Shortly before leaving Seattle for Patagonia, it happened again – a phone call during the middle of the night brought news of another friend who had died in the mountains. While ski mountaineering with Andreas Fransson on New Zealand’s Mt. Cook, Swedish evil-genius/warm-hearted-mad-man, Magnus Kastengren had fallen from a high ridge to his death. I hadn’t done nearly as much climbing and skiing with Magnus as others, and there are many people who were much closer to Magnus than I was. But Magnus was a very special person, and like many others who spent time with Magnus only now and then, I will still miss his presence a lot. I had hung out with Magnus a bit in Yosemite, and a bit on Denali, but Chamonix is the place that will never be quite the same without him.
Although it can of course be said of just about anyone, Magnus truly was a very unique person. Magnus had that special combination of genius and craziness that I have always really respected in others. He was a very carefree person, who, despite being obviously very intelligent, chose to work construction on a seasonal basis, and spent the majority of his time living as a dirtbag, climbing, and skiing a lot. While my monkish dedication to improving myself as a climber is very fulfilling, I also often miss periods of my my life when I hardly gave a fuck about anything. In Magnus I often saw parallels to younger, more carefree versions of myself, and I envied his ability to truly let go and live in the moment.
Magnus was known for his “crazy eyes,” and also was often sporting a big, wacky, mischievious grin. He was a trickster, and loved to fuck with people in playful jokes. One of Magnus’ phrases that I’ll always remember was “Hey broo, let’s go honk that cliff!” meaning “Hey Bro, let’s go huck that cliff!” Magnus also was an expert when it came to tomahawking, except his version was “tomahonking.” One of his greatest tomahonks was down the Northeast Face of Les Courtes. Magnus, Nils, Jonno and msyself had just taken a few turns into the face when Magnus hit ice, and in a matter of seconds descended about 1,000 meters in the most extreme tomahonk any of us had ever seen. We called the PGHM immediately, then descended to Magnus and found him miraculously unharmed. A hilarious moment came when the PGHM rescuer was asking Magnus questions to look for signs of brain trauma. In stumbling French, Magnus successfully replied with his name, his age, where he was, etc… Then the PGHM rescuer asked him what day it was. “Uhhhh… ” Magnus faltered and looked at the rest of us. We all looked at each other, puzzled for a moment, and then had a good laugh when we realized that not a single one of the four of us knew what day of the week it was.
Another couple good Magnus stories came from his trip to Yosemite with fellow Swede Olov Isaksson in the fall of 2009. Knowing Magnus’ regular habits in Chamonix, both Olov and I warned him strongly that shoplifting in Yosemite would be a very bad idea. “Sure, OK,” Magnus reassured us. Then, on Magnus’ very first day in Yosemite Valley, he tried to swindle a package of beef jerky from the Yosemite Lodge Store, and spent the evening in jail, wearing an orange suit and all. During their time in Yosemite, I let Magnus and Olov use my car a couple times, making the mistake of telling Magnus where I kept my hidden key. About a month later, I saw Magnus’ new profile photo on facebook: Him, standing with a grin outside my car which he had just broken into, wearing my jacket, hat and glasses, holding my wallet in one hand and all my cash in his other hand!
Magnus, I’m so sorry to see you go. As is usual for me, it hardly feels real to me yet. I know though that when I go back to Chamonix this spring it won’t be nearly the same without you. You brought so many laughs to so many people. I’ll think of you, especially when eating kebab in Cham Sud, and any cliffs I honk, I’ll honk in your honor. You were one of the most genuine people I ever met, and certainly some of the most entertaining company I’ve ever had. You will live on in in the stories I love to tell about, “my crazy Swedish friend, Magnus.”