I didn’t know Liu Xi Nan for a long time and I didn’t know him as well as many of his other friends did. I thought, though, that I would have the time to catch up…
That will not happen anymore. Liu Xi Nan was killed on March 29th in a mountaineering accident when descending Danzen shan near Batang in Eastern Tibet.
I lost many friends to the mountains over the years but in no way this miserable exercise prepares me for any further tragic news nor that I want it to.
Last time we met was in a Tibetan house in Shuangqiao gou in Siguniang shan on the Chinese New Year night, only a bit over a month ago. We just stumbled upon each other there – he who just arrived to help run an ice climbing school, me after a day of climbing ice; we hugged and we were happy to meet again. Later that night, when the new year parties have quieted down and the fires all burned out, I came around to have a chat and, although language was as much a barrier as a helper, we weaved plans to hit some big walls in the near future and we parted with a hug and the determination: “we have to climb a big wall together soon!”
He was not only a good and strong rock climber but a visionary climber too. In a country where sport climbing and conquering the same 8000m peaks is held at high esteem, disciplines like big wall climbing and alpine technical routes are regarded as some esoteric endeavours, best reserved to visiting foreigners. Liu Xi Nan was the spearhead of a small band of Chinese climbers ready to experiment and embrace adventure climbing and take their prowess and skills honed on the sport crags to the bigger arena.
The place in our hearts that those who depart leave empty cannot be filled and should not be filled. It should be a reminder that life is precious and living it fully and filling it with the things we enjoy is the best way to spend this borrowed treasure.
Many will look at our chosen way of life and will ponder about its futility in the light of this tragedy. No mountain is worth a life and there is no debate about this, but a life without mountains to climb (whatever you chose your mountains to mean) is no life either. The same way an artist or a musician immerses himself into his art to find freedom and a more vibrant way of expressing himself, the alpinist is drawn to the perfect line on the perfect mountain. Our lives are a quest and our climbs are our drafts. Those more gifted open windows and cut trails for us, the others, to follow.
I will not say, as it is the custom with a fallen alpinist that he died doing what he loved. It would not be fair to those left behind Ã¢â‚¬â€œ but I will say that he lived doing what he liked and that he was good at it! He cracked open a door that others will widen and I, for one, will carry his memory in my heart, anytime I will be hanging, hundreds of meters above the ground, wishing we’d be climbing that wall together, and in a way actually doing it.
Goodbye my friend and have a smooth journey. I will miss you and all those lost opportunities…