RIPPING | GABRIEL JACQUES
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On Tuesday, March 9th, Dave Henkel’s ashes were spread in the Whistler Backcountry, near where he passed away in an avalanche three weeks ago. Dave was a legend, a world-class snowboarder and climber who embodied the best of mountain culture. His passion was exemplary and his accomplishments in big mountain terrain were significant, winning him international regard as a bold and capable alpinist. But Dave’s legacy will extend beyond personal exploits–he had a warm, inclusive nature, a willingness to share his adventures with new people and a genuine desire to see them thrive. The ripple effect of Dave’s mentorship runs deep, and his influence lives on in the countless mountain folk he inspired to find the best of themselves in the hills. We asked some of Dave’s closest friends and riding partners to share stories of their time with him. We hope they inspire you to go get small. We love you Dave, and we’ll see you at the sharp end– rest in paradise, brother. –David MacKinnon
Dave just hiking off to see what’s over the next ridge. Just like he always loved to do. In this case, after seeing the line he had planned to ride get shredded by someone who got up there just a bit earlier, instead of picking up the scraps he decided to just pack up shop and head “over there” to see what he might find. I think that kinda just sums up his whole personality so well, never one to worry about who got what line or who got more pow turns, the goal of the day was simply adventure and curiosity. Something to think about the next time you’re chasing buds to the drop in.
I have so many amazing memories with Dave, he was a best friend, mentor and was always there for me. His love for adventure was contagious and ran deep in his blood. He was the kind of guy that would go out of his way to share that with others. On his last birthday, he made our good friend Ryan come tandem up with him to shred some mega laps, knowing Ryan hasn’t ridden in a few years and that it would make his day. Even though it was Dave’s special day, that’s just the kind of guy he was. I have hours of stories of good times with Dave, trips to Alaska, Bralorne and pretty much just us and our crew getting out and learning how to ride big mountain lines together. We were cowboys in a wild place but we got better over time. I wish I could share all the stories, but that would fill a whole book. If you’re ever with me and wanna hear some I’d love to tell you in person. Love you, Dave, we will forever be shredding together. I will take everything I’ve learned from you and share it with others just like you did for everyone you loved.
In the winter of 2018, Dave put the idea in my head to ride the north east face of Mount Cayley. We waited for good snow stability and a decent weather window then we decided to give it a go. We met at the Brandywine parking lot for 5 a.m. It was dark and cold but Dave was fired up and couldn’t wait to get going. Hours later, we made it to the entrance of our line but by then, our objective had shifted from riding the sickest line of our life to rock climbing as high as we could, topping out on a gnarly gendarme. Dave captioned this picture: “I’m not really sure when or how snowboarding turned into this, but man is it ever a lot of fun nowadays. It started as a quest to ride the biggest line in the coast range and now I just want to get to the top of the unrideable stuff. Life is made up of memorable moments.” Dave, I am really happy I’ve had so many memorable moments with you, brother. We will forever share the love you had for the mountains and your sense of adventure. Love you.
It was early November and I was itchy to get in the mountains, but with no chairlifts or low elevation snow, I knew it would be a mission. I hit up Henkel– turns out he’d already been scheming a line known as Psycho Chute, deep in the Whistler Backcountry. With Pika rounding out the crew, we hiked 14 km to get to the snowline before switching to splitboards, made it to the line and booted straight up it to the ridge. The snow was horrible, fully buffed– it would have been survival riding. We opted for another chute that was holding pow. We were stoked to get a big line so early in the year, but a storm was closing in and it was time to move. Before long we were whited out, and we ended up getting pretty lost. After hours of wandering, we finally dug a hole and hunkered down to wait for better visibility. It wasn’t the first time we’d been lost together, sitting in a hole holding Pika close for warmth. I’ll never forget the meadows we found walking in circles that night or the glimpses we got of the moon breaking through the clouds– things we never would have seen had things gone according to plan, things Dave helped me appreciate even in those moments. We finally got back to town at 6 AM, making it a 23 hour day. As haggard as we were, both of us loved every minute of it.
This past Christmas Henkel and I spent a week in the mountains with his new dog Shiloh. We got one bluebird day, and of course we made sure to take full advantage of it! We woke up before dawn, with the moon all lit up and stars still in the skies. After two false summits, we finally made it to the top, strapped in and dropped. Navigating to our exit we encountered a little crux at the end, a mandatory air with the landing a little too shallow for the send. We went for the classic bush belay, holding branches and lowering ourselves. I probably don’t need to tell you that Shiloh wasn’t too impressed- this wasn’t your typical dog walk! She ended up finding a different way around, and as she ran toward us we just started yelling ‘Yeahhh Shiloh, good dog! you’re the best!’ Thankful for all these magical moments that we shared together, David Henkel. We’ll make sure it “stays shitty” out there. Love you!
Dave had a lot of girlfriends, and this is in no reference to the romantic sense. He had a way of celebrating women, their strength and grit in the outdoors. Scroll through his Instagram and there is a collection of images of ladies scrambling up and down peaks, and squeezed between cracks of big granite walls. I’ll never forget our first-day climbing, I blindly followed him up a route, and spent the better part of 30 minutes dangling under a small roof. He was out of earshot. My arms were pumped, I swung back and forth from the wall trying to solve the puzzle… When I did make it up, he looked at me with a big grin and said, “wow, you are really good at suffering”. That was Dave, full of compliments that empower you as an athlete and adventure lady. I know he loved to test us, to see what edge we could push in the mountains– just the same as he lived with purpose in pushing the edge himself. With Dave it wasn’t so much about “keeping up with boys” and there was never an air of ulterior motive (a crux for women often), it was just this unshakable belief in all of us, in everyone. And I know in my heart, because of this, always the best intention and motivation for everyone around him to succeed in living life to the fullest, he has had a significant impact on my own personal evolution in the mountains, but so many other women and men. We love you, Henkel.
Dave and I were at one of our favourite cabins when to our surprise a group of three rad ski touring girls showed up. Dave of course hit it off with the girls and we had a fun night hanging out, telling stories, and talking ski objectives. The next morning we had clear skies and stable conditions, so we were all excited to get after it. The girls went to ski the main peak, while Dave, Pika (Henkel’s dog), and I went after a steep line that we had been eyeing up for a long time. We toured up the approach and once we got to the base of the line we switched over to boot pack straight up. Dave and I took turns breaking trail up the steep couloir, but before we knew it Pika was leading the charge a couple of hundred feet ahead of us. When we topped out we could see the three girls on the adjacent ridge, they let out ‘WOO HOO’ and waved. Dave won rock paper scissors, so he got to go first. I watched Dave and Pika charge down the line, while the group of girls cheered them on in the distance. Making friends everywhere he went and sharing his love for the mountains, that was the heart and soul of Dave Henkel. Rest in peace my friend.
Dave absolutely loved to adventure with his friends (new and old). Over the years, we got ourselves into all sorts of situations. I remember one trip to the Burton hut near Garibaldi Lake, when we almost started a fire trying to light the old stove in the hut. It was Dave, Cam Unger, Andrea Mueller and myself. Dave was responsible for packing breakfast for himself and Cam- turns out he brought one packet of instant oatmeal for the two of them to share per day. He never brought much food with him but those adventures were everything to him. He was always scheming the next trip. My family was lucky enough to have Dave and Shiloh living at our house over the last year. He was kind of like the live-in uncle for my son. Xavier would just hang out down there for hours, playing music, petting Shiloh and chatting away. Xavier, Kim and I will miss him dearly. Love you Dave.
We were having congratulatory beers after an all time day hiking a closed peak chair when Dave (still frothing for more) leaned in and said, “Hey Mics, you ever hit Tosh’s Gap?” I replied, “no.” Dave said, “get your gear back on and let’s grab last chair.” I declined as I was at least three pints deep, but Dave ghosted quickly to make the last ride up. His mind was set. Regretfully, I should have gone. I called Dave a couple of hours later to ask how it went and he said “well, I’m in the hospital — didn’t quite make it over the knuckle. Doc says I may have broken one or both my ankles.” From that day forward, he was known as ‘No Ankle Henkel.’ Even though we’d already had an epic day, I wish I had gone with him to hit Tosh’s. We would have been pretty cute with matching crutches. Snowboarding aside, Henkel is not only a missing friend to so many, but also now a missing member of our family. He was so great with my daughter and she was in awe of her uncle, “Super Dave.” We had some incredible adventures together and more were on the horizon. Words can’t express how much we already miss Dave, and always will.