It’s a clever turn of phrase, saying that a man lived a wide life instead of a long life. It has a kind of punning simplicity to it. It’s a little trite, but then so is everything else we say when climbers die. It’s a hell of a lot better than “they died doing what they loved,” or “it’s the way they would have wanted to have gone.” Yet Dave Pegg’s death is different because it doesn’t really have anything to do with climbing and so to memorialize him in this way has begun to seem perverse, especially when the line got picked up by BDTV and turned into a marketing slogan. I would not be in the least bit surprised to read an ad in six months that goes “Live a wide life, buy the new Ultra-light Camelots!” I would be infuriated, but not surprised.
As I am 25 and have never lived outside Washington, I didn’t know Dave Pegg. I’d heard the name, and probably could have told you that he was a Colorado climber, but that’s where my knowledge of him ended. This means that I have no real insight into the personal struggles that led to his death. I imagine friends of his have more insight, and his wife most of all, but they have, for the most part, been silent. Bisharat described a man brought low by depression and insomnia, which is a story anyone well versed in suicidal ideation will recognize. I can’t speak to how accurate this picture is for him, but I can speak about suicide more generally.
I have been of a suicidal frame of mind, off and on, since I was sixteen. It was quite intense for my junior and senior years of high school, and then faded a bit through college, and then emerged again strongly over the last year and a half. People have told me I have depression, others that Satan is trying to get destroy me. Frankly, I’m more inclined to believe that my true father sits high on Thangorodrim, defying Morgoth and watching my doom unfold as his punishment.
With this in mind, I don’t quite know what to think when I see Dave Pegg memorialized as a fallen climber, as if he had died the way climbers often do, in some tragic accident. He did not live a wide life instead of a long life. He did not prioritize experience over longevity. This is how one could describe many climbers, Alex Lowe, Jean-Christophe LaFaille, Dean Potter, Jerzy Kukuzcka, but not Dave Pegg. If Alex Honnold or Marc-Andre LeClerc or Colin Haley died tomorrow that’s what I would say, some sort of “bright stars burn shorter” or “price of the risk-filled life” nonsense, but Dave Pegg developed sport routes; baring some incredibly stupid rope management accident, he could have been sending hard into his 70s. What Bisharat is offering, and what the climbing community is picking up, is a platitude. It makes us feel better as long as we don’t think too much about it. We accept it so that we don’t have to deal with much harsher truths, like the fact that climbing can’t save us from the inherent problems of the modern condition that have led to the epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide in our society.
Industrial life is killing us and we run to the hills for salvation, following John Muir’s voice crying out from the wilderness to go to the mountains and receive their glad tidings, but for many of us it isn’t enough. Climbing distracts us from the meaninglessness and triviality of our lives but too often leaves us with no less meaningless death and injury. I don’t know where Dave Pegg’s story fits into all of this any more than I know where my own does, but I do know that smothering ourselves in self-congratulatory market-ready hype will only hasten our demise.