Weekend Warm-Up: Patagonia Promise

Roberta Nunes and Sean Leary.

In 2006, the climbing community lost one of Brazil’s best climbers, Roberta Nunes, in a fatal car accident in Utah. Her heartbroken soul mate, climber Sean Leary, resolved to fulfill Nunes’s dying wish by scattering her ashes in her most sacred place, Patagonia.

Leary and Nunes were much more than just lovers, they were best friends, climbing partners, and above all else, they were inseparable. What they found within one another defied explanation.

One day, shortly after Nunes got her driver’s license, the pair were driving in Utah with Nunes at the wheel. Their car came off the road, the vehicle rolled, and Nunes was left with head and neck injuries from which she never recovered.

Roberta Nunes died in a car accident in 2006, devastating her soul mate, Sean Leary.

Bizarrely, just days before the accident, the couple had a conversation about death. Nunes presciently asked, “What would you do if I died?” Then she told Leary that her wish was to be cremated and her ashes scattered in Patagonia.

Patagonia spans over 673,000 square kilometres in southern Argentina and Chile. It’s well-known among climbers for its world-class walls, fang-like spires, and ferocious weather. For the Brazilian-born Nunes, it was a place she felt connected to on a spiritual level. Before her death, she was once recorded saying, “I am completely in love with Patagonia.”

After Nunes died, Leary felt like the bottom of his life had been slung out from beneath him. He was utterly devastated, losing a sense of purpose in the process. When he sought to find something new, something that wasn’t somehow intertwined with Nunes, he stumbled across BASE jumping, that sport where you jump off something and “throw your chute out to save your life”.

To his friends, the new sport was concerning for a person who now cared less about living or dying than he had with Nunes present, but it offered Leary hope and happiness. After two-and-a-half years, the timing felt right to fulfill his promise to Nunes and head to Patagonia.

Together with two friends — Cedar Wright and Renan Ozturk –- Leary arrived in Argentina to attempt a first ascent, and scatter Nunes’s ashes on the mountain.

Starting in the small Argentine mountain village of El Chalten, they waited out fierce storms and passed time bouldering until the wind and rain lifted.

Sean Leary and two friends went to Patagonia to attempt a first ascent and to scatter Roberta Nunes’s ashes.

For Leary, it was a time of great sadness. The year that Nunes died, the couple had taken a trip from Curibita to El Chelpae, where they climbed together. The trip was a special one for the couple, and one of their final adventures together before Nunes’s death.

Being so close to those happy times stirred emotions. Leary greatly missed Nunes’s presence as a part of this visit. It “felt like I was chasing her ghost around,” he said, half-expecting her to pop up at any moment.

Despite the volatile weather and loose rocks, the group persevered on their first ascent. The morning after they reached the top, Leary rose before the others, put on his wingsuit, and jumped off the mountain with Nunes’s ashes inside the parachute.

When the chute opened, her ashes flew with the wind, scattering across her favorite area on the planet. “I feel that’s what she would have truly wanted, to be released to the wind to be carried to the sky,” Leary said.

Leary took up BASE jumping to cope with Nunes’ passing, but it ironically connected him with a new love: He married another BASE jumper, Mieka, and the couple was expecting their first child when Leary was suddenly killed in a BASE jumping accident in Utah in 2014. He was 38 years old.

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About the Author

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall

After 22 years in the exercise industry, offset by long-haul adventures around the world, Alex Myall found a better option a few years ago and has never looked back. She took a diploma in travel journalism, backed it up with travel industry certificates, then launched Chasing Dreams Travel NZ, her own travel agency.

Now she combines her love of writing and world travel with running her business from her home on the spectacular South Coast of Wellington, New Zealand, while simultaneously being mum to a gorgeous baby girl. She maintains a “life’s too short to do things by halves” attitude.

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