For years, Michael Naiman dreamed of summiting Mount Rainier.
And when he first made it there two summers ago, the huge smile he had while running with his gray ice axe at the top of the summit showed how much he treasured the moment.
He made the sunrise he saw from 12,000 feet his Facebook cover photo, and Naiman loved it when friends asked for more pictures.
“I will climb it again,” he wrote back. “On skis.”
On Sunday, Naiman did, this time summiting with two friends by going up the Emmons Glacier on the mountain’s northeast side. Though he often skied at Rainier and made it to the top of other local mountains many times before, Sunday's trip had a special significance.
“The effort it took to ascend and then the thrill of descent gave him so much life,” past climbing partner and relative Josh Trujillo said. “When he would get to the top of a mountain he would just glow.”
Naiman was skiing down Sunday morning when he went into a crevasse -- a deep glacial fissure that can be hard to see because of thin snow and ice. Rangers descended approximately 150 feet to retrieve him, but he died from the fall.
Naiman was 42.
“He was happy with little, he was happy with more,” friend Michael Dietrich wrote. “Natural confidence grants you that ability to enjoy life as is. And if you have that you will always shine, as Michael did more abundantly than most anybody I ever knew.”
You can see that from Naiman’s own Facebook photos.
There was his walk along Rialto Beach, or the day he spent hiking through the Hoh Rain Forest. Naiman went backcountry powder skiing near the Scottish Lakes High Camp, and another time walked behind a donkey cultivating garlic in Twisp, Wash. Last year, Naiman went through the Whistler backcountry with friends, and swam in the waters of Isla Blanca, Cancun, for his birthday.
There were trips to Mount Baker and Mount Adams and the crater of Mt. St. Helens, often in his beloved GMC “go anywhere 4x4 land yacht” van.
But the climb he loved more than all the others was Mount Rainier – a place his parents also loved.
“My all-time favorite memory of the trip was seeing you and the girls waiting for us on the way down, holding my comfortable hiking boots,” he wrote to cousin Lina Trujillo about her and her daughters Araya and Ravenna.
Just last week Naiman took those girls, now 9 and 11, rock climbing at the Seattle Bouldering Project.
“He made sure they had all the latest and best safety gear,” Josh Trujillo said, recalling trips to the Columbia River Gorge. “The girls loved climbing with Mikey.”
Naiman grew up with his father in the mountains of northern New Mexico, often in a tee pee or their sheltered truck. He was a woodsman from an early age, and Naiman’s father taught him how to fish and find sticks for their wood stove.
He graduated from Albuquerque High School in 1994 and after moving to Seattle lived on a 38-foot wooden yacht on Lake Union.
Naiman graduated from Seattle University in 2012 and worked as a diagnostic sonographer at Northwest Hospital.
He was survived by his dad, Mark Naiman, mom Sheila Bjeletich, grandmother Joan Bjeletich, aunts Sharon Bjeletich, Barbara Bjeletich, Caryl Bjeletich, uncle Rob Bjeletich, aunt Pandora Bjeletich, brothers Dan Daly, Aryn Daly, nieces Fiona and Paisley Daly and nephew Kyler Daly. Cousins Lina and Joshua Trujillo and their daughters Ravenna and Araya. Cousins Melina and Andrew Hartley, Carly and Caitlin Jackson, Rico Aguirre, Ray Rose. Dogs Tiko, Delilah and countless other friends, relatives, godchildren and admirers.
A memorial is being planned for 6 p.m. Monday at Richmond Beach Saltwater Park. In lieu of flowers, family asked that friends donate to Mount Rainier search and rescue operations.
Naiman, they said, would love to see others have that same smile he had on the summit.
Finally realizing the longtime goal of climbing the tallest volcano in the contiguous U.S. was made even sweeter by sharing it with two great friends, he wrote to his climbing partners after their first summit.
“Thank you both for helping me realize a major dream.”
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