By Jim • 

Tragedy in South America hits close to home

A life of extreme adventure ended Dec. 29 when 41-year-old Eric Nourse of Greeley, Colo., and his pal David Reinhart, 42, of Lake Oswego, died just below the peak of Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua, at 22,841 feet — the highest mountain in South America. Their intent was to reach the summit via the Polish Glacier, the toughest route up the mountain. But acute altitude sickness took its toll on Eric and David, and both succumbed to complications from the illness, which can affect even the hardiest and most experienced climbers at high altitudes.

The only survivor of the tragedy was Eric’s twin brother Greg, who suffered from frostbite. A memorial was held for the David and Eric at the Multnomah Athletic Club on Saturday. It’s no exaggeration to say I shed more than a few tears when I learned of Eric’s death a day after his death. You see, I taught the twins at Gold Beach High School and coached them in football. They were two of the toughest kids I’ve ever met, and one day in junior varsity football practice, when Eric and Greg were both freshmen, Glen Litterell, the head coach, and I were concerned during tackling drills because no one would hit his teammate with any force. Most of the drill consisted of players trotting out between the pylons, assuming fetal positions, leaning against their teammates, then falling to the turf.

No harm. No foul.

But the purpose of the drill was to develop hitters using the correct fundamentals: head up, eyes through the ball, make contact, wrap up and finish the tackle. Sensing our frustration, Greg and Eric volunteered to go against each other. What a difference the two made in improving the atmosphere! The twins met pad-to-pad, smashing into each other like two mountain sheep as the sound of pads popping were like thunder over the Siskiyous. After about four or five demonstrations, the rest of the players said, okay, we get the idea. And we’ll put more effort into the drill, but just don’t match us up with Eric or Greg!

Such was the desire of the two to do everything to the utmost, and after high school, that’s how they led their lives, experiencing risk but getting the rewards of extreme adventures. They kayaked in the Pacific Ocean, they climbed Denali — twice — they rafted dangerous streams, scuba dived, snowboarded, skied, climbed more mountains and occasionally dabbled in “tamer” sports such as hunting, hiking, mountain biking and fly-fishing.

And they almost always did it together, often with good friend David Reinhart, who Eric and Greg met at Oregon State in the late 1980s. This went on for 23 years, and I’m sure the twins’ mom, Colleen Combs, who owns a popular restaurant in Gold Beach and was a former teacher, worried when her boys took on another adventure that had potential danger written all over it. But, she also knew Eric and Greg were living their lives to the fullest and wouldn’t have been happy with desk jobs or sedentary hobbies.

Now, Greg has to go on without his brother, and the family of both Eric and David are grieving. But they’re also remembering Eric and David as adventurous souls, two men, who along with Greg, liked to challenge the wilderness, climb the highest mountains and kayak the fastest waters — and do it together as the three amigos.

I’ll remember both Eric and Greg as good-looking young men, very athletic, with those kinds of smiles on their faces in class that suggested some type of mischief was at hand. Yet, they, like their sister Jennifer, who was enrolled in three of my English classes one semester (and, I might add, she received A’s in all three), were smart, always engaging and willing to challenge the odds.

As I grieve with the families, I’ll also remember Eric fondly for the time that I spent with him in high school and for all that he dared to do in such a short adult life. But I’ll also smile since I know he filled that time with adventure, living life to the fullest, and I’m sure that if his soul could speak to us today, he’d say he died while doing the thing he loved, tell us not to mourn his death but to celebrate his life, which was remarkable.

Bon voyage, Eric.

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