Saturday, October 5, 2013

Mitch Underhill

Mitch Underhill was a pure soul. (above, right (legend Tahoe Todd left.))

I knew Mitch from work initially. He was an EMS provider, and I an ER doc, so he would bring me patients at Barton frequently. We would talk about medicine and the cases we shared frequently, but we would always digress into "so, man, what have you been climbing?"

It wasn't long before we combined energies and discovered that we were on the same wavelength in climbing as well as medicine. The years went by and we would infrequently hook up to climb; Mitch had many many friends and floated easily through the Sierra climbing circles: Bigwall, trad, sport, bouldering, Mitch was adept at them all.

Mitch taking an active spot of Travis Junkin on "Fat Man in a Little Coat" V9 at Burnside Lake.

What really brought Mitch and I closer together was having our sons. Over the last two years as Mason and Zun grew from wee little grubs into talking, fighting toddlers, Mitch and I would climb and talk fatherhood and the wonders of life. We put up hard boulders together including the very cool roadside Woodford's climb: "Deadbeat Dads," which we named, half-jokingly after the fact that our boys were being watched while we went out and selfishly climbed.

But we had to. We talked about that too. Medicine and work are stressful and climbing is the perfect way to sublimate; to blow off steam.

Recently, while out bouldering at Burnside lake he told me of the crazy call he took to rescue a half frozen women who got stuck with her beau during a freak fall snowstorm that trapped the couple in their car 6 miles up Burnside lake rd. The man had tried to walk out, post-holing and slogging through miles until he took off his clothes and succumbed to hypothermia... Mitch rode a snowmobile up sloshy melting snow until he got to the woman and saved her life. He was an unsung hero.

Mitch was the nicest guy I ever met. His son, Mason, was several months ahead of my son, Zun, in age, and Mitch was always giving me (asked for) perfect beta on fathering. Perfect advice on raising my little man.

Watching Mitch play with Mason always made me wonder if I was that good of a father and always made me strive to be better.

My memories of Mitch will not fade. He was a main character in my life. He is one of the men I truly respect and admire. His sons will grow up without him, but they will hear stories and know that their father was no ordinary man.

Mitch Underhill was my friend. His wife Sarah and his boys were lucky to have him, and his loss is devastating to their family in a way no one should ever truly be able to comprehend.

I was personally shaken to my core when I heard of his death. I want the world to know that Mitch was the best kind of teacher; the kind that taught by example. He was a good man and will forever be a part of Lake Tahoe lore.

Tears are in my eyes as I write this. It was too early to go, Mitch. You had so much left to teach your boys. I will tell them about you from my perspective someday. I will tell them how much you loved them and Sarah and life!

Goodbye, Mitch! We love you, buddy!


  1. Beautiifully written, but terribly sad...we all miss you Mitch. R.I.P. to your beautiful soul Mitchell Underhill.

  2. Thank you for these beautiful words for a beautiful man. He was a friend to our family and one of the final paramedics with my Dad when he died. I was always so grateful that Mitch was with him...Mitch was my friend and I miss him.

  3. Eloquent and heartfelt. Sorry for your pain Noah.

  4. Noah - Though I never met Mitch - the words spoken by the people who knew him and the photos of his beautiful children and loving wife tell a story as to the person he was. I am deeply saddened by the loss of great people as there are too few of them to begin with. My deepest condolences to you, his family and all those whose lives he touched. It is not often I shed a tear for a person I never met - such a sad story. Prayers to all.

  5. As a father of a 3 1/2 year old boy. Your words are a true honor to Mitch... RIP Brother.


What are you thinking?