‘Round about 20 years ago Ashley and I were up on the ridge above Alta having a snack and some tea before our descent when we heard a voice hollering at us from across the ridgeline: “Hullo! Would you mind keeping an eye on me for a sec?” Though an avalanche would definitely have spoiled our little tea break, of course we hollered back: “Sure!” and thus he pushed off and we watched him slice down a nice run uneventfully. As we watched, Ash said “I think that’s the new avy forecaster, Drew Hardesty.” We had only heard him over the pre-recorded morning avalanche report, but his voice was distinctive, and so it was.
We chatted a bit at the bottom and went our respective ways that day, but that was the beginning of a long friendship with the Sage of the Wasatch (one might be inclined to call him the Wizard….but…) that reached a fun pinnacle in early October when we were able to join Drew and his lovely Zinnia with a great posse of their friends as they got married in the shadow of the Tetons.
|The bride, groom, and clergyman were sort of oddly apart, but it still went off!|
Drew grew up in the famous skiing mecca of Kentucky, and loved gittin’ out. Once high school was over he headed for Colorado for school to get his start in the avalanche world by studying science…..political science! But somehow it served him well enough to become an intelligence officer in the military, and he served in the original Desert Storm in Kuwait telling the good guys what the bad guys were up to. Even as I’ve heard some of Drew’s stories from the military, it’s still hard for me to imagine this bearded and sorta scraggly dirtbag of today being the sheared and uniformed military officer of yesterday!
The military was apparently a good preparation to become a NOLS instructor, which Drew did for a few years, and then parlayed that experience into becoming a climbing ranger on Mt Rainier. The national park climbing ranger community is pretty tight, and when venerable Teton climbing ranger Tom Kimbrough announced that he was retiring after 20 or 30 or maybe a hundred years there, Drew’s ears perked up. Since Tom had been one of the original Utah Avalanche Center forecasters for pretty much the same amount of time and full retirement sounded better than half-retirement, he also gracefully stepped out of that role, and Drew was able to effectively become the new incarnation of Tom Kimbrough, splitting his time between the Wasatch in the winter, the Tetons in the summer, and the desert and other far flung places during the shoulder seasons. between.
|Drew's latest passion: pack rafting!|
Not long after I met Drew he and his wife split up, and I had the good fortune to become friends with a pretty decent litany of great women that Drew had connected with. However, for a variety of reasons one by one they fell away. Then one day several years ago we bumped into Drew at a trailhead at the end of a ski day, and he had a ski partner I hadn’t met before whom – even through the helmet, face buff, and goggles - I could tell was pretty much bursting with positive energy. We had the great fortune of being introduced to Zinnia’s world.
Zinnia Wilson is a Salt Lake native with an eclectic past. It’d be easy to assume that Zin’s parents named her for the fun, brightly-colored flower that is a perfect emblem of what she was to become, but her dad actually named her for the street that they lived on, oblivious to the fact that the street was named for the flower! Tragedy struck their family early when Zinnia’s dad died in a fall at Indian Creek, but his wife/Zin’s mom Louise soldiered on solo with two precocious kids. Zinnia continued to climb, and eventually applied her considerable athleticism to the world of modern dance, which in turn enhanced her athleticism. She apparently was as smart as she was athletic, because she got into Williams College, one of the most notoriously-difficult schools in the country to be accepted into.
A prestigious, esoteric, small East Coast college was of course great preparation for Zin’s first and main career: trail building! For 15 years Zinnia worked on the Teton Wilderness trail crew, creating and maintaining hundreds of miles of backcountry trails in the vast and wild area between the Tetons and Yellowstone. The Blackrock station became her home and the folks there her second family, and modern dance gave way to hefting big loads into the backcountry, swinging McCleod and Pulaskis, and managing horse, mule, and people teams. Along the way she met Eric Tietze, a fellow Salt Laker, Williams College grad, and climbing enthusiast, and they went on innumerable adventurers together, climbing and canoeing their way around the US, South America, Asia, and Europe. They were engaged, all was well.
On a day off from the Blackrock station Zinnia and Eric went to do the Cathedral Traverse, which begins with a climb of Teewinot, traverses to Mt Owen, and carries on to the north face of the Grand Teton. On the traverse from Teewinot to Owen Eric went on ahead, with Zin and another friend following. They kept going for what seemed like too long to reconnect with Eric, then doubled back, but were still unsuccessful in finding him, and ultimately they returned to the valley floor as night fell. A search was begun in the morning, and rangers found Eric’s body 5-600 feet below what was determined to be a challenging climbing move that he had soloed. One of the rangers on the recovery was Drew Hardesty.
Anyone who has met Zinnia Wilson has been affected by her radiant smile, buoyant energy, and propensity to sing. She is positivity personified.
|Not many people can throw back a laugh as hard as Zin!|
Therefore, it’s hard to imagine her any other way, but grieving is brutal, even for the eternally positive. Drew has been part of many successful rescues (including one that earned him a congressional medal of honor) but also an equal number of body recoveries. This one hit him hard, and as Zin grieved and Drew learned more about Eric, they grew closer, and ultimately became a couple themselves.
Now it’s Drew and Zin gallivanting around the West doing river, rock, and snow adventures, with Zin having eased away from her Blackrock “family” back to Salt Lake, where her on-the-ground experience with trails has been transmogrified into the Trails Manager for the Wasatch section of the Forest Service.
|From hippy girl in the jungle.....|
|to pushup machine in the backcountry!|
Drew is a profound thinker, and has devoured many a deep tome by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Siddhartha, John McPhee, and others, and he is known for his propensity to quote from the Book of Job in his avalanche forecasts. His thoughtful essays pepper publications from the UAC blog , Ascent magazine, The Avalanche Review, (p 15), and even Outside Magazine, he’s become a great interviewer of interesting avalanche personalities on the UAC’s podcast, and he’s fascinated with the human factors associated with adventuring. So when I asked him “I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of your girlfriends, and they’ve all been great. Is Zin your latest....or your last?” Drew took a characteristically long pause, also characteristically stroked his considerable beard, and finally answered: “I’d like to think….she’s both”, followed by his characteristically huge laugh.
And so it was that a few of their friends were able to celebrate their eagerly anticipated nuptials in Lupine Meadows, near the front porch of the killer little cabin that Drew called home for 20 summers, and in front of the rescue cache where their relationship rose out of the ashes of tragedy.
They cautioned that the ceremony would happen regardless of the weather, and as the cold breeze blew snowflakes against the bare shoulders of Zin in her wedding dress (a beautiful $5 special from the Deseret Industries!) we all knew that this fun and tough couple were ready to continue their charge through life.
|sometimes going in opposite directions?|
|But always pulling it back.|
It’s been an honor, fine people.