There are some people who you do not need to know to feel the loss when they are gone. There are some people who you know because they were so closely connected to those around you. And there are times when the loss is so great you feel it in the air of the community that you live in, the community that you love.
This is one of those times.
I did not know Stanley. But Stanley, unbeknownst to him, was one of my heroes. It was 2008 and I had just climbed half dome for the first time, I laid at the base, exhausted and asleep in the dark hours of the night. I was awaken by the sound of clanging cams, laughing, and chatting. Two men stood near me at the base of the Regular Northwest, sharing a smoke and getting ready to climb. I checked my watch, 1:30am.
“I can’t believe we simuled the Monster, bet nobody has done that before,” one said with a heavy English accent, cigarette hanging from his lips while he clipped cams to harness in the darkness. It became apparent they had just free’d El Cap via the free rider. They exchanged banter and soon realized I was awake, probably mouth agape trying to understand what I was hearing. They were friendly and apologetic, and I realized that they were starting up half dome for the first free ‘Link Up’.
As Sean and Leo started up the route I was stricken with terror. The previous night we had slept on Big Sandy, the bivy ledge halfway up Half Dome. We had found a small bag clipped to the belay filled with 2 Red Bulls and bars. We had rejoiced at the extra food, we assumed that a friend who had climbed the route the previous day, in true big wall style, had left it for us. As I laid there listening to Sean and Leo talk, I realized we were wrong, we had eaten their food cache. It was an honest mistake, but it was gone none the less.
The next morning, filled with fear that Sean and Leo were going to be furious and convinced that I shouldn’t have any evidence of the crime on me, I threw the Red Bull can down the hill into the manzanita, my fear of being caught outweighing my guilt of littering. Years later I told Sean and Leo this story, they both laughed and brushed it off, claiming to not remember at all, only remembering the climbing and the jumping, the other details were blurred with time.
In that moment, as a new big wall climber the limits of what was possible were blown apart in my mind. Climbing at night by headlamp? Simul climbing? Speed climbing? The Link Up? The Free Link Up? After that night I had a different idea of what was possible and I have always tried to hold onto that spirit of adventure. Since then I have always tried to see everything as a possibility, all crazy ideas might not be so crazy, and I have grabbed hold of my share of big wall and speed climbing successes.
Since then I have spent a lot of time looking over an obscure list of El Cap speed records that is buried on the web. Hanz Flourine’s list of speed records in Yosemite is the go-to archive for people who play this silly game. Sean ’Stanley’ Leary’s name sits next to some of the hardest routes done in a push on El Capitan, he was a true pioneer. But not only was Stanley an incredible climber, he was a kind and wonderful person who I wish I knew better and envy my friends who did.
I looked up to Stanley, he was a well rounded climber who could speed climb hard aid routes and climb hard free routes the same. But the thing that always stood out, and most importantly, I have never heard anyone say anything negative about him. In fact, I have only heard people say wonderfully positive things about him, rave about his exceptional character, and in our few crossings, that was what I saw. And I admired that more than anything. Because to me, that is a the greatest goal in life, to inspire people, to leave a wake of happiness, encouragement, and positivity as you pass by.
Even those of us who didn’t know Stanley will miss him, because he was someone worth knowing and we will now forever miss that opportunity.
When the community around you grieves so deeply over a loss, you grieve with them. So today, as a community, we grieve together.