My Origin Story
I remember it like it was yesterday, but in fact it was July 13, 2016. It was actually the day after our 19th wedding anniversary. My new life was to begin the following day. We were on a two week trip to Colorado. We had brought along my 70 year old father whom we felt needed to get out. My mom had passed away 14 months earlier, and it just seemed like the right thing to do. So, we drove from our suburban Minneapolis home with a van loaded with three adults and three kids to Colorado to see all of the sights. My wife, Shelly, was a fastidious planner and we had a very rigid schedule that really packed in the activities. With just a few days left in the trip, we pulled into Crested Butte. It is a beautiful mountain resort town with an adorable downtown area. After spending the afternoon hiking on some trails suggested to us by the hotel staff, we decided that we would go to the downtown area for pizza.
At dinner, we discussed the remaining few days of the trip. Our plan for the following day had been to hike to the summit of Mount Crested Butte. At the dinner, Shelly suggested that we should skip the hike, despite its prominent place on our schedule. I vehemently disagreed. I’m actually embarrassed to say that I raised my voice, and we fought about the next day’s schedule. I acted immaturely, and I’m certain that I also embarrassed my wife, father, and kids. But, I “won”, and we decided to maintain the schedule and hike the mountain the next day.
In the morning, I went for a run around the town while my wife, dad, and kids went for breakfast. After both were done, we met up and began the day. First, we purchased lift tickets and took the Silver Queen chairlift to its highest point at 11,340 feet of elevation. From there it is a two mile hike to the summit at 12,162 feet. The trail starts out as a somewhat strenuous hike with good footing, however the second half of the hike is much more challenging. The second half involves scrambling over fairly large boulders and often has poor footing. Not far into this section of the trail, I was getting very concerned. I was not at all comfortable with my dad being in that situation. He was reasonably fit for a 70 year old man, but he was still a 70 year old man from sea level. The situation seemed to put him in over his head. My kids, on the other hand had no problem. They were loving it. They pushed on ahead. I made the decision to stick with my dad and make sure that he did not have any major problems. Shelly was somewhere between my kids and me. With my dad, we were making fairly slow progress, but we were making progress. I could see the summit ahead, and I estimated that it might take about five minutes to get there.
Suddenly, I heard a scream like I had never heard before. I hope to never hear that sound again. It was the sound of sheer terror. I thought that I might know what the sound was. I told my dad to wait where he was. I got to the summit as quickly as I could make it and found that I was right about the sound. There I found a very narrow ledge with my oldest child, Nick, still screaming. I asked him what had happened. He told me that soon after he and his brother and sister had reached the summit, Shelly had also gotten there. Shelly wanted to get a photograph of all of the kids on the summit. She had stepped backwards and had literally stepped off of the summit. She plummeted about 150 feet to a plateau below. During the time that it had taken me to reach the summit, my younger children, Kaitlyn and Josh, had completed an extremely dangerous scramble down to their mom. If I had been at the summit, I definitely would not have allowed them to go down to Shelly the way that they did. We immediately called 911. It took what seemed like a maddeningly long period of time on the phone to a rescue team dispatched, but we were finally assured that help was on the way. When we had that confirmation, Nick and I descended to my dad and then down to the meadow where Shelly, Kaitlyn, and Josh were. The accident scene was a few hundred yards away, and there was a fairly large group of people watching the rescuers. There was a lady in the group who’s husband was apparently a doctor who went up to the accident. I heard her tell another person that her husband had called her and told her that the accident victim, my wife (she did not know) was “deadzo”. With this final confirmation, I just became numb. After what seemed like a very long time, Kaitlyn and Josh were brought back to me. We were taken down the rest of the mountain in a vehicle. Much of the remainder of the day was spent talking to police. I’m sure that the police were doing their job by getting the story out of my kids about what happened to confirm that I didn’t push Shelly or do anything else that could have been construed as me contributing to what happened. It kind of seemed a little like overkill to me to have to have the kids keep repeating the story to the police, but again, I know that the police were just doing their job.
Then, I had to make the call. I had to call Shelly’s parents. I hope that I never have to make a call like that ever again. How do you tell someone’s parents that the person that you were supposed to love and protect had died on your watch? Shelly’s parents were remarkably stoic. I was crying on the phone, and her farther told me to get it together. He said that I shouldn’t be crying. I needed to be strong for the kids. I could not argue.
So, there I was. July 14, 2020. Two days after my 19th wedding anniversary. 1000 miles from home. And a new widower. I have discussed this day with many people. No, I absolutely did not push my wife from the summit, but I did insist that we go there. She had wanted to leave without hiking to the summit, but I pushed and got her up to the top of that mountain. I have no choice but to carry that guilt with me. It absolutely has not destroyed my life, but it is my burden.
Going forward, I intend to use this forum to show how I have bumbled my way forward since that fateful day. My hope is that others can find value in this.