Friends and family members of veteran rock climber Brad Parker gathered in Sebastopol on Saturday to pay tribute to the kind heart and adventurous spirit of a man who inspired many before his death last week from a fall in Yosemite National Park the same day he proposed to his girlfriend.
After a morning “paddle out” at the mouth of the Russian River, hundreds gathered at Ives Park for a concert and emotional celebration of the life that all agreed had been lived to the fullest.
“He lived through his heart and his soul like no one I’ve ever met,” said his younger brother Mat through tears.
The 36-year-old Sebastopol resident died Aug. 16 while climbing alone near Tuolumne Meadows. He and his girlfriend, Jainee Dial, had just completed a climb to the summit of the Cathedral Peak, where she accepted his marriage proposal.
The pair then separated, and Parker, a yoga instructor and massage therapist, ran off to climb Matthes Crest, a dramatic knife-edged fin of rock about 3 miles away. The experienced climber was in top physical condition and skilled at “free soloing,” or climbing alone with no ropes.
But on his way down the granite formation, perhaps because of fatigue, Parker got into trouble and other climbers saw him fall about 5:45 p.m.
One of Parker’s best friends and climbing partners, Ian Queiroz, said his “knees collapsed” when he got word of the accident. He said it was like “a nerve had been severed” in his body.
“He was so bright, and I was so lucky to see that brightness every day for years,” Queiroz said.
The celebration in Ives Park was the latest in a series of events meant to help friends and family celebrate Parker and grieve his shocking death.
The first was earlier in the week, after his parents, Bill and Gayle Parker, flew back from their new home in Kauai and went to the Modesto coroner’s office to make arrangements for his body. Shortly after that, a handful of friends and family returned to the area where he died and built a rock cairn in Parker’s honor, said close friend Cory Mays.
On Friday, a group of Parker’s climbing friends gathered at Goat Rock beach for another ceremony, followed Saturday morning for the “paddle out” where dozens of surfers wearing colorful leis over their wetsuits joined hands in a circle near Jenner.
Saturday afternoon’s event was by turns heartbreaking and uplifting. Plentiful food and beer and music by local band Sol Horizon gave it a festive atmosphere many said was in keeping with the positive, upbeat send-off Parker would have wanted.
People smiled as they watched a slideshow projected on a TV hung from a tree. It featured photos of Parker and friends. The images showed a lean, tan young man smiling wide as he traveled the world.
But plenty of tears were shed as people grappled with the loss of a life on the cusp of even greater happiness. In Dial, his brother had found the true love that had eluded him for so long, Mat Parker said.
“You guys had the best year of his life,” Mat Parker said to Dial. “And in those last moments he lived, he was the happiest he’d ever been. That makes my heart feel good.”
Gayle Parker said she initially worried about moving so far from her son because he said he had moved back to Sebastopol in part to be near them.
“Then Jainee appeared, and I knew he would be OK,” she said.
She thanked the crowd for their support and urged them to keep her son’s spirit alive in their hearts. “His message is he wants us all to never forget the most important thing is love,” she said.