January 11, 2017 marked two years since we lost Neil Mackenzie and Steffi Grothe, two wonderful and inspiring club members in a tragic climbing accident on Joffre Peak that also claimed the life of Elena Cernicka. Many of our newer members never got to meet Neil and Steffi, but they are very vividly and fondly remembered (for example, Neil and Steffi) in our membership by those that did.
The idea spawned of a moonlit memorial walk as a way to spend the evening together, and a small group of us (Anne Vialettes and her friend Jason (non-VOC), Noriko Okamoto, Ryan Mackenzie and I) got together for an evening ski tour at Mt Seymour.
It was a cold and clear night and there seemed to be a plethora of snowshoers and ski tourers heading up to Seymour. Many had bright headlamps blasting, which I thought was unnecessary as the moonlight cast shadows on the snowy landscape. We had a very casual skin up immediately past Brockton Point, and stepped a little ways off the main trail to have a quiet space to share.
Behind us the lights of the city flickered and the snowy peaks of distant Vancouver Island glowed in the distance. In front, the first peak of Seymour was brightly lit as were the distant summits further North, East and West. A lone skiier’s headlamp appeared as a tiny spec as he descended the First Peak. We stomped out a small flat resting spot. Anne and I had both brought out candles, which we lit, and shared warm soup and chocolaty snacks. We shared stories of Neil and Steffi. Of the two, I was closest with Neil, who is remembered for his cheery mood and good nature in good and difficult times and love off all things alpine and Scottish. Steffi was remembered as caring and always looking out for others around her, and was a leader among our membership. I was just getting to know and befriend her in the months before their accident.
The night was beautiful, with the bright moonlit mountains, city lights and ocean views. It was calm – barely a breeze – and surreal. I know that many of us were thinking of our friends, regardless of where we were. In remembering, we think of what we learned from them, of how they inspired us and changed us in little ways, and how their auras have made each of our own shine a little brighter. It was nice to share this moment with others.
When I think of Neil, Steffi and Elena, I also think of the message that the Jared Stanley lecture brings to us: the importance of coming home because of the big hole we leave in our communities and in the lives of our friends and our families when we are gone. I try to remember this on my own trips, for I wish us all to remain safe while continuing to pursue our passions for exploring the outdoors.