Christopher Vale ’18 remembered for spirit and enthusiasm

by Tianhang Dong | 10/25/16 12:30am

For his friends, Christopher Vale ’18 was an inspiration, a role model and a person who could not be encapsulated by a word or a speech. A devoted climber, Vale died in a Sept. 5 accident in while descending the East Ledges of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

On Sunday afternoon, members of the Dartmouth community gathered in the Dartmouth Outing Club house for the memorial and celebration of Vale’s life.

William Braasch, a graduate student at Dartmouth and Vale’s friend, opened the memorial with brief remarks. Afterward, College President Phil Hanlon delivered a speech about Vale’s life.

“Today we gather to celebrate the life of Chris Vale, a true son of Dartmouth, a beloved family member, a friend to everyone in this room,” he said. “Losing a treasured member of the community so tragically and suddenly is very difficult. There is no time to prepare. It’s tough to deal with the sorrow and sadness. But today we are committed to celebrate his life, to share joyful memories of someone who inspired others through his kindness and courage.”

Although Hanlon did not know Vale personally, he created a vibrant picture through the words of Vale’s friends. Hanlon described Vale as an embodiment of adventurous spirit, and as “the heart of the Dartmouth community.” He was an outdoor adventurer of the finest order, a member of Dartmouth Mountaineering Club and an engineering major, Hanlon said.

Hanlon also stressed Vale’s passion for challenging the seemingly impossible, as seen in his “Introduction to Engineering” class. Vale’s group invented the BivyPac, a portable shelter that is part bivy sack and part backpack, but weighs only half the amount of a normal bivy sack.

Jessica Colin ’18 also spoke at the service about Vale’s uniqueness. She said it was hard for her to find the proper words because as soon she started writing, she began to crystallize Vale, to capture him and to put him into the confines of the page.

“But, Chris was never someone you could constrain or put him into a box. The very nature of remembering him in this way defies logic,” she said.

Colin conveyed her admiration of Vale’s adventures and also his determination of conquering difficulties.

“He was doing the things people could never think of doing,” she said. “Chris, to me, was the essence and spirit of adventure.”

She focused on how his qualities influenced all of his friends.

“Chris was a reminder to do the things that we love now, to pursue the dream, to crush the goal and to do it authentically,” Colin said. “Chris had a way of inspiring in us the very things we admired in him.”

Brett Seeley-Hacker ’18, who first met Vale in their shared engineering class, talked about how they worked out the idea of the BivyPac, finished their final presentation and bonded over mountaineering adventure stories.

“One of the things that impresses me most about Chris was the fact that he was never afraid to prioritize what he was most passionate about,” Seeley-Hacker said. “I am sad that my time with Chris was so brief. But, I think the way he inspired me in that short time speaks to the strength of his character.”

Taryn Hunt-Smith ’19 spoke about their relationship and remembered his enthusiasm.

“I was struck by Chris’s passion and confidence the first time I met him,” she said. “He talked about his gap years traveling around the world and I literally refused to believe that he was a sophomore. His life experience and knowledge so exceeded his years.”

After Hunt-Smith’s remarks, Vale’s family members and friends spoke and expressed their feelings.

His father, Ron Vale, talked about how Vale’s life was full of love, which he received in abundance from family and friends. Chris Vale also gave his own love to the students he tutored from disadvantaged families, and he further cultivated his empathy by spending several months in a Tibetan refugee area.

When mentioning Vale’s career aspirations, his father remembered how he said “I do not want to spend my life making toys for privileged people. I want to do something that is going to have greater value in society.”

Vale’s father emphasized that, in other ways, too, Vale changed his family’s perspective of the world. Vale taught his father new sports and introduced him to the wider world.

“I gave him my camera, but he turned out to be a much better photographer,” his father said. “And then I learned so much about photography from him because he had such a different eye for the world.”

After sharing community thoughts and memories, people were given an opportunity to write down their words on cards and talk with one another. Braasch then delivered closing remarks.