Episode 3

A Climb Far Higher with Chuck Marden


A Climb Far Higher

Featuring Chuck Marden

Resilience is so often an unsung quality, for it lives unseen in the humble places of those who have endured great struggle, yet put forth their smile to the world instead.

I first met Chuck Marden as a client who’d taken a survival course I was teaching in the Catskill mountains. A US Army veteran turned Postmaster, he was somewhat quiet at first despite his claim that he could talk a dog off a meat wagon. Though he certainly wasn’t shy.

A diehard fan of New England sports, it didn’t take us long to exchange some friendly jabs over the two Super Bowls his Pats had dropped to the Giants.

We’d kept in sporadic contact since, but it was only recently that we’d reconnected. Chuck had seen a tribute video made for my best friend and his fellow Marines, who’d been killed in a helicopter crash back in 2015.

In the video, we’d scaled the rock face of Mt. Tammamy and hung a flag in their honor. Chuck explained that the video had moved him close to tears, as he’d just lost someone himself.

His oldest son, Mike.

I’ve always been shit at knowing what to say in situations like that, but Chuck was content to let me listen. He spoke alot about how being outdoors really helped him in coping with Mike’s passing.

So when I asked him if he’d want to come climb the same wall with is in honor of Mike, he didn’t think twice, despite having never rock climbed a day in his life.

Not to mention he’d also only recently repaired his shoulder, though he repeated adamantly that he was going whether his doctor liked it or not.

His determination was fantastic, a true senior statesman of the E.T.A. ethos.

When the time for our climb finally came this past August, Chuck arrived with a memorial plaque for Mike, engraved with some of the words from the tribute video that had first inspired him. It was moving, to say the least.

Having someone write your words on something designed to memorialize someone so dear to them is honestly an honor one can’t really be prepared for. I didn’t know what to say truthfully.

Chuck’s hope was to plant Mike at the top.

It was a sweltering August day, and we were down two team mates unexpectedly, at the last minute. It was the perfect storm.

It was hard to see the look on Chuck’s face when we had to call the climb. Turning around is one of the most common realities in the world if climbing. But it seemed to give Chuck little comfort, and understandably so.

“This,” I insisted to him repeatedly, “will only make the top mean that much more when you come back.”

It was fall when we were able to organize a second shot. I was confident from the start that Chuck would make it, but as always the guide in me couldn’t disregard the possibility of otherwise.

It wasn’t until he popped his head over the crest of the first pitch that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would succeed.

“What the fuck did I get myself into,” he yelled up, a slight waver in his voice. Yet despite his apprehension, he was smiling ear to ear. Chuck was flying.

I couldn’t imagine losing a son. Don’t want to, honestly. But I’d certainly hope I’d be able to handle it like Chuck had.

With the unsung resilience of one who has struggled greatly, yet you might never know because they put their smile forward to the world all the same.

At the top, Vic, Gwen, and I watched as he picked a spot for Mike’s plaque and set it down atop the mountain, a part of his spirit, as Chuck had put it, that would be here every time he came through.