Micah Dash: 1977–2009
By Timmy O’Neill
In late spring 2009, Micah Dash, a 32-year old professional climber, died in a massive avalanche while climbing the east face of Mt. Edgar (6,618m), on the Gongga Shan massif, located in western Sichuan Province, China. The above is cold fact, like an alpine colossus in entropy, like a corpse buried in rock and snow. It reveals little of the vitality and beauty of the man recently departed. But mountains are indifferent, unconcerned with your safety or CV, and they extend safe passage with one hand and obliteration with the other. The paradox of feeling intensely alive when so close to ruin emerges from this polarity of life and death. Micah led a resolute life, focused on being the best climber his body and mind could produce. In his last blog he wrote of his exercise regimen, stating, “…this kind of training won’t necessarily make you a better climber, you need to climb to do that, but what it will do is make you hard to kill in the alpine.”
You remember your brushes with fate; this is important since those close calls impart wisdom—until they’re so close that only those left behind learn the lesson. Micah got the chop. He’d say it about me. It’s not so much gallows humor, the universal relief valve of morbid pantomime, as it is the simple truth, a cruel truth that confirms the loss of a cherished person. I remember Micah always being thankful for what he created in the last decade of his life, especially the last few years when he finally earned what was to him the most intoxicating commodity: recognition. He was making a good living being a badass dude, recounting tales to inspired audiences, and he lived in larger shoes than he wore. It was life in the moment, as he pawned off the security of the future for the celebration of adventure. But who’s perfect? He was petty, insecure, loud, and cheap, yet he had a heart of gold. His way out was to go up, from being whacked out desperately on hard drugs to gaining independence, from dropout to University of Colorado grad, from Free Rider on Yosemite’s El Capitan to the fastest ascent of Karakoram’s Nameless Tower.
Micah signed off his blog posts with the word “Always,” and the irony stings and embarrasses me as I think, “Hmm, not really.” But there is an undying embodiment of the word. I ponder the law of conservation of energy that states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, that it remains the same in a closed system—say, our climbing community. I wonder about the cumulative power of Micah’s prolific crunching of baby carrots, cabbage salad, and his abs; about his manic attempts at success on his current project, be it a redpoint of a single-pitch finger flayer or an alpine style first ascent in a distant range; about the mounting wattage of his obsessive, nervous twitching, never ceasing mind, and globe trotting spirit. If energy is only transformed from one state to another, then all the potential he possessed at the time of impact was unleashed and broadcast into the living world to be tuned in and absorbed by us.
Micah, my brother, you were absolutely killing it in your final months and I revel in the knowledge that you were experiencing the deepest love, boldest climbs, and most profound career success. We miss you deeply: the honesty of your self doubt, the ecstatic triumph of your personal victories, your incessant hunting and gathering of calories, the rising staccato of your nasally laughter, how with a nose like a trumpet you brought us to tears with your hilarious tunes of self-deprecation and incisive satire. The forthright empathy you felt when someone got smacked down informed us that you’d been sharply struck yourself and later felt the ache. And especially your humble rise from a runty outsider from the Mojave Desert to the center of a band of loyal, loving rock monkeys who cherished you entirely, your every vulnerable shortcoming and noble strength. Your whole being equaled so much more than simply the sum of your parts. We long to hear your shrill astonishment again, “Oh my god, I did it, I fucking sent it,” or your rigid dismissals, “That’s not cool, that’s just not cool at all dude.” And of course we will never forget your life’s tag line, the acknowledgement of insatiability in every aspect of your life: “Are you going to eat that?”
We will Micah. We will consume and assimilate the remainder of your existence, not mere crumbs but a massive heartfelt serving of humanity, of rising up, of working hard, of carrying on to the last dying breath. And even though you may have been killed doing what you loved, at least you don’t have to do anymore of the things you hated. Know that I will live strongly and follow your example of being more fearful of not living than of dying, for the latter is a certainty and the former is a call to action in all forms.