It’s been a year and two days since we lost her. Approximately 367 days have gone by, and I continue to find myself thinking of Elizabeth Devon Daley at minimum, even at the most distracted of times, several times per hour of each of those days. The thing is, nothing in the handbook of life could have ever prepared us for a “Liz-Less” world. She really was that special, and she really did, have that massive of a presence.
Liz and Russman, on Mount Adam’s North Ridge. Note the old school approach skis she had!
I had a conversation with a good friend this past weekend, and this friend happened to be one of Liz’s closest friends. He made the point of mentioning, that no matter how much time one spent with Liz, as long as you met her at least a couple of times, you seem to end up at the same level of emotional loss as even those people who spent many years with her. This seems amazing and improbable to me, and yet at the same time, makes perfect sense.
You see, Liz was not an ordinary human being. She was absolutely remarkable. Something about her gigantic personality gave her this ability to make everyone in her presence feel, well, just fantastic and incredible! You maybe never met her before, but all of a sudden you’re realizing that this woman would be a part of your life forever. Within a few minutes on that first meeting, you find yourself laughing harder than you have in a year because of some ridiculous and perverted joke she just told. You find yourself feeling so excited about your next adventure because something about this person makes you want to gulp up excitement and laughter as if it were gushing from a fire hose. And then, after a few of these “Liz Daley therapy sessions” (as I’m calling them) you realize that this time spent with her was almost like a drug high; you would get a little bit, and then want more. A lot more.
Every moment of every outing was a party. Even at 12,000 feet!
I find myself wishing that I had prioritized more time partying and getting silly with Liz, and more time in the mountains with her shredding these “super sick epic lines”. But you see, she was on a different level. Not only couldn’t I keep up with her in terms of partying, but she was also a better athlete. Just as an example, the day she put down the first and ONLY female descent of Mount Baker’s Coleman Headwall (a magnificent, ground-breaking achievement) I couldn’t hang. I looked down at that 50+ degree blind rollover in nearly bulletproof glacial ice, and simply couldn’t stomach the idea of riding it that day. But she did!
Mount Baker’s Coleman Headwall, as it was on the morning of June 25th, 2011.
Liz, in the midst of quite possibly, the greatest snowboard mountaineering achievement by any woman in history. Coleman Headwall, 2011. Photo by Davide De Masi.
Being one of Liz’s periodic mountain partner’s, I developed the utmost level of respect for her. She commanded herself in such an elegant, classy, and yet goofy way, it became impossible not to just have the highest level of reverence for this human being. As is so often the case in life, I always thought that I would get more opportunities to “get rad” with Liz in the future. I never imagined that she might not be here anymore. At least not like this.
There would be periods of time that I didn’t see her for many months, but just knowing that she was out there, being her remarkable self, always kept me going. And then when we would meet again, it was as if no time had passed and we would share our stories and stoke on all the adventures each of us had been on. In fact, every time I felt exceptionally stoked on anything, Liz was the FIRST person I ever messaged, called, or texted. And she was always there to say, “Hell yes! Super super SAAACK buddy!”
Looking back up in absolute amazement at our descent of Mt. Adam’s “NFNWR”. Photo by Adam Roberts.
Liz was also important to me not just on a personal level. She rapidly became the top female ambassador for Karakoram, and worked harder for this company’s brand and image than almost anybody. I can say without hesitation, that Karakoram would not be where it is today without Liz Daley.
As time goes by, I find myself feeling more and more grateful for the chance to have truly known Liz. Her loss has brought about an intense and deep sadness that I can’t seem to shake, but at the same time, I still experience this overwhelming sense of joy simply at the memory of her. And if she had this impact on me, its not surprising that she had this impact on thousands of others.
Liz, being her insanely silly self! Photo by our friend Jason Hummel.
I’ve developed the theory that Liz’s passing is going to take a lifetime to process. The thing is, all of us will pass one day. That is a mathematical certainty. But what makes it so challenging, is that when somebody as special as Liz Daley leaves us, at such a young and vibrant point in her life, it leaves a void in the hearts of the living that simply cannot be re-filled. The hole inside us will continue to exist, as it should, because she was that special. It’s hard to imagine ever really “getting over it”, because the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not necessarily grieving for “my” loss. More than all other emotions, I realize that I’m grieving for Liz’s loss. Because in that avalanche, she lost more than any of us ever have. Of all the people in the world who enjoyed Liz, it was Liz herself, who enjoyed BEING Liz Daley.
We’re not sure who took this photo (Davide??). But we love it, and encompasses her spirit perfectly!
I had the chance to see her, and hug her, one last time just a few weeks before she embarked on that last bluebird day. She was just glowing from her recent engagement to her life partner, and she was AMPING at the excitement of the upcoming expedition to Argentina. She also couldn’t wait to see all her friends in Chamonix. She even told me that someday she wanted to start a family and pop out a couple of kids; and holy smokes, what an incredible mom and wife she would have been! She was so dynamic like that; most people who are “into” mountain activities don’t really focus on much else. It’s like a tunnel vision that just steals you away from anything mundane. But Liz looked at the bigger picture. She loved her life more than most people do, and loved her family and peers deeply. Her trajectory was beginning a logarithmic upward path towards true lifetime excellence, and all of us who loved her so much were intensely excited to see what she did with her life. So in processing her loss, of course it was her who lost the most. And that is what makes it so hard.
How we will always remember her. We’re not sure who took this one, but Liz was known for her epic selfies!
In closing, I’m not sure that I have anything of real substance to say, except that life itself is such an incredible and amazing gift. Each day is important, and each day is a day that we don’t get back. As soon as Liz passed away, her friends began the #Livelikeliz social media campaign. This tagline has become more and more important as the year has progressed. I think Liz’s aunt Leigh summarizes it best:
To #Livelikeliz is to:
Have FUN. If it’s not fun, MAKE it fun.
Set your goals, pursue them, and make them happen.
Tell those you love that you love them, often.
Be goofy…especially when you have an audience!
And I will add one more to this list:
Proactively “build up” the people around you in positive energy. In other words, do your best to make them feel great about themselves! Remind your peers how amazing they are, and how much potential they have. In doing so, you will remind yourself how amazing YOU ARE. Liz did this for me, and its something that I now passionately live by.
Despite this past year being one of the toughest of my life, these “Liz Life Commandments” really have brought about an amazing amount of positive internal change.
Liz, thank you, for all that you have done for our world, our community, and for the profound gifts you have given me. You’ve helped me learn how to love myself, and those around me, just a little bit better.
You will always be our “Top Ambassador”.
-Russell and the rest of the Karakoram team.