Alas, Bean Bowers of Ridgeway, Colorado (and many other places as well) recently died of cancer. This was a double tragedy as; 1) Bean was only 38, and 2) he had survived so many outrageous incidents that cancer seemed an unlikely way for him to go. RIP Bean.
I met Bean at a few climbing gathering, but really got to know him when I was putting together a ski/kiting trip down to the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap in 2005. I asked a mutual friend, Kris Erickson, if “Bean” was Bean’s real name, to which Kris replied, “Hmmm, I don’t think so, but for a nickname, “Meat” or “Brick” would be more fitting.” Bean was a very tough mofo with a heart of gold. As I was asking Bean for info on the Ice Cap, he eventually asked “Who’s going?” It was only Ben Ditto and myself at the time, so I said the trip was open if he knew of anyone else who was interested. A minute later, he was signed up. I was surprised, and not surprised, as like many great all-around Alpinists, Bean was mainly known for his climbing skills, but was also a shredding skier.
After getting underway, we trekked up Rio Electrico, and decided to do a warm up run on a peak named Gorra Blanca (White Hat – pardon my Spanish). Bean knew the history of the area and didn’t think it had been skied from the top as the summit was guarded by a classic Patagonia ice mushroom. We cramponed our way around a weakness in the ‘shroom and soon enough I was on top with Bean. I was busy being blown away by all of the scenery, so Bean asked if I’d mind if he started down the run. “By all means – be my guest. Let me take a few photos.”
Bean made a few turns in the thin summit powder and then went fully bases up and into a low orbit before falling out of sight. I was sure I had just witnessed his death, so my first thoughts were “Don’t panic – we don’t need a second victim.” My second thought was of his girlfriend. Bean was going out with Helen Motter (they were later married) who I first met when she was going out with Hans Saari, who fell to his death skiing in Chamonix. The thought of calling her with a double dose of bad news wasn’t appealing.
I worked my way down the arete until I could see Ben and shouted down to him:
“Can you see Bean?”
“Is he okay?”
I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe it. Bean had gone a few hundred feet totally airborne before bouncing once and then sticking it on a fifty degree slope with blue ice, bershrunds and ice towers all around. He had landed on the one and only sliver of powder on that entire side of the mountain and somehow survived. He climbed back out to us, but right near the top a 15′ overhanging cornice blocked his path. Ben and I tied together every piece of webbing we had, anchored it to an ice axe and and threw it down to Bean who proceeded to Batman up it hand-over-hand. I had know know Bean for about four days total and was very impressed. And relieved.
A day later, our trip got even more exciting when we walked into one of the most intense storms any of us had ever experienced. We were camped on a rocky perch about a mile below a col that when the weather went from sunbathing to a howling hurricane which lasted roughly 3-4 days. After the first day our perch was covered in verglass, and even though we had repeatedly staked the tent out with everything we had (a total of 21 anchors, including pitons, cams, tent stakes, rocks, etc), I was sure we were going to lose the tent. The wind gusts were so strong and violent that the pressure from the tent collapsing was making my ears pop. When it got really bad, we’d put on everything we’d need to survive when/if the tent exploded, so at times we were sitting around in a tent fully clothed for skiing, including helmets and goggles. After about day two, we decided that it was alright to use waterbottles for pee bottles, so we wouldn’t have to go outside. Bean explained that it was okay as urine was sterile (I’ve since heard otherwise from less sporty partners), so the rest of the trip was flavored with, uhmmm, tangy water. We also spent quite a bit of time debating the merits of shitting on rocks in the vestibule and then throwing them out the door, but decided against it, which meant we had to get fully geared up for battle, including crampons, helmets and goggles to take a dump. Ever the optimist, Bean proclaimed that the best part of all of this was that because the wind was so strong, we wouldn’t need toilet paper. This became his battle cry as he’d head out for a dump: “Patagonia – it’ll rip the shit right out of yer ass!”
(As a humorous postscript, we finally decided to make a break from our camp, and after climbing a mile to the col… it was almost dead calm. We had been camped in the bulls-eye of a wind venturi. Hahaha. Oh well.)
Once we got up onto the icefield, it was time to kite. Bean had never kited before, so he was kind of nervous about it, but game. As often happens with kiting, once I launched, the wind turned out to be much stronger than expected, so it was a matter of hanging on for dear life while rocketing down the ice cap through 12″ of new snow and towing a sled. I was on the edge of control when I looked over and saw another kite next to me, which I assumed was Ben, as he was the more experience kiter. We continued on like this for about 45 minutes without really knowing where we were going when suddenly a STUNNING cirque appeared to our left. It turned out to be the famed Cirque of the Alters, which is the backside of the Torres (Egger, Cerro Torre, etc.).
The wind blew us into the cirque and died right at a perfect camp spot, and it was only then that I realized it was Bean, not Ben beside me, and man was he pumped up. This was his first time kiting and we had just covered what would be a brutal slog at blazing speed. All Bean could say for the first five minutes was “Holy shit! Holy shit! Holy Shit!” He then explained how he was talking to himself the whole way – “Come on Bean, focus, relax, stay calm, don’t crash. Focus Bean. Stay calm.” He was instantly addicted to kiting and for a guy who loved the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap, it was like finding religion.
We stayed in the Cirque of the Altars for about six days and did some of the most scenic and spectacular skiing I’ve ever experienced. Making turns where your spray washes up against the golden granite walls of Patagonia is a surreal experience. On one day, we followed a group of climbers up the shoulder of Cerro Torre who were doing the second ascent of the Ferrari (I think..?) Route. Bean was beside himself as this was something he had always wanted to climb, the weather was perfect and it looked like the party was going to make it. He was frothing at the mouth to jump on it, but settled for the ski descent instead.
Anyone who was lucky enough to spend time with Bean has similar stories. The guy lived life to the absolute fullest and when I last visited him and it was apparent that he was quite sick, he was still talking about his upcoming plans. But, if you never had a chance to meet Bean, I’ll share his secret Mac & Cheese recipe – boil pasta, add a pound of cheese and stir.
“Bean, that’s uhmm, pretty thick Mac & Cheese.”
“Yeah? How do you do it?”
“Well, I add some milk and maybe some butter and spices.”
“That would be Mac & Cheese & Milk & Butter & Spices. This is just Mac & Cheese.”