In Memory of Katie Nolan

Liedtke Missing Climbers

If you’ve watched or read the news this past week, pretty much anywhere in the country, you will have heard the story of the 3 lost climbers on Mt Hood.  Luke Gullberg, Anthony Vietti, and Katie Nolan went missing after a climb on Mt Hood on Friday, December 11.  Luke’s body was found Saturday, having succombed to hypothermia.  In spite of heroic rescue efforts, Katie and Luke have not been found, and as of yesterday, the 17th, the search has been called off.

Katie was a friend, and her loss will be felt heavily by many. My grief is not so much for her–she loved Jesus, and is home–but for all of those left with a Katie-sized hole in their world.  And my grief is also for all those who will never have the opportunity to know her and be cared for by her.

Katie had a way of smiling that lit up her face like sunshine, and warmed everyone near her.  She was servant-hearted, and spent her life caring for those in need.  Both in her job (helping homeless women get off the street and acquire jobs) and her volunteer work (she was a faithful supporter of Transitions Global, among other things), her heart was always for those in need, the oppressed, the poor.

She also loved the outdoors (she biked the Seattle to Portland bike ride a few years ago with my wife), which led to her loss this past week on Mt Hood.

Several years ago, Katie approached me while I was working on a documentary project called Skeleton in the Closet.  She volunteered to participate, and her honesty was a breath of fresh air.  Having spent a few years working on this project, I was encouraged to talk with someone who was finding hope and healing in the midst of what can be a crippling disorder.  She was also an excellent writer.  Her story is one of the most hopeful and beautiful of the series.

Fritz Liedtke-Katie N

I also had opportunity to photograph Katie at a few Transitions Global events, at which she was present as a volunteer and supporter.  This past September, she helped coordinate volunteers at their Bike for Shelter event.  (You’ll see Katie briefly in this video of the event.) Katie’s support of Transitions, and its work to create a safe haven for young girls rescued from sexual exploitation in Portland, Cambodia, India, and elsewhere, is indicative of her care for those in need.  Her love for Jesus was evident in all she did.


If you watched the news or read the papers, you saw a photograph (the one at the top of this article) of Katie that I took at the Bike for Shelter event.  The Associated Press picked it up, and it turned up everywhere: CNN, The Washington Post, The Oregonian, etc.  (I liked this article from KGW especially, as it talked a little more about the 3 climbers as people, not just statistics in a tragedy.)  Liedtke Nolan 1

Liedtke Nolan 2 Liedtke Nolan 3 Liedtke Nolan 4

Among many other ruminations this week, I (as have many) have had to grapple with the question: Why did such good, loving, servant-hearted people have to die so young?  Why not some evil losers?  We need more people like Katie, Luke, and Anthony in the world, not less.  There are precious few of them.

Among other answers, I am comforted by two thoughts:

It is easy to be angry with God for the loss of a beloved person at a young age.  I inherently assume that we have a right to a good 70 years with someone.  If they die at 29, as Katie did, what good does that do the world?  We’re left with a deficit of the other 40 years of Katie that God owed the world.  But then I’m reminded: what if there never was a Katie in the first place?  Shouldn’t I be grateful for the 29 years we did have her, for all the good that she did, for all the love and light she shared with us?  The glass is half full, not half empty.  No, truly, the glass is overflowing.

Second unto this, I’m reminded that my grief at the loss of young friends (and there have been several in the past few years)–that gaping hole left in their absence–really is a compliment to the quality of people I have in my life.  If I were surrounded by self-centered losers, I would not bemoan their absence.  But in reality, nearly every one of my friends and family members would leave such a gaping hole.  I am truly blessed.  And I am reminded that I want to be one of those people.  I want to live and love large, that I may leave as big a hole as possible when I go home.

For Katie Nolan

It is for the world

that I grieve the loss of you–

Not you, who rests,

slipping into sleep,
drifting silently like snow,
enfolded, home.

It is for the world

of the waiting and praying, who hope,
remembering a smile as wide as sunshine
and as warm,
who mourn, with hearts rent
like a mountain crevass
cold as ice.

It is for the world

who will not know
your eyes bright like a summer sky, open,
robbed of your daylight
in their darkness,
that I grieve.

We are

jealous as the grave.

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  • December 20, 2009 - 5:03 am

    Teresa Vice - wow, Fritz – I didn’t know her but feel the empty space she has left behind…..however, not so empty as I read your words about her. I picture her with the great cloud of witnesses that surround us challenging us to continue to run. Thanks for your words and pictures. -t

  • December 20, 2009 - 9:54 pm

    Kristi Kernal - Fritz, I watched the coverage on Katie’s situation, and felt such a burden to pray. The more I find out about the kind of woman she was, the more I understand why. Without knowing any of these things about her, I felt compelled to pray that God would raise up others to fill the huge gap that will be left on this earth, due to her departure. Now I understand why.

    Thank you for putting this together to honor her and the person she was.


    Kristi Kernal

  • December 20, 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Jodie - Thank you Fritz…this is so well put.

  • December 21, 2009 - 1:19 am

    fritzphoto - Thanks, Kristi. I’d sure love to see a her gap filled by many more people like her. I’ve been praying in a similar way. May we each be one of them.

  • December 21, 2009 - 3:29 pm

    David - Hi Fritz

    Thanks for your very nice tribute to Katie. Thanks for being her friend.

    David Nolan (Katies Dad)

  • December 21, 2009 - 8:48 pm

    Shayna Hutchens - Thank you so much for your post and tribute. I have had one of the photos of Katie that you took on my fridge since she sent it to me at Christmas a few years ago. I thought your photos captured a Katie who was healing and whole. I love that photo. Thank you

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:24 pm

    fritzphoto - Thank you, Shayna. Capturing the essence of someone in a photograph is a challenge that I have always enjoyed, and I’m encouraged to know that it means so much to other people when I do so.

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:31 pm

    Deb - Hi Fritz. This is a beautiful post. I didn’t know Katie personally, but would have liked to. Katie and I had a lot of friends in common so I definitely feel like a hole has been left in my extended community. I love your sentiments as well and feel the same is true for me – the Lord has blessed me with amazing people and relationships and I will be thankful for however long or short the time I get with them is.

  • December 21, 2009 - 9:57 pm

    J.B. Dorman - Hello Fritz:
    I grew up with Katie and one of my fondest memories of her was her laugh. She had such a heart-felt laught that made you feel good when you said something funny enough to get it out of her. It is what I will miss most about her and you captured it on camera. I can hear it much clearer in my mind now. Thank you.

  • December 21, 2009 - 10:04 pm

    fritzphoto - JB, her laugh is something I don’t think I mentioned in my post, but it certainly was there in my memory of her. An easy smile, an easy laugh, both of which made you feel welcome. I’m pleased the photographs help you remember laughter; that is, perhaps, one of the finest compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you.

  • December 22, 2009 - 1:11 am

    Jennifer Gabriel Tipton - Wow-how moving are these words! What a life and what a woman-I am honored to have spent a short time on Earth with Katie.

  • December 29, 2009 - 10:19 pm

    Fritz Liedtke All Over the Web » Fritz Photography - […] of climber and friend Katie Nolan was painful for many in Portland and around the world.  You can read my tribute to her on my blog.  The Associated Press picked up some of my photos of her, and as a result, they were used all […]

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