A new view of coming home

A trip to Greenland was only the start of a life-changing summer for Lyons' Lizzy Scully

A view of peaks in Greenland.
Photo courtesy of Lizzy Scully

Greenland is a theater for the adventurous, a place where snow-capped, granite mountains rise from the ocean and reach for an impossibly blue sky. Greenland rock is some of the oldest on planet Earth, estimated at 3.8 billion years old. It is solid, beautifully sculpted and virtually untouched. For Lizzy Scully, the opportunity to climb in this remote and primitive place represented the culmination of 20 years of technical rock climbing.

Originally from Virginia, Scully, 40, began climbing in her early 20s and quickly developed an impressive résumé. Within a few years of taking up the sport, she had scaled big walls in Yosemite and ticked off classic routes in Utah like Finger of Fate in the Fischer Towers and Spaceshot in Zion National Park. A relationship that blossomed at Yosemite led her to move to Colorado with her partner in her mid-20s. He eventually left, but Colorado stuck for Scully. The worldclass climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park satisfied her vertical desires and her career as a professional writer and multimedia developer took off. Scully eventually settled in Lyons, a place where she could get her outdoor fix and be part of a tight-knit community. Here, her cheerful and determined personality would flourish.

“I’m not a professional climber,” says Scully, “but I’m definitely an obsessive rock climber and have been for 20 years now. I don’t really climb that hard. I just have a good head in the mountains and I move quickly, so I can get big stuff.”

Scully is being modest with her climbing abilities. One does not set one’s sights on unclimbed terrain in Greenland without having accrued serious experience and skill. Beyond the technical aspects of the actual climbing, organizing an international expedition proved to be a tiring and daunting task. Using her connections in the climbing world along with her savvy in social media, Scully was able to fund the trip and put together a solid team.

Lizzy Scully in Greenland | Photo by John Dickey

When “Team Glitterbomb” set off in early July to western Greenland, Scully was joined by climbers Quinn Brett, 32, Prairie Ciel Larronde Kearney, 30, and photographer John Dickey, 38. With perfect weather and ideal rock conditions, the ambitious climbers put up three impressive first ascents in two weeks of climbing: “Plenty for Everyone” (5.10 /11-, 1,800 feet) on The Barnes Wall; “Morning Luxury” (5.11a/b, 1,400 feet) on The Breakfast Spire; and “Four Quickies” (5.10, 500 feet) on The Submarine Wall.

The trip was turning out to be an amazing success. Team Glitterbomb would have likely put up another new route had an event halfway around the world not brought the expedition to a halt: Andrew Barnes, 27, a friend of the group who was very close with Quinn Brett, perished in a rock climbing accident in Colorado’s Black Canyon.

* * * *

Scully was the first to receive the news on the team’s satellite radio. She describes the moments that followed in a blog she wrote for Mountaingear.com:

I shake John’s tent to wake him up and share the news. I can’t keep it to myself any longer.

“Oh my god,” he says. “I know … How can I tell her?” I respond. I tell Prairie soon thereafter, when she gets up for coffee. She says only, “No … This is so unexpected. I will tell her.”

I see John’s and my worry reflected in her eyes. They are unsmiling, a state that is rare for this cheerful woman. But she is familiar with death of loved ones.

Hearing Quinn’s cry of anguish, I feel suddenly as if a hot, heavy blanket has fallen over me. John puts his head in his hands. When I finally hug her an hour later, I have nothing to say but, “I’m so sorry, so sorry, so sorry…”

We are all shocked.

The adventure was over. Years of training, planning and dreaming had been cut short by a tragic event far away. The highs had been blissfully high and the lows devastatingly low. It was a lot to digest. Little did Scully know the intense events in her life were to continue upon her return to Lyons in late July.

Barely removed from the triumph and tragedy in Greenland, Scully’s hometown of Lyons was demolished in the unexpected “100-Year Flood” that tore through Colorado’s Front Range beginning Sept. 11. While her own property was safely perched on high ground, the destruction of her community was almost too much to bear.

“I was confused for weeks, about six in fact. Depressed, sad. Very sad,” says Scully. “My town was destroyed. It’s super painful still to see all the destruction. I have dealt with it by developing closer ties with people in town, developing much deeper friendships and a much tighter connection to people. That aspect has been awesome.”

Somehow finding the strength to remain upbeat even in times of great distress has given Scully a new perspective on her life and what it means when one grand adventure has reached its conclusion.

“I’ve learned that I’m totally tired of traveling, that I want to be home more than I ever have in my life,” she says. “I just want to be here. To experience the seasons, have a huge garden, get chickens, start a family. I want to hang out on my front porch, play my mandolin, have dinner parties, really get to know people in this town and continue to foster the great relationships I have developed since the floods.

“Greenland was great. My partners were fabulous but they are in a different stage of their lives — the two women. They want to travel and be wild. I want to be home. Greenland was my last hurrah. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to climb cool, big stuff again, but it’s not my priority. I’m super happy with what I have achieved in my climbing career. I’ve never been ‘the best’ at climbing, but I’ve always had amazing experiences, met wonderful people along the way and I have managed to climb some super-fantastic new routes and repeats of other routes. I’m super-lucky.”

On a glorious autumn day in Lyons, the sun streams through the last stubborn leaves clinging to the barren treetops. Piles of debris remain strewn at the base of the foothills, where undamaged homes sit quietly above the destruction. In this community where lives are being rebuilt and reimagined, Scully reflects on an intense season.

“After all that happened I just realized that every moment is precious. I am an active meditator — I meditate almost daily and have for eight or so years,” she says. “Meditation, therapy and losing so much really reminds me to be grateful. Amazingly grateful for everything I get to do, for every day that I climb, for every warm afternoon I get to sit on my front porch, for the clients I have, for my incredible friends. I am the luckiest person in the world, sometimes.”

Lizzy Scully is partnering with the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance and Oskar Blues to do a flood relief fundraiser on Thursday, Jan. 16. Scully will open the event with a brief multimedia presentation on Greenland, and then BMA will show the premiere of Arrival, a freeride mountain bike film. All proceeds from the door and auction will go directly to Lyons Parks & Rec to help them rebuild the St. Vrain River Corridor Trail. Please stay tuned by visiting Scully´s tumblr blog, lizzy.scully.tumblr.com.

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