Snowmass Mountain Rescue Sept. 30, 2012

Helping a Total Stranger, Snowmass Mountain, Sunday Sept 30th, 2012
The way I see it, I was going to be out in the mountains anyway on Sunday, and so I decided to make a difference. Something in my gut told me these guys needed help and I know that Mountain very well. I have climbed the West side routes on Snowmass probably a dozen times. On Saturday Evening I got home and was updating my FB and Twitter when i came across some news from a friend of mine Paul Perea. Paul had been climbing Snowmass Mountain on Saturday with Three Companions. They had their target set upon the “S” ridge of Snowmass, and Class 3 scramble from the West via Geneva Basin and Gem Lake. There was some fresh snow on the peak, especially in the North facing aspects. This also made the peak more treacherous.

The victim of this tragedy, who we will call JL, separated from the team and chose to climb one of the central gullies of the west face leading to the “S” ridge, with the apparent idea of meeting the three companions on the ridge and making the summit. Unfortunately, JL’s progress was much slower. Paul and his two friends got on the ridge and then saw no sign of JL. I will perhaps get into the specifics of the groups separation at a later time. Paul put a trip report and explained the situation on 14ers.com: http://www.14ers.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=37839&start=24

To summarize: Paul: “We waited at the top of the gulley had a 15 minute break while we kept waiting for Slim. He never showed so we didn’t know if maybe he went up the 2nd gulley or another way. At this point my mind was on climbing at the recent snow made for some really difficult conditions. We climbed for hours sticking to mainly to the ridge while dropping down from time to time all the while looking back to see if Slim was behind us. We did not see him all day and assumed he may have just turned back. We summited what what we all agreed on was probably one of the most dangerous days we have had in the mountains and hung out up there in perfect weather celebrating Michael’s finisher (Final 14er:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlBf7-xwCXQ&feature=youtu.be)

but at the same time we knew it was going to be tough to get down. We decided to go down the much dreaded west slopes because we did not want to downclimb the ridge with conditions. We made it down without incident all exhausted mentally and physically and back to the car we were hoped we would see Slim’s truck gone or him sitting around camp”.
Paul and his two friends made the top and then descended via the West Slopes. On their descent Paul never saw JL (from what I know so far). Indicating JL summitted or at least got to the summit after he did. JL’s camera has some photos from the “S” ridge, indicating that he made the ridge, but there are no summit photos. According to Paul, he may have been pinned first by a boulder higher up and closer to the Summit upon trying to descend one of the Gullies.
He at first was yelling that night probably because he was in the darkness and didnt know how to descend (People at Jem Lake, including Paul heard him in the night)…as you can see from my photos here, the face of Snowmass and the gullies are a death trap because they cliff out along the bottom, meaning you shouldn’t try descending them, its a bad place to be a a good place to suffer a fall.

I would speculate that JL was injured slightly by a boulder, then he later fell while descending the right side gully (Right Center of the Photo). (More of the story will be understoood in the coming days I am sure). This is how he sustained a broken left wrist (radius/ulna distal fracture) and also bruised femur, and massive right side of his head laceration and trauma. His right eye was swollen shut. He had spent the night out in that gully and out on that ledge from Saturday night into Sunday…..night time temps were in the low 20s that evening. Last year I had spent the night on the top of this peak a mere 1000′ higher, but I had overnight gear. This man’s night must have been terrifying, but for him to survive is nothing short of remarkable!

I ascended the Geneva Lakes Trail and arrived to rocky outcroppings in the basin at about 12,000′ at 1030am with my friend Katie who had still elected to hike with me that day after we had 3 or 4 people from our original group backed out of our planned Sunday hike. We ate lunch and scanned the hillside. I yelled Jeff’s name real loud and heard a faint “Hey” from above. Katie and I had walkie talkies, and so I sent her up onto some of the rocks near Gem lakes, which gave a better view of the mountainside, and I headed towards the Gullies on the W face of Snowmass.
By 11am I could hear and then at 1110 I saw JL sitting on a ledge. Katie communicated with me via walkie talkie and she could see JL well and so our radio communication was a huge asset in getting me up to him quickly.

BY 1120 I was on the ledge with JL at almost 13,000’……when I approached him he was sitting upright w his head hunched over and he was right on the edge. He could slide off at any moment. His pack was off and 15 feet nearer to the wall.

He looked at me with a blank stare and I told him everything was going to be alright. There was a lot of blood on that ledge. His gloves were off and his right eye was swollen closed. I immediately checked his vitals, a pulse, and stopped some bleeding of his fingers and hands. Then I assessed his body for wounds. Since he was sitting up, he appeared to be ok with his spine, but I still palpated it just in case. HIs spine and neck appeared safe. He complained of pain of his right leg and his left arm/wrist was broken with a pretty bad fracture and a laceration. I put on some of his gloves after I made sure the bleeding had stopped. then it was time to get him comfortable and try to get him warm. I raided his pack. I put two more long sleeve shirts/fleeces on him and covered him in two emergency blankets. I padded his head, neck and back on the rocks. He was able to drink fluids, so I gave him my water I brought up and he drank some as well as he took some pain pills/ and tylenol I brought up w me given to me by a doctor Mark I met on the trail.
Once I got him as comfortable as possible it was nearly 1pm. Still nobody was there to help. I was just about ready to leave JL to go down and try to summon more help when I saw Tony with the SAR. (See Gem Lake in this Photo here?) Tony arrived and we reassessed everything and added another fleece and a sleeping bag to JL. At one point I put JL’s feet on my belly while I sat on the edge of the cliff making sure he wouldn’t try to roll off…..JL was clearly warming up but also feeling more pain as he warmed up.
We knew the situation was critical, but now the task was to keep JL calm and warm, and to wait until 5 or 6 SAR people with technical gear got up to us…..they were carrying heavy gear so their progress was slow. Hours passed but at least the sun came up on us and warmed us. I sat with his feet on my belly and his body covered in sleeping bags. A second rescuer sat near JLs head and kept his stable and we checked vitals every 20 minutes or so.
By 4pm I swapped out my spot with another guy on the team because I didnt have overnight gear with me and wanted to make sure I was down before nightfall. By this time 4 more guys were on their way up with a stretcher and anchors were being set up to lower JL to the scree below the ledge in order to carry him in the litter to the best place for helicopter evacuation.

I returned to the valley and met up with Katie and some of the other SAR guys with the Helicopter near Gem lake. They thanked me, and the rest of the rescue was carried out. JL was taken out of there by Dark and was first sent to Aspen and is now in a Denver Hospital. Please pray for him and lets hope he makes a full recovery.

2012 continues to be an unbelievable year for me. So many things happening, but one thing is certain, I continue to respect the mountains with unconditional regard and I will never take for granted my health, skill, and safety I have had during this year and my entire career.
Fall continues and please keep an eye out for my Book and Calendar and the continuation of my book tour this fall and winter (Get it here on my website!). I will be talking about Mount Everest and the Colorado 14ers in the months to come! Thanks and climb safe out there!

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