Our friend and fellow Patagonia climbing ambassador Bean Bowers just finished his second round of chemotherapy.
It all seems so weird, so different. One of the best things about climbing is the feeling of control in unknown, even chaotic environments. I love that. We all do. The most adventuresome among us—people like Bean—inspire with their willingness to embrace wild situations, and they return with a glow that tells us everything. It’s such a contrast to a world that feels huge, cold, corporate, corrupt, where we feel powerless. In wilderness we escape and live, we get to control our selves and our destinies. Not everything is like that. Waking in the middle of the night puking, writhing with crippling headaches, your body suddenly racked with tumors is not like that.
So this is where we try to help.
[Helen and Bean in El Chalten, Argentine Patagonia, where they scraped by in a small cabin for several seasons. Photo: Kelly Cordes]
For those who don’t know much about him, here’s why we love Bean: Vibrant, burly, funny, strong, sharp, genuine. A true hardman, a tough bastard with a kind heart, loyal, never fake, a tell-it-like-it-is person. The real deal. He walks on a nearly fused ankle and climbs and skis harder than most of us ever will, never making excuses and always ready to give his best. The sort of person you want on your side when the shit hits the fan. We all know people like Bean, and we love them, they inspire us; they’re reflections of everything real in a too-often bullshit world. We like to think of them as invincible—hell, Bean survived a 100-foot whipper from the summit of Torre Egger in 2005, climbing with Jonny Copp and Josh Wharton. Bruised his back, but otherwise fine. A year later while approaching Fitz Roy’s north pillar in the dark, Bean slipped and pitched 50 feet on broken mixed terrain. He bounced, cursed, dusted himself off and he and Josh made the first free and first one-day ascent of the 4,000-foot Casarotto route. A day after descending, Bean returned to Fitz Roy with Helen and they swapped leads on a one-day ascent of the Franco-Argentine route for Helen’s first Patagonian summit. And then there’s the Legend of Aquaman, but I can’t even begin to do it justice here…it’s another classic Bean story—look for it in a catalog sometime late next fall.
Bean always seemed to have more than nine lives, has climbed scores of big routes around the world, and guided others on the adventures of their lifetimes. But, damn it, nobody is invincible. Around Christmas he severely broke his femur backcountry skiing. In early January he woke in the middle of the night vomiting, and with crippling headaches. Hours later he was in brain surgery. Tumors racked his body. Out of nowhere, no symptoms, Bean has stage 4 cancer.
It’s crazy sometimes to think about how vulnerable and fragile we are, while also being so resilient, so tough. The mysteries, contradictions and vagaries of life, I guess. And also the beauty.
Maybe right now, part of that beauty comes from trying to help a brother fight the good fight. People like Bean give us the confidence to see in ourselves what we admire in people like him, and the courage to live in a way that feels valuable. I hope we can give something back.
[Above, right - Helen and Bean Bowers on the summit of Fitz Roy. Photo: Bowers collection
Left - Bean at Independence Pass, Colorado. Photo: Kelly Cordes]