If they had asked 80 years later, Mallory would most certainly have famously quipped "Because you get to climb with Jeff Schoen."
In my stunned agony I'm force to confront the most horrible truth -- if I even had the wisdom to change Jeff would I have? For I loved Jeff just the way he was. His quirkiness was what was so damn endearing and fun and altogether great about Jeff. Friendships, however ephemeral, complex, and difficult to define, are easy to measure: I liked hanging with Jeff. I just damn liked being with him.
Jeff was fun. Jeff was fun to talk -- well listen -- to. Jeff was just fun. And insightful. And caring. He had so many insights and talents that it is utterly inconceivable that he could not have foreseen the one so damn obvious truth that would have saved his life: to see all the joy and brightness he brought to so many many others. Because Jeff was about making others lives worth living. About making others happy. Having spent his entire life brightening spirits by just being himself, Jeff tragically became blinded to his magical gifts.
Jeff was the one Anne and I admired for truly living life in the moment. He was the free spirit that so organically and naturally shined on such obvious truths about what is important in life: friendships.
But Jeff, while making you feel good about yourself, never sacrificed the brutal truth. His round about, seemingly non sequitur, contemporaneous, free association, stream of consciousness always had an frighteningly insightful point. Usually a brutal truth about my personal flaws, delivered in such a gentle and non-threatening way, that I had no choice but to confront it. I'm much slower than Jeff and it would always take a long time to unwind what he was saying but it was always worth unwinding. It was always true. Jeff always made sense eventually. Except once. Just once he was so so tragically wrong.
You certainly would never count on Jeff to be anywhere on time but you could always depend on Jeff to be there at exactly the right time. When we lost a few pregnancies Jeff was there to say just exactly what Anne so badly needed to hear at that dark moment. Jeff, rarely a man of few words, instinctively knew when to say just the right words.
The volumes of anecdotes and Jeffism will continue to fill endless hours of campfire banter. I can't do justice to Jeff stories here. While Anne and I cry away these days of pure sadness we invariably end up recalling Jeff stories and breaking out in hysterics. Even in the depths of such tragic lose, Jeff's indomitable spirit can not be snuffed out.
Nor can I begin to do justice to Jeff's climbing. His strength and talents were what the rest of us can only dream of. Jeff's climbing only lacked in ego. For as in the rest of his life Jeff always put others first. It wasn't just that he was always there for my trivial obsessions. It was that he was always there and fully engrossed and equally obsessed but with some perspective on whatever nonsense I felt had to be climbed. I may have only spent a good portion of my climbing days with Jeff, but a very large portion of my fondest climbing memories are with Jeff. For a day with Jeff, whether we flailed or sent or just sat around and talked, was always memorable.
Jeff didn't just throw up FAs. He agonized over them. Our endless bolting bickering was never the typical ego driven drivel. He certainly didn't need the protection. He was just concerned -- actually obsessed -- that others be able to enjoy his climbs. He fretted for years that no one climbed his stunning Chapel Wall route Lighten Up. [Like a magnificent, well protected arete, 100yrds from the Valley floor never saw traffic!] So when I mentioned that it was dirty he went right up there -- well as straight and direct as Jeff did anything -- and rescrubbed the route. So put a smile on Jeff's face and climb Lighten Up. Like Jeff, it's an engaging, tricky to read, anything but straight forward, beautiful climb. And remember that the dirt is there [it sits near a wash] only because we no longer have Jeff to make our climbing and lives so much more enjoyable.
Only once did Jeff, in all the years I've known him, just pipe down and do for himself. And that was Deb. Deb was too special and Jeff knew it. He found a soul mate in Deb and sent big time!!! Marrying Deb was the happiest moment in Jeff's life. It was the only thing he didn't spend hours and hours talking about but just did. OK, so he did spend hours and hours talking about Deb. Of course he did. But he didn't hesitate and won over the soul mate he deserved.
These last few months Jeff had been mumbling 'take' and I kept plying out the rope. However desperate, Jeff strengths were too great, his abilities too many, his knowledge too vast that there was just no way Jeff would not pull whatever imaginary crux he was facing and set the anchor. Until -- while those who so loved him frantically and heroically reeled in the cord -- the micro nubbins Jeff was so fiercely gripping crumbled, and there was nothing left to cling to, and the rope went shooting out the belay plate and a giant, gapping hole was forever seared through our hearts.