Thinking of Chris

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Here in the White Mountains of New Hampshire this morning, I can look over the edge of my laptop’s screen, and there’s snow on the peaks of Mount Adams and Mount Madison. Today, though, I’m occupied planning a summer of trail running around the Swiss Alps, including a number of trail races and, with my friends, co-leading two great tours.

Busy with these details, my mind still keeps returning to Chris Longbottom. Chris, one of the really enthusiastic voices when I first started focusing on trail running in the Alps, is gone– swept away in an avalanche on February 9th, in the Valais. He died not far from the hotel he recently purchased in the village of Trient, high on the border with France. Chris had big plans for the place, but serendipity can be tragic, and now those of us who counted him as a friend are left with the unanswerable existential questions that live at the heart of our adventurous lives.

Chris and I after the Fully-Sorniot trail race. That  long stride was a good advantage!

Chris and me after the Fully-Sorniot trail race. That long stride was a good advantage!

I can’t write about Chris, without letting anyone who might cross this remembrance know that he was one of the really great trail runners in his part of Switzerland. A six-time runner of the UTMB, Chris had competed in nearly every trail race in this part of the Alps, with strong times that showed he was diligent and focused, with no lack of natural abilities. But, mostly, he was enthusiastic, and it was infectious. Several years ago, when my interest in mountain running was just a budding addiction, I sat down in a Champéry café with Chris and opened up a map of the region. The areas shown stretched from Lake Geneva to Saas Fee—a wide swath of Switzerland’s most rugged terrain. The map was a red cobweb of routes—literally, a thousand or more kilometers of trails, with a head-spinning amount of vertical.  Together, we were eyeing the map for clues to great trail runs. I asked the novice’s question, “So, how many of these have you run?” Chris returned a blank stare, like the question didn’t compute. “I’ve run them all.” It was a memorable moment. I knew I was dealing with someone more than a bit out of the ordinary.

Chris was strong, and his British roots meant that he was typically understated. Late last winter, I met him in Champery. Up the Rue du Village, I saw his sturdy 6-foot-4 frame coming towards me in the distance. But, the gait was all wrong. He was practically hopping on one foot. “What happened?”  It looked painful. “Nothing much. Hit a bit of an icy patch on an early season run. Went for a bit of a slide.” I imagined him tumbling down the Grand Combin, brushing off the mud, and shaking his head in disgust at all that lost vertical.

Chris at his hotel, the Auberge Mont Blanc.

Chris at his hotel, the Auberge Mont Blanc.

In Sebastian Unger’s book, The Perfect Storm, there’s the story of a rescue swimmer who is dropped from a helicopter into 100-foot-high waves, during an heroic rescue attempt. He was one of the strongest swimmers the Coast Guard had ever known. And, somehow, he just… vanished. His fellow rescuers simply assumed he would eventually find his way to the shore, shake himself off, and ask for a ride home. That he’s gone, seems somehow incomprehensible. The world wasn’t suppose to work this way.

That’s exactly the way I feel about Chris. I expect him to dig himself out somewhere, shake himself off, and ask for a beer. I know it’s not going to happen, of course. The Valais has lost one of those rare, larger-than-life characters and one of its most enthusiastic mountain runners. As I go on with planning a summer of activities on the trails Chris loved, I do so with him never far from my mind.  Our time here is short, and sometimes shorter than we’d ever imagine. There’s not a lot of solace to be found in such a sudden, traumatic loss, but I take some comfort knowing that Chris packed more than a lifetime of adventures into his all-too-short stay.

 
“The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights, and shades; these I saw.  Look ye also while life lasts.” – From a plaque on the mantel at the home of Olaus and Mardy Murie’s home, originally seen on a gravestone in Cumberland, England.

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Thinking of Chris

  1. Hi Doug!

    I am so very sorry for your loss. Chris will always be with you, probably on most of your spectacular runs!

    Big hug,
    Gracie

  2. Wonderful words Doug. Chris’ mother, Elisabeth, forwarded me the link to your blog and it’s made my morning reading about another aspect of Chris’ action packed life! I grew up with Chris and our childhood was always full of adventure (and some entrepreneurship on Chris’ part!). It came as no surprise that he made such a success of his life doing the things he loved. After not seeing Chris for many years we met up in Champery in 2006 when my girlfriend Kendal and I stayed at one of his chalets.

    After a big hike we met up with Chris on the afternoon of Bastille day and shared a few beers in the Alpine sunshine. Chris was the first person we told that I’d just proposed to Kendal earlier that day (she said yes!). He insisted on driving us down to Evian that evening to celebrate our good news and bought us dinner (and more beers were consumed!).

    On the way home Chris pulled the car over by Lake Geneva and insisted we all go for a moonlight swim. Within seconds Chris was butt naked running into the water, and we had no choice but to strip off and follow suit! The lake was warm and calm with the stars and moon reflected on the surface. It was a beautiful moment to share with a great old friend and my wife to be.

    I think this is how I’ll remember Chris. It exemplified his free spirit, adventure, and love of the great outdoors. I’m just gutted we don’t get to see him again. The world is not the same without Chris.

    Thanks again Doug for writing this article. I can’t imagine how you kept up with Chris on those runs! Two strides to his one I expect! I agree with Graciela’s comment. Chris will be running by your side on those trails! :o)

    • My wife and I met Chris when he acted as our guide along with Cedric Belanger on out Tour de Mont Blanc walk several years ago. he was irrepressible, always enthusiastic, dashing off here and there. On one occasion he walked with us all day then in the evening as we went for dinner he hopped onto his bike rode 100miles over at least 2 mountain passes to service his mountain bikes for another party and yet still appeared the next day to walk with us.
      As we climbed from Fuey alongside the Triente glacier it was clearly a place he loved. At the pass he stretched out along a cantilevered rock high above the glacier and dozed off!
      Although, we had not seen him for several years we always looked at his tour brochures and promised ourselves that we would have at least one other walk or ride with him before we got too old.
      We were deeply saddened to learn of his untimely death and our sympathies go to his wife and family.
      A true character v sadly missed.

  3. Well what can I say, I only found out last week and I am absolutely gutted. I thought “I haven’t heard from Chris for a while, I’ll send him an email, I could do with cheering myself up”. I couldn’t get in touch, then I stumbled across the newspaper article.
    I first met Chris in 2001 when me and my wife along with other members of the family went on one of his cycling holidays, during that trip my wife asked him if he knew anything about skiing as we would like to learn, we too got that blank stare! “Of course I know about skiing, not only will I find you a place to stay, I will teach you all to ski as well”. So we booked his chalet in Champery for the next season and true to his word, Chris and his mate Kieran turned up to teach us. I don’t think we had a laugh as good as that in years! We couldn’t get down the initial slope to the green run, so Chris decided to ski backwards and hold me upright as I ploughed. I ended up getting lower and lower as my plough got wider until my face was planted in his crotch! Everybody else cracked up and ended up falling in a heap laughing!
    He took me under his wing as he saw me as a bit more adventurous like himself and a couple of hours later we were doing a red run back down to the village.
    That was it, we were hooked. We continued going to Switzerland for the next 10 years, summer and winter and became good friends with Chris, he had me doing all sorts of skiing that I never would have had the chance to do without him guiding me. He even helped us look for a chalet to buy. We were his first customers in his property venture.
    He was always willing to do us a good deal in exchange for me recording British comedies onto DVD for him, The league of gentlemen was his favourite! “this chalet is only for local people” he would say to me.
    The funniest time was when he told me he was looking for a girlfriend but was a bit shy talking to women. So the grand plan was for me to be his wingman and we would go ‘on the pull’ in Verbier. Let’s just say it didn’t go well, but it was great fun.
    The last time I saw him was at his house with his dog Roy. They were the perfect match, both as crazy as each other. He contacted me to say he was doing a mountain run tournament and he was the only one limping at the start. He played with Roy by dangling his sock from the end of his foot and letting Roy grab it. This time though, Roy thought Chris was playing and grabbed Chris’ sock with his foot still in it and bit all five toes!
    Here’s to you Chris! Next time our group go skiing, we will all raise a glass in your memory. If it wasn’t for you, we would never have gone skiing in the first place and we have gone every year for 2 weeks since our first adventure with you. Cheers mate!

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