My close friend Allison Kreutzen, along with her boyfriend Kip Garre, were killed on Split Mountain (see my blog entry Aug. 7th 2011) in the High Sierra on April 26th 2011. They were climbing the Northeast Couloir with plans of making a ski descent when an avalanche swept them to their deaths. Reports of high winds and rapid warming might help explain why this avalanche occurred. In this situation it would have been impossible to predict the avalanche hazard high on the peak. It is undetermined whether they triggered the avalanche or it occurred naturally. It seems to me that they were unlucky that day, and were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I first meet Allison at the Gravity Works climbing gym in the mid-nineties. This gym and the Café belay were located in the back of the Sports Exchange and became the focal point for a group of friends which later became known as “The New Donner Party”. Allison’s boyfriend at the time, Lewis Woodward and I created a fanzine called “The Vertical Cannibal” to document the scene. While sharing a house in Truckee with Allison, Lewis and Bill Sitkin we began to climb together. Alison was a natural climber and quickly began to work her way up the grades. One summer Lewis asked me to not encourage her to free solo but it was Allison on the drive up old highway 40 who with her trademark enthusiasm would suggest a soloing day.
One summer, I think it was ’98, Allison and I climbed Picture Peak’s Northeast face IV (5.9) in the High Sierra. Of course we climbed the route car to car and on the descent after I had looped around to the base to retrieve a pack, I found Kreutzen asleep in the grass next to the trail. It was strange to see her in a moment of repose high in the mountains. The next day while having breakfast at The Bishop Grill, we decided to solo Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows on the way home. We ran to the peak without packs and soon caught a party of three who were having an epic on their first big climb. I remember looking down at their belay with Alison standing casually unroped, in shorts and a t-shirt, smiling, offering encouragement high off the deck, glowing in the Sierra sun.
Allison and some other members of The New Donner Party crashed my graduation from nursing school in the spring of ’97. In the haze of booze and cigar smoke Alison said “that’s it Spike (I can’t ever remember her calling me anything else)… I’m going to nursing school.” A few months ago, as we sat in the cafeteria at Tahoe Forest Hospital, Allison on break from the E.R and I from surgery, she thanked me again for the encouragement with nursing and I was proud of the solid nurse she had become.
Sometime ago Alison became involved with, and later married, climbing super hero Mike Pennings. I was happy for Allison, but it became difficult for us to find time to climb together because she was always climbing with Mike. However, it was during this time that we climbed The Triple Direct VI (5.10, C2) on El Cap together. Later that season I was surprised when she asked me to pace her in the Western States 100 mile ultra marathon because I wasn’t running at the time - she also ran the 250 mile John Muir trail in five days! Shortly after that she moved with Pennings to Colorado and I didn’t see much of her. But when she was in California kayaking or would call from Montrose I was psyched to hear her stories of climbing in the Black Canyon, Indian Creek, Patagonia or skiing in The Alps and Mongolia.
I remember a call from Allison last spring, which perfectly describes how she tried to keep our friendship alive despite the fact that she had moved onto new friends and a level of athleticism and boldness I could never hope to match. She was driving up the Eastside of the Sierras after skiing a peak the day before and was scheduled to kayak in the foothills that afternoon. She called to see if I could meet her for a few pitches at Donner Summit in between-classic Allison! I’m happy that I got to spend a little more time with Allison the past few years since she moved back to Tahoe. A few days before her death I received an email from her letting me know she and Kip were back from Alaska and she was on her way down the Eastside and asked if I was free to climb when she returned. In our often-homogenized mountain culture Allison was able to stay true to her self. It was this originality that I will miss the most. I admired her funky thrift store attire and the total lack of self-consciousness it took to wear it. We will all miss her warm engaging smile and obsessive-compulsive tendencies that made the rest of us look lightweight in comparison. Her humble enthusiasm for climbing, skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, travel, birds, natural history, the X-files (anyone remember that phase?) and the music of Queen Latifah and Beats Antique. I will miss Allison more than words could describe. I believe there are things that happen in life that due to circumstance or choice one never fully recovers from. The tragic loss of Allison Kreutzen feels that way to me. (photo-AK leads the final pitch of the Nose/Triple Direct. )