John Zazzara, clad in his armor. Photo by Tony
- RichardCaliger -
Marek Damm and Richard
Calliger June 23-28th 2005
Cruz from a trip to Lee
Vining I sadly missed
- My friend John Zazzara was lost on Mt. McLoughlin, OREGON,
37 miles east of Medford and 35 miles west of Klamath Falls. At coordinates
10-0556714; E-6498866 or 22.214.171.124 W 126.96.36.199
John Zazzara was a long time climbing friend-
he loved ice-climbing and would invite me when ever he went even though
I did not care too much for the ice.
We had many mutual friends and enjoyed several trips together. I
liked hearing his stories of travel around the world. On one trip we had
climbed Conness together, and he being John, went in gym shoes
and a small ice axe and literally flew to the summit... this was
unplanned (we were just going to reconnoiter for the next day, but
conditions were good but clouding up, so John blasted up to
capture the summit successfully.)
We reunited at base camp at Saddlebag Lake as the clouds moved in
and the snow started to fly. After about 4 inches accumulated we
realized we were lucky to have the attempt to climb and John to have
summitted. John and I, mostly John, built an huge fire and enjoyed some
refreshments together and traded stories that night. We became close and
I shared some innermost thoughts and experiences with him that night.
Upon hearing John was reported missing on Tuesday- a week after
he was lost..I was appalled to hear that the SAR team had given up
without finding him. Later I learned they of course did a great job with
what they knew. But since I knew John I thought I could figure out where
he would climb on McLoughlin. I studied the mountain, printed out the
data and threw what I thought I would need in the car for 2 weeks. I was
determined not to come back until he was found.
Before leaving I got an email from a friend, Tony Cruz, that
another friend of Johns' was going up. I found out later it was a best
climbing partner of John's; and so I linked up with Marek Damm, who
eventually found John.
Marek and I strategized where John would climb. After a 7am
start, we searched all day with Marek going high to the summit and I
went to the south and west below Marek. This was after Marek the day
before combed every possible hole on the other side of the mountain that
John may have been trapped in. To no avail.
At about 2PM I found what I thought were John's marker wands, as
he showed me similar wands on previous trips he used to mark his route
up the mountain.
I called the Sheriff and the SAR folks from my location with my
cell and determined that no one on their teams marked the search with
wands. So I knew I was onto something. I called Marek but could not get
Marek and I finally linked up at about 8000 feet and we
strategized further and searched the avalanche fields with my high
powered binoculars- to no avail. I laid on the edge of the ridge line
for almost an hour combing every inch of the avalanche fields. Meanwhile
I saw Marek in the distance heading for the summit. We passed Marek's
tent in the distance and left it several hundred feet below-- Marek was
prepared to live on the mountain until John was found having hauled 2
weeks of food to his base camp.
As I started my search pattern again, I looked up about 500 feet
and Marek was backlit by the sun and I remembered previous trips with
John ahead of me lit by the sun. For a moment I thought it was John
standing there as Marek was bravely silhouetted in the sun with his
helmet and proud erect posture near the edge of the cliff, scanning the
upper snow fields for any indication of his close friend..all to avail.
All day the mountain was talking to us...playing tricks of shadows of
the rocks and snow depressions... was that John? "Where are you John" we
shouted over and over again as we searched.
I would yell out, then Marek would yell out, and again...we felt
the tears of loss well up many times.
As I traversed across the steep snow- I did not bring my helmet
and ice axe in the haste to find John- such a beautiful but non-complex
peak lent to the non-need of this gear...I resorted to sitting in the
snow to inch and scrunch across the steep slope so I would not become a
I found more of John's wands!
Later we would find these were the same wand's in John's
As the day grew old, I tired and started descending about 5PM.
Little that I knew that at 5:20, directly above the wanded route- Marek
would find John terribly crushed against a lone rock- 1 or 2 inches to
the left or a foot or two the right and John might have been spared from
his fall. Marek mobilized the Sheriff and and SAR with his 911 call.
As I made it back to the trail head at about 10PM I came across
the SAR team 2 preparing to bed down for an early morning attempt to
bring John down the mountain. I was concerned for Marek as neither he
nor I could spend the night on the mountain knowing John was there.
Marek was descending the mountain carrying probably 75 lbs or
more of gear. In the pitch of dead black night with only a small
headlamp. So I was concerned and asked the SAR folks to help me go out
and meet Marek and help haul his gear down. They joined and about 1am
Marek and all were safely down the mountain. We bivied that night and
rejoined the team at the trail head later that morning. And we
eventually reclimbed the mountain to be with the SAR folks getting him
off the mountain. The helicopter crew and SAR folks were totally
professional and competent as the chopper barely cleared Marek's head to
start their recovery protocol. I watched, again, from a few hundred feet
below and shivered as John was taken away.
I was happy we came to find John and very pleased that Marek was
the one to find John as they did many many more climbs together than
John and I.
- John's final departure from the mountain
John was a consummate mountaineer...in spirit and actions. He would
give you the shirt off his back and stop what he was doing to teach you a
new technique. He died doing what he loved and I am very very proud to
have known him.
Today, the 28th of June, 2005, I have returned home, very sad. I
received a call from Lt. Rod of the Sheriffs department that John had
appeared to have suffered a massive heart attack on the mountain. Three of
the four of his major vessels were almost 95% clogged! Maybe his asthma
was mis diagnosed and it was heart disease all along! We can only
conjecture as John did forget his inhaler several times on trips! John was
strong and I never knew of his condition and it was a sad surprise ...
.and at the same time...a wonderful relief that my friend clearly died
fighting his attack and subsequent fall as evidenced by the deep marks on
his right wrist from his ice axe strap.
John did not let the mountain take him! That was wonderful to hear.
He died after reaching the summit and in something totally beyond his
control. I am sure he was proudly and happily and safely and
professionally making his way across the steep snow field when his heart
- Marek to the left, Lt. Rod Dailey and Richard on the right after
- Richard Calliger
June 28th, 2005
Mi Wuk Village,
I am proud to have known him.