I knew Kip through reputation and mutual friends for about a year before I actually met him, but the first time we actually got together in the mountains was for a trip up the Y-Couloir in the Wasatch with about ten people.
The final headwall of the Y-Couloir is an irrational matter of pride for me, and I’ll often spend as much time wallowing up the final 300 feet as it has taken to go the prior 3,000’ below. It is steep and rocky, which ensures the snowpack is a shallow pile of loose faucets which is often a five-star grunt to skin/boot/swim through. On top of that, skiing this section is more often than not just slideslipping back down over rocks, so it is hardly worth it, but for some reason, as was the case this day, it made sense to push all the way to the top.
After knowing Kip for all of an hour, it happened that it was his turn in the rotation to break trail as we got to the headwall. Knowing what was in store for him, I broke out and assembled a shovel and traded it out with him for his poles. “Here you go Kip – I think you are going to need this.” He thought I was kidding, but a few minutes later as he was trenching through chest-deep snow, he started to get the idea. Still, nobody was talking about turning around.
By now the entire train of ten people had caught up and were all grouped together and cheering/harassing Kip on. While he was up front trenching like a badger, we were all putting on warm jackets and cruising in his wake, offering words of encouragement, or more to the point, harassment. “Is that as fast as you can go?” “What’s with these little California baby steps?” “Let me know if your purse gets wet or you need a break.” It went on and on, but Kip just laughed and kept going.
Eventually Kip tunneled, clawed and trenched his way through to the top and the rest of us followed gratefully in his trail. I forget how the skiing was, but it paled in the newfound friendship that I think we all felt with Kip. The final headwall was pointless from a skiing perspective, but priceless for mountain friendships.
Since then, I’ve skied with Kip in California and Antarctica and in 2009 successfully skied off the top of Mt. Foraker where he repeated his summit trailbreaking feat, except this time there was much more gratitude than harassing. He seemed to thrive in the mountains and it was always a pleasure to be there with him. More than anyone I’ve ever skied with, Kip and I seemed to share a wavelength where we had a perfect understanding of what the other person was saying and thinking. An expedition could be planned with five e-mails, and cryptic comments like “If you cut the pillow, I’ll take the right line, hang at the rock, and then we can to leap-frog the rest.” were perfectly understood between us. I’d like to believe we had a unique friendship, but I think Kip was like that with everyone. He was a very likeable, capable, friendly person by nature.
On our trip to Antarctica, for logistical purposes, Kip and I were supposed to be “guiding” John Morrison, who hardly needs a guide, although we never let him forget what a wretched client he was. John took turns firing each of us, then ripped a two peso bill in half so Kip and I could split it as a tip. Once again, the skiing was fantastic, but it was secondary to hanging out in wild places with great people.
This year Kip and I had made plans to ski Svalbard together with Noah Howell and Doug Stoup. I was looking forward to it as trips with Kip exceed the sum of their parts and run smoothly. With a week to go it seemed unusual that Kip hadn’t returned my emails, but he had just returned home from a season of guiding in Alaska, so it was understandable. A day later when Doug called and said they had found the car at the trailhead with Allison’s dog still in it and they were two days overdue, it was a bad omen. Kip and Allison were easily capable of surviving a storm in the mountains, but as a dog lover, Allison would have been worried about her dog after two hours, let alone two days. When the phone rang again an hour later, the worst was confirmed – they had both been found at the base of an avalanche and neither was alive.
Kip and Allison died doing one of many things that they loved, but I’m sure given the chance they would easily traded that for a life of growing old together. I know I’ll miss discussing New Yorker articles with Kip and kicking his ass at Scrabble (I wish…) as well as skiing with him. Most importantly, I’ll miss hearing from Kip ten years from now and joy of following his life and adventures. Allison and Kip wove a tapestry of friends and experiences that crossed continents, generations and embodied the true spirit of mountain friendships. They will be missed by all and especially by me.
RIP Kip and get’er done, Allison.
Andrew McLean is a world renown ski mountaineer who has first descents on all seven continents.
It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to an amazing member of the K2 Family. A talented and humble Ski-Mountaineer, Kip made a lasting impression on every person who he came in contact with. There was no-one more stoked on the adventures life had to offer then Kip Garre.