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Ari Kingan: A Tribute

Updated: Jan 7

They say a climbing partnership is like a relationship, and it's fairly well established that opposites attract: perhaps that's why Ari and I worked.

~~~

I met Ari climbing on the Port Hills about 18 months ago. Jamie had invited me to go climbing with him, and Ari was coming over from the Coast with a friend One of the first proper meetings of the members of the newly minted Alpine Team. Little did I suspect, that in less than two years I'd be writing my second obituary for one of those people.

As a general rule, I don't tend to like people on first impressions. It generally fluctuates from one extreme to another: either feeling threatened by a person who's much better than me at something, or not being particularly tolerant of someone who's not up to my (often exacting) standards. Ari fell firmly in the first camp, showing at that first meeting he was leaps and bounds ahead of me in rock-climbing. This seemed to continue when we next met at the Remarkables Ice & Mixed Festival. The first three or four days of the festival saw Ari blitzing up climbs and setting new routes in his first week of mixed climbing, while I couldn't get past seconding up after him. However later in the week, having given one-hundred percent, Ari hit a wall, and motivated by him, with a desire to bring something to the partnership, I grabbed the opportunity, and took the sharp end when he wasn't up to it.

When the opportunity for Alaska came up, it was still with some reservations that I considered climbing with Ari. I was nervous about spending five weeks with someone I still barely knew; someone with whom I'd only climbed with for a total of a couple of weeks.


~~~

There is a certain emptiness in death. It feels like a kind of blasphemy to say such things, but it doesn't hurt initially. There's just some kind of hole which you try to ignore until the reality of the situation sinks in. I spent the first two days trying to ignore the fact Ari had died. I smothered myself with work, jobs, study, people and other things, until finally I was alone on Tuesday night. Suddenly, the pain came like an ice dagger stabbing at the deepest part of your heart, where things felt secure, safe and confident.

As the tears welled up, so did the anger. I hated myself for displaying emotion, for losing the calm and collected management of the pain. I hated the bitter irony that one of the most cautious climbers I knew would die in such circumstances. I hated the fact that a life of such potential could be extinguished by the thing I loved the most.

There are no words which do justice to the loss of Ari. Platitudes like "he died doing what he loved" or "Ari would want you to keep climbing" ring hollow in light of the reality that he cared too much about all his other hobbies and friends and family to ever want to die, or come close, in the mountains. In this vein, Ari was unnerved by Jamie's passing and Steve's accident in the past year, and such events made him question his climbing and whether it was really what he wanted to be doing.

How am I supposed to patch up these fragments of thought and emotion? One part of me says not to act rashly and throw the baby out with the bath water, but at the same time, rationality screams at me, alongside the voice telling me to respect Ari's memory by not going into the mountains and putting myself in harms way.

This is probably supposed to end with me telling how I've come to some peace and acceptance with the death of a friend and reconciled it with my love of the mountains. It doesn't. Perhaps in six months or a couple of years I'll be able to write how I've come to grips with Ari's death, but until that day comes, the pain is just as raw as ever.

~~~

There's one thing I'll treasure more than anything in the days to come as I try to deal with the grief. The memories of the time we spent together are more valuable than anything. In there, I can find peace and some semblance of solace as I smile, recollecting the uniquely "Ari" times we shared; whether it be chasing our tent across the Kahiltna Glacier, his confusion about why we'd named his climb Ari-an Supremacy, or his mix of West Coast and Golden Bay humour.

Of all of these, my most precious memory is one of the most mundane. We stood atop Mt Frances together at 3am, watching the sun rise with the comfortable silence of close friends between us. There was no need for words; we shared the moment together as the only people in the world.

A bright light has been extinguished; a light which can never be replaced. In you Ari, I had a friend. Such a friendship doesn't end with death, but lives on in what you gave me, and what you've given everyone you've encountered.

Perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel?

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