VAIL — Friends and family members of the late Ryan Palmer gathered on Eagle’s Nest Ridge this past week to celebrate the local resident’s life and spread his ashes.
Palmer was born on Christmas Day in 1977; on July 19 he fell to his death while hiking Capitol Peak in Pitkin County.
Palmer’s mother and step-father, along with his sisters and brother-in-law were visiting from North Carolina and Pennsylvania to attend the celebration, which they scheduled for Palmer 36th birthday. But travel complications nearly prevented the celebration, as the family found themselves stranded in Newark on the way here.
“That’s just Ryan messing with us,” the family said of the travel delays
At about 4 p.m., Palmer’s family spread his ashes over the groomed surface of upper Simba run in Vail, a tribute they say he would have found fitting.
“I know you loved these mountains,” Palmer’s mother, Rosemary Guarino, said through tears as she dispersed handfuls of ashes onto the snowy surface.
‘BROTHER IN SPIRIT’
Joining Palmer’s family and friends was Dan Palmer, of Fort Collins, a man who never met Ryan Palmer and has no relation to the Vail hiker despite having same last name, yet describes himself as Palmer’s “brother in spirit.”
Six weeks after Ryan Palmer suffered his tragic mishap on Capitol Peak, Dan Palmer found himself in the same situation.
After crossing the fearsome “knife ridge” en route to the top of 14,130-foot Capitol Peak, Ryan Palmer and Dan Palmer both decided not to turn around and cross it again on their way back down.
For Ryan Palmer, the decision would prove fatal.
For Dan Palmer, the hindsight gleaned from Ryan Palmer’s experience would save his life.
“I had heard about Ryan. A month before I went out there I read the clip in the paper about him,” Dan Palmer said on Wednesday. “And then I got out there, I knew not to and yet I found myself in the same situation anyway. How or why, I don’t have an answer for that.”
Palmer says he has experienced a few moments of what he calls “synchronicity” in his life, and that was one of them.
“It was the most frightening synchronicity I have ever experienced,” he said.
Armed with the knowledge of what happened to the man who shared his name, Dan Palmer made a call to mountain rescue, and later a helicopter came and saved him. He says in the days that have followed, he’s been thinking a lot about Ryan Palmer.
“I went through a divorce seven years ago and my life has been pretty isolated in the last few years, I’ve lived a life of solitude. My brother also died recently and I don’t have a lot of people, I didn’t have anyone to be with today (on Christmas Day), so the fact that his birthday is on Christmas feels like a gift to me. When the family contacted me and asked me to be here, I was very touched.”
Ryan Palmer’s friends spent the days skiing and snowboarding before attending the celebration of life.
“We worked together, and we had the same days off, so we always rode together for about four years or so,” Ahmad Almadhoun said. “He was out there today with us.”
The group sang happy birthday to Palmer, shared a few stories and some tears.
Friends carried with them some of Palmer’s effects; his friend Carl Thompson wore blue in honor of the bluebird Colorado days Palmer so loved, and friend and former coworker Kayla Wittich wore a flannel shirt that used to belong to Palmer.
In another moment described by Dan Palmer as synchronicity, Palmer’s friend Courtney Hopkins experienced some pass confusion trying to load the Eagle Bahn Gondola to attend the celebration. Hopkins carries Palmer’s ski pass with her, and when the liftie attempted to scan her pass, it picked up Palmer’s instead, causing the gun to play the Beatles’ song “Birthday” as is the custom at Vail when a guest’s season pass is scanned on his or her birthday.
“Everybody started laughing and crying,” Wittich said. “It was awesome.”