April 2, 2016
By: Mush Puppy Ken

Farewell To My Buddy Scott

Scott Cosgrove has passed. I was fortunate to be able to attend his memorial, a week ago today. Speakers recounted common themes: humility, kindness, courage, generosity, integrity, etc. and I can only echo their sentiments. While each brought tears, Curt’s comments about Scott being such a real and authentic person really spoke to me.

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."  --Joseph Cambell

Scott touched many lives and I’m sure there will be more than a few homages to this climbing legend. This one is mine.

Back Story

I am not a climbing legend and hence my relationship with Scott was a bit different than authors of other tributes so please indulge the backstory weave.

I attended a pretty competitive university that hadn’t left time for much else so I’d come to the rocks later in my life than Scott. It wasn’t until the mid 80’s that Team Husky [1] and I began bouldering Stoney Point and hanging out in Hidden Valley. To the best of my recollection, I’d have been leading 5.8 through 5.10 minus, top roping 5.11, and bumbling my way through classic routes put up by the gods decades earlier in my best imitation of "good clean style". Whereas once upon a time I’d dreamed of recognition in the world of academia the idea of achieving such through climbing never occurred to me. My first ascents were limited to "…​.and others" in a few Gordo [2] credits. I was more keen for hunting down Largo [3] crack routes anyways, as all us mortals knew he’d cherry picked all the really good stuff. An on sight lead of Rubicon was probably my "big" accomplishment of those days while the gods were putting up 5.12/13. In short, I had no fame and glory guide book stories. I was, however, passionate about climbing and having one helluva grand time in my own way.

I wasn’t part of the cool crowd, nor well funded, and didn’t roll down the hill very often for parties, etc. Town runs were expensive and limited budgets prioritized food rations so as to extend the hang at the crags. I worked seasonal jobs for various government agencies and had the commensurate cash flow to go with it. I also moved furniture for Atlas Van Lines when food and cash were exhausted and necessitated heading back to "the inside" [4]. Pay was better as well with the added benefit of keeping my guns in shape. The common thread in these gigs being the off time that allowed me to enjoy extended hangs in Hidden Valley Campground pursuing my passion. More often than not, then Campsite #21.

"Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there
were only walls."  --Joseph Cambell

Just Another Bitchin' Day In The Monument

One can only climb so much whilst living in the Monument without needing time off the rock to grow new skin. Team Husky and I were taking a rest day, lounging in the mid morning sun, I enjoying the beautiful view out towards Comic Book, when a blue van rolls up and this tall guy with shoulder length dark curly hair gets out and introduces himself as Scott. After a bit of small talk, I agree to belay him on some "TR Stuff" since I didn’t have anything more intriguing to occupy a rest day and we head out across the desert. For the life of me I cannot recall where we went. At the base of some overhanging crag, I remember him testing me a couple times to be sure I was paying attention and could hold a fall. Seems I was solid enough to inspire confidence. My jaw then dropped in awe as he began lapping things "for the workout" that I could only imagine doing "some day". At the end of the day, back at my site, Scott offered to "pay" me with a block of chalk. Now admittedly I was pretty low budget but I could afford chalk so I told him not to sweat it. Still, Scott insisted I take the chalk. So I did. And so began my tenure as a belay slave.

My ensuing friendship with Scott was of a more private nature. While an impressive climber Scott was also humble and never bragged up his stuff. My interactions with him were more as a regular guy who happened to be a really good climber than a "climbing god legend" in the making. I was naive. Perhaps this was part of the attraction for him. Scott climbed hard, could be a bit wiped at the end of a day, and would chill in his van for a bit back at my site with Team Husky before his exodus down the hill to the blue duplex he called home. These were the times when we got into our more in depth discussions. I don’t recall specific topics. Scott was attending Copper Mountain College and concerned with social justice issues like Apartheid. I had a degree in Biology and probably talked of things like "Replicating robots, pushing around our grains of sand", and the behavioral ecology of parental care strategies. Scott liked learning and I’d sometimes rattle off scientific names and talk about desert plant ecology [5] The intellectuals in each of us had a venue.


One specific memory that does come to mind is not of a rousing topic of discussion itself but rather of Scott momentarily pausing during such, reaching around to his front seat, pulling out a green box, and offering me some Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies. This I can still see vividly. Curious that I cannot recall specific topics but yet such a seemingly small and random act of sharing, eh? [6]

Speaking of which, by then I’d given up protesting the block of chalk ritual and simply began extending the sharing of the wealth to various other low income dirtbags. In retrospect, although I did not realize this at the time, Scott likely knew all too well the value of a block of chalk to a climbing bum from his early years in Camp 4, as this seemingly simple act took on a ripple effect. The value, perhaps, being far greater in the act of the repeated giving than that given.

Share What You Have

Another memory is from out at the Bachar Top Rope Wall. I’d been in slavin' mode for Buffalo Soldiers, Rastafarian, etc. Another group of climbers had rigged a cord on Baby Apes and I was keen to give it a go. Never mind that is was way over my head. Others in the group were drowning my attempt in their derision. I was beating myself up over my unsuccessful effort and walked a bit away from the group, whereupon Scott and Hidetaka each took a moment to encourage me privately. Scott pointing out that I should not be intimidated by petty jealousies, etc. Hidetaka quietly patted me on the back, told me I’d made a good first effort and to keep trying - he knew I could do it. Real friends build you up rather than tear you down.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will
forget what you do, but people will never forget how you made them
feel."  --Maya Angelou

I recall some of these same folks taking a stab at the apartheid routes, flailing, and complaining that Scott’s routes were all "reach problems". Whereupon, rather than debate the issue, Scott tied back in and climbed as if he were Lynn Hill [7]. Well, okay, maybe not that short but you can take my meaning.

Actions are loud

Ironically, I don’t recall talking climbing very much with Scott. I guess I could talk climbing all day long with anyone and didn’t miss it. Your mileage may vary but I never heard Scott trash talk other climbers. Even others who sniped at him. You know the games that some climbers play. Scott didn’t seem to crave adulation or holding court. On occasions we did talk climbing, it was about the important stuff. I remember him listening attentively and asking questions about the rock, scene, and my experiences at Smith Rocks. And me waxing on about the superb quality of the rock was at the City. I remember how excited I was to learn that he’d been to Patagonia, a then dream of mine, and awaited tales of the adventure with bated breath only to hear Scott lament about how bad the weather had been and what a waste of money it had been. Only time I can remember him being negative. I suspect he saw it differently on down the road a piece.

By then it was all about the climbing for me. I’d become disillusioned (to put it mildly) by the ubiquitous incompetency in resource management stemming from political compromises and outright lies ever holding sway over the realities of population biology and mathematical ecology. I abandoned government gigs in favor of raping and pillaging in the Bering Sea Pollock fishery to get myself a piece of the pie while it was still good for the gettin'. Late Fall and Winter in the Bering could generate enough cold hard cash to fuel the rest of the year living out of my truck. By the time my contracts were done and crew shares settled, places other than Josh were in season, within my climbing lexicon and calling to me so I spent the bulk of my time climbing elsewhere. I didn’t get to know Scott as well as I would have liked. I never actually climbed a route with him, even an easy one, and my slavin' spanned perhaps a dozen or so engagements mixed with a few other chance encounters. I’ve still no fame and glory guidebook stories. Nevertheless I thought of Scott as a good friend, with an emphasis on good, and wanted to share how "Scott could make a belay slave day into a really good day".

"Dont cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  --Dr. Suess

Closing Thoughts

During the memorial I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with a few of the "movie people" in attendance. Luke, a young man getting started the industry, recounted how helpful Scott had been to him his first days on the job [8], taking him under wing, and how grateful he was for that. Enough so that he’d flown in from Canada to attend. Todd posits that perhaps I came the farthest by car. Todd further opined about what a testament that was to just what an amazing guy Scott was and the impact he had on people. I just replied; "Yep."

I don’t hang out on climbing forums and learned of Scott’s death the Wednesday prior to the memorial. Whilst hurriedly raiding the pantry to pack food for the trip, I spied my wife’s Girl Scout Cookie stash. She likes Thin Mint too so I poached a box. To share. Regrettably I forgot to grab them for the walk with Scott. If you have them around, please do indulge.

In closing, I’d like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to those who helped put this event together. It was great to get to meet and share stories with others and come to know Scott better. I am the richer for it. It was an honor to be there honoring Scott.

Rest in peace, brother and thank you for sharing some of the best of times.

Mush Puppy Ken

1. My Siberian Huskies, Willy (red and bi-eyed) and Jory (grey and missing the tip of an ear). Beautiful sights to behold and damn good friends. Could be extended to include me, as well as other humanoid members of the pack, depending on context. We were less beautiful to behold and probably needed a shower.
2. a.k.a. Todd Gordon, "The Mayor".
3. Some people know this guy as John Long.
4. How we referenced time spent in cities, not living "in the outside" at Hidden Valley Campground. Climbing was not so mainstream yet. Could also allude to then counter culture aspects of the Hidden Valley Campround locals. To the best of my recollection, I first heard Paul Borne use this verbiage.
5. My first exposure to Joshua Tree National Monument had been through a college Ecology of California Native Plant Communities course.
6. A nod to the Cannucks, with all due respect. It was only at the Memorial that I learned Scott had dual citizenship.
7. Lynn Hill is a world class climber at 5'2".
Tags: jtree bitd in memoriam rock climbing