Apr 15 2012

Dust to Dust – Farewell to John Holleman II

Dan Belanger on Mt. Shasta - John Holleman memorial tour.

There was no doubt John’s spirit was there because the tour had all the characteristics of all the trips I had taken with him since he was diagnosed with colon cancer. From the day after the doctors butchered his guts every trip John Holleman and I took was marked with perfection – from the blessing of fresh powder to windless blue skies and, of course, excellent camaraderie.

This trip felt the same except for the lack of his physical presence, but everything else was according to spec. In the previous 48 hours one of California’s late but nonetheless appreciated spring storms had dropped over three feet of snow above 7,000 feet and now the clouds were parting as we skinned up towards Sun Bowl on the southern flanks of Mt. Shasta.

His body had been cremated and friends and family were all gathered to spread them at one of his favorite haunts, his local backyard hill which just happens to be one of the finest ski mountaineering destinations in the world. The family was planning to arrive before noon to have a barbeque at Bunny Flat and then his ski buddies would spread a portion of his ashes in an appropriate place.

Robin and Danno top out above Sun Bowl, Mt. Shasta

Danno and I had heard of several locations from local friends that were under consideration, among them was Sun Bowl. It looked like a good run according to the topo map, one we were sure John had frequently made tracks on, so our plan was to head up early and break a trail so we could get there faster with the group after lunch.

It was a stellar short tour, complete with an appropriate signature left down the center of Sun Bowl and a skin track straight up Broadway the way John would have done it. We were a bit nervous about avy conditions but I couldn’t resist peeking down the bowl and feeling out the snow. It felt solid, wasn’t extremely steep and the presence of a sluff during the storm suggested any buried weak layers were deep enough to ignore the weight of a solitary skier. Besides, John would surely have skied it so I left my best impression of what he would have done, much to the chagrin of the local avalanche forecasters.

Tracks down the center of Sun Bowl. MSAC might not approve, but John would!

When it came time to spread the ashes a dozen of us saddled up in skis and skins to head up. Though I thought we were headed for Sun Bowl, fortunately more practical ideas prevailed and it was decided to keep the location nearby so family could visit when the snow was gone. In spite of leaderless clarity on what to do and where to spread them we found a tree in a clearing on the eastern ridge of Bunny Flat to take a few minutes to all say our farewells to John Holleman and ring that tree with the dust of his bones. It was an odd yet special time where whatever happened to be on each of our hearts bubbled out when it was our turn to dribble his ashes in the circle we formed around the chosen tree.

Further confirmation of his presence was announced by Susie, a woman John nearly married. Even in parting they remained steadfast friends. She joined the small group who rallied for a second climb and memorial descent. Susie hadn’t been on a single tour all season but remarked that she had an energy for the climb that could only be from John. Indeed, she even enjoyed a spell at the front of the pack, a position she had never before held. And the turns back down were sublime.

Myself, I’m just looking forward to seeing and skiing with him again and I know everyone there would agree with that.

Related Post

Ode to John Holleman

© 2012

  • powderpig

    As John’s birthday was approaching, the phones of a wide group of friends and family started ringing…

    1pm BBQ in the Bunny Flats parking lot, Check.
    (Thank you John Sr and Jerry!)
    Family and Friends, Lots of CHECKS (lots of thank you’s!)
    Fresh snow, CHECK.
    Blue Sky, Check
    Tye Dye, Check (thanks Cory)

    A carpool partner that knew the correct answer to my question of “What would Johnny do before the BBQ?” CHECK (thanks Craig)

    Although the Doctors had told John he would not leave the hospital after he was first admitted, it did not stop his passion from continuing.

    I watched lots of ski video’s in his hospital room, with classic moments of John rewinding so he can make sure you saw the part of a turn, with the face shot and the curtain of snow sparkling in the sun. And for the next few winters, skied powder with John, in the backcountry of course.

    This has been a lackluster year for skiing in the Tahoe area, some good days, but the “top 10 powder days” were not rewritten this season.

    Even if mother nature had played a bigger role with more snow, the season would have ended with that empty feeling for me. I miss skiing with my friend John Holleman…and he fixed that on Saturday April 14th skiing on Mt Shasta. THANKS JOHNNY!

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