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Eitan Green, born in Needham, Massachusetts, died on May 28. An avalanche swept him with five other climbers off Mount Rainier’s Liberty Ridge to the Carbon Glacier 3,300 feet below. It is unlikely his remains will be found.
A few weeks earlier, on Mother’s Day, he had volunteered for a rescue mission on Rainier. “Eitan’s your guy, right?” the head ranger wrote the guide company afterwards. "Great asset ... nice to have people I can just look at and trust.” Eitan forwarded the e-mail to his mother. “Happy Mother’s Day,” he wrote her. “You raised me right.”
He was 28 years old.
As a professional guide, he’d summitted Rainier over 40 times — always learning it, always studying it. After one trip ended, when his exhausted clients were sleeping in their homeward van, one of them opened his eyes and noticed Eitan quietly reading a book about rope knots.
Dreams of climbing began the day he rappelled with an eight-year-old's determination down a small cliff in Northern Maine. They led to an honors thesis in college about the global climbing community. They led to sacrifice: shoveling snow in Colorado to support ice climbing, and living briefly in a car in New Hampshire, managing on frozen Cliff bars. Eventually, they led to guiding the high-altitude steps of others.
As a guide, Eitan was known for meticulous preparation and technical intelligence. He analyzed climbing accidents as if they were texts (which they were), and completed his Level II Avalanche Certification.
Guiding also required diplomacy and social intelligence. Sometimes high-paying clients came with noble ambitions — proposing marriage on top of a mountain, say, or scattering beloved family ashes. Then Eitan had to remind them that mountains are unforgiving, they have their own agendas. He was often younger than his clients, but far, far older in mountain years.
When his mother turned 60, Eitan took her on a backpacking trip through the Northern Cascades. He chose a path and a pace so she wouldn’t feel winded. He wasn’t fond of level hiking himself — too horizontal for him — but he wanted her, like everyone else he led, to feel sure-footed in the midst of wild beauty.
Since his death, his family has thought often about the necessary conversations that must occur — yet too often don’t — between those who ascend and those who wait below. Some of the conversation is practical: locations of legal and financial documents. But the rest is not.
In all their many phone calls, there was never one between Eitan and his mother, or Eitan and his father, or his sister or his beloved girlfriend, that ended without expressions of love from every coast. And because nothing was left unsaid about love, some of the pain — in this way — has been uncomplicated. Those who walked near Eitan’s sure-footed light believe he is still guiding them.
Did you know Eitan Green? Share your memories in the comments section.
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