Words from LT Jon Schermerhorn
On May 19th the world got a little darker. I was underway on a Guided Missile Destroyer somewhere in South East Asia and had just groggily made my way from my all night Tactical Action Officer watch station to my stateroom to check my email before heading to morning quarters. I had gotten about 6hrs sleep in the last 72, as is the daily reality in the U.S. Navy, and was not in the mood to read what sat in my inbox. The news of Mason’s death on El Capitan hit me like a brick to the face. Immediately, 25+ years of memories flooded my brain and the overload was unbearable. In the rush of a second, my whole world imploded and I was immobile in front of my computer, mentally breaking down, unable to function.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Mark, Mason and Michael. When you are good friends with people like that, you (at least I) don’t tend to worry about that sort of thing. I just know that I cannot remember a time when I did not know them. The adventures we had as kids were awesome. Somehow with Mason and I, they always seemed to involve climbing something, running, or riding a bike. There are a million stories to tell, like the time Mason and I ran from his house to the top of Big Mountain and back (completely on a whim, and starting from his house at 2:30 in the morning) with nothing but one powerbar each and a small water bottle, or again on a whim riding our bikes from my house in Columbia Falls completely around Flathead lake and back. We did stuff like that all the time. But climbing is where Mason found his niche. I started off climbing with him, first in the rag-tag wall I helped Mark and he build inside a small room in their house, then on to the limestone crags at Stone Hill on Koocanusa Reservoir. It was addictive and the more we did it, the more we wanted. After high school I went to college in Billings and my climbing slowed down. Slowed down, not stopped. I had discovered bouldering and the joys of climbing with only shoes and a chalk bag. Unencumbered by hundreds of pounds of gear, I scoured the Beartooth mountains, Yellowstone Park, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming for anything worth jumping up on and cranking out. To me, these boulder problems represented a complexity and a joy of accomplishment that I could not find in hanging off of a rock face hundreds or thousands of feet in the air. Not for Mason. He wanted and needed to be up there. The plethora of patience and edurance that were gifted to my friend were enormous. While I was celebrating the rush of sitting atop a twelve foot boulder in the middle of a park in Ft. Collins, Colorado thinking how sweet it was, Mason had honed his skills to the point he was attempting some significant big wall and ice climbing routes. I knew he had left us all in the dust.
In 1997 we lost Mark and Chris Foster to a fall on Rainbow Peak. I had the unfortunate luck of being in Polebridge at the time and drove to where the recovery efforts were going on. I arrived at the scene and stepped out of the car precisely when the Park Ranger informed the family that both were dead. It was a hard day to get through, and yet Mark’s death only spurred us onward in our obsession with climbing. From that day forth, I looked at life a little differently. Not in a way that freaked me out or made me crawl back into my shell. I think it dawned on me that you should do great things with your life while you are here. And I know that Mason definitely did too.
Whenever I was home, I would go up to his house in Eureka and hang out with he and Lynn. We would sit for hours and play guitar and sing or talk. I can’t explain it, but even just talking to the guy, you could feel the excitement of something great churning away in his soul. I could be in the worst mood ever, but after a few beers and some good conversation with Mason I would totally have a different outlook, AND he would have me convinced to go do something crazy and spontaneous. That is what I am going to miss most about my friend. I have been everywhere in the world and done a lot of things. I miss the adventure that Mason found in everyday life and the level he took things to. That was his gift to us all.