Because of Noah
When newborn Noah Hunter was diagnosed with a sick heart, many wonderful things happened.
Saw your post and was moved by your story—and hope your baby boy has fully mended. I'd been intending to hike La Plata on the 7th, 8th or 9th and was wondering if you're looking for company? I think it'd be that much more rewarding to climb with people whose mission goes above and beyond the mountain itself.
Chris found the request surprising. Much later, he confessed that, more than anything else, it was my 14ers.com tag—Liverboy—that struck him as...weird. The name is something of an inside joke with myself, although "joke" may be a cheap word to describe what it refers to. Which is that in some poetic or perverse way (or both), the reason I felt I could have died without regret at the moment that marmot on Mt. Princeton began preaching to me is that back in August of 1994, I did nearly die on a mountain in Colorado. A mild dayhike up near Silver Dollar Lake, outside of Georgetown. My little sister, then nine, decided she couldn't take another step and began to cry, so I threw her on my shoulders and piggybacked her for several miles. Something about the exertion and the thin air—doctors were never able to figure out what it was—convinced my immune system to begin attacking and liquefying my liver. Days later, a young doctor told me through tears that I wouldn't live to see the next morning. I nearly didn't but then, somehow, I did; I spent the next three months sleeping 18 hours a day, and the next year and a half freeing myself from the immunosuppressants and their grotesque side effects.
At the time Chris Hunter received my message through 14ers.com, he was, bless him, too polite to let his reservations get the best of him. He provided detailed instructions about the where and when of the meet (just outside the ghost town of Winfield, eighth of July, crack of dawn) and then, after Googling my name to determine if I was who I claimed to be, informed Navan Powers and their other Hiking For Hearts climbing partner, Don Mueller, that he wasn't entirely sure about the Virginian, and that they should feel free to "pack."
We approached from the south, a rarely used route. The ascent was beautiful. Until it wasn't. Halfway up the long, steep penultimate pitch of the mountain, a mysterious something, a kind of succubating force, shivered through me. In one instant I was charging; in the next I felt as if my body were made of mist. An altitude-adjustment problem, after all. Don Mueller offered up some vitamin elixir, then, along with Navan, took the entire pitch in a single dash. I watched them fly up the mountain while trying not to vomit.
Chris hung back with me. He had assured the other two that the Virginian was "on him," and that if the stranger started to drag them down he'd handle it.
"Go on," I assured him. "I'll meet you at the top."
Chris just stood there, sizing me up. I ran what I presumed were his thoughts through my head. Ah, shit, is this chump going belly-up on us? But that wasn't it. He was taking measure of something else, something to do with what I had been telling him about my own two little boys who, like his, were born two years apart, and with the questions I had been asking about Noah and the surgery and the time the Hunter family had spent in Children's Hospital. Chris, who I would later come to know as one of the more private people I have met, then went right ahead and in a quiet and even voice answered the question I hadn't even known I'd been asking.
"Steph handed Noah to me," he said. "We hadn't talked about what would happen when they came for him. We had been up for almost 48 hours at that point, and we'd been so busy running around doing all the tests and getting ready that, as strange as it sounds, neither of us had thought about how we were going to handle that moment. We were in the waiting room, and Steph had Noah in her arms, and then they came for him."
Peg Ayan, having drawn the only line she ever draws, was temporarily out of the pre-op waiting room; she returned to keep vigil with the Hunters during the hours Noah was in surgery.