Monday, March 20, 2006

Stick Kicker

This is an article that ran in our local newspaper, The Huntsville Times this past Saturday.

Gary Cotney 'put you at ease,' says friend, fellow caver
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Times Staff Writer

If you have ever hiked Monte Sano without stumbling, you can thank Gary Cotney.

Cotney spent almost every weekend exploring the Huntsville area's many mountain trails and caves. Quiet but considerate, he had a habit of kicking fallen branches out of the way to prevent other hikers from tripping.

"He was doing it for everyone," said close friend Sabrina Simon, who gave Cotney his geocaching nickname, Stick Kicker. (Geocaching is a modern-day scavenger hunt using a Global Positioning System unit).

A Huntsville native who followed his job to St. Louis last year, Cotney died earlier this month of an apparent heart attack. He was 44.

Cotney was all about the outdoors. Beginning in June 2002, he and fellow caver Paul Meyer walked every inch of the more than 80 miles of trails on Monte Sano to create detailed maps for emergency workers. Both men were members of the Huntsville Cave Rescue Unit and the High Angle Rough Terrain team, which rescues injured hikers.

While criss-crossing Monte Sano, Cotney and Meyer discovered a handful of previously unknown caves. They christened one cave "Little Bo Pit," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the word "Bo" that cavers use to get each other's attention.

Cotney was reserved around strangers, but Meyer said he had a wry sense of humor around friends. It shows in a recent newsletter article Cotney penned for the National Speleological Society's Huntsville grotto.

He tells part of the story from the perspective of a glove he lost in a Monte Sano cave called Craig's Well.

"Now I'm just stuck here in the dark wondering if I'll ever get to meet my other half (the right glove) and enjoy the thrill of rubbing against a nylon rope again," Cotney wrote. "If you do find me, return me to Paul or Sabrina at a grotto meeting. My owner may even consider a small reward but don't expect too much; he's kinda cheap."

Meyer and Simon said they hope to find the glove.

Simon said Cotney helped fit her for her first climbing harness and literally showed her the ropes the first time she tried rappelling at northwest Huntsville's Shelta Cave in May 2003.

"Within an hour and a half of meeting Gary, I was trusting my life with him," she said. "He put you at ease."

While caving was a huge part of Cotney's life, it was not his only interest. He loved John Wayne westerns and cowboy novels. He was into ham radio. He had a thing for red-heads. Cotney planned to return to the Rocket City after retiring and go back to college, maybe majoring in English or journalism.

Meyer said Cotney was "fairly well devastated" when Chrysler transferred him to Missouri just over a year ago. But he drove back regularly to see family and friends and roam the North Alabama mountains he loved.

There was an appropriately outdoorsy element to Cotney's funeral Thursday. Meyer slipped a carabiner clip used in rappelling into his casket. Simon added a small cave rock inscribed with Cotney's National Speleological Society membership number, 46974.

Cotney is survived by his mother, Helen Cotney of Huntsville; brothers, John W. Cotney Jr. of Hoover, and Steven Paul Cotney of Peoria, Ill.; sister, Carol Ann Cotney of Huntsville; and several nieces and nephews.

He was buried beside his father in Randolph County, south of Talladega.



At 7:53 PM, Anonymous Kristen said...

I'm so sorry about your friend, Sabrina. My thoughts are with you as you grieve.


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