River and Caleb Gaydish accept award on their mother's behalf

The memory of Kayah Gaydish lives on in her children

Fred McCormick

It was bittersweet moment when River and Caleb Gaydish accepted a lifetime achievement award on behalf of their late mother Kayah, who died in rock climbing in Virginia in 2015.

Nonetheless, the teenage siblings couldn't help but be happy that their mother was being remembered for a sport she loved passionately. The siblings went to Boulder, Colorado on Oct. 22 to accept the memorial Sharp End Award from Access Fund, a Boulder, Colorado-based national organization that seeks to preserve rock climbing areas by educating climbers and land managers.

"She was a member of Access Fund for a really long time,”  River Gaydish, a sophomore at Owen High School, said. “She was really passionate about climbing."

The organization isn't the first to honor Kayah. This year, Wild South - a nonprofit that works to inspire people to enjoy, value and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South — created the Kayah Gaydish Award to “honor an individual who has advanced Wild South’s mission and vision and has demonstrated the same dedication Kayah had for inspiring others to protect our wild places.”

Jennifer Kendall “Kayah” Gaydish, 36, an Asheville conservationist and expert rock climber, had been working as the Linville Gorge Wilderness Ranger for Wild South since 2013. Recently promoted to North Carolina conservation coordinator, she was on a rock climbing trip with friends in December when she died in a 50-foot fall.

The last 10 months have been tough for River and her brother Caleb, who lost their father several years ago.

River and Caleb Gaydish pictured with their mother Kayah (left).

“We’re both doing a lot better,” River said. “The adjustment has been easier, in a way, because we already had to deal with our dad dying.”

The outpouring of community support in the wake of their mom’s accident was “amazing,” she said. “Our mom had so many friends, and so many people have reached out to support us."

Remaining in Western North Carolina after her mother’s accident was never in question, River said.

“There were other places outside of North Carolina, or even other cities in the state, that we could have gone,” she said. “But for us this is home." River was taken in by Kim and Stuart Engle, who she said her mother “loved.”

“They’ve done so much for me and Caleb,” she said. “They’ve been so supportive.”

River said she and Caleb, a student at Appalachian State University, were honored to go to Colorado to accept the award on behalf of their mother, who was an avid climber and conservationist. Preserving access to rock climbing was something that was important to her.

River's mother introduced her to climbing at an early age. Though she has not climbed since her mother’s death, River said climbing - "a dangerous but an amazing sport," she said, - will continue to be a part of her life.

“I don’t know that I’ll ever climb again,” she said. “But I do plan to be involved in places like the Access Fund and other organizations that help climbers."

River and Caleb had never been to Boulder before, but they'd heard about it.

"My mom used to always talk about how her and dad would go out there before me and Caleb were born and how much they loved it out there,” River said.

The few months have brought her and her brother closer together, she said. The siblings talk to each other on the phone daily, and River makes frequent trips to Boone to visit Caleb.