how can falling ice
have broken my
favorite walking stick?
Utah Avalanche Center forecaster Tom Kimbrough’s tribute to colleague Seth Shaw who was killed in an ice fall in Alaska May 2000. It was around Memorial Day.
An open letter to Barbara Rand, Robin Davenport and the friends and family of Kip Rand
Dear Mrs. Rand;
I never met your son, but I feel like I knew him all the same. I too was hired as an avalanche forecaster when I was 29 years old. This was long ago, but in some ways it feels like yesterday. I can easily imagine his joy with his new job. He must have been so in love with the world. I can also imagine him on his long day in the mountains on March 8th. A good friend in town, them sharing something good and lasting that really is the essence of life.
The news of Kip’s death must have been immediately crippling and I cannot imagine your grief. We have a profession that involves risk and we need to spend time in the mountains and in the snow to provide the safety information to the public that is the avalanche forecast.
I know that there is nothing I can do to mitigate or lessen your grief, but I want you to know a couple of things. In the summer I work as a mountain rescue technician in Grand Teton National Park and I often hear people asking about the injured or the deceased. “Were they in over their heads? Were they taking too many risks?” Most of the time, I attribute it to bad luck. Rockfall, a minor slip on wet lichen, a moment’s inattention. Kip’s fall through a cornice that pulled 15′ back from the edge fits well in this category.
Secondly, I want you to know that Kip was involved in important work. Avalanche forecasting saves lives. A few dozen people die in avalanche-related accidents in North America each year. And while it’s difficult to quantify how many people make good decisions based upon the avalanche information they have, we know that people every day throughout the world value and hold in great esteem the avalanche forecast that they’ve come to rely upon each morning before they head into the mountains. Please remember this.
Lastly, I want to say that I am sorry for your loss – all of our losses, really; because after all, Kip was one of us.
The views and opinions expressed in this space are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
Great letter Drew. As a mother, it would have been a blessing to receive.
Drew, you say so much in so few words. The essence of Kip’s tragic death, like that of so many in the mountains, is the wicked learning environment in which we dwell. A moment’s inattention is all it takes when luck happens not to be on your side. And the loss is immeasurable. What wonders would he, and his children, have bestowed upon the world if Kip lived on…?
Thanks for sharing this Drew. I know that crippling grief. I have seen it in the faces of the family members and friends of avalanche victims, and felt it myself. The loss of Seth was huge. I still think of him often, he was like a brother to me. The loss truly does echo through generations of people.