Just before Valentine's Day, Zach Milligan died while ice climbing in Canada. If you Google Zach's name, many articles will reference his ski descent of Half Dome, which funny because when I asked Zach about that ski, he shrugged it off like he was just kind of roped into it. What he was really gifted at was solo rock climbing, although he vehemently shied away from any sort of limelight related to climbing. The fact that he is publicly known for a ski descent is some irony.
Before I go further though, I'd like to note that even writing a post about Zach feels strange. He really wasn't the type to seek public exposure.
Not that I really knew Zach. In fact, I didn't even know Zach's last name for several years. I just knew of him as Hater Zach, which is what the local community called him. When I started to spend time with him, he told me he was a misanthrope, his word, not mine.
And while I only spent some time with Zach, I never found that the term misanthrope applied to the Zach I knew. The Zach I knew was incredibly kind when the rest of the world was not. When I first really started spending time with Zach, my life was at a low point. I had never been more depressed, and I did not like people. Maybe this is what made Zach ask me if I wanted to go climbing, the fact that he could tell I hated people more than he did.
Let me rephrase that. I didn't so much climb with Zach, as Zach took me climbing. He told me he was testing me, seeing what I could get up. He'd cajole me into climbing, and I would follow him up whatever he chose. Even now, I don't really know why Zach offered to lead me up pitch after pitch. There was nothing romantic about our relationship. He told me he hated people, yet he was spending his time slowing down his normal climbing (because I needed a rope) to let me explore the vertical world, even though it really wasn't a passion of mine.
We went up After Six, Absolutely Free, something on Five Open Books, and then finally he told me we were going up the North Buttress. He wouldn't tell me how many pitches it was, and while I guess I could have looked it up, I didn't. I did, at pitch 17, demand to know how many more pitches we had. That final pitch doesn't exactly look like you're topping out...
Anyway, about halfway up the North Buttress there was rock fall. We heard it before we saw it, and Hater Zach, self described misanthrope, with whom I only had a passing relationship, threw his body over mine.
When the rockfall stopped, Zach pulled himself from me. We were both uninjured. Zach looked like rock fall both incredibly bored him and he looked manic with excitement at being alive. Instead of dwelling on either of these points he simply asked me if I was ready to belay him up the next pitch. I told him I guessed I was, and we kept going.
It's hard to write about this because never in my life has someone done something so obviously selfless without a second of hesitation in a possibly fatal situation. I had never up to that point, and I have never since that point, had someone throw their body between me and possible death. And he did it despite not really knowing me.
This world lost someone great. And in the words of another mutual friend, I am honored to get to tell my story of Zach.
But I'd rather if he were here to tell it himself, not that he would.