Sean “Stanley” Leary

Mar 25, 2014

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We don’t own anything in this life. What we have is the here and now and the love we feel for the world and everyone in it.

I met Sean Leary years ago. He was part of the original floating group of friends who were living on the road with chunks of time in Yosemite, in Moab and in Patagonia, many of whom have become legends of climbing now twenty years later. One winter in Potrero Chico Sean found a tiny golden puppy with its throat slit. He brought her home to nurse her back to life, and she grew into a gorgeous, muscled greyhound-esque creature he named Nexpa, prone to fear and with a scar around her neck. Nexie was good friends with my dog Fletch, and they were both excellent at fading into the shadows in Yosemite when a ranger appeared.

Over the years Sean became one of the very best Yosemite climbers and the guy who was a key part of many speed ascents and crazy expeditions, yet his greatest talent was for somehow staying out of the limelight, part of his humble, gentle nature.
roberta
In 2006, Sean’s beautiful Brazilian girlfriend Roberta died in his arms on the side of the road after she crashed the car while driving them from Moab to Salt Lake City, while Sean was hardly injured at all. Sean had just bought a house in Moab, where he and Roberta had planned to live–something which made me overjoyed…and now this. Sean was devastated. They had climbed and traveled the world together, and as Roberta fervently told me every time I saw her, with her blue eyes wide and earnest, “we are SO IN LOVE, Steph!” Three days before the accident, Roberta had asked Sean to promise her that if anything ever happened to her, he would continue to live life al ful. A gypsy fortune teller in Brazil had warned her she could die that summer, and she turned down a women’s trip to Pakistan to spend the summer with Sean in Utah and Colorado–she didn’t want to risk losing what they had together.

Without Roberta, Sean fought to keep the faith in Moab in a now empty house, the walls freshly painted by Roberta in bright colors, with friends helping him to force through the motions of daily life. That’s when he started to skydive and base jump and moved back to California. He made a wingsuit base jump in Patagonia, where he’d had many adventures with Roberta, letting her ashes fly out of his parachute when he opened. He told me it was a surreal experience, the wind lifting him up so much he thought he would not get down.

After some years, Sean met another beautiful woman named Mieka, and fell in love with her. I saw him in Lauterbrunnen, flying his wingsuit, just before their wedding in Yosemite. We ate dinner together in the kitchen of the Im Rohr hostel, and he was so happy–eyes sparkling, face glowing. He was one of those special people who carries a light inside, and the light was blazing bright.

Seven months ago I lost my love and at first I wasn’t sure I would survive it. I wanted to talk to Sean, because he was as close to being like me as anyone could be, and he had clearly made it through to the other side, and had refound happiness and love. We’d been friends for many years, but did not see each other all the time, and we reconnected six months ago through this shared experience. Two weeks after Mario’s death, we talked by text (I still wasn’t able to talk to anyone by phone), and later on we talked by phone. The few people I spoke to honestly were disturbed by my blunt questions and feelings of doubt about the point of living without Mario. Sean was not afraid, and simply told me, “Steph no one will blame you if you kill yourself and everyone will understand, but you’ll be missing out on a lot. And your family and friends will be really sad.” Sean is one of the people who saved me and gave me hope that I could live and I could be happy. As the months went by, and I healed, we started talking about getting together for some climb/jump adventures. There are so few people out there who have the skills to really combine these two passions, and we got excited brainstorming about trips we could do in the upcoming year.

Sean came back to Moab just two weeks ago and made a wingsuit base jump off Adobe Mesa across from Castleton Tower, something people have talked about but no one had yet done. Mieka is pregnant, and he was on his way to Zion for a film job with the BBC and would then head back to California to get ready for the baby to come. I talked to Sean on the phone in the morning on March 13, about the baby, about wingsuits, about trip ideas. That evening he made a wingsuit base jump in Zion, planning to report for work the next morning, and he impacted a ridge and died. Through a horrible string of unlikely coincidences: work thought he flaked out, Mieka thought he was in the backcountry out of cell range for work, no one realized he was missing for over a week. When he missed his flight home, the community went into overdrive, with family, climbers and jumpers flying to Zion to look for him.
Story
His facebook page is filled with tributes and love from the countless people who knew him. One of my favorites, from one of the original Yosemite monkeys, Brian Kay, is the story of how Sean got his nickname Stanley:

Stanley, the big wall hammer. There we were, you and I. Talking a bunch of smack about climbing El Capitan at the SAR site, back when we looked up at the walls in awe. We ran down to your El Portal trailer to gather your things, and rack up. We realized that you had no hammer, so being the nothing is going to stop me guy that you were, you reached into your kitchen tool drawer and pulled out that now infamous Stanly hammer…. Later that day, there I was, standing at the bottom of the first pitch of Zodiac; mine, and your first El Cap route. I was looking up bewildered at how we were going to pull off this massive stunt. Earlier that day, Cade Lloyd had told us, “anyone can slam a pin with a Stanley, but it takes a Yosemite Hammer to remove them”. So, there I was, leading up El Cap with a freaking claw hammer with my Yo Hammer clipped to you! We stuck it out, and even had, “sweet success”.
We went light on that trip.. and you thinned your rack down to a flight suit since then. I am glad I got to share this world with you, and that you never gave up on that “nothing is going to stop me” style of yours. I will miss you coming by the Rock Monkey Ranch, and seeing you in the valley. Some people are angry that you got into BASE, I am not. I could see how much you enjoyed it, and the way you dove into it, and excelled. It wouldn’t be Stanley if you didn’t push it. You literally got to “choose your exit”, and I know you enjoyed the ride while you were on this planet. Thanks for being my friend. I will see you on the next plain my friend, and we will compare notes then.

My heart is broken for Mieka, Sean’s family, and for all the friends who loved this gentle, kind person without reservation. Several months ago, I got through the depths of my grief for Mario, and I called to tell him, “Sean, you were right. Thanks for making me stay.” He was so happy. All of us who try to touch the sky know that sometimes what gives us the most also takes the most away: everything must balance, as Mario always used to say. Sean kept his promise to Roberta to live life al ful. And he also gave me mine.

August 29, 2013
Hi Steph, I just want you to know I’m here if you want to talk or need any support from someone who understands what you’re going through. I won’t lie, it’s the shittiest most unfair thing but believe me it does get better. You just have to try and remember that. When you can. And let the love and support of your friends carry some of the pain. I’m here if you want to talk anytime. I love you.
Sean

Thanks Sean. R u happy now? That’s the part I can’t see. For the future.

I am now. It’s a long road and happens in tiny little steps at first. You’ll find yourself happy too, but there’s a lot of stuff you’ll have to face before that happens. At this point it’s best to just deal day to day or hour by hour and not think too much about the future. Right now your grief is this giant gaping hole with sharp edges but as you move forward in life the edges soften and other beautiful things start to grow around it. Flowers and trees of experiences. The hole never goes away, but it becomes gentler and sort of a garden in your soul, a place you can visit when you want to be near your love.
at first it’s all you can do to deal with your basic needs, and that’s what your best friends are helping you with now. Soon the sadness will come in waves, and you have to hold on through the intense parts, letting them well up inside you, carry you for a bit, then subside. It’s all important stuff to feel. Don’t fight it, but don’t get carried too far.
Just hold on.
It gets better and you’re not alone. You’re part of this fucked little club now, and the other members will come to help heal your pain with empathy and promise.
You are going to get through this. Even though this loss will shape who you are forever, you’ll be happy again. You will find peace.

Sean, talking to other people and reading books and things is making me feel hopeless. I want to hear one person say “it was hard and sad for a long time but now I’m as happy as I was before. Maybe in some ways more happy. My memories of him/her give me strength and happiness instead of sadness.”
Except you, I’m hearing almost the opposite from the majority and I’m not sure it’s worth it if that’s going to be how it is.

Steph, it’s worth it. I didn’t think it was either for a long time but if you just get through the days one at a time life starts to improve. You have to be proactive about it, and make yourself get out & do the thing you love. Especially, for people like us, big exercise sessions like long runs or bike rides. Stuff where you get anaerobic enough that you just focus on breathing for awhile. It’s not going to happen all at once, its gradual with a lot of lapses .
I just had Roberta dreams last night, and I talked with her a lot. It was really special and it made me miss her but I’m still happy. Life is special and death is part of it.
The main thing that kept me going after Roberta died was a promise I’d made to her like three days before the accident, that if she died I’d keep living life and doing what I loved.
What I also experienced was that the things I found important were suddenly distilled and clear. Like love and freedom and bullshit free lifesyle. and.committing to that life eventualy brought happiness. Mario loved you so much, and for sure he wants to see you live and be happy. Just like if the circumstances were reversed you’d want that for him. But like I said it’s a hard path to follow at first and you need to start simple and make yourself go climbing, go for a run, even if you have to stop and melt down during it. There are a lot of different levels to grief I found, and times where it feels super shitty and hopeless but you can pull through. I promise that it gets better and if you get through the first days, then months, then year you will start to find new levels of positivity. I know the two main things that kept me going at first were Roberta’s desire that I keep living “al ful” and Nexpa needing me and being an amazing source of love.
I’m sure its different for everone but I promise you that you can make it through. You’re changed forever, or at least your perspective on life, but you can get through. Don’t give up.
Sent from my iPhone
© 2013

hearts

  • http://highinfatuation.com Steph Davis

    Hi Steph,
    I have just read your beautiful words about Sean Leary.
    I guess that mighty tears carried your words to the page.
    I first came across Sean through Patagonia Promise. I had never seen such a broken young man.
    How hollow his face. How useless life was to him.
    It seemed that he would never be fixed. I watched as he jumped and flew with Roberta one final time before she rested on her most special mountains and Sean began the rest of his life.
    I started mailing Sean about three years ago.
    His first reply described the making of the film as a tribute to Roberta, and his incredibly painful attempts to make life make sense again.
    He was useless at replying, but then out of the blue a couple of sentences would arrive about another adventure.
    I bombarded this poor guy with the most aimless mail but when a rare reply arrived he would always make a point of saying how much he enjoyed reading what I had written. How polite is that!
    And eventually I was able to meet him in London last year at the premiere of The Last Great Climb.
    I was so pleased! He did not understand why.
    I enjoyed a short chat with this modern day hero of mine and he signed some Yosemite books for me.
    I remember the Ulvetanna team were stood at the front of the hall and the legend that is Doug Scott came out to interview them. Sean rushed forward to shake Mr Scott by the hand. I was meeting one of my heroes, and Sean was meeting one of his. How special was that!
    I asked Sean who he would have most liked to climb with in Yosemite. I expected John Salathe or Royal Robbins or Tom Frost. Sean said he would have liked to have known and climbed with John Muir. The perfect answer.
    This young man was some climber. I sort of imagine that rock is more forgiving to people who love it, and Sean certainly loved the rock.
    He loved rock. He loved his family and friends. He loved Yosemite. He loved life.
    And your words have told me even more about this humble young man.
    His rescue of Nexie.
    The quiet, honest, truthful support he was able to give you at a time when anger told you that nothing could possibly help.
    Thank you for your poignant description of your special friend.
    My thoughts are with Sean’s family and friends,

    Noel Dawson.

    ‘Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.’
    John Muir.

  • http://www.highinfatuation.com steph davis

    Hi Steph,
    I have just read your beautiful words about Sean Leary.
    I guess that mighty tears carried your words to the page.
    I first came across Sean through Patagonia Promise. I had never seen such a broken young man.
    How hollow his face. How useless life was to him.
    It seemed that he would never be fixed. I watched as he jumped and flew with Roberta one final time before she rested on her most special mountains and Sean began the rest of his life.
    I started mailing Sean about three years ago.
    His first reply described the making of the film as a tribute to Roberta, and his incredibly painful attempts to make life make sense again.
    He was useless at replying, but then out of the blue a couple of sentences would arrive about another adventure.
    I bombarded this poor guy with the most aimless mail but when a rare reply arrived he would always make a point of saying how much he enjoyed reading what I had written. How polite is that!
    And eventually I was able to meet him in London last year at the premiere of The Last Great Climb.
    I was so pleased! He did not understand why.
    I enjoyed a short chat with this modern day hero of mine and he signed some Yosemite books for me.
    I remember the Ulvetanna team were stood at the front of the hall and the legend that is Doug Scott came out to interview them. Sean rushed forward to shake Mr Scott by the hand. I was meeting one of my heroes, and Sean was meeting one of his. How special was that!
    I asked Sean who he would have most liked to climb with in Yosemite. I expected John Salathe or Royal Robbins or Tom Frost. Sean said he would have liked to have known and climbed with John Muir. The perfect answer.
    This young man was some climber. I sort of imagine that rock is more forgiving to people who love it, and Sean certainly loved the rock.
    He loved rock. He loved his family and friends. He loved Yosemite. He loved life.
    And your words have told me even more about this humble young man.
    His rescue of Nexie.
    The quiet, honest, truthful support he was able to give you at a time when anger told you that nothing could possibly help.
    Thank you for your poignant description of your special friend.
    My thoughts are with Sean’s family and friends,

    Noel Dawson.

    ‘Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.’
    John Muir.

  • Robert Bolton

    What a beautiful piece of writing, and an awesome guy, truly flying with the angels x

  • Harry Parker

    That was an amazing read. I knew Mario for many years in the BASE scene during the early days. I am very sorry for your loss. Very sorry to hear of Sean as well. Beautiful site. Thank you.

  • http://eveningsends.com Andrew Bisharat

    Beautiful piece of writing, Steph. Thanks for sharing and being so open. Stanley will be missed

  • Chris de Serres

    This shared connection and your willingness to personally express it is enlightening to us all. Thank you.

  • Angie

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • John

    Thanks. This is an amazing tribute to a great person.

  • joshua

    hope you come back again to share with us the wind through the mountains we climb, in a nex live.

  • Tricia

    Sending love to family and friends. Steph, Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.

    I
    always read Steph’s amazing writing. But this piece blew me away. A
    truly exquisite work from a friend for a friend…who was cared about
    and respected so much. Thanks for sharing your feelings, Steph. We all
    thank you. RIP Sean. Just don’t know what to say, your piece said it
    all.

  • Andy

    My wife and I just lost our baby girl and these words mean a lot. Grief is such a roller coaster and what both you and Sean said really hits home. Thank you so much for sharing this and I am so sorry.

  • Jon Ullon

    Thank you for this.

  • Sean Areias

    What a beautifully written piece. Thank you for sharing this story with the world. I grew up with Sean from about 5 years old. I am not a climber, but Sean did attempt a few times to get me into the sport when he was just a beginner himself. I lost contact with him after high school, but recently reconnected with him briefly in the virtual world. I had hoped to see him again over the next couple of years. I regret that I didn’t get this chance, but in a way, I feel like your story allowed me to ‘catch up’ with him. Your words put Sean’s life into context which we can all learn from whether we are adventurers or not. He truly was an inspirational man, and I’m proud that he has touched so many people so deeply. I grieve for Sean’s family more than anything, but thank you for giving them (and all of us) the gift of Sean’s profoundly comforting words.

  • Chris (from Germany)

    Thank you Steph

  • Andrea Lages

    Beautiful words. It’s good to know that there’s always someone missing you. Always. And one of that persons is one self. When someone is gone, takes a little of us, but we also stay with a little of that person. This tribute to him gives him a bit of live. What a passionate person! And so are you.
    Thanks to share this with us.

  • Rich Marshall

    Thanks for sharing this with us Steph, this is a very beautiful piece. I found out about Sean through going to a talk by Leo Houlding. Seeing Sean’s enthusiasm for adventure and nature in Alastair Lee’s films is not only a blast but inspires me to continue to seek adventure. Reading this actually made me cry and think of those in my family that died young and unexpectedly. It is so true that in time these losses can provide you with a heightened awareness of what you need and want from the future. Seek opportunities for fun and adventure – meaningful experiences that will ensure you don’t look back with regret and let others know you really lived.