Text by Freddie Wilkinson. Read more by Wilkinson on his blog, The Nameless Creature
Friends, family, and climbers around the world are mourning the loss of Micah Dash, Wade Johnson, and Jonny Copp. The trio were last seen alive when they left their base camp in the Gongga (Minya Konka) Range of the Eastern Himalaya in Seuchuan Province, China, on May 20th. Jonny and Wade’s bodies have been positively identified by search parties. It is likely all three perished in an avalanche.
In their home city of Boulder, Colorado, friends mobilized as soon as it was discovered they had missed their flight home. Some immediately flew to China, while others stayed awake for days on end to coordinate information, procure travel visas, collect donations, write press releases, and provide comfort within the close-nit adventuring community. The outpouring of love and support on their blog has been staggering.
I never had the opportunity to meet Wade. But I can imagine the excitement he must have felt to be going into the mountains with Micah and Jonny, who I knew through years of haphazard encounters while traveling and climbing. I would bump into Jonny in Alaska or Micah in Yosemite Valley, share an evening of revelry, and then not see them for another nine months or a year. I am grateful for the few chances I had to tie into a rope with them at the crags, and saddened I never shared a true mountain adventure with either of them.
2003: Some friends and I were slumming it at Kahiltna International Airport when Kelly Cordes and Jonny arrived. Most of the West Buttress expeditions had been keeping a dignified distance from our slushy hovel, but Jonny and Kelly came right over to say hello and socialize. We watched them blaze up to the third-ice band on Depravation on Mount Hunter, then they headed to the East Fork of the Kahiltna for something a little more remote. That was so Jonny: He seemed like he’d rather go see what was around the next corner, instead of wasting all his time on the obvious, popular objectives like Hunter. I remember watching as they skied back into B.C. several days later in swirling grey clouds. They’d found adventure, all right. After FA-ing a 4,000 mixed route, Kelly had gone into a crevasse while skiing down in a white out. After hauling his partner out, Jonny found their tiny bivy tent. They crawled inside to brew up, and, though they were out of food, Jonny reached into a stuff sack to present Kelly with… a can of beer. That was also Jonny. You knew he was capable not only of leading the crux pitch or haulling your arse out a crevasse, but he also had the class to produce a malted beverage in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
The first time I met Micah was in Indian Creek, back in the early 2000s…. Somebody had fallen near the top of a hard, tricky finger crack, and they asked Micah if he wanted to go up to finish the lead. “Sure”, Micah responded, “–but pull the rope because I want to place my own gear on this….“ He sent. A couple of years later he was pacing around the Camp IV parking lot, waiting for temperatures to cool so he could go try the Phoenix. “Is it too warm? It’s still a little too warm, but it will take an hour or two to drive over there and warm-up, and by then it might not be too warm…” He was mostly talking to himself, twitching with excitement, and by the end of the conversation he had convinced himself that temperatures were really not too warm to go climbing. That was Micah: hyper-frenetic, with the infectuous joy of a golden retriever, impossible to stop from doing whatever he wanted.
This February I drove with Micah from Ouray to Boulder. At that moment Micah didn’t have formal living arrangements in town. Which is to say he wasn’t paying rent anywhere. Of course we would normally stay at his girlfriend Nellie’s apartment, but her mom was in town. No problem, Micah said, we can stay with friends. I normally feel a little awkward about crashing a friend’s house or invading their personal space, but Micah waded into his friends lives in South Boulder with such gusto and genuine love. He heckled Zack about when he was going to marry Sasha, heckled Nick about going to college, heckled me to become a better sport climber. He had the same frenetic energy for the people around him as he had for climbing.
I think one of the most revealing things about both Jonny and Micah is that they were always in the company of accomplished, independent, and extremely intelligent women. If you only see someone’s climber-personality, it is easy to think of them as just another passionate, talented dirtbag. But it was obvious from their girlfriends that they had their shit together and their priorities in line. My second-to-last day in Boulder, Micah got more nervous then I’d ever seen him. He was going to dinner with Nellie and her mom, and wanted things to go perfectly. “Here’s what you do,” I offered. “Two-thirds of the way through dinner, get up to go to the bathroom and slip the waiter your credit card, so the bill is already taken care before you’re even brought the check.”
“That’s a good idea, ” Micah said, totally captivated, like I had just given him the key beta for free-climbing the Salathe headwall.
Micah passed me off to Jonny for the evening. We did a crushing Mountain Athlete workout, then went to dinner with his girlfriend Sara. The evening passed in a blur of talk about the various non-profit organizations they each were involved with. I don’t think we mentioned climbing once. After eating, we went to rendezvous with Micah. He was beaming. “Dude. I killed it with your check trick! She loved me!” he said. I cracked a smile myself, realizing that Micah Dash thought more highly of me for this little piece of advice then anything else I had done in our short friendship.
Before we headed back to South Boulder to crash, Jonny grabbed me. “Let’s go do the Daily Camera Chimney,” He said, leading me through an alley and down the street. I protested that I was drunk, and we’d get fined if the Boulder Police caught us. “Come on, you’ll love it,” he said. An inset brick arch around the entrance to the building made for a nice climb, something I could indeed pull off even after a few beers. We started on opposite sides and met on top, right where the apex of the arch formed a little perch to stop and look down on the street. We lay there on stomachs, catching our breathe, taking it all in.
“See, isn’t it cool up here?” Jonny asked.