Climbing Grief Fund

By American Alpine Club

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Update OCTOBER 26, 2018

Our 24-hr Black Canyon climb is back on!!! Planned for October 28/9, we hope this climb will raise awareness about The Climbing Grief Fund, a new program at the American Alpine Club.

We've changed our original itinerary due to the continued closure of the South Chasm View Wall, a film permit delay and now a darker, colder time of year. Our new plan is to climb the following routes: Scenic Cruise (5.10+, 13 pitches, North Chasm View Wall), Russian Arete (5.9+, 6 pitches, Aretes) and finally the Southern Arete (5.10+, 16+ pitches, Painted Wall).

With the intention to make space for grief and our longing while in the Black Canyon wilderness, we will break from climbing during most of the night and descend to the 2000' to bottom of the canyon. With the pause from climbing, we will hold a fire council with those in our community who are able to join us down the chasm. We hope to honor those who have passed on and share what is in each of our hearts. In the early morning, we will climb out of the canyon via the Southern Arete of the Painted Wall.

In gratitude, Madaleine Sorkin and Mary Harlan


The American Alpine Club is beginning a new program to better integrate the grief caused by climbing tragedies into the healing process of individuals and the community. Impacted by the many tragic events of 2017 (the deaths of Hayden Kennedy and Inge Perkins, and climbing accident of Quinn Brett), Boulder-based professional climber Madaleine Sorkin approached the AAC to create a community resource for grief—“a place that bears witness to death, our pain and a way to return to the vitality of ourselves."

The Climbing Grief Fund's starting goals are:

  • a grief resource webpage (to provide education and a community platform for sharing stories about grief or individuals lost);
  • individual grief counseling grants;
  • group counseling sessions at AAC Craggin' Classic events;
  • develop a proactive response network after a trauma or death in our community.

This fund is overdue and we hope it will build tremendously over the years through individual, company and organizational donations," comments Vickie Hormuth, Director of Strategic Partnerships AAC.

***100% of your donation will go to the fund! The outdoor apparrel company Outdoor Research has pledged to match the first $5000 donated during this campaign drive. The Climbing Grief Fund is expected to be available beginning Fall of 2018.


is the fundraiser climb to launch the Climbing Grief Fund. We will follow athletes Madaleine Sorkin and Mary Harlan as they attempt to link-up 3 major routes in the Black Canyon in 24-hours.

Madaleine says the climb is "for the nourishment we can find in the void, in the Black, and for the fierce and gentle persistence to trust life enough to risk returning time and time again.”

Mary says "looking deep into oneself, we find joy, pain, growth, and stagnancy. The Black Canyon feels so similar, hard, painful, yet joyous and beautiful."

Follow updates here as well as the American Alpine Club’s Facebook page and webpage.

Madaleine Sorkin's words:

This climb is motivated by the trauma of loss and change. People we knew, people we know, people we didn’t know and wish we had. Grief is part of the climbing experience, and while climbing is often fixated on stoke and sending, the expression of grief is also essential. We experience loss, we experience unwanted change, and inevitably we all find ourselves staring into the abyss, the void, the BLACK.

I want our climbing community to create a more intentional resource for grief—a place that bears witness to death, our pain and a way to return to the vitality of ourselves. I wish for “a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering" (Parker Palmer).

The Black Canyon National Park of Gunnison, Colorado is a 2000’ deep chasm in our earth that draws climbers perennially for the spectrum of experiences promised in the mysterious, ancient, steep and committing walls. Towards the end of May, Mary Harlan and I will attempt to link-up 3 major formations in the Black Canyon. Our goal is to connect 3 challenging routes up the South Chasm View Wall (Astrodog 5.11+), North Chasm View Wall (Scenic Cruise 5.10+) and the Painted Wall (Southern Arete 5.10+) within 24 hours for nearly 6000 feet of climbing at a difficulty up to 5.11+. We are both experienced Black Canyon climbers seeking out the difficult free climbs as well as the many “character-building climbs” in which the loose rock, marginal protection, pricker-bushes and poison ivy are as much a feature of the day as any phenomenal single pitch of climbing. Mary has returned to climb over 40 routes there! It’s been 15 years since my first climb there, yet I can still taste the fear bubbling up through my chest, the canyon walls echoing the river below as I hung hundreds of feet from the rim and night crept up over me.

Learning to participate with our fear and doubts is one of the opportunities that climbing can offer. The completion of 24 HOURS INTO THE BLACK won’t rank as a world-class climbing achievement but we hope its intention will hold significance for our community. The climbing will most certainly be an exhausting physical challenge, and as our bodies soften so will our minds and hearts. Exposed to our vulnerability, we hope our climb will become an embodied expression of joy, gratitude and sorrow. We hope this long day will include movement with grief, not escape from it.

Many of us long to deeply participate in our lives. Climbing offers a way into that desire. Lengthy, challenging climbing days often bring me to a place of deeper participation, where I experience myself as a human again and again, intimately interacting as an essential small speck of the natural world. It is a place where my vulnerability speaks openly from my heart. As I get broken open by a challenging climb, I may find myself crying, alone at a ledge as I belay my partner 100 feet away. The tears can come from deep gratitude for being alive as well as pain over a loss. Whatever it is, the point seems to me to be the expression of it.

Perhaps climbing is limited in the ways we can express grief. There are times when not climbing and finding other ways to turn towards one’s wholeness is the most nourishing decision. As a climber for over 20 years and now in my mid-30s, my motivation to achieve and relationship to risk and death are evolving. Parts of me struggle to accept that I no longer am willing to risk my body as I may have in the past. However a wiser-me accepts this evolution as natural and important as I navigate my life’s arc honestly and continue to be in relationship with others and the world.

Existential questioning and a fear of my own depression have affected my life for many years. This past year was perhaps no different except that the painful circumstances of a friend’s suicide and several friends’ climbing accidents and trauma reminded me that I was ready to be broken open. For a while I needed to stop climbing—to pause on any remaining false idols I was using climbing to chase—to experience grief and sit in my body. I learned to express my longing and connect to my wild nature without climbing. I am still learning to do this. And I also want to return to climbing. I feel deep gratitude to be able to climb, as healthy as I am. It is important to me to maintain my commitment to climb in respectful relationship with myself and to use climbing as tool for renewal and vitality.

Many climbers return to climbing after a traumatic event (in or outside of climbing) and ideally this return is linked to deep nourishment for themselves. Mary and I return to the Black drawn into dialogue with an ancient mystery that reveals itself in beautiful, intense, and paradoxical ways. We trust the healing power of climbing. The support of our climbing community and therapists has helped us both through dark times. This climb is for the nourishment we can find in the void, in the Black, and for the fierce and gentle persistence to trust life enough to risk returning time and time again.

Mary Harlan's Words:

In 2014, I lost close friend & mentor Dave Pegg. Shortly after, another close friend fell nearly 3000 feet off of the Grand Teton while guiding, leaving behind his wife, & their 3 year old and 9 month old children. These tragic events led to the question: What happens to the friends and family of those lost, months or even years after? How are they dealing with this loss, and what can I do about this?

In 2017, I was deeply, emotionally effected after the death and injury of friends in the climbing community. Again, I thought, 'How will the family and friends, or those directly effected, handle the emotional, intellectual, and spritual effects and devastation of these events? How are we, as a climbing community, helping each other?'

Having a close family member whom I am helping sift through his own grief, trauma and depression have opened my eyes to how life-altering this can be. I will do anything to help my family member, and there is nothing I can't imagine doing for him. When Madaleine presented the idea of doing a climb for a Grief Fund, I instantly and without hesitating said 'yes.' We must take care of each other, and provide a venue to which all climbers have access to help when necessary.

For me, The Black Canyon represents the light, the dark, the pain, the joy, the suffering, and the triumph that I must sift through as I journey into its bellows. It is a place of mystery, wonder, fear, love, and hatred. It evokes many emotions in me each and every time I travel into its depths. Much like my own life, The Black Canyon is a place where both negative and positive emotions exist, and going there forces me to face it all.


Excerpt from Heartwork by Anita Barrows

Something that had been stopped

is beginning to move: a leaf

driven against rock

by a current

frees itself, finds its way again through moving water. The angle of light

is low, but still it fills

this space we're in. What interrupts me

is sometimes an abundance. My sorrow too,

which grew large through summer feels to me this morning

as though if I touched it where the thick dark stem

is joined to the root, it would release itself

whole, it would be something I could use.

Mameen By David Whyte

Be infinitesimal under that sky, a creature even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.

Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed by circumstance, how great reputations dissolve with infirmity and how you,

in particular, stand a hairsbreadth from losing everyone you hold dear.

Then, look back down the path to the north, the way you came, as if seeing

your entire past and then south

over the hazy blue coast as if present

to a broad future.

Recall the way you are all possibilities you can see and how you live best

as an appreciator of horizons

whether you reach them or not.

Admit that once you have got up

from your chair and opened the door,

once you have walked out into the clean air toward that edge and taken the path up high beyond the ordinary you have become

the privileged and the pilgrim,

the one who will tell the story

and the one, coming back

from the mountain

who helped to make it

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Team Members

Madaleine Sorkin

Henna Taylor

Jack Tackle

Keegan Young

Lizzy Scully

Mary Harlan

Vickie Hormouth