Thursday, June 11, 2009
Freshman year at Quartz Hill High
By Guy McCarthy
A popular and respected American alpinist who grew up in Lancaster remains missing at the base of a steep mountain wall in remote southwest China, where an avalanche apparently killed his two comrades.
People who grew up with Micah Dash in Southern California more than 10 years ago remember a humorous, sensitive young man who did things his own way.
"It's hard to put emotions into words," Tami Gallaway Valentine, who attended Quartz Hill High with Dash, said today in a phone interview. "He was always humble and sincere. Full of life. He was always real."
The search for Dash, 32, has been stalled by severe weather but may continue if conditions improve, according to rescue coordinators in China and Colorado.
The bodies of his teammates have already been recovered from avalanche debris below a steep face in the the Minya Konka massif in Sichuan Province, according to the American Alpine Club.
The remains of Jonathan "Jonny" Copp, 35, who grew up in Fullerton and learned to climb at Tahquitz and Joshua Tree, and Wade Johnson, 24, of Arden Hills, Minn., have been transported to the Chinese mountain village of Moxi, according to friends and colleagues in Colorado.
"I know he still has not been found and I pray to God they find him and find him alive," said Bobbie Johnson Hanrahan, 32, who graduated with Dash in 1995 and now lives in Temecula.
Copp, Dash and Johnson were last heard from May 20 at their base camp below Mount Edgar, a 6600-meter peak near Gongga Shan, according to the AAC. Their objective was to forge a new route up Edgar's steep south face to the summit, more than 21,000 feet above sea level.
Hanrahan said she remembers Dash as a creative cut-up, ready with a smile and quick wit.
"He was small, everybody got along with him," Hanrahan said in a phone interview today. "He always made someone laugh. He always had a smile on his face."
Valentine, who now lives in Fort Worth, Texas, said Dash was not an imposing sort in high school, but he made a lasting impression.
"He was always strong, sincere and true from his heart," she said. "Berkenstocks and baggy pants and a beanie. He never put on a persona. All kindness."
As a junior, Dash helped put out Quartz Hill's literary magazine, which included poetry, short fiction, art and photography, Hanrahan said.
"All through high school he didn't seem athletic," Hanrahan said. "People liked him for who he was."
Dash had a little of the devil in him at times, but he always stuck up for his friends, Valentine said.
"We got caught cheating in English one time, and he wanted to take all the blame for it," she said. "He was totally going to take the rap for us."
Recent images of Dash remind Valentine of the young man she knew years ago.
"I remember sometimes looking in his eyes in high school," Valentine said. "Now I see his pictures when he's on the mountain tops. It's clear, he's still taking it all in."
After high school Dash moved to Leadville to learn technical climbing and guiding skills at Colorado Mountain College’s Outdoor Leadership Program. He went on to work for Outward Bound in the Sierras, earned a coveted slot on the search-and-rescue team in Yosemite, and continued refining the art of climbing light and fast, according to friends and colleagues in Colorado and California.
Dash also worked recently with amputee and partially paralyzed ice climbers, including an Army veteran who took a rocket-propelled grenade to the chest in Iraq, according to the Denver Post.
Copp, Dash and Johnson were all based in Boulder, where Robb Shurr and others are soliciting donations and coordinating search-and-rescue efforts with Chinese authorities.
"We are deeply grateful to the Chinese climbers and rescue workers who have been doing everything possible on the ground to carry out the search," Shurr said in a recent statement.
Johnson's body was discovered Monday. He was an avid climber, as well as a photographer, film editor and producer with Sender Films, a maker of climbing and adventure videos based in Boulder.
Copp's body was discovered Saturday. In recent years Copp filed expedition reports from Pakistan, Argentina and the Alps that appeared in the American Alpine Journal, Climbing, Rock and Ice, and Alpinist magazines, among others. He also founded the Adventure Film Festival in Boulder, sharing his endeavors with a wider audience in theaters and on the Web. Some of Copp's work is archived here.
Sender Films states on its Web site that "Copp and Dash are highly experienced alpinists and professional climbers" who went to Mount Edgar after receiving a Mugs Stump Award grant for their current expedition from the American Alpine Club.
Copp and Dash had teamed on prior expeditions, including the first ascent of the Shafat Fortress in Kashmir, India in 2007.
Recent news of Copp, Dash and Johnson "has deeply shaken the climbing community, their families and their friends, affecting all who knew these talented young men and all whom they inspired," Erik Lambert of Alpinist wrote Wednesday.
Tributes to Copp, Dash and Johnson have been posted here and here.
All yearbook photos courtesy of Bobbie Johnson Hanrahan.