Jonny Copp took his first steps in a Nepalese campsite. He spent the first years of his life living in a jeep with a camper top that his parents drove from Thailand across Asia and Europe to a freighter bound for Baltimore. He liked to tell how he learned to light matches from a butcher in Kabul (who was supposed to be watching over him while his parents were scrounging up parts for the jeep). He was proud of that history, of how his parents had brought him into the world on an epic journey across the planet, and that beginning had an enormous influence on the gracious, ever-curious person he grew to become.
When Jonny died, along with his climbing partner Micah Dash and filmmaker Wade Johnson, in an avalanche on the slopes of China’s 21,712-foot Mount Edgar in May, I promised myself to try to live life more like they did.
I knew Jonny for years, had worked with him editing his magazine stories, gone mountain biking and powder skiing with him, bumped into him almost every day on the streets and in the coffee shops of Boulder (he even shot the cover of the first issue of this magazine). As anyone who knew him would tell, every time he ran into you, he listened to you. Yes, he would tell you about an upcoming trip up some unclimbed face on the far side of the world but you always felt he was honestly interested in your less-glamorous life. He greeted you with this big smile and easy bearing that made you feel as if you mattered.
I was just getting to know Micah. It wasn’t hard. I met him sitting next to me in a coffee shop when his ankle was broken. He was squirming like a caged rat and screaming into his phone, Sea kayaking! Alaska! … No, I have never done it. Who cares? He wasn’t going to be grounded and I knew immediately that he was Jonny’s climbing partner. Wade I did not know. He was not a climber on the scale of Jonny and Micah but a 24-year-old filmmaker about to study chemistry in grad school—but for those two to want him with them in the places that made them who they were, is all I need to know.
Jonny and Micah always focused on the purity of the line, on climbing alpine-style with only as much as they needed. They claimed numerous first ascents across the planet, but climbing was never really about being famous climbers or even reaching summits for them. It was about the beauty of the line, the challenge of meeting the mountain on its own terms. “Climbing is more than a physical act,” Jonny wrote. “And it’s much more than the numbers. I don’t get excited about calculating elevation gain or adding up route grades or clocking times. Rather it’s the journey that makes the climb.”
Sure, they could climb far better than you, but they never held that against you. What set them apart, what made thousands of us across the globe mourn them and the Boulder Theatre post “Long Live Jonny, Micah and Wade” on the marquee when they were gone was that they were like us. They were part of the tribe of those of us who live to be outside and value what we can bring to the world more than what we can take from it. Climbers, dirtbags, artists… they instilled their infectious joy in each of us who came into contact with them whether they were on the rock or sea kayaking or just downing espresso. They were our friends. Something feels absolutely irreplaceably empty in me now that they are gone, but, at the same, time I feel them here with me, every time I’m outside living fully, every time I smile. •