By Christopher Cudworth
I never used to read obituaries until the Chicago Tribune called 9 years ago to write a story about the life of my mother Emily Nichols Cudworth. She was a schoolteacher for 30 years and was well-regarded as someone who blended tried-and-true methods like phonics with new curriculum demands.
Learning how the obit process works is just like pulling back the curtain on a stage play. You get to see the information running around in the background. What gets left in. What’s left out.
Which is why it was fascinating to open he obituary section of the Chicago Tribune today and read about a mountain climber named Chad Kellogg. The headline reads, “Elite climber killed on Patagonia mountain.”
The world elite jumped out at me. Chad Kellogg was apparently something else when it came to fast descents up alpine peaks. He holds the record for the fastest ascent-descent on one of the most famous climbs on Mount Rainier in Washington.
You have to be in some kind of great shape to pull off that kind of climbing. The photo published with his obituary shows the solidly built Kellogg running on a woodsy trail. Ferns seem to wave at him as he’s passing. His legs look like well-hewn tree trunks. He looks like a determined man.
The obituary is full of praise for the man whose physical gifts were apparently complimented by his will to excel. The Tribune obit quotes his associates on what a fine climber Chad Kellogg really was.
“Chad had unbelievable drive beyond most high-level athletes,” said his friend and fellow climber Gordon Janow. “He was dedicated to the sport and lived to be in the mountains.”
Of course he also died to be in the mountains. The manner of death was random and sudden He died while descending Mount Fitz Roy, a prominent peak in the Patagonia mountains of Argentina. The story states: “The two (climbing partner Jens Holsten) had made it to the summit of the 11,000 foot mountain and were hanging together form a pre-established anchor when a rock fell, striking Mr. Kellogg and killing him instantly.”
There will be no attempts to recover his body.
Kellogg lost his wife to a climbing accident three years ago. Lara Bitenieks Kellogg fell from Mount Wake in Alaska’s Denali National Park. His plans had been to spread her ashes on Mount Everest, a climb that eluded his considerable skills on three attempts. His goal was to ascend and descend without use of oxygen.
In fact the remains of many climbers are strewn about the tall peaks of the world. Chad Kellogg joins a strange and unique club of people who died doing what they love best. His legacy is considerable. “The amount of training, persistence and wherewithal it takes to do what Chad does puts him in a class with 0.01 percent of the climbing population,” said fellow climber Gordon Janow.
That is some pretty thin air at that level. Consider that the climbing population probably constitutes even less of a percent of the general population in the world and there are simply very few people who could match what Chad Kellogg did so well.
It’s easy to make odd little metaphorical parallels between “climbing the mountain” in business or some other endeavor. Actually climbing mountains takes total commitment, and can cost you your life. So it makes sense to turn our attention for a brief moment to someone who actually got out there and did it, so that we don’t use such metaphors so lightly.
We can also use such moments to consider the meaning of our own lives. Kellogg may never have conquered Mt. Everest in the style or speed for which he was known. But that’s not the point. His example of hard work and a vision worth pursuing is the most compelling part of his obituary.
Wherever you find yourself in life; starting out, starting over, starting to believe or starting to retire, know that you do have inside of you whatever it takes to do what you want to do. If this story inspires you to find that purpose and drive in some way, may it stay with you the way it stayed with Chad Kellogg. That would be a good way to live your life.