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Second Chance
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November 2011 :: United States :: SE Wyoming

lift my head and all around the edge of the bowl I see a fracture line. I am in the dead center of an avalanche I just triggered. As I start to slide I turn my head and yell AVALANCHE!!! Undoubtedly my meek voice is drowned out. My first thought is “Ed?!” 200’ below me Ed has dismantled the anchor and is climbing with me. Snowy rope quickly starts spooling at his feet. He looks up…

On November 6th Ed and I left my house at 6am with the babysitter feeding my kids breakfast. We had been on a hunt for some Ice in a nearby range. We were excited from the potential we had found on previous scouting trips. The allure of being the first to climb the lines we had found fueled our alert dispositions. No coffee needed. When we showed up we dressed in my small cramped car. It was windy and quite cold. Not having wind during a Wyoming winter is the exception, so you just deal and climb anyway.

The approach was a simple trudge through light knee deep windblown snow through rolling terrain, frozen lakes and talus. The wind and falling snow or spindrift (unsure which) was quite oppressive and might have dampened our moods had we not been glad to have had a plowed road cutting hours off our approach and the anticipation of a day of climbing. Gearing up was time consuming below the face. The slicing ice laden wind exacerbated the process. But eventually we started up, Ed belaying me up the first pitch. It started as easy low angle climbing up thin ice with the occasional mixed move. The higher I got the thicker the ice I found. The climbing was wonderful and mellow. I found myself looking for somewhere to get some gear in for a belay at a natural break in the terrain. We had to climb together a bit to get to a small, sloped, snow covered ledge where I was able to get in two pins and bring up Ed.

Ed started climbing around a corner to my left and soon I heard the sound of ice clattering down the rock and ice features. He had encountered the steepest ice so far on the route. He continued up a deep slot until he ran out of rope and belayed from where he was off a two ice screw anchor. I followed his wonderful pitch met him at the belay and grabbed the remaining gear from him. We talked about the great conditions and the fun and easy climbing. Soon I was cruising up to the top of the slot and through a steep snowy section. After placing an ice screw I told him to climb with me when I ran out of rope because of the easy terrain.  Just above that I encountered the powder snow. It was very steep and chest high. The progress was painfully slow and tiring. I did my best to climb on and use rock features on a wall to my right. This helped my progress. I had the opportunity to put in a piece in a small crack. It took my smallest chalk but the placement was poor I fiddled with it but it didn’t get much better. So I just stopper headed it and clipped it thinking “Better than nothing, besides there is no way I could fall on terrain like this”.

As I’m swimming up through the chest deep snow I see a patch of grass. I am trying to make it to that because that means the snow is shallow there. It is about 20’ away when something ketches my attention, I’m unsure if it something I felt like a vibration or something I heard. I lift my head and all around the edge of the bowl I see a fracture line. I am in the dead center of an avalanche I just triggered. As I start to slide I turn my head and yell AVALANCHE!!! Undoubtedly my meek voice is drowned out. My first thought is “Ed?!”

200’ below me Ed has dismantled the anchor and is climbing with me. Snowy rope quickly starts spooling at his feet. He looks up. Not ten feet from him there is a 10 foot wall of snow ripping down the slot at 80mph. He his violently hit in an instant. The force is so awesome that had he been tied into the anchor, there would have been no give. He would have been broken in half

 

 

This was like nothing I have ever experienced. Snow from the entire bowl was being funneled down this slot. The immense power was quite unbelievable. I felt like a rag doll being tossed around unaware of up or down, just waiting for the next blow from an unknown direction my body becoming twisted and contorted in the mess. Finally I realize I am hanging by my waist. As the last of the snow passes I see that I am being held by the rope. My pack and slings that were over my shoulder were ripped from my body and now hung from the crook of my right arm. I see an ice axe stuck in the ice just below me. It was Ed’s, it stayed where he had been hit. I had fallen almost 200 feet most of it head first. I did a quick check and find no blood and I don’t really hurt anywhere. I look down and see Ed hanging upside down and yell “Are you OK?” he replies in a tone of pain “Um, no”.

We were hanging there as counter weights to each other. What stopped us?... that single small chalk. A no. 6 BD chalk held about 400 pounds of falling climbers (one on each side) and the avalanche that swept us away. This should have certainly exceeded the 10kN limit of the cable. When I see that Ed has righted himself I tell him that he needs to build an anchor. He is complaining about pain in his ankle.

After he builds the anchor I retrieve an ice screw nearby, tie the ropes together and start down climbing to his position. I didn’t want to weight that piece any more than I had too because I knew the placement was poor. When I got to his position I can see that he is guarding his leg and is unable to weight it. Suddenly I am shocked by what I see. His leg had caught in the rope in the fall and presumably his crampon had cut the sheath. There was complete sheath failure and the only thing holding it together was about a 3’ section of the white inner core.

After we assess his condition I rappel down to setup another anchor. A noise scares me with my already shot nerves as his pack cut loose above and zips past. I equalize two pins and he rappels down to me. I rappel down another 200’ and make it to the ground. I watch him coming down the rope hopping on one leg and sliding on his butt down the vertical rock face. When he gets to the ground I tell him to slide down the snow covered talus while I pack up the packs and ropes. As I am pulling the ropes I can hear the occasional cry of pain as he slides down on his butt.

When I reach him we try a series of ways to move him. I support him as he hops on his good leg, but we don’t get far. The rough terrain and snow makes it laborious. It is also now obvious that his other ankle is injured. Now he puts a pack on and attaches the hip and chest straps tight and I  drag him on his back as he pushes. That develops into him on his belly on his pack as I drag him he swims through the snow with his hands. At one point I drag him across exposed ice on a frozen lake effortlessly. Eventually we figure out that the most efficient means is for him to crawl on his hands and knees. We wrap our puffy’s around his knees for insulation and padding.

We noted earlier that he was bleeding from one of his legs, it has not stopped and he is leaving a blood trail in the snow like wounded animal dragging itself. We regularly stop for breaks of food, water and rest. I try to pack down the snow in the deeper sections to allow him easier passage. Eventually I go ahead to the car to drop off the packs and try to get help. The first two cars I wave down don’t even stop. I decide to grab my thermos of hot tea and go back to Ed and give him a cup. I tell him he is not far.

I come back to the road and wave down another truck. When they stop I ask them for a plastic sled. Looking confused they say they don’t have one but ask me why. I explain that I need to drag a friend who broke his ankle. They volunteer to help and get out of their vehicle. We make it to Ed, they give him their only Tylenol pill they have and we carry him the last bit to the car and help him in. We thank them and they leave.

 

 

Despite Ed’s frozen feet we decide to not turn the heater on his feet because of his now severely swollen ankles. We make a plan and get ready to head to Laramie. Just as we are about to leave a sheriff shows up. The fellows who helped earlier must have told her about us. She was pretty jazzed up and convinced us to follow her to a place where some EMT’s would check him out and eventually he would be transported to a hospital by an ambulance. When the EMT’s were checking him out we found that the bleeding was not coming from a small puncture wound like we had assumed. He had a huge laceration over his knee cap. It was so bad and deep that 25% of the tendon had been cut and part of his quad had been delaminated.

In summary we were very lucky. Damage: shattered Talus bone, required surgery,2 screws and a bunch of pins; severely sprained ankle (other one); fracture up his tibia; lacerated knee required stitches to reattach the tendon and sew up the gash, delaminated quad muscle, frostbitten toes. I don’t know if science can fully explain how that piece held. I thank God for saving us as this is the only plausible conclusion. Our safety net of rope and gear was used appropriately and saved us but I must give credit where credit is due, Thank you God for a second chance.

While rehabilitating Ed is putting together a video of our experience

Brice