Wednesday, July 18, 2007
OUTSIDE POLITICS - MICHAEL REARDON
With his long blond tresses, and his habit of wearing jeans and the Cork O2 GAA jersey when performing his magic in Ireland, Michael Reardon didn’t exactly fit the conventional image of a rock climber. How he presented himself was more in keeping with conventional image of a rock musician maybe. Whice he was once. Twenty years ago and more he was in a glam rock band – his longtime friend and climbing buddie Mark Niles said yesterday that when he first met him he wore more make-up than his wife.
Brought up on the east coast of America Reardon had long made California his home. There were lots of earlier period. His time as an aspiring rock star. The time he spent as a lawyer. A later short but very lucrative foray into movie production. And his lifelong love and obsession with rock climbing. There wasn’t too much that was conventional about Reardon. The long hair and the Cork jersey were fitting to a man that never courted convention. He was outspoken, controversial and loud-mouthed. Once, when somebody doubted a climb he had soloed, he did the route for a second time, placing underwear along the way in a Hansel and Grettel trail that proved the route that he had taken.
Above most other things, Reardon was one of the world’s elite freesoloists. When he made his first visit to Ireland in the recent past, he gave a scintillating demonstration of what that meant. He soloed (rock climbed by himself with no ropes or protection of any kind) many of the most extraordinarily difficult sea cliffs and inland crags in Ireland. Most he did on sight, without giving himself the opportunity of doing a full move-by-move recce of the climb beforehand.
I was lucky enough to be at a slide show he gave last January in Dublin where he reprised his climbing career, including some of his extraordinary firsts. As Mark Houseman said yesterday, he always climbed within his ability but was always testing what his limits were. At the talk, Reardon said that he never climbed up anything he could not downclimb. And what marked him out as phenomenal was his stamina and durability – he could do dozens and dozens of routes in a day and do complex multi-pitched climbs without tiring. He trained remarkably hard and added it to it an unbridled enthusiasm for the sport that did not diminish over two decades.
Reardon was on his third visit to Ireland and was drawn not only for the climbing but because of his growing emotional connection with the land of his father – in one of his last blog entries he said he felt as if he was coming home. He had forged strong friendships with Irish climbers, especially the Kerry mountaineer Con Moriarty.
In fact, when speaking last January, you were convinced that Reardon was nigh invincible on rock, despite eschewing all safety nets. And in the end, though he died on a cliff, it wasn’t from a fall. He had finished the day’s climbing, indeed was just about to wrap up the trip (he was due to fly home to Los Angeles the following day).
Standing on a ledge just about the sea, a freak wave came in and swept him into the surf. Within seconds he had been swept out 150 metres. His friend Damon Corso, who had accompanied him to Ireland, tried to throw him a rope and watched helplessly as he struggled in vain against the huge sell. And though the Valentia lifeboat was on the scene within 20 minutes it was too late.
Yesterday, on the cliff, about 300 people attended a simple and poignant ceremony to mark the tragedy. His wife and teenage daughter, Marci and Nikki, had flown from California as had some close friends from the States. There was music and prayers, poetry and prose, above the last cliff where he had climbed. At the end, two members of the coastguard, placed a wreath in the sea. On an otherwise heavenly and peaceable day, the crashing waves were a reminder of the force that carried him way.
Another American, Michael Sullivan, an Episcopalian minister from Virginia, met Reardon for the first time a fortnight ago. In an email he wrote:
“I do not know if Michael often talked of his death. But the day I met him on the Skelligs last month, dangling from a small outcrop of stones on a wall laid by monks some 1,500 years ago, he told me he did not fear death.
“Why, I asked. He said quite simply: I know who I am and I’ve been lucky enough to be Michael Reardon.”
Visit the late Michael Reardon's own website on www.freesoloist.com