VACAVILLE — Bittersweet.
That’s how Stephen Giroux describes his most recent ascent and descent of a mountain.
The trip was a little more than two weeks before an unforgettable anniversary.
On Sept. 1, 2012, Giroux, who lives in Vacaville, and his brother Ed Giroux saw their 62-year-old brother, Joe Giroux, fall 300 feet to his death on North Palisades mountain near Bishop.
“I don’t think anyone wanted us to do it, but we were going to do it,” said Stephen Giroux of the recent trip up and down North Palisades. “We didn’t really tell anyone unless they asked us. We didn’t really talk about it.”
This time, the brothers used guides. Once on the top, they scattered some of Joe Giroux’s ashes on the mountain.
The three brothers had backpacked since they were young and added mountain climbing when they were adults.
A spur-of-the-moment decision sent them up and down Mount Shasta. Stephen Giroux thinks he was about 28 at the time.
The Giroux brothers were hooked and started mountain climbing on a regular basis. The trio would tackle a mountain every two to three years.
The goal was to tackle all the California Fourteeners, the 15 summits in the state that are at least 14,000 feet high.
Then, about six years ago, the brothers began to feel the pressure of age and a sense of urgency.
“We thought maybe we should do one a year,” Stephen Giroux said. They crossed some more off their list until Stephen Giroux hurt his back in 2010.
In 2011, all three went up the east side of North Palisade, which has a glacier. They did not succeed.
Last year, they returned to finish the west side of North Palisade, when tragedy struck.
“It all happened so fast,” Stephen Giroux said. “He was trying to lift his foot over the ledge.”
He watched as his brother fell. Stephen Giroux cried.
Ed Giroux believes his brother may have had a stroke. Joe Giroux did not attempt to grab on to anything as he fell, the brothers said.
Joe Giroux hit a rock then began to bounce down the mountain.
“I heard it,” Ed Giroux said of the initial impact. “It sounded like a car wreck. It was so loud.”
Then, his older brother came into sight, bouncing like a rag doll.
Ed and Stephen Giroux hiked down to their brother’s lifeless body. It took them about 90 minutes to reach him. Getting down was tough, as the two had to share one rope and one clip. Joe had the other supplies.
They took Joe Giroux’s body down the mountain, to an area more accessible to a helicopter. They found a spot. Ed Giroux stayed with the body while Stephen Giroux started to hike down the mountain to get help.
En route, Stephen Giroux ran into Kurt Wedberg of Sierra Mountaineering International. Wedberg called for help.
It was guides from Wedberg’s company who led the brothers on their most recent climb.
After the loss of his brother, Ed Giroux briefly lost his fire for mountain climbing.
“I kind of thought it was nagging me,” he said of attempting it one more time. “I think it was more so with Stephen.”
The brothers talked and decided they needed closure, and there was the feeling Joe would want them to do this.
“It was well worth our investment in emotion, time and money to finish up,” Ed Giroux said.
Having mastered the California Fourteeners, Stephen and Ed Giroux are turning their attention to something with a little less rock climbing involved, possibly the 215-mile John Muir Trail that begins in Yosemite and ends at the base of Mount Whitney, which brother Joe Giroux climbed three times.
Stephen Giroux is writing a book. His working title is “The Fourteeners: A Story of Life, Love and Loss.” It will cover family stories as well as tales from the mountain-climbing trips.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.