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:
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!
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.
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.