Friday, November 11, 2011

In Loving Memory of Richard Lee Geyer - May 15, 1941 - Oct. 27, 2011


Dad hiking Ptarmigan Ridge in the North Cascades.
 The e-mail caught me off guard.  It was followed by a confirming phone call.  My dad failed to return home from a hike on October 27th.  It was now 9:00 am the next day, suggesting something was very wrong.

Dad set out to hike the Harry's Ridge trail at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  He picked this hike out long ago, and was excited to visit the area.

I immediately thought of the exposed section of trail where it skirts an outcrop, and wondered if he suffered a slip.  I phoned the Skamania County Sheriff's office to report him missing.  They confirmed his car was still in the parking lot, and began to mobilize their resources.

 I threw most of my climbing gear into the back of my truck and, together with my brother, drove down to the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  Having had Mountaineering Oriented First Aid (MOFA) training, I was prepared to help out with the search and rescue any way I could.

Dad and I at camp on Ptarmigan Ridge in the North Cascades.
We arrived to learn there would be no search and rescue.  Dad's body had already been located.  He had suffered a tragic fall of ~ 40' and sustained a massive head wound.  An autopsy revealed that he also suffered a broken leg, dislocated wrist, and internal bleeding.  Though he did not die from the impact, he died very shortly afterward.

Wow.

We spent most of the day with the sheriff out in the wind and rain, answering questions, digesting information gathered at the scene, and trying to make sense of it all.  I couldn't get my mind off my mom, and how we were going to break the news to her.  She would be devastated.

Dad with his brother Arlie and me on Burroughs Mountain,
Mount Rainier National Park.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I shouldered a tremendous amount of guilt over my dad's accident.  I introduced my dad to the mountains and hiking and backpacking.  He fell in love with them and we went on many, many trips together.  Safety had never been a concern with my dad on our trips.  He knew his abilities and always stayed within them.  Now I could only wonder if I had failed to prepare him in some way.  After all, I had always been there for dad.  This was only his second solo trip; his first being less than a year ago.  Both were to popular areas where he would never truly be alone.  Both were short day hikes.

When details of the autopsy were learned, it became clear that my dad's accident had nothing to do with lack of preparedness, but rather a decision he made while enjoying the moment.  He was looking for an even better view.  Bless him.

Dad and I at Death Valley National Park.
My dad had an incredible hike that day.  Upon arriving at the parking lot that morning, he spoke to a volunteer worker who couldn't get over the excitement in dad's voice.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and dad couldn't wait to get started on the trail.  He photographed his entire hike, including a herd of elk he found along the way.  I know my dad had a lot of fun this day.  The final events of his life would not have happened if he were not having fun.  He was enjoying the moment.

My dad and I enjoyed many hikes together throughout the state.  Burroughs Mountain at Mount Rainier National Park was probably his favorite, though Glacier View in the Glacier View Wilderness was a close second.  Other memorable hikes include Tolmie Peak in Mount Rainier National Park,  the Elwha and Grand Valley in Olympic National Park, Park Butte, Ptarmigan Ridge and Cutthroat Pass in the North Cascades,  High Rock in the South Cascades, and Norway Pass/Mount Margarett in Mount St. Helens National Monument.  I'm sure I am forgetting several more.

Dad hiking Fall Canyon in Death Valley
National Park.
We also traveled out of state to such places as the Wind River Range in Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Glacier National Park, and his favorite - Death Valley National Park.  Many memories from each of these hikes/trips will remain in my head forever.  And I will always smile when I think of them.

My dad experienced a rejuvenation in life after he started hiking with me.  He stopped smoking, started eating better, and began excersizing regularly.  I never thought about this.  It had to be pointed out to me by family.

I'm proud to have introduced my dad to hiking and backpacking.  Dad was truly a different person on the trail, and you could see how much he enjoyed it.  Being able to watch the sun rise and set from our tent in the backcountry was an entirely new experience for him.  He loved it.

Dad enjoyed the forest as much as the mountain tops.  His slow pace on the trail would sometimes frustrate me, and I would encourage him to pick it up.  He never understood my hurry, and wondered why I didn't slow down and smell the flowers more.  I would try to convince him that the higher views ahead were worth hurrying for.  I never won this argument.

Dad's tragic fall took place at a location where I have photographed from many times.  These images will always have special meaning to me now.  They are of his last view.

I am equally proud to know that some of my most popular images to get published have been from trips I did with my dad.  He was always tickled to learn of a new image use agreement, and we would relive the memory of that trip.

Dad on Lillian Ridge, Olympic National Park.
I can't speak highly enough of the staff at Johnston Ridge Observatory.  Todd, Roger and all the others - too many names to remember. We were offered courtesies beyond any and all expectations.  They were a class act and I am indebted to them. 

I would also like to thank Skamania County Sheriff Deputy George Barker for his kindness and thoughtfulness.  He was more than an officer on this day.  He was an understanding friend.

Rest in peace, dad.  You are missed and loved by many.  Especially me.  I love you.

7 comments:

  1. Many hearts are with you and your family during this difficult time.

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  2. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts. I appreciate it.

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  3. I'm so sorry for your loss. May the memories from your time spent in the wilderness together provide some comfort during this most difficult time.

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  4. Thank you Kadfoto.

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  5. My condolences Don. I hope when I got I am enjoying the great beauty of the outdoors.

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  6. Don,

    My love and condolences to you and your family. Your fathers loss affected the entire Geyer family. He lived a second life because of you and experienced the beauty of nature because of you! This quote always reminds me of your dad and my uncle.

    Darrell

    "And to think, there are still places in the world where man has not been, where he has left no footprints, where the mysteries stand secure, untouched by human eyes. I want to go to these places, the quiet, timeless, ageless places, and sit, letting silence and solitude be my teachers."

    -Evan Tanner

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  7. Thank you Darrell. And thank you for all your support during this time. Much appreciated.

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