360 Degrees of Rad: A Personal Tribute to Kyle Dempster

On August 21, local Utah climbers, Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson, left their base camp to attempt the unclimbed, staggering 23,000-foot north face of Ogre II in Pakistan. On August 22, their Pakistani cook reported seeing the lambency of their headlamps halfway up the mountain right before a storm blew in …

They were never seen again.


kyle-dempster-min
Photo: Louis Arevalo

A few months ago, only minutes after getting home from work I was despondent, soured by the verity of my punch-clock life and all that it entailed: too much traffic; the dogs needling my legs, wanting to go for a walk; dinner and having to cook it. You know, the truly hard realities of life. Then the phone in my pocket vibrated with news I will never forget.

A text. From my brother:

Search for Kyle has been called off. This hits me hard for some reason.

I stood staring at the phone’s screen. As both the news and the guilty-warmth of my kitchen began to sink in, settling heavily like sediment in some cavernous part of me that I would carry with me everywhere in the weeks and months to come, I would think of little else except Kyle Kyle Kyle. And it bothered me.

It bothered me, not because I was close to Kyle, but because I wasn’t.

It seemed strange to me that a man I did not intimately know held such a substantial place in many of my fondest memories. I regret I never had it in me to approach this man who was, curiously, both mythical and tenderly mortal. He never knew the effect he had on me, both as a climber and a person.

When I started getting more serious about climbing, training on a daily basis, coming into my own, Kyle was constantly there, training even harder, more disciplined. Everyone reaches a point where their face begins to reflect the world around them, and I could see in Kyle’s a vast open space of possibility, focus, and a love for life that I have rarely encountered. I knew, from the first time I saw him: here is a man who refuses to rush to die in his sleep.

It was hard not to watch him. How many times my own training routine would get stonewalled simply because I had to watch Kyle do whatever it was Kyle was doing, I can’t count. His singular intent was infectious, inspiring. Even when he wasn’t training, his presence, larger than his tank-like physique, was a source of inspiration. It instantly filled any room he entered.

While most of us hear the siren song of our desires, our dreams and endeavors, most of us rarely listen. We may be spurred on, day to day, by the beat of adventure that thumps with something like urgency, to get out, go, do, rip open the chest of reality and rearrange its contents; but that drive merely exists as an idea. And for many of us, it remains an enigmatic idea we kid ourselves into believing can become a reality if we simply remain steadfast in our chase.

But Kyle was the real deal. He didn’t chase. He tackled.

Although Kyle Dempster will always be beyond my competence as a witness to describe or even understand, he was a man who, somehow, seemed to defy the constraints of definition, as if the rules of this world just didn’t—or couldn’t—apply to him.

Until they did.

In the end, I can’t help but imagine his last moments: cold, determined, shivering with thoughts of friends and family; snippets of his life quickly drip-dropping into view like melting ice. Chuckling even, as each memory splashes into another until they begin to slow and freeze into a single, kaleidoscoped frame fading with his breath. I imagine—as he came to accept the rules of his reality and the life he led—him smiling, happy to be surrounded by 360 degrees of rad just one last time.

No, I didn’t know Kyle. Not the way others did. I never got drunk with him or had a conversation with him while being warmed by a campfire; I never shared a rope with him. But we trained in the same gym, and somewhere along the way we did exchange a few words of encouragement, and that, at least, was worth something.

This piece was originally published in Utah Stories.


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