Guy’s Gone

December 11, 2009  ●  3-minute read

It’s almost 4am and I’m crying in a rocking chair, trying to get my 2-month-old boy to go to sleep. Yesterday, Guy Lacelle died in an avalanche in Hyalite Canyon. For some reason it’s sadder when I hold a baby.

Most people know that Guy was a great ice climber. That’s not news, although it probably makes his death more newsworthy to the layman’s press. His climbing was impressive, but there are many other things that made him Guy. These are the things that I’ll remember.

Guy had dogs. Lots of them. It probably qualified as a pack. You could tell that his dogs saw him as one of them, the alpha. With the older ones, he didn’t have to call their names or chase after them. They did what he wanted and the communication was silent. And when one of them died, it hurt him.

Guy had a temper. He was a great climber but even he got frustrated at times. He kept his temper under wraps, but if let loose, an impressive stream of French Canadian profanity came forth.

Guy had a big smile. I looked forward to seeing him in the winter in Canmore. Recently I was thinking I should touch base and see when Guy’s coming back to town. But I didn’t and I regret that.

Guy was competitive. He was 54 when he died, but he’s been in competitions against people half his age for the last decade, maybe longer. I think he liked it too when — if we went ice climbing with him — the younger climbers would insist on bringing the screws. (Guy did most of his ice climbing by himself, so he was comfortable with few or no ice screws.)

Guy was incredibly motivated. Even in his fifties, he would often climb nine or ten days in a row and then only take one rest day. Like many of my friends, I’m in my mid-thirties and I haven’t done that in ten years.

Guy was open-minded. As climbing changed, he didn’t resist it or hang on to the past. He was excited about every new development and what he could learn from it. It was great to see, and I really respected his approach.

Guy had crazy hair. He was balding on top and he let the rest grow long. It gave him a crazy, classic bushman look. I don’t think he was aware of it, but it was part of his charm.

If you climb long enough, the death of people you know is guaranteed. For me, other deaths have been sad, but Guy’s death was the first to make me angry. He had taken more risks than most of us and come out unscathed until now. I would have preferred to think that he had earned some kind of free pass. I would have preferred he remain invincible.

If it had to happen, then I’m glad it was something out of his control. Guy prided himself on knowing his margin of safety; he only thought a solo was successful if he was in 100% control at all times. If his accident had come from a popped tool or a sheared crampon, that only would have pissed him off. And as one of the world’s most accomplished soloists, dying because he slipped would only be sensationalist fodder for the always-ill-informed media.

The last time I asked him, he had logged over 5,000 pitches of ice since he started ice climbing, most of them without a rope. He kept track of every pitch since he started. I like the idea that that climbing record can stay perfect and intact.

The baby boy in my lap is asleep now; that deep, drooling baby sleep. The 6-year-old is asleep in the next room. If the boys become climbers, they will see Guy’s name in alpine journals and guidebooks. They’ll see his photo on my wall. I’ll tell them the stories of his achievements. I will be proud to tell my sons that I knew him.

Guy, you will be missed.

091215 Update
A few links to news and info about Guy and the accident:
* News coverage of the accident
* Doug Chabot’s video explanation of the avalanche
* An interview with Guy on Alpinist.com from July 2008
* A video of Guy tree-planting, summer of 2009

“For me, [my legacy] will be the trees. I’m getting close to plant a million trees.”
~ Guy Lacelle, summer of 2009