by Chris Noble /
Mark Andrew Davis was Momentum’s first contract member. When the Sandy Gym opened in 2006 Mark was first in line for a membership. That’s where I met him, and his booming laugh and self-deprecating humor drew me immediately. It was the beginning of a friendship that would take us from Indian Creek to the Elephant’s Perch to the high Sierras and Yosemite’s big walls. Mark was a talented all round climber who had climbed extensively across the U.S. and put up new routes in Patagonia.
A good climbing partner is a rare and precious thing that should never be taken for granted. Like a good marriage, a climbing partnership is more the result of luck than skill and effort. It’s a subtle alchemy arising from a million possible combinations of personality, temperament, free time and inclination.
I learned how rare and precious a good climbing partnership really is on March 12 of this year—the day Mark died in Indian Creek. No one knows for sure what went wrong. He was rappelling off “Way Rambo.” It was the last route of the day, near sunset, and he was wearing his performance rock shoes which were killing his feet. His sixty-meter rope didn’t quite reach the ground, only a sandstone pedestal about fifteen feet high. Apparently the rope was uneven and Mark rappelled off the end before realizing it. His feet hit the pedestal and he fell head first on the rock shelf below. There was nothing anyone could do.
Like all such tragedies, Mark’s passing tore a hole in the lives of all who knew him. Not only in the lives of his family and the climbing community, but at Salt Lake Community College where he was a gifted and motivated film professor. Before moving to Utah Mark spent years working as a cameraman on feature films such as Spiderman and Behind Enemy Lines. His real life experience in the Hollywood trenches, and his no bullshit way of imparting his knowledge, helped make SLCC’s film program the best in the state.
Risk is an essential part of climbing. Without risk, climbing would become just another fitness pursuit, no more interesting than Jazzercise. Yet when someone as full of life and enthusiasm as Mark dies it makes everyone stop and question the risks that we take.
I could say that if it weren’t for climbing, Mark would still be alive. But without climbing it’s unlikely we would ever have met, and without climbing as a shared passion, we would never have become so close. As I age, I realize the only thing we truly control is our response to what life brings—may we find the gift in it. As painful as death is, its gift is to open our eyes to what the heart treasures— the love and passion we share.
(Chris Noble is a writer, photographer, and a charter member of Momentum. He is the author of “Women Who Dare.” His new book “Why We Climb,” will be released in December 2016.)