The Summit

June 1997 – Mammoth Lakes, California.

It was a sweltering summer day in Mammoth Lakes, California. In anticipation of my pending nuptials Dave had taken me to the Gyepes family condo for my bachelor weekend. No party, no strip club; just two best friends in the mountains spending quality time before the first of us got married. We went running in the high desert heat. We took long hikes each day. But mostly we talked. We talked about the state of the world, about our childhoods, about our dreams, and about the change my world would undergo on my wedding day, and of course. Because it was Dave, we also talked quite a bit about food. We spent endless hours of sharing thoughts and ideas. That’s what I miss most about my best friend. I call him my best friend because he was, though since he was so special Dave had more than one best friend. I imagine many people felt like I did about Dave. They probably felt he was their “best friend” too. Dave’s special gift was making everyone who came in contact with him feel special. A rare talent to be sure. But I digress, Back to the story at hand. The Summit.

It was probably 90º when we pulled into the parking lot at Lake Mary. We were dressed for the heat, wearing shorts and hiking shoes. Dave probably had his UCLA cap on, and probably made me apply sunscreen like the big brother he was so good at being. We hadn’t planned a single thing for the weekend; with the exception of dining as often as possible at Roberto’s. So it was with this adventure. No plan, no map, no worries. It was the conversation that we came for, and it was conversation that had formed the bond which at the time of these events had been in place for 17 years. Dave held so many interesting perspectives on life, love, triumph, and tragedy that I was always learning from him. Also, he was the best listener I’ve ever known, and always had something wise to offer when it came to advice. 

So it was this day that the hike was a way to make time to talk while walking off our burrito-based overindulgence from the previous night. We struck out down the trail dripping sweat as though in a sauna. The relentless summer sun hammered away at that UCLA cap. As we walked along the forest path we spied through the trees the monolith that had been our winter playground for so many years, Mammoth Mountain, peak elevation 11053 feet. It was around noon when we decided to leave the forest trail and climb. We had the self-assuredness of two thirty-somethings with Peter Pan complex and decided we would climb to the top. How hard could it be, right?  Typical of optical illusions the peak seemed easily within reach when we started our ascent. We climbed and climbed through woods, then past the tree line and onto boulder fields. Much to our dismay after an hour and a half of climbing the mountain top looked nearly as far away as it had when we started. 

As we climbed the temperature dropped steadily. Our breathing became labored and our conversation waned. Still, we climbed, minute after minute feeling like hour after hour. I finally stopped and sat on a boulder, cold and tired. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea,” I said, beginning to think longingly of chips and salsa. “We can make it Borden!” I loved Dave’s optimism. “Alright,” I said and hoisted myself up off the rock. We climbed.  And we climbed.  Snow patches began to appear between the boulders as the temperature continued to drop. Dave took a break. “Maybe you were right B. Maybe we should turn back.” “Dude, we’re so close, we can do it,” I said. He issued an exasperated sigh, then up he rose, and up we went. I don’t remember how many times each of us dropped to the ground, convinced that we should give up, but those moments were many. We stumbled. We fell. We climbed.  Each time one of us decided we’d had enough the other found the words and the will to turn the tide. I’m not sure why reaching the top became so important to us. Perhaps we had both decided on that afternoon, on that mountainside, that the outcome of this challenge would become a metaphor for our lives. Failure was not an option. 

Hours of climbing passed, the last few of which involved much heavy breathing and very little of our precious conversation. We were now in the clouds. The 90º swelter at base camp had given way to temps in the 30s. Finally, breathless and bruised we found ourselves on the snow-covered top of the mountain. We had reached the summit. We hugged, laughed, wrote Dalai Lama-esque messages of peace in the snow with our frozen finger tips then paused. We took a moment to drink in the majesty of the world, of our accomplishment, of our unwavering commitment to each other’s success.  

Many years later Dave and I discussed our memories of this day.  We agreed that reaching the summit had been one of the pivotal moments in our lives. Not many people are so blessed as I have been in the realm of friendship. In my relationship with Dave, I was gifted with true companionship, support, loyalty, and love. If the world were flat and held no mountains to climb my friendship with Dave would have always been, and will always be my definition of reaching the summit.

In Memory of David James Gyepes, 1962-2020