Denali dreaming: Rudolph’s Acolytes

As part of the registration process for our Denali permits, Grant and I had to choose an expedition name. Of course, we wanted something that would properly represent our love of epic poetry, silliness, and general nerd-dom. So we spent a couple weeks kicking half-hearted ideas about in our heads. We took courage in that the search was like marriage—once you find the one you want, you’ll know.

On the day that we put in for the permits, the idea of Rudolph’s Acolytes slid into my head. Didn’t fit the criteria I’d made, but it made sense. Grant was down. So we put typed it into the form and sent that thing off to the Park Service.

A couple weeks later, Grant called to check on our permit status. Surprisingly, they remembered us because of our trip name. It turns out that people are stunningly uncreative with their expedition titles. Example: there are something like three parties called “Denali Expedition 2013” and so they’ve been numbered. I can only hope we avoid confusion between them on the glacier. More than that, it’s a waste of potentially great names like “Zombie Hordes of the Kahiltna” or “Bootyshakin’ on the Buttress” or “Super Rad Tall Climb Bro Yeah.”

The significance of our name begins with Stevens Pass Ski Area, and more specifically its former marketing director, Chris Rudolph.  Both Grant and I found ourselves as skiers that Rudolph wanted at the hill. When I graduated from college, Rudolph found me a job at the hill on the park crew. Sitting next to him at the All.I.Can premiere in Seattle, he’d occasionally just start punching me in the shoulder, such was his enthusiasm and stoke. As anyone who knew or worked with him can attest, the energy that he radiated was contagious and joyful.

Along with Jim Jack and Johnny Brennan, Rudolph died in the February 19th, 2012 slide in Tunnel Creek. Since then, I’ve been searching for a project that seems fitting of his memory. To my mind, the light that he showed us is not out—it’s up to those of us to carry it forward, to keep it alive. In the Lutheran church services I grew up with, an acolyte brought a flame into the sanctuary as part of the beginning of the service. On Denali, we’re carrying the torch forward. And in the memory of our friend, we’re planning to get really, obnoxiously, seriously Rad.

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