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[pct-l] Wrong way shortcuts
On descending from Mt. Ritter (same trip as the mini avalanche, self arrest
episode) Jeff Zimmerman and I decided to skirt around the foot of the
mountain east towards Mt. Banner to drop onto the glacier between the
mountains that I had, in a previous year, glissaded down. I knew the area
and thought it would save some time. Dumb decision! (in hind sight, you
would think that after the close call on the self arrest we would have
thought a little longer about this one) We dropped down successively taller
ledges until we reached a vertical wall that faced the glacier, about
twenty feet away and a gaping chasm between us and the ice. Vertical rock
run outs both directions on the ledge we were standing on. 1500 feet of
elevation above us to go back the way we had come up and the sun setting
over the ridge to the west. No other choice but to retrace our steps.
We climbed with only minor difficulty back up the ledges always finding a
crack or route that enabled us up, until we came to a ledge about twelve to
fifteen feet high. We had jumped down this ledge on our way down to the
glacier without thinking about the need for considering the ability to
retrace our route. (O.K., we were still young and stupid. I'm much older
now and much stupider!)
A vertical run out on one end and an ice covered cascade coming steeply
down the other way. No cracks, no routes, no hand holds, no rope, no
pitons, getting dark, only vertical smooth granite. We could actually
figure a route up the cascade, however, we would definitely get thouroughly
soaked and we weren't equipped to avoid the hypothermia that result. We
relegated that to last resort, after "spending the night on the mountain
waiting for help".
I edged out onto the vertical run out of the ledge and standing on a mere
3/4 inch ledge, I found a reachable crack affording me enough resistance to
pull myself up. Jeff threw his pack up and it was then that we realized
that Jeff couldn't reach the crack, we didn't have a rope or straps or belt
or anything that I could reach down to give Jeff a hand up. The ledge was
too tall for me to even lay down and reach with my hand so that Jeff could
jump up to reach it, with the exception of where I had climbed up.
However, here the rock sloped steeply toward vertical exposure and no way
to lay down securely.
I inched my way back down the way I had come and urged Jeff out to me on
the 3/4 inch ledge. The crack I had found angled out from the steep slope
but to hardly any advantage for my footing. In my extremely precarious
position I could, none-the-less, reach Jeff's outstretched hand. I pulled
and he tried to find footing, of which there was none. I slipped a little
just as he slipped a little, our eyes met and immediately recognized the
fear in each other's. He panicked a little, I panicked alot inside.
Already as low to the rock for adhesion as I could form my body, I somehow
found a more contouring, close and sticky position, gathered my emotions
and called for Jeff to do the same.
We made it. We were not elated. We were both resigned to our stupidity
and the price it almost exacted. We sat and collected ourselves and
resumed the climb back up to a major ledge that we then followed back the
way we had ascended the mountain. We reached camp two hours after dark.
The next morning we awoke to find three inches of new snow had fallen in
Jeff and I cemented our friendship there on that ledge. We climbed Banner
two years ago and are looking forward to climbing Ritter again this July
4th weekend. We wont make such stupid mistakes again, but there's a whole
bunch out there that I haven't tried yet!
Dear John, there but for the grace of God go I.
May he rest in peace, and may I find my final resting place in such a
magnificent and beautiful place.
Greg "Strider" Hummel
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