surely map both our successful adventures and the sufferfests. Those of us who have been lucky enough to tie into a rope with Caleb or join him on the skin track know what I’m talking about. For others, I must introduce a key term here: Sandbag (verb): to intentionally understate an activity’s difficulty. Sandbagger (noun): A person who intentionally belies or understates an activity’s difficulty through statements like “It’s easy; It’s not that bad; You will love it.”
Caleb is the ultimate sandbagger – it ran so deeply in his veins that it was incurable.
On our first date, we went for a run and he lapped me two times on the hill from Lebanon into Hanover like an unleashed puppy. I was so tired, I couldn’t even talk. On our first ski tour together on Ascutney, it was -5 degrees. I had unlined rubber boots. He stuck skins onto his skis and hoped I would boot pack next to him. I waited in the car instead. My first Catan game with his one offering of advice to “collect all the sheep.” Then there was the lesson on trad climbing before I was lead climbing, the extra 3 miles of unplanned skinning in the Tetons, hanging belays in Index…and that’s just the abridged sandbag list from Year One.
It wasn’t just that Caleb wanted to achieve his chosen objective, it was that he chose us and believed in our potential to do it with him. Our ability to dig deep, perform, and reach the summit together. Chances are we did reach it – and it’s likely one of our grandest adventures.
I’m pretty sure dating Caleb has been my grandest adventure. It hasn’t been all that easy…especially right now. But his partnership has left me with a hunger to get out there, try harder and realize my own potential. I am beyond sad that Caleb’s line doesn’t get to dance along with mine in the years to come, yet I know that he will continue to affect my trajectory.
Just one more thing. We all know Caleb left a lot of things unsaid. So without speaking for him, I want you to know that his love ran deep and he spoke in hugs, and high fives, in long drives and surprise pop ups.
Arlin. Hey Arlin. You must already know this but Caleb is your biggest fan. He talked about you all the time – what you were up to, where you were going next, how well your vlog was that week, why you were still single. His love for you transcended fraternal love and he genuinely appreciated all of your quirks and hobbies and perspectives.
Mary Anne and Winslow: I am so deeply grateful that you gave us Caleb. Caleb learned from you to how to keep his body well-fed and strong. Your roadtrip and chairlift math games kept Caleb sharp and propelled him to be just a few moves faster than all of us. Together you conjured up a compassionate and talented human that was impossible for me not to fall for.
Originally read at the Celebration of Caleb on Nov. 18th at All Souls Gathering, Shelburne, VT.
I know we are all up here to share wonderful moments from Caleb’s life, but I want to start with an anecdote about one of Caleb’s worst qualities. Once, Caleb, Arlin, Alex Brown and I set off for over a month to ski all across the US and Europe. Many of you know how this race ended, so I won’t work myself into a huff up here. Traveling and skiing for a month can be hard, and you develop a routine. We would buy a dozen eggs for the four of us to split every morning, three eggs each to eat before skiing. During the trip, Caleb and Arlin, as Ladues do, skied every single day, even when it rained. Alex and I, on the other hand, slept in and drank whiskey when it rained. The unexpected consequence of sleeping in though, was that Alex and I woke up to only five eggs in the morning. When you buy a dozen eggs for breakfast, and there are four of you, and two of you go ski in the rain, because you’re crazy, and two of you sleep in and drink whiskey, because you’re normal and don’t ski in the rain, you expect to open the carton to find our allotted six eggs. But no, Alex and I opened said carton to find five, and it was obviously because Caleb decided he needed an extra one for himself. Who does that? If this was the only time something like this happened, then you could perhaps forgive Caleb, or give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he dropped one, or one was broken. But, stories of the sort kept popping up. There’s the infamous Jackson Hole Domino’s pizza story with Travis, where, when splitting a pizza, he didn’t take half, but took the four biggest slices and spread the rest out to hide his greediness. Or the poking his fingers in your banana story. And, when he thought no one was looking, he always took the last bite of food on the table. My point is, Caleb was a not so sneaky food thief, and it annoyed his friends incessantly and he was not flawless. But, other than that, the kid was pretty perfect.
Following the initial shock of the news, I found myself lost in my own thoughts, struggling to come to terms with what happened. I found solace in writing, and with tears slowly dripping off my cheeks onto my lap and with no apparent desire to wipe them away for hours, I wrote a letter to one of the most important people in my life:
Since freshman year, you have been one of my very best friends.
Together, we did a lot. By my count, we drove across the country at least three times, skied over 25 mountains, and twice got so drunk you passed out in a public bathroom stall. Beyond the numbers, we scaled Yosemite’s granite walls, skied backcountry lines in the Alps and the Tetons, huddled frozen through the night on top of 14,000 foot Peruvian peeks, rowed boats over 200 miles down the Grand Canyon, raced mountain bikes down the side of Mount Hood and both sucked at fly fishing. We listened to countless podcasts and books on tape, watched Ratatouille maybe one too many times, ate more than our fair share of all-you-can-eat sushi, chatted about girls, discussed the meaning of life, and could never hit last cup in pong.
Neither of us lacking hubris, we were competitive. And while I did beat you 1v1 at basketball this summer, and we consistently traded off games of chess, and as a team we remain undefeated at Spikeball, the truth is you were better than me at pretty much everything (including, begrudgingly, Catan). In fact, I do not know anyone as capable as you at so many things – I do not know anyone who balances love, kindness, smarts and athleticism as well as you do.
You were really, really good at everything you did, and could and did push the boundaries more than anyone I know. But that is not the most impressive thing about you. Because, no matter how good you were, and no matter how hard you could challenge yourself, there was something that always meant more to you than the next summit. To you, who you were doing it with, was more important than what you were doing. Bigger, faster, stronger, was nothing without your friends and family. Your goal may have been to get to the top, but you derived meaning from the journey, and purpose from ensuring your friends and family were at your side when you did it.
See, I can now say I trad climb 5.10, skin up volcanoes and ski the backcountry, ride mountain bikes and run class IV rapids. It’s how I spend my free time. It’s what I do on weekends and how I plan my vacations. But, Caleb, without you, I could not and I would not be able to do any of that. Because, when you could have been climbing 5.13, or skiing Alaskan spines, or summiting the tallest peaks in the world, you were instead patiently teaching me how to place gear on 5.7s at Red Rocks, showing me how to read the avalanche conditions in Germany, and hauling me to the top of Half Dome. You taught me what it means to be on the sharp end, to ski a line you spent all day hiking to the top of, to push myself beyond my comfort zone and to do it all with the people that matter most. In short, you taught me how to live.
A year ago, I went to New Zealand with my family. I brought my climbing gear and a few extra pieces of equipment for my younger siblings. One day, Reed, Zanna and I borrowed a car, went into town, bought the local guide book and drove into the mountains. We hiked into the crag and spent the day climbing. I put up a top rope and they followed and then I taught them how to lead and clean. At the end of the day, with the sun setting over the lake, we drank beers and I thought of you – how grateful I am for the gifts you have given me. It was one of the most memorable days I can remember, and brought my siblings and I even closer together. See what you did there?
The English major in me doesn’t know how to reconcile the past and present tense in this letter. You were, and you are and you continue to be. No day will be the same, and certainly no adventure will be right without you, but you will always be with us. There was a day, on the Grand Canyon, and it was one of the best days, but who knows exactly which day it was because every day was the best day on the river. You and I were floating in calm water, oars tucked into the raft, drinking a beer under a rainbow-colored umbrella and smiling because it was the best. Then, all of the sudden, you sat up and turned to me in what was left of your frayed sombrero river-hat and decidedly stated, “Alex Brown should fuckin’ be here. Liz and Randy too.” “I know,” I said. That was you. Even on the greatest day of the greatest trip, you were not satisfied because our whole crew was not there. Now, we get to say that for the rest of our lives. But the thing is, Caleb, you passed on your gifts and your skills and your values and your way of life onto each of us. More than anything, you taught us that who you are with is the most important, and now, you will be with us forever.
There is one last thing: no matter where you were in the world or what adventure you were on, I knew you were okay when a Chess.com notification would pop up on my phone: “Your turn to move against casualfiasco.” I had not played yet, because, if I am being honest, I knew I was beat. I am sure you know it too.
I miss you so damn much, buddy.
Since I initially wrote this letter to Caleb, I’ve been struggling with what to do next. Writing the letter helped me structure my thoughts. But recently, I’ve found them incomplete. I know that words are helpful, but actions are meaningful, and I’ve been wrestling with how to reconcile that. I want to turn my words into actions, to extract threads of meaning from the manner Caleb conducted himself, incorporate them into my life, and improve myself as a person. What Caleb wanted to do was challenge himself and push himself, while constantly finding time to incorporate his friends and family in his adventures. Caleb worked on himself, and he worked for others.
Remember that story about the eggs? That was four year ago. The Caleb of today, would not do that. And the reason is, because Caleb worked on his flaws constantly. He was never satisfied with doing his best, because his best was yesterday’s measure and today he should be able to do better. He became aware of his flaws and through attention and awareness, discipline and effort, he improved. The Caleb of today, may even leave you an extra egg, or tell you to take the last bite of food.
Talking to our friends over the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed everyone’s most intense, most fun, most epic outdoor adventure was because of Caleb. And that is what makes him so special. He went out of his way, constantly, at all times for us. To be with us, and to give us our most spectacular memories. His self-sacrifices to incorporate his friends into his passions, in turn created meaning in our lives. Whether it was driving three hours out of his way to pick me up at the airport, or rappelling mid-route off a Yosemite face to hang with his girlfriend, or carrying all our gear, or surprising his parents and friends across the country for the Presidential Traverse, Caleb’s own ego dissolved for his friends.
To me, deriving meaning from Caleb’s life involves reflecting on what he did, how he did it and how I can improve myself. By incorporating more of Caleb into my life, Caleb’s life and existence further manifests itself into immortality.
Caleb, I miss you so damn much. I will continue to miss you for the rest of my life. There will be waves of sadness that will hurl themselves at me and envelop me at the most unexpected moments. But, you should know how much of a powerful presence you were, are and will continue to be in our life. We won’t do things for you, we will do them because of you, because you taught us a better way to live. And as we incorporate your values and actions into our lives, we will become better people.
Once, on a long drive between Northern California and Southern Nevada, somewhere near Death Valley, you and I listened to and discussed David Foster Wallace’s speech, This is Water. In it, he offers the following insight:
There are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom.
David Foster Wallace wrote those words for Kenyon graduates, but, Caleb, he could have been writing your biography on how to live. You showed us a path towards capital T Truth and true freedom – a freedom we will continue to live by and uphold for the rest of our lives.
I love you buddy.
Snow day, high school 2009. Caleb called. “What are we doing?”
Bring your skis over, I said, and a waterski rope. I had a plan. By noon we had built a kicker of a jump on one side of a road and a landing ramp on the other. I fired up my family’s snow machine and packed out a runway. As usual, Caleb volunteered to be the guinea pig.
With Caleb in tow, I lined up the snowmobile and opened the throttle. At the last second, I swerved the machine, and all 6 feet 4 inches of Caleb hucked off the jump, cleared the gap and landed flawlessly on the other side.
A car drove by, and Caleb’s light-blue eyes lit up from under his oversized hat. A few minutes later my Subaru (not his, he insisted, “because your car is shorter”) was parked under the jump.
“Just go faster this time,” Caleb said—and cleared the roof rack.
Caleb Edward Ladue entered this world on April 18, 1992. Early on, his parents, Mary Anne and Winslow, instilled in him a deep love for the mountains and adventure. Caleb was on skis before he was 2. He and his older brother, Arlin—his greatest hero—grew up on the edge of Lake Champlain in Charlotte, Vermont, where they spent their summers on the water and their winters on the slopes.
Caleb ski raced in high school, but despite being one of the best on the team, he preferred the backcountry, where he could make his own decisions on where to turn. He played Ultimate Frisbee and in 2010 was named Vermont Ultimate Frisbee Player of the Year. In high school he also found rock climbing, in the gym at first and then at local crags.
Caleb would go on to summit El Cap and Denali; to climb alpine routes across South America from Bolivia to the Fitz Roy massif; and to earn his AMGA level two certifications in rock climbing, alpine climbing and backcountry skiing.
As with most activities he tried, Caleb made academics seem almost effortless. Despite the occasional missed school day to crag at Rumney or deep-water solo on the cliffs of Lake Champlain, and almost every powder day, he maintained straight A’s throughout high school, earning a coveted free ski pass all four years. When he graduated from Champlain Valley Union High School in 2010, he went off to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Back in Vermont over the first college vacation, he told me, “College is actually kind of hard. I mean, I had to teach myself how to take notes.” Apparently, he had breezed through high school without them.
In 2014 Caleb graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in neuroscience, and gave himself a five-year plan. He would try to make it as a climbing guide, and if that didn’t work, he’d enroll in med school. In the next three years, he reached lead guide status for the prestigious Rainier Mountain Institute (RMI) in Washington, summited Rainier 36 times, and guided clients internationally from Denali to Aconcagua to the Fitz Roy massif. Between trips, he climbed or skied in Yosemite Valley, Jackson Hole and across Colorado with his adventure and life partner, Audrey Sherman.
On October 22, Caleb Ladue took his last run. He had broken trail that day up Cerro Cortaderas(17,050 feet) near Santiago, Chile—his and a partner’s first of many ice and ski objectives in the central Andes. But when his partner felt signs of altitude sickness and the conditions worsened below the summit, the team, which included three Chilean guides whom they had befriended, decided to turn around. Caleb also led the ski descent. Near base camp, he disappeared into a crevasse.
“I’m quite familiar with missing Caleb. If I were to draw our trajectories over the last four years, our two lines would look random,” Audrey said at the celebration of Caleb’s life. “And there was—and is—so much to miss. The ease of his smile, his smelly clothes, his unwavering confidence and competitiveness, his romantic side, the bottomless appetite, his emotional support, and his love of life.
“[H]e radiated with energy and gratitude. He would let childlike yippees tumble out over simple things …. In ordinary moments, Caleb would turn to me and say, ‘I love my life. It’s just so fun.’”
Caleb wanted to do, see and experience everything he could, and to improve himself every day. He really did live his dream—he created it. More than anything, he inspired those around him to do the same. He taught us to get up and go even if the conditions sucked, to stay hungry, and never to pass up a full moon. He believed in us when often we did not believe in ourselves.
Originally published in Rock and Ice - Climbers We Lost 2017
Caleb was a friend to so many people, and an inspiration to everyone he met. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to spend time with him during the Fall of our senior year at school. His patience and willingness to let me follow him around with a camera is one of my fondest memories of being outside in New Hampshire. He was always inspiring to watch, but even more inspiring to talk to. I'll always wish we could have had more conversations, but I'll be forever grateful for the ones we were able to share.
Mary Anne Kyburz-Ladue
Originally read at the Celebration of Caleb on Nov. 18th at All Souls Gathering, Shelburne, VT
Thank you all for coming to share in this Celebration of Caleb!! Before I share a few words about Caleb, Winslow and I would like to thank you for the tremendous support we have received from our community of family, friends, neighbors and my coworkers at TCHC. You have provided us with delicious meals, checked up on us, gone for hikes and long walks and sent heart felt tributes and cards. I also want to recognize all the hard work that Arlin, Audrey, Randall, Tommy, Eric, Winslow, Francesca, Suzanne and Vince to mention just a few who helped in putting this Celebration together. And of course thank you, Caleb, for bringing all your wonderful friends into our world and sharing them with us through many adventures.
As most of you have been fortunate to know Caleb at different chapters in his life you experienced a young man with a rare blend of smarts, courage, skill and charm (compassion). The only reason I can stand up here today, is knowing he is saying what he would say to me when I looked down a steep pitch…Mom you can do it!! Winslow and I raised our boys to love the outdoor world from the mountains to Lake Champlain!! As soon as they could get into ski boots we had them on the ski slopes, and in boats learning to be comfortable on the water. Caleb took to Alpine and Freestyle competition at Sugarbush and CVU, climbing at Petra Cliffs, Ultimate Frisbee at both CVU and Dartmouth and Summer’s waterskiing and sailing on the Lake.
I knew Caleb was becoming more passionate about climbing, but not until his years at Dartmouth did I understand the extent of this passion. On more than several occasions, I would be on the road coming back from a (road trip) or a conference in Boston, excited about seeing him at Dartmouth, to not find him on campus, and later he would call me and say “sorry I missed you mom I was at Rumney climbing." I found out in Chile from Randy, his climbing partner, that on many afternoons at Dartmouth they would leave campus as soon as classes were done (I think Randy said 1:00 pm) and head up to Rumney to climb, on some weeks, 5 days a week. I know Winslow and I would chuckle that we were paying Dartmouth tuition for you to climb!! I should have known, like most of the passions that Caleb pursued, he would pursue until he perfected them…. whether alpine skiing, Ultimate Frisbee, waterskiing, rockclimbing and/or mountaineering….Caleb you did an amazing job of balancing your outdoor activities with your academics, which you also excelled at. I know many of your teachers who are present would agree you excelled in school as well…when you put your mind to a goal you achieved it and made it look easy.
During his early years at Dartmouth, Caleb was excited about pursuing a medical degree in emergency medicine, but it quickly got put on the back burner, once he was bitten by the thrill of being in the mountains challenging himself to climb tougher routes and teaching others. After graduating from college he was hired by RMI in Washington State to learn to be a mountain guide. Caleb you told me you had a 5 year plan to work at becoming a Certified AMGA guide in rock climbing, backcountry skiing and alpine guiding. And if guiding did not work out for you, you would buckle down and pursue Medicine. I held the hope in my gut that you would tire of the guiding lifestyle, but no that was clearly not happening. You had a impressive list of climbs that you had completed, and were headed back to one your favorite ranges in the Argentine Patagonia, the Fitz Roy Massif with the goal to climb Cerro Torre. There is no doubt you left us in one of your happiest places, climbing and skiing, and starting a two month trip in the Chilean and Argentine Andes with your buddy Randall. Caleb as we think of you going forward, I know you will be with us every time we are in the backcountry,on the ski hill, hiking mountains and enjoying the Lake…but we will always keep missing you, and know your accomplishments had just begun. I love you babe.
Originally read at the Celebration of Caleb on Nov. 18th at All Souls Gathering, Shelburne, VT.
You may have recognized one of the songs that Colby played on the piano earlier as Für Elise. There’s a story behind this song. One weekend over the summer of 2013, when Caleb was taking Organic Chemistry at Harvard, we rendezvoused at Camp Ladue for a weekend of water skiing with Winslow and Mary Anne. After the morning ski, I lost to Caleb in 500m races on the rowing machine and we fiddled around on the piano. In his classic Caleb way, he learned how to play most of Für Elise beautifully over the course of a couple hours, despite not having played any music in the last 4 or 5 years. From then on, Caleb could, and would, sit down at the piano at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge or at a HOP piano somewhere on the Dartmouth Campus and play the song when the opportunity arose. And it always sounded amazing.
It was hard to put words together for this. Caleb lived such an incredible life and had so many unique relationships that it would take me a lifetime to do any justice in describing the life he lived, and even then my words would inevitably fall short. So, to spare you all the pain of listening to me ramble for hours, I’m going to narrow my scope and talk about a few things that stick out to me about him.
Caleb was my closest friend, my mentor in so many things, my skiing partner, my climbing partner, and my all around adventure buddy. I went through all of my photos recently, reliving some of our adventures, and I realized that the only times that I’ve ever even bothered to take photos have been when I’m on some trip with Caleb. Those were the times that I looked forward to every year, especially when the post graduation 9 to 5 began to dictate how much time I could spend being a dirtbag. To truly understand our friendship though, you have to remember that Caleb was fiercely competitive. As am I, although I’m not half as talented or smart as he was. So naturally, our friendship was a love-hate one. He was better than me at literally everything and I frequently referred to his talent as the “bane of my existence”. Despite this never ending competition of who could be better at any challenge we encountered, of which there was no question who would win, we enjoyed every minute of it.
In recent years, we struggled a few times climbing together because he had progressed far beyond my ability and I was struggling to keep up. This September in Yosemite, we had a rough stretch and had to talk through our frustrations with each other. After I told him I was tired of having to climb things that were way too hard for me, he told me that he was frustrated because he knew I was better than how I was performing and that I just had to trust myself more. I didn’t realize it until I started thinking about what I was going to say today but now I realize that he believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. That was something that was so special and so unique about Caleb. No matter what adventure he was on or who it was with, whether you were learning to belay for your first time or skiing the Ford-Stettner on the Grand Teton, he believed in you and would push you to do the things you didn’t think possible, because he knew if you just trusted yourself, you could do all the things that you never thought were possible. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the reason why I’ve been able to do all of the things I’m most proud of in my life. He was my inspiration, my source of energy, and the voice in my ear telling me to push harder. I owe him everything and it frightens me to think about how much I’m going to miss him.
The next thing I’d like to share with you all is something Caleb told me one day while we were driving to Rumney. I can’t completely remember the context but we always used to get into some shenanigans there and I think this was his way of saying don’t be an idiot. It’s something that Winslow used to tell him and Arlin when they were growing up. “Don’t be careful, be ready.” When he told me this he said it as if it was something he told himself every morning, and it all made sense to me as a fundamental concept that helped the little Caleb turn into the man we all know today. Caleb was always on his toes and ready for whatever the world was going to throw at him and he never approached any challenge timidly. And to be fair, his idea of “ready” was usually, “bring it on, I’ll figure it out”. And he always would. His idea of ready was not a set of tools he needed, but an awareness that he had the intelligence and skill to handle whatever the world was going to throw at him that day. He was ready for anything and there’s no person I’d rather have with me when shit hits the fan than Caleb.
The last thing I’d like to share with you is a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that my boss and mentor sent to me a year ago. It has always reminded me of Caleb and will forever inspire me to be more like him. I hope it might provide some insight into his brilliant mind.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I only knew Caleb for a few days after meeting him in South America a few years back, but he left a lasting impression. He was a joy to be around and I learned much from him in only a short period of time....mostly because he was so open to answering my many questions about every aspect of mountaineering. He was kind and open, and I feel lucky I was able to spend time with him. I was in contact with him when I was last up in Yosemite just a month or so ago, but we missed each other by a few hours. When I heard the news I was stunned and crushed. I can only imagine how you feel. My heart goes out to you and all of your family and friends. The work you have done on the website is amazing and I am so grateful you put it all together. A quick blurb is below along with some go pro footage from the wild ride.
We were on our way south to El Calafate, Argentina via motorcycles, and I was doing my best to keep Caleb from hitching along with us. Not wanting to put Caleb at danger, I stated "I don't think its a great idea for you to ride on the back." I explained quite honestly "I'm really not very good a riding motorcycles, its windy as hell, and you don't even have motorcycle gear". Figuring I had talked him out of it I added.... "but hey, its your call, if you need the ride, we are happy to take you along" Caleb paused for a second, glanced down at his broken foot in a cast, looked up and said "lets give it a try....I've got full gore tex, 6000 meter boots, my climbing helmet, and some ski goggles." What ensued was a wild ride on roads so windy that we were leaning out of turns to stay upright. We arrived in Calafate, where Caleb led us to an awesome restaurant and we enjoyed a tasty meal of local food and wine, enjoying the fact that we had made the trip safely. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had, and Caleb's fun loving, lively, and kind personality shown through the entire time.
I remember this night like it were yesterday. I had met you 18 days earlier when I moved into that tiny 2 bedroom house with Randall and one other barely 20 year old dude. In our introductory phone conversations you failed to mention that 2 of your college buddies would be couch surfing with us for the next 1-6 weeks and potentially some others come spring break. I failed to mention that I was almost 10 years older than you but I didn’t think it mattered because the “prospective roommate” pro and con spreadsheet you made had a note beside my name in the pros column that read something along the lines of “ Cool. Skis. Is a girl”.
We immediately bonded over our love of skiing and desire to pursue something that didn’t fall directly into the categories of “things to do with my expensive University degree”, trying to explain that to our parents and then of course skiing the tonnes of snow we received those first 18 days we were in Jackson Hole.
This photo was taken day 18 in your goal to ski 100 straight days that winter to which you were on the verge of convincing me to partake in. All 6 of us had returned home to our tiny 2 bedroom house exhausted from yet another day of pow hunting and you were adamant we all rally for a night lap in the pass together. I remember the look on your face trying to convince me, knowing if I was in, together we could get everyone on board and we did.
The 6 of us hiked up Teton Pass in uncomfortably cold and windy conditions. With a few sips of Baileys and Fireball in us the terrible weather was a thing of the past and we all dropped in on some epic pow turns.
I only got 4 turns before blowing out my knee. When I called down the 5 of you rallied to get me back to the car and home in one piece. This would be my last day “real” day of skiing for the year. I use quotations because despite my season ending injury you still wanted me to get out, enjoy the mountains, have fun and be happy.
So, you forced me out touring and when I couldn’t ski down, you tied your poles to my pack and skied me down yourself like your parents do when you’re a kid. You shared your adventures with me and you empathized with me on the days I was so sad I couldn’t be out there with you. I felt better knowing that we would get another chance, another season to ski all those fun lines and cool places we talked about.
You accomplished your 100 days in a row on some shitty rainy day in March. When you came home we high hived put on a movie and you took a nap on the couch while I cleaned up the many coffee cups you never seemed capable of bringing back to the kitchen, no matter how many times you went in there looking for a snack.
That winter we had more people move in, move out, visit, couch surf, floor surf and use our place as storage than that house could accommodate and that I could have ever imagined being comfortable with, but it didn’t matter because we laughed, we had fun, we met great friends, created amazing memories and it was the best living experience I have ever had. It was hard to leave Jackson Hole that Spring because I knew it would never be the same and it never was.
We would stay in touch however and your love of climbing would bring you to my neck of the woods every summer after our life in Jackson. You took it upon yourself to share your passion of climbing with me and taught me the ropes. While you practically lifted me to the top up my first climb because I was so gripped and in the inappropriate footwear, I would later watch you graciously climb the same thing with no effort or rope needed.
The last time we spoke was this summer. You called to catch up, fill me in on life, let me know you were doing well, all your goals and plans. You and your family were going to meet up with me in Mexico over Christmas after you got back from Patagonia with Randall. You were happy on the phone like you always are and I couldn’t wait to see you again.
A week ago Randall messaged me to tell me you two were on your way down South and finished by telling me “Caleb sends his love!” I replied “I loved you guys be safe down there!”
The next message I would receive is that there was an accident and you are gone.
My heart aches for you and your family, for Randall for your friends, for all the people that had the pleasure of knowing you and all those that never will. Caleb you were an incredible person a talented, smart, kind and funny soul and I’m so, so sad that you have been taken from us. It hurts that you’re gone and that all our future plans together are gone with you, but I am thankful for time that we shared, the memories I do have with you, your smile and your laugh that are still with me and always will be.
Rest in peace my dear friend, you will be forever with us and forever missed.
You called me one night after work in Jackson and said "Come up to the pass. It's a full moon. We're going skiing." I remember saying no, I'm too tired, hanging up and immediately regretting it. I called you back, ran to my car and headed up to one of the most memorable nights of my life, chasing you up Mt Glory and skiing fluffy moonlit turns down the back. I've told the story a hundred times. That's the kind of person you were - always inviting others into the infinite joy you knew how to find out there.
I remember standing in the same spot where this photo was taken, looking out to the moonlit valley, sweating in the freezing cold, overcome with gratitude for the good fortune of spending the winter in a studio apartment sharing a king size mattress on the floor with you. We kept it sideways and your feet hung off the end. I think you were skiing too hard to ever get a sheet for your side of the bed.
Whether we were skiing or climbing or doing math homework you never made me feel like the "only girl." I pushed myself harder physically that winter than I ever had before, your infectious passion for the mountains and their magic inspiring me to step up my game 100-fold. Your courage, imagination and sheer excitement for life well-lived, full of beauty and adrenaline, have stuck with me in a million ways, as they have for so many of us that were lucky enough to have you in our lives.
A year later we arrived in the Chamonix Valley after dark. Leaning out the hotel room window (which you'd probably climbed to from the ground a few stories below), we gazed out at the mountains rising up in the moonlight. "I've dreamed all my life of being here," you said. Last year you messaged me saying "Miss ya girl. I was thinking about our Jackson living situation the other day. Always brings a smile to my face. I'm in Argentina trying to put some dreams to rest!"
Thanks for following your dreams so whole-heartedly, Caleb. You found your passion and made it your gift and your service, freely given with love. I don't think we can ask for anything more from people alive in these times. I know your example has and will continue to light the way for so many others.
Also... I want you to know that the day after you passed, the sauna in Weston unexpectedly burned to the ground. These events don't feel unrelated to me. I can't stop thinking of all the raucous and cozy Vermont memories that tie you and me to that special place.
I love you and am so, so grateful to have known you. You'll always bring a smile to my face.
I'll never forget when Caleb and Randy welcomed me to Yosemite in October, 2017. I arrived late on a Friday night, just in time to find them with Audrey at the Valley Visitor's Center watching the end of Chris Sharma's presentation for the Facelift cleanup event. I was still reeling from a quick stop in the meadow below El Capitan, where I had to pull over to gape up at the stars, taking in the hugeness of it all. Big hugs - yes, my first real trip to Yosemite. Had it been two years? It felt like nothing had changed.
We met up with Caleb and the crew to crag the next day, and that evening we caught up over dinner at their campground. The next day I would remark to a friend how comforting it was to see those guys - still upbeat, still funny, still climbing hard, still best friends, still living the adventure. The only thing that had changed, I would say, is that Caleb was nicer. He had always been nice, but somehow it felt like that raw, competitive, energetic camaraderie had matured since college. Caleb was the same fun, talented, charismatic guy - but kinder now, somehow more graceful, humble and welcoming.
Thinking about the world without Caleb makes me want to be more like him - both the Caleb I knew at Dartmouth and the older version I met up with in Yosemite this fall. Our friendship existed mostly through a shared passion for rock climbing, to which Caleb brought a unique mix of competition, friendship and guidance. I remember quick trips to Rumney after class; training in the bouldering gym on campus; pushing each other to climb harder in Red Rock, NV over spring break. Looking back at climbing photos I see Caleb belaying my first 5.13 send, a blue dot far below me as the snow fell on a late fall day at Rumney. I also remember when we climbed "Flesh for Lulu" (12a) at Rumney by clipping just three bolts, because we read it had been done that way by the first ascensionist. No one else had the boldness, commitment or drive to do stuff like that. It was contagious. Caleb was always pushing it, having fun and bringing others along for the ride. His passion and talent seemed effortless. I miss him, and I know he will inspire me for a long time.
Remy adds Caleb's name to the mural at the All Souls Procession in Tuscon, AZ. The event gathers thousands to parade and celebrate lost loved ones each year. Remy and Anna Morenz carried the poster and a candle in Caleb's memory.
Originally read at the Celebration of Caleb on Nov. 18th at All Souls Gathering, Shelburne, VT.
My friend Erick, who grew up with Caleb and me in Charlotte, says the most important things in life are the relationships we build, the experiences we have, and the things we leave behind.
I developed a passion for photography on a ’trip of a lifetime’ with Caleb in Alaska,
where he gave me a hard time for carrying an old film camera skiing, camping and shooting in otherwise impractical places for an old film camera.
As my affinity for the camera grew, I discovered a British artist and photographer, David Hockney. In the late 80’s, Hockney became captivated by the gap he saw between photographs and the human perspective. He developed an approach to collage, assembling many photos of the same subject. Taken from slightly different angles, they form a new view, an unfamiliar and messy, but undeniably rich perspective – more than a photograph but not quite reality. He called these pieces ‘joiners’.
I think when we lose someone, we turn to stories – our relationship with them, our experiences becoming the things they've left behind. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a chance to hear and read stories from people, many of you are probably here, who I’ve never met but cherish Caleb as I do. Even my 75 year old cousin, to this day, will ask every friend I bring to the Maine coast whether they were “the paddle board guy” who paddled 3 miles of open Atlantic with just a dry bag and a pair of shorts.
These stories are snapshots, moments from one perspective. Like a photograph, they’re flat and only two dimensional. But taken together, like David Hockney’s joiners, these stories begin to form a jumbled collage – a messy, not quite tangible but somehow three dimensional portrait of someone we love and have lost.
So thank you Audrey, Trevor and Randy, and MaryAnne and Winslow, and everyone here for the chance to share and assemble these snapshots from our too short time with Caleb.
Originally published in the AMGA Bulletin Magazine, Summer 2018