July 21st, 1949 to September 27th, 2010
“There‘s Something There” - the John Dargis Story
By Calvin Landrus, SRCFC National Director, Summer 2008
Have you ever wondered why some are saved in a potential dangerous situation while others are lost in rather harmless circumstances? Perhaps SRCFC member, John Dargis, has for he has come face to face with death several times. One was written about in the October ’07 issue of Climbing in an article of containing climbing myths. In this case the myth is actually true – he cut his rope above his rappel device while trying to get a shirt unstuck.
John and his partner, Jim Waugh, were retreating off the Nose route on El Cap in May 1979 due to a Jim injuring his finger. According to John, Waugh had gone first on the rappel below the Stovelegs and placed a directional. In the article, Dougald MacDonald shared what Waugh saw next. “John was on his way down when I noticed that he stopped. … All of a sudden, I saw the ropes go flying extremely right with the wind and John started to fall. As quickly as this happened, John suddenly stopped.” John’s shirt had jammed into his figure 8, and weighed down by the haulbag, he couldn’t yank it out. He pulled out a knife to cut the shirt, and then almost as an afterthought, clipped into the directional as a back-up…right before he accidentally severed both ropes above the figure 8.
This spring 2008, I was able to visit John in his home in Salt Lake City. He said, “I couldn’t believe what I had done.” And his initial reaction of “Oh my god” was replaced with “What am I going to do.” He brought up more protection but only was able to marginally reinforce the anchor behind the expanding flake. Calling out for help, they soon got word that would need to wait until the next day for rescue.
They decided to try a self rescue with the rope they still had. According to John, Jim tried to pendulum over to a ledge. Several attempts ended in failure - much to the disappointment of the crowd that was now watching from the El Camp Meadows. Eventually, he was able to get to a hold, climb up, drop a line for John on which he swung over. From there, they made their way down to ground with what rope they had and fix lines in place.
But this wasn’t John’s only near death experience to ponder. A year earlier, he and fellow guide, Vernon Tejas, had successfully guided a client to the top of Mt. McKinley (as it was know then). They were 30 minutes from where the plane was to land and get them off the glacier. John was in the middle of the three-person rope team. As he crossed the same snow bridge that Vernon just had, John suddenly fell thirty feet and landed in ice cold water up to nearly up to his neck. But he didn’t come to rest; he started to slowly slip deeper into the water.
In a struggle, John got his snow shoes and backpack off and freed himself from the sled he was pulling. He knew he had to act fast for in the time it takes to set-up a rescue line from the top, he could die. He had only one ice ax; so his other point of contact was the end of ski pole. He slowly made his way up but a few feet from the top his strength gave out preventing further progress. By then Vernon had got a rescue line down and pull John the rest of the way out. Never having God part of his life, John’s only thoughts were about how he had saved his life.
Guiding in the Alaskan Range had become a regular part of John’s life. In 1981, while working for head guide, Gary Bocarde, they decided to take three clients up a new route on Mt. Foraker. The line forced a traverse across a face that was continually avalanching. Through observing when the outpouring of snow would happen, they made their way across the face safely. The climbing was hard but they made steady progress until they were only a couple thousand feet below the 17,000’ summit. That’s when it started to snow.
On the fourth day of being trapped by the storm, their rations of fuel and food ran-out. They decided no matter what, they had to retreat on the next day. The fifth day was no better. John, taking the lead, could only tell which way was down by the weight of gravity on his body. Route finding was so iffy! He was so scared and unlike during his other near death experiences, he cried out to God. Soon thereafter, a break in the clouds allowed them to plot their course to safety.
After returning to Anchorage with the effects of the Mt. Foraker epic still gripping his body, John went on 15 mile run. with his wife, Carol. On that run, he injured his knee and was forced to decide to return home instead of continuing his summer in Alaska.
The night before he left, a climber and mountain guide, Jim Hale, who had showed John how to climb in the Alaskan mountains, invited him out to dinner. According to Jim - a fairly new believer in Christ himself, his wife and he had decided not to force a spiritual conversation with John and Carol over dinner. During the email, John seemed unsettled and in an exacting way that engineer-types can do, he spouted out, “There’s something there.” Jim could see God had other plans for the evening and invited John and Carol to join him in a prayer of salvation. Not because it all made sense or he felt the calling of God, but simply out of politeness and respect for Jim, he prayed along. Immediately, Jim said, “John you need be baptized before you leave tomorrow.” Sensing no difference in him from the prayer, John stammered, “How about next summer?”
However, that night, John was awoken by God. In very real way, he could sense God’s presence. The reality of prayer he had said a few short hours earlier with Jim hit home and he could feel his heart changing. In the morning, he got with Jim, found a pond in a gravel pit and was baptized!
Once home, he jump right into the reading and studying the Bible all summer. With summers free as a professor of engineering at Michigan State, the plan had always been to return to Alaska each summer to climb. After that first amazing summer in the Word, God continued to call him into more Bible learning situations instead of going away.
In the late 80’s, God did move him from the climbing-challenged state of Michigan to Salt Lake City, Utah where there is “climbing up the street.” There he continued to climb and be part of the climbing community. Also, he was part of a church start-up that grew steadily and where he served as an elder.
While in SLC, his climbing experience and leadership abilities were noticed, and he was asked by the owners of Exum Guides to start Exum – Utah. One of his guiding recruits was accomplished high-altitude mountaineer, Kitty Calhoun.
Kitty shared in a recent email this about John: “John is a natural athlete, who enjoys being outside. As a weekend warrior, he performed at high levels in skiing, climbing, and biking. I remember that he was envious of Mugs Stump once, who was doing a long backcountry ski tour on a Sunday. John realized that his priority was his relationship with Christ, and that his time was better spent at church, where he could worship God. John asked if I wanted to go to church once, when I was having a hard time. The pastor was a very good speaker, and I started listening to his tapes. Some time later, I realized that my upbringing in the church had not emphasized a relationship with Jesus and that I had a new understanding, which has changed my life."
Fast forward to now. John is facing his most challenging brush with death. In the fall of 2006, he was diagnosed with brain cancer and has been on the “taking it one day at a time” track ever since! He has survived longer than expected and is grateful for that. The biggest blessing in all this is meeting his second wife. It happened just as he was finding out about the cancer. Margy has been “angel” of encouragement to John. While I was with John, he looked me straight in the eyes and said, “This has been real hard.” But with God on his rope team, he has been able to climb on.
We seldom want to contemplate death - either ours or someone else's. It is obvious, however, that our bodies aren’t designed to last forever. The words in 1 John 5:12-13 are essential during these moments: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” John is unsure of his time as he has seemed to bypass death’s calling often in the past but he is assured of one thing: eternal life – because he knows there’s something there.
Obituary - John Charles Dargis
7/21/1949 ~ 9/27/2010
John slipped peacefully into the arms of Jesus on September 27th at age 61 after a valiant 3 1/2 year battle with brain cancer.He was born in Detroit, Michigan to John and Amelia Dargis. He graduated from Michigan State University with a Masters' degree in engineering and taught there for two years, later moving out to Salt Lake City to work for various medical labs, the last being ICU Medical where he was a director of engineering. John married Carol Jent in 1981, they divorced in 2001. He married Margy Anderson in 2007 and it was her privilege to love and care for him through this difficult time in his life. John was an avid mountaineer, climbing and skiing were his passion. He spent many summers guiding in the Alaskan Range and the Tetons, where he was part owner of Exum Mountaineering. His greatest passion however was his love for his savior Jesus Christ, and he never missed an opportunity to tell others how much God loves them and wants them to come to know Him. His suffering brought him much closer to God than ever before. He was the most gentle, kindhearted person and such a great example of how Jesus wants us to love others. He will be greatly missed. John was preceded in death by his sister Sharon, his father and mother. He is survived by his brother David (Deanna) and sister Darlene (Phil) Large, both of Michigan, and his wife Margy.