May 21, 2008
It is sixteen years to the day that my mentor Mugs Stump perished.
Mugs was guiding the south buttress of Denali when on the way down a crevasse bridge gave way and buried him. His rope led into a jumble of ice and snow. There was no hope.
At the time, in 1992, I was 29 and the world was my oyster. Climbing and being in the wilderness was just about all I lived for. My core group of climbing partners had yet to experience the devastation of death in the mountains. Yeah, stuff like that happened, but it didn’t happen to us. We rationalized the game with silly explanations like our abilities were based on experience; we wouldn’t be in a dangerous spot like that and we had better equipment. Of course when someone close to you perishes all this philosophy flies out the window. It can and will happen to all of us.
Mugs was a natural athlete. He played football at Penn State under the tutelage of Joe Paterno. His true calling was in the mountains. In the 80’s he was one of the preeminent alpinists. From the wind-ravaged summits of Patagonia to the bone-numbing cold of Alaska, Mugs traveled the world in pursuit of adventure. Mugs was 13 years my elder and for myself, as a young man, a valued mentor with lots of vision and experience.
For Mugs there was no greater joy than being outside in the great big open. There was nothing more fun than pulling into parking lot under the stars, falling asleep to the anticipation of an early start. The beep of the alarm would coax us out the comfort of our sleeping bags to the stove. A cup of coffee warmed and motivated us. Once we were a half hour in, with trees and the wind around us, we were at ease with ourselves and the world around us.
We miss you Mugs. Thanks for the years of inspiration.