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MSNBC Home » Local news » Klamath Falls, OR » News
The Herald and News—Klamath Falls, OR

Tribute atop McLoughlin

The Herald and News

Published July 10, 2005 Marek Damm has climbed mountains for John Zazzara.

Actually, only one mountain, Mount McLoughlin. But three times, once on his friend's recommendation and once to search for him.

Saturday was the final time.

About 10 a.m., Damm and three other friends of Zazzara set out for the top of the mountain: Damm's wife, Izabella; Dennis Hiipakka of Weaverville, Calif., and Tony Cruz of Cupertino, Calif.

They carried with them a photo of Zazzara in climbing gear, taken by Cruz, and a small display of dried flowers, made by Izabella Damm, to place on the spot where the body of the Beaverton man was found.

The second time Damm climbed to the peak of the 9,495-foot volcano was two weeks ago, after search and rescue teams had called off a two-week hunt for Zazzara.

Damm, a Bay area climber, had heard the news that Zazzara was missing and the search had been abandoned. So he came to McLoughlin himself.

On June 24, he called the Klamath County Sheriff's Office to report that he had found Zazzara's body in a snowfield about 1,000 feet from the summit.

Initial reports cited head trauma as the cause of death, but an autopsy found that the climber had had a heart attack as well. It couldn't be determined whether the heart attack preceded the fall, or followed it.

As he prepared for Saturday's climb, Damm recalled Zazzara.

"He was my best friend," he said. "I have no words."

Damm's account of his experience searching for Zazzara is published on his Web site, Damm said every time he sat down to write the story, he became emotional.

"I couldn't write," he said. "Every time I began to put ideas down, I started crying."

Izabella Damm said her husband's effort demonstrated the depth of his friendship.

"For some people," she said, "friendship only means when you drink beer together or when you have free time."

Marek Damm said a memorial on the mountain was well suited for Zazzara.

"He loved mountains," Damm said. "He used to climb and hike like crazy."

Zazzara loved McLoughlin, too, they said, and had scheduled not only his climb in June but also a climb with some of his friends for this weekend.

Marek Damm said he wasn't such a fan of McLoughlin but had gone up one time previously, while Zazzara was alive, because his friend had urged him to.

Now, Damm said, he'll probably climb the mountain every year for the rest of his life.

"He doesn't feel alone anymore," Damm said while standing on McLoughlin's summit. "It's ironic. I never wanted to climb this mountain ... He would be happy to know I will climb it again and again and again.

"There's nothing more I can do for him."

Zazzara's friends described the Intel Corp. employee as almost overly friendly, always sharing gear and inviting other people to climb.

On Saturday, Zazzara's friends were not alone on the mountain. About a dozen hikers were seen on the trail to the summit of the volcano, one of Southern Oregon's most popular ascents. Hikers in good shape can make the 11-mile roundtrip without technical climbing gear.

Damm said that much of the snow had melted since his rescue climb. Forest Service Ranger Dwight Johnson, said 39 people had gone up the mountain Saturday a week ago.

His friends said the memorial for Zazzara they placed Saturday will eventually be swept away by nature.

Even though they plan to put a more permanent memorial on the rock near where he was found next year, Zazzara's friends said the memorial may not be what's important.

"It's not so much the fact that he's being memorialized, but that his friends were doing it," Cruz said.

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