Peak(s):  Pyramid Peak  -  14,018 feet
Date Posted:  04/08/2017
Date Climbed:   03/04/2017
Author:  montoyaman
 A Second Chance on Pyramid   


A Second Chance on Pyramid


Time grows some mountains in the mind, if not in reality. Pyramid Peak is one of those mountains for me. A few years ago, when I started tempting the Colorado high peaks, Pyramid and surrounding loose climbs of Aspen naturally came under my radar. Life in the mountains made me bolder; in time, I walked the knife-edge of Capitol, and soloed the Maroon Bells Traverse. I loved the rugged beauty of the Elks. The splashes of green, brown, red, grey, and white, were unlike any other range I had yet experienced. But I had only seen their faces in summer; and I wondered how the snow would glitter on their terraced features. That's when I read about the dangers of Pyramid Peak, and I was naturally called. It would be a test of my winter skills, a chance to see the white Elks, and an opportunity to grow.

After climbing Long's via the trough a few weeks prior, and having felt confident in my mixed and ice climbing ability from the winter season, I believed that the Pyramid was within grasp. Unable to rope any of my fellow climbing partners into the task, I decided that I would attempt the peak solo. The vast majority of 14ers I have climbed have been solo, involving moderate 5th class terrain when possible; however, I am considerably less experienced in avalanche awareness and safety. Earlier in the winter I bailed on a solo attempt of Mt. Shasta's Caseval Ridge because I believed the snow to be sufficiently instable. Given that I could detect signs of danger, I believed that I would make the right call and return home. By no means did I have a death wish, I simply could not ignore the call to try.

On March 4th, I made the long drive to Aspen from Arvada. I remember the usual fear that I felt before a climb. It gripped me for the majority of the drive, and even prompted me to text my father, confiding in him my concerns. He naturally asked why. I realized at that moment that my fear was not of death, but it was of pain. I was afraid of the loneliness, the cold, the altitude, and the wind. Little did I know, I was about to get a lot more than I bargained for.

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Snapshot of Pyramid on the road


Note: I was able to recover the climbing photos from my phone, as only the screen was destroyed in the fall.


DAY 1 - 3/4/17


I started up the winter trailhead in the afternoon. The sun was beating down; there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I felt pretty silly wearing long johns with my ski pants, but tried to compensate by shedding all but my base upper. My plan was to skin up to Crater Lake, where I would dig a snow cave in preparation for an alpine start on Pyramid Peak.

There was heavy traffic on the road that day, snowmobiles, bikers, skiers, and hikers alike. I can't say that it was particularly enjoyable, as I sweat bullets and developed numerous hotspots in my ski boots. I'm a stubborn hiker though, and I didn't treat them until arriving at the summer trailhead where I found that a few nasty blisters were well under way. A quick patch, and I was out again, not wanting to get to my destination after the sun went down.

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Enjoying being off the road and on trail


I followed ski tracks past Maroon Lake, and across Crater. The wind had picked up since the summer trailhead, and dusk was falling fast. But even in my haste, the views were breathtaking. The Bells were dripping with snow, frosting their steep faces like icing on a red velvet cake. With the lamplight of the sun in the background, I was fully taken in. And Pyramid stood to my left. It's triangular north face had dominating the views driving in, and as I walked finally the west had revealed itself to me. The west ridge blazed in the last rays of the sun. I imagined myself there, clinging to the rocks and digging my way through the snow. It filled me with fear, and a burning joy.

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The beautiful Bells


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The North Face of Pyramid


Just beyond the edge of Crater Lake I spied the creators of the track I followed. I speculated as to their destination, and was surprised when they turned right towards the snowfields that separated the Bells. It was too late for a summit push, and there did not appear to be a good site to bivy on the high slopes. But, as much as I may have enjoyed their company on my own route, I prepared myself mentally for the push alone.

I bivied in a patch of trees just south of Crater Lake. As I was digging, I heard a whoop and turned to see a figure racing down the slopes of the Maroon's towards the trailhead. His partner soon followed. As the wind was now blowing snow uncomfortably, I doubled over to finish my crude shelter. Even in good conditions, I tend to be a bit lazy with my snow caves. This one was no exception; but with my bivy sack, bag, and pad, I was plenty comfortable. I boiled water to top off the 2.5 liters I'd planned to take up the mountain, and chomped down on my favorite mountain dish: pesto angel hair pasta. I realized at my camp that I was missing an essential piece of equipment: a knife. I'd used it at the trailhead to slice a bagel, and my best guess was that it had somehow managed to evade my scrutiny as I packed up for departure. It didn't weigh heavily on my mind, and I happily spooned hot noodles into my mouth with my fingers.

Sleep came easy that night.


DAY 2 - 3/5/17


Sad Robot by Pornophonic startled me awake at 3 AM. Always the worst part of a climb, I grumbled to myself as I dusted off my pack and fished out a quick breakfast. I ate in my bag, and when I was finished managed to coax myself from my warm cocoon. I've found that mountaineering never makes much sense to my freshly woken mind. Like dealing with a toddler, reason won't convince it otherwise. It just becomes a matter of will at that point.
In any case, I was up and at it faster than I expected. I still had a short snowfield to cross before I arrived at the west gully of Pyramid, so I opted to keep my skis on and skin across. The wind had died down, and as forecasted the sky was starry and clear. This I knew, would not last. A vicious late afternoon storm was predicted, giving me a hard turnaround time of noon, assuming reasonable conditions held even to that point.

When I arrived at the west gully, pushing through the moose tracked woods that guarded its base, I immediately noticed that it had been hammered by a large, recent avalanche. Cautiously, I skinned up through the deposit at the bottom of the gully, but the snow was very firm and the temperatures still cold. Nonetheless, I wasn't crazy about pushing the next few thousand feet through the gully, or returning via that route for that matter. I reached a small cliff band that bordered the gully towards climbers left, and I decided it was time to stash the skis and search for better terrain. I packed my Scarpa 6000m Phantom Guides for the real climb, simply because I hated cramponing on Long's with my ski boots prior. My feet thanked me in more ways than one for this choice. I tucked my boots, skis and skins into the rock wall, and loaded them down with stones in case the wind picked up. At this point it was consistently blowing, but was quite bearable.

Crampons and my mountaineering boots inspired confidence, and I poked around the gully for safer slopes. After plunging up a steep rise on climber's right, I realized that the mountain just north of the gully was blown clear of snow. Though chossy and loose, it was by far the best way up, and I quickly scooted across the gully and onto solid ground.

From that point on, gaining the northwest ridge was easy. I needed no crampons, and the rocks were relatively stable. The wind continued to blow, but came from the west and therefore gave me an assist uphill. The sun was rising at this point, but already the clouds were rolling in. Since I was still on easy and safe class 2 terrain, I opted to continue and keep a wary eye on the weather.

Near the top of the ridge, the clouds had the peak surrounded. I could still spy the precipitous face of the Maroons and their adjoining ridge, but the rest of the world was disintegrating into white. Peering up at the rocks above, I caught sight of a family of mountain goats nibbling at the barren earth. They watched my slow approach, and in due time deemed that I had entered their personal space. The next time I searched the rocks above, they had vanished.

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The Bells on the climb


The top of the ridge revealed the true force of the wind. It whipped around the ridge from the west, threatening to send a careless climber into the amphitheater seated below the tremendous north face of Pyramid. I spent a short time hunkered behind some boulders, and choked down a snack and drink. The real climbing and variability was soon to come.

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Windy Northwest Ridge


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Looking into the ampitheatre


The so called "rubble gully" that gave access from the northwest ridge onto the west face proper was generously clear of snow. The summer trail had been blown clear, and only at the upper section of the gully would I be forced to travel through snow. When I reached the top of the gully, I came to face a tough decision: whether or not to traverse south to gain access through the chutes above. The trip reports I had read before had not been entirely clear to me; some traversed south while others seemed to push directly up the gully. But I had never ascended the peak in the summer, so I would be forced to rely on personal experience to navigate tricky terrain in the event that the route was non-obvious. I saw a cairn to the south however, and opted to traverse rather than to continue through the rubble gully.

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The "rubble gully"


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Why you don't want to fall


After the traverse, I found myself at the base of a narrow chute. Though it certainly appeared that the summer route passed through or underneath this chute, it seemed to me to be a bit more technical than 4th class. Not seeing a more obvious alternative, and with the knowledge that winter could bump 4th class into low 5th, I figured I'd give the chute a try. The first 20 feet went easily, but then I encountered a tight chimney. After probing the rock for what seemed like at least a half hour, I knew it was make or break on the route. Noon was still well off, but I knew that if my head wasn't in the right place for this chute (and the possible downclimb of it) that I shouldn't be risking more on the mountain.

The problem was that I wouldn't fit with my backpack on, so I would be forced to push it above me as I squeezed through. It would be awkward, but not very dangerous as I could pretty easily wedge my body in the chimney in the event that I slipped. A downclimb would be similarly awkward, but I felt that it was within my ability. With a proper rack and rope, I wouldn't think twice about continuing.

The wind was not increasing, and the snow was light. I shivered on that ledge and contemplated my options. This was the edge: I would need to commit to the mountain, or retreat to face it another day. Some mountains grow in the mind. Pyramid had grown over the years, and it had grown as I finally ascended its shoulders. It was no longer just a peak; not in my mind that day. This is perhaps my greatest danger: that I should take my love of mountains and their profound analogy, and accept their allusions as the naked truth. That I could find myself by facing fear; that true beauty exists only in the lonely mountains- I'm tempted by this notion always. It is my responsibility to temper it.

I don't know if my decision was wrong, or if I succumbed to the temptation despite rationalizing otherwise. In any case, I would not descend via the west that day.

I decided I would continue. The chimney was awkward, as I anticipated, but before I knew it I had emerged from its confines and was taking deep steps into steep snow. The rest of the chute passed under me slowly, for I frequently had to dig to find stable footing. And the chute was long; longer than I expected. As I was finally topping out of its loose, tricky features, I was pretty confident that I'd taken a more difficult route up the mountain, and my suspicion was confirmed when I stumbled past the summer trail on the wind scoured rocks above. I made a mental note to follow the trail back towards what I assumed would be the Keyhole and proper 4th class headwall crux. In the event that this didn't pan out, I would begrudgingly retrace my steps down the chute.

Armed with the hope that I wouldn't need to face that awkward gully in reverse, I checked the time and tanked up on water for the last major hurdle of the mountain. After navigating some meandering rises, I would have to cross the upper west bowl. It was this crux I had been most concerned for originally, however the windy conditions and lack of recent snow left it in a satisfactory condition. I fought my way up as close as possible to the cliffs that guarded it from above, and then proceeded to pick my way across the snowfield. The snow was deep enough in places to warrant some caution, but it appeared well consolidated. I pushed through until I reached the shortcut known as the JP Sneak. Feeling confident and strong, I scrambled up the short pitch, and was on the summit ridge.

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Upper bowl traverse


The time was 11 AM. I was well ahead of my turn around time. The clouds were all around me, and the snow fell lazily. Strangely, the wind was gentle. When I clambered to the top of the ridge, I turned to face the summit. And, right where it should have been, the summit rose above. Only a few more stones guarded its rocky summit. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that it was about 40 feet away, and a class 2-3 scramble to reach. The ascent was basically over. Soon I'd be taking out my phone, and attempting to send off a message to my roommate and parents. I'd be turning back downhill, to retreat from the mountain that had given me permission to climb it.

My goggles were blurry from moisture and snow. I took a few steps, and squinted to see the proper path through the rocks that would lead me to the summit.

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Approximate ascent route


I don't honestly know what happened there at the summit ridge. I can only guess that I unwittingly stepped on loose rock, or a cap of snow formed by the wind. I was not deliberately standing near the east edge of the ridge. I don't remember a stumble, or even a sinking feeling as I was about to fall. In the first few seconds, I knew that something was wrong, but recall feeling certain that it would soon be over. Years of feeling my harness tighten, and the soft bungee of a climbing rope, must have taught me that.

My body rolled against the mountainside, and I was not slowing. White flooded my vision as my face must have pressed deep into the snow. I was blind, and could only sense that my body had become a whirlwind of motion. When I first felt the earth disappear, and the air whistle in my ears, I believed that I would die. Fear was too complex an emotion I think to fully comprehend. I don't think that I ever was airborne for more than three seconds, and each time I dropped I believed that soon it would be over. I remember groaning out loud. I remember pleading for the motion to just end. I don't think I could fathom why I was still falling. When there was a stretch of snow I would claw at it, only to be thrown out again over an abyss.

When I remember the fall now, it only comes in bits and pieces. And those pieces are completely non-visual, composed entirely of sound and sensation. Between my involuntary groans and grunts, prompted by the impact of my body against the mountain, there was very little sound except the whine of snow and wind. It was odd when juxtaposed with the chaos rendered upon my body. It was so quiet that I could hear my voice distinctly when I cried out.

I fell for at least half a minute, or equivalently an eternity to my bewildered mind. Then, eternity broke, and the motion slowed. I felt the snow sliding under my chest, and my arms instinctively plunged deep. And it worked; I heard the whine of my waterproof jacket subside, and the snow eased itself under my body. I stopped. I rolled onto my back. That's when the pain hit.

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Approximate fall line


I'm not sure which came first to my attention: my arm or my leg. In any case, my right hip blared like a trumpet, and my left elbow felt sickeningly locked out of place. I tried to move it, but it would not respond properly, and so I grabbed my left hand with my right and wrenched my arm around until suddenly the bones rolled back into their socket. Immediately the pain and discomfort stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The relief was short lived. I was still dazed from the fall, and when I tried to rise to my feet my hip promptly drove me back into the snow from the pain. I placed my left arm out to brace myself, but upon resting weight on it I felt a series of pops and the elbow slid out of place again. Howling and cursing, I worked the arm back into its proper position, and then slumped back into my snow seat.

Through the thin layer of cloud, I could see the opposing valley, and the valley floor a few thousand feet below me. Carefully, I twisted my body around, and looked up the slope I had fallen from. From my low vantage, the upper reaches of the mountain soared into the clouds. I saw only rocky faces, though I did not search for long because on the snowfield above me I spied a light trail of blood that led to my resting place. Immediately I set about probing my body for further injury, but found nothing except the taste of metal in my mouth. A spit and quick check with my tongue revealed that I had merely bitten my cheek.

My mind began to flood with emotions. My last clear memory was of viewing the summit itself; a memory that had been violently ripped apart by the fall. On one hand, I could not believe that I was alive after what appeared to be at least a 1,500 foot fall down rock and snow, and on the other it dawned on me that I was badly hurt on what appeared to be the east side of the mountain, the geography of which I was completely unaware of. On top of that, there was a bitter wind, and my pants were soaking in the soft snow. I was cold, and as the storm settled in I would soon be much colder.

At this point I still believed I would likely die on the mountain, but this time there would be no mercy of a quick death on the rocks. I was enraged that I should survive such a fall, just to succumb to the cold, and I let the wind and surrounding hillsides hear my frustration.

The situation on the surface didn't look great, so I set about taking inventory to see how desperate it really was. First off, upon powering up, my phone flickered green at the edge of its screen, and then refused to show any signs of life. It wasn't likely that I'd have any service anyway, so that was not a major loss. On the fall, I'd lost my technical ice ax, and my mountaineering ax had been stripped away from the outside of my pack. My pack, somewhat miraculously, appeared undamaged. I'd also lost my left glove, and only the ankle strap of my right crampon remained. Later I would discover that my headlamp, which I had left strapped to my helmet, had also been stripped away.

On the positive side, I had an MSR pocket rocket and some fuel, a handful of pills, some emergency repair tools, a compass, my shovel, small hand warmers, food, water, and an emergency bivy sack. It was the plastic kind, more akin to a reflective trash bag than anything else, but already I was counting my blessings. I knew I needed to conserve heat, so I dug out my down jacket and with great effort managed to layer up appropriately. I don't remember how many times I re-dislocated my elbow. It wasn't something I wanted to dwell on.

Sitting directly in the wind and snow isn't terribly comfortable, so my next thought was to find or create shelter while I continued to process my predicament. With my good arm, I started shoveling out the hillside to create a crude snow cave. About halfway through, my brain kicked in and I reconsidered my options. I was in the middle of the loaded east slopes, which could avalanche during the day or night. It was exposed to the elements, and I seriously doubted that I could boil water for more than one night. On the positive side, it was open, and would be an easy spot for search and rescue.

My eyes wandered to the bottom of the valley, and something caught my eye. There, at the very bottom, was a body of water. If frozen, the layer of ice was light, because it cut so distinct an outline in the snow. And if there was open water, I would not need to rely on my stove. With a steady supply, I knew I could last for days in a snow shelter. Water not only combats dehydration, but also frostbite.

The area around the pond was clear, providing an equally plausible location for search and rescue to discover me. The correct decision became obvious: I should build my shelter beside the pond instead of my miserable perch on the mountainside. This of course, left me contemplating its consequence: I would need to somehow transport myself down the remaining slopes of Pyramid.

Standing wasn't an option. I could barely rise on one foot, but any weight on my right hip caused me to collapse from the pain. So, I opted for a controlled glissade. Without an ice ax, and with my injuries, I was pretty wary of the prospect of self-arrest. In my mind, losing control was simply a non-option. Fortunately, the snow was soft enough that it was pretty easy to add friction as needed. Unfortunately, there was too much friction. I let myself slide onto the blade of my shovel. With the handle between my legs, and using my right hand to direct it, I could pull up to reduce friction or plunge the handle downward and brake reliably.

I pulled up, and started to slide. I realized pretty quickly that a continuous slide wasn't an option, no matter how slow it was, because I had very poor rudder control and would risk turning over on my side. Also, in the event that I had to brake, my right foot would sometimes catch in the snow and bend out of alignment, causing me a flood of pain. I must admit, I did learn my lesson the hard way when I was forced to bail on my side to stop from losing control. Neither my hip nor my elbow thanked me.

It seemed a scoot was the only viable option. I would inch my way down the slope, digging my left heel in the snow and jerking my waist forward. Each movement only earned me a few inches of distance, but I tried to put that in the back of my mind as I eyed the few thousand feet of snow below me.

Perhaps needless to say, it took a long time. My movements collected snow over my waist and below, and pretty soon my nether regions were going numb. It didn't help that I was essentially straddling a metal post. I stopped frequently to clear the debris, and cradle my groin which had begun to ache terribly. But, the act of movement was critical for my morale. I knew that even if it took me all day, I'd get to the water. I imagined crawling to its lip and drinking liter after liter. I even started to fantasize that it was a hot spring, and that I'd spend the next few days splashing about until search and rescue found me. After all, how else could there be open water amidst such cold? It made more and more sense as what must have been hours ticked by. Without my phone, and having foolishly left my watch at home, the sun would be my only sense of time.

It was on this leg of my adventure that I discovered the large hole in my helmet, and the loss of my headlamp. Not that I needed further convincing of my extreme fortune in having survived that fall.

When I was just a few hundred feet above the valley floor, I found myself peering over what would prove to be the last vertical obstacle of the mountain. The slope had steepened gradually as I descended, and I had feared that I was about to cliff out. I considered angling my descent, but in the end just decided to hold the course and see how the slope would play out. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when dark bands of rock emerged from the snow. I was dropping right into a steep snow chute, guarded by a tricky network of rocks. I couldn't help but think how fun it would have been on skis.

I continued to inch along until I could no longer slide safely. Climbing out was a pretty unattractive option; I figured that if I could get around a small rock cliff another 20 feet below, then a fall in the chute would not cause additional injury and instead would just spit me out at the bottom of the valley. In the end, that's exactly what happened. I managed to turn into the slope, using my shovel in front of me to dig into the snow while I carefully kneaded my left foot through the surface powder and down the hillside. It was slower than scooting on the shovel, but eventually I found myself skiers left of the little cliff band, with only snow remaining below.

With this small hazard out of the way, I tried quickening my pace. This inevitably resulted in a loss of footing, and with a sinking feeling I surrendered to the pull of gravity. My hope was to ride on my back and let the chute do the work for me, and although this worked for the first 30 feet I soon turned on my side and my arm caught on the slope. I was mercifully close to the end of the chute by then, and in a blur of cursing and shouting I was ejected into the bottom of the valley. At this point fixing my arm was somewhat routine, and I wasted no time working it back into place.

The water was only about a hundred feet away now, but the slope was too shallow to scoot on the shovel. I tried again to stand, but failed. Instead, I rolled on my belly, and gently collected myself onto my knees. With both arms outstretched and gripping my shovel, I could place it in the snow and then support myself while I dragged my knees forward. My right arm was unfortunately not strong enough to support my weight on the still down-turned slope, so my left had to back it up. This, as one might expect, again resulted in a dislocation, but eventually I got the hang of it.

After much effort, at last I crawled to the snowy edge of the pond. To my dismay, about three feet of loose, powdery snow hung over its lip, and the pond itself was about an inch deep and more akin to a frosty marsh. Gone were my fantastical dreams of a hot bath. Not wanting to sink into the water, I carefully broke the edge of the snow bank, and used it to create a more stable foundation. At the break I sat myself upright, and started to dig. My goal was a small cave that would run parallel to the pondside. Because of my elbow's instability and my hip pain, I knew the door would be large, otherwise it would be impossible for me to excavate enough snow to rest comfortably.

My caves are more akin to coffins, and this was no exception. But in the end, I was overjoyed to have enough room to almost completely extend my legs. I took everything snow resistant out of my pack, and donned my remaining warm clothes. I had long johns, water resistant snow pants (which were already soaking wet at this point), a base shirt, a thin fleece, an 800 fill down jacket, a hard shell, and a wooly balaclava. My pack would serve as insulation between my torso and the snow. I opened the bivy, and spread the plastic out inside the cave. It didn't look warm, but it was better than any alternative.

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Approximate descent line


To replenish my water, I found that I could not safely approach the pond without the risk of sinking into its marshes. Instead, I used my shovel as a ladle and spooned muddy water into my Nalgenes. I wasn't complaining: to have water at all was a game changer. I'd be dead or rescued before I paid for drinking the dirty water.

With bottles buried in the snow and my bed ready, I worked the boot shells off my feet, opting to keep my liners on. It was a challenge, like anything else, to situate myself in the shelter. But when all was settled, I was just happy for the chance to lie down. I was feeling far more positive about my condition; I firmly believed that I could last the night given my hydration and food availability. And I held the belief that tomorrow the sky would be clear, and I'd hear the blades of the Blackhawk overhead.

It's odd that I can't remember this rather significant detail clearly, but I'm pretty sure I ate a whole bagel in preparation for the night. Energy meant warmth, and I can't recall eating anything else. I'm sure at this point I was pretty hungry, and as the night would prove I was not inclined towards rationing quite yet.

I slept as the snow fell, and as the sun sank below the horizon. But when the temperature began to drop, sleep became difficult. It didn't take long before I was shaking uncontrollably. The temperature in Aspen that night was around 4 degrees Fahrenheit, as I recall. Whatever the specific temperature, I just knew that I was cold. So, I started to boil water. After boiling a pot, I'd transfer its contents into an empty Nalgene, and place that Nalgene between my legs or under my shirt. Doing so probably earned me a few minutes of fitful sleep for each boil, which I was grateful for.

Problem was, I got pretty greedy for warmth, and wasn't taking into account how much fuel I had left. After a few hours of relative comfort, I heard my stove choke and splutter, and the fire died. I placed the last bottle between my legs, and returned my lighter to its waterproof bag. In the back of my mind, I knew that I had just spent my fuel on the warmest portion of the night. But I was in a fitful state of mind, and could only think clearly enough to pop a few pills of Ibuprofen before bracing myself for the long night. And as the cold started to really set in, I became more and more desperate for insulation. I discovered that my boot liners made for excellent props under my legs, and after some finagling my body was completely insulated from the snow.

I've spent a few terrible nights out in the wilderness before. In high school, my friends and I enjoyed stranding ourselves in the mountains with limited supplies. The less we took, the more successful the adventure. We usually had the benefit of a fire, but without sleeping bags or shelter, the night was always a miserable experience. I distinctly remember nights where we were forced to burn our own shelter in an effort to maintain the flame, and we slept so close to the fire that our clothes never survived. One night, on top of freezing in the cold, I managed to get poison oak all over my face. That night was miserable indeed.

Even though this was the worst night I'd spent in the wild to date, I at least wasn't a stranger to the experience. My mind followed a familiar routine, numbing itself to the state of my body, and treating wakefulness as it would a bad dream. Not once did I feel I had to stay awake to survive: my body continued to shake throughout the night, reminding me that I had energy to spare. I honestly don't know if I slept at all. The night was like a flu-induced delirium; it seemed as eternal as my own discomfort. But, that's how a survival night always is.


DAY 3 - 3/6/17


As the temperatures began to rise with the morning, sleep finally found me. Occasionally, I'd awaken and peer out of my shelter, only to be dismayed by the unrelenting snow and clouds. I knew that today there would be no helicopter. But that did not stop me from shouting or blowing my backpack whistle at every slight sound that broke the norm.

I nibbled on half a summer sausage between naps. It was a luxury item, purchased only because a close friend had recently sent me a Safeway gift card. Other than that, I had a cliff bar and three packets of tuna. All things considered, it was a pretty good stock of food, and I was content to wait out the storm in my cave.

I love reading stories of mountaineering strength and survival. A recent book I'd read, -148, retold the story of the first winter ascent of Denali. A group of three were forced to spend eight days cramped in a hasty snow cave near the summit, waiting out 100+ mile an hour winds and temperatures dropping below minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit. While I rested in that cave, their story spun in my mind. I felt that if they could survive such rotten conditions, then surely I could as well. It gave me hope, which was precious.

I knew that I had fallen on the east side of the mountain. What I didn't know was the geography of this side of the mountain, though I dimly remembered reading that a ski descent was possible from the east face. I had no map; I'd saved images of the route and area with my phone, but that was now useless. Although printing a map used to be standard practice for me, I'd become complacent over time and found my memory to be more than adequate. Now, the result of this typically harmless habit was life threatening.

That map would have been very handy, because I was now considering escape from the valley. On my scoot the day before, it had crossed my mind as an option until I reached the bottom of the valley. Unable to walk, and without a steep enough grade, movement was pretty much limited to a crawl. Given that I was already soaking wet, wallowing in deep snow for hours seemed a poor choice.

If I could manage to walk, then I stood a reasonable chance at self-rescue. From the approach on the Maroon Lake Road, I recalled how the road diverged into the west valley and trailhead from a larger, north to south running valley. In this valley, there was running water. I suspected that the east side of Pyramid Peak was a short valley that must feed directly into the larger, primary valley I had approached in. And given that I had running water at my cave, and there was running water below, I was certain that I'd have a steady supply for the trek. If I could reach that primary valley and get to the road, the chances were pretty high that I could catch a snowmobiler or skier on an afternoon hike, saving me about 5 extra miles to the winter trailhead.

If everything I was assuming was correct, then I probably had 4-ish miles to hike if I wanted to reach the road. Possibly, I had more, if this valley did not feed directly to the junction with the Maroon Lake trailhead. The fact that I could recall there being a ski descent helped bolster my confidence, because I know how skiers hate taking a long way around (after all, that's not really the point).

As comfortable as I was in my cave, a few things were weighing on my mind. I knew by now my family and friends would be worried sick. Although I believed I could last for some time, I hated the thought of them coming to terms with my death. Also, they would have called in search and rescue, who would naturally scour the west ridge to no avail. It was risky for them, and worst of all it was futile.

I also had no idea what the weather was going to do, and at the moment I had strength to spare. It seemed a terrible waste to whittle away my valuable energy in a cave, where I would inevitably start developing frostbite and other potential maladies. Additionally, I thought that movement would help me to dry. Everything on me was damp; sleeping in what amounts to a tubular space blanket traps all the moisture and produces condensation. If I stayed in that cave, I'd never dry out.

My final thoughts were probably a product of fear alone: I thought that search and rescue would not find me here. I am not familiar with search and rescue techniques and policies, but after a few days a missing climber is in all likelihood dead. I thought that if the bad weather held, or efforts to the west became too dangerous, the effort would be called off. Furthermore, I had fallen off what was perhaps the most unlikely slope of the mountain. Literally the only place I could have fallen off the east face was in the last ~100 feet to the summit. It seemed implausible, even to me, that if a climber successfully navigated the technical aspects of the mountain he could still fall off its maximally class 3 summit ridge. If I sat around waiting, it was to me grotesquely within the realm of possibility that I would never be found.

Another famous mountaineering story, told in Touching the Void, played out in my mind. Even with significant injury, and a pace limited to that of a crawl, just the will to survive was enough to save the life of Joe Simpson in the Andes after a terrifying fall into a crevasse. It inspired hope in me, and prompted me to test my limits. It was in the afternoon that I first put on my boots and tenderly rose to my feet. My arm was still unstable, and I couldn't use it without risking dislocation. But my legs felt stronger beneath me, and I could place enough weight on my right hip to take a quick step with my left. It still hurt, but was not the same blinding pain I had felt the day before.

Initially I felt encouraged, but when I looked at the deep snow around me and tried a few timid steps up the nearby snow bank, my confidence expired. It just didn't seem plausible to plunge step for miles with an injured hip. I had no idea what the extent of my injury was, only that it seemed to be limited to my right hip and was most painful with sideways pressure or torque. Defeated, I refilled my Nalgenes, including the bottle I'd used for urine the night before, and wriggled back into my cave.

The snow had paused briefly for my little excursion, but quickly resumed when I had nestled back into my shelter. I watched the snow morosely, wondering how long I would be confined to this cave, and if ever I would be discovered alive. I thought that maybe if I waited another night, my condition would continue to improve. But another voice told me that such a thought was foolish: I was in a survival situation, and the longer I remained outside, the weaker I would become. These thoughts bickered against one another in my mind for hours as I battled to silence both and gain precious sleep.

In the end, the battle was won not by rationality but by emotion. It is usually a surge of feeling that prompts me into action when indecision has plagued my mind. It was a strong feeling that goaded me into pushing my way through the chimney, when perhaps a better route existed just around the corner. I know that emotions should not serve as guides in the mountains; they have the ability to fly up in the face of actual fact. But when the facts are confused, or imprecise, or contradictory, how then can we make decisions? Part of the beauty of the mountains can be found in their uncertainty. Inevitably, even the most practical climber must come to terms with their feelings. Fear, confidence, pain, joy: they are all an integral part of the mystical experience the mountains offer us. I climb because it is an emotional experience. I climb because I love the interplay of these feelings as I navigate the mountain and myself. It's a complete story, all wrapped up into a brief outing.

Should I have stayed, and waited for search and rescue? I know now that they were planning to visit the east valley, and would in all likelihood have crossed my path. But in the moment, all I felt was an insatiable urge to continue to move. Survival, to me, meant movement. Movement too, meant returning to those I loved sooner, and saving them from unnecessary grief.

Anger is a powerful motivator, and I became enraged at my condition, and my passivity. Before I knew what I was doing, I had strapped up my boot shells, and was wriggling out of my shelter and into the falling snow. I uncovered my buried gear, and jammed them back into my frosty pack. Carefully threading the left strap over my shoulder, I was able to avoid another elbow dislocation. It felt good to have my home on my shoulders again.

I faced the snow bank again, and using my shovel as a cane with my gloved right hand, took a few careful steps into it. I winced at the sparks that shot up my hip in protest, but so great was my anger and emotion that it was easily ignored. It was difficult to place weight on my right hip for long, so I developed a limp that eventually granted me access over the bank and onto flat snow. I turned right, and faced down canyon. The mountains ran all the way down, and disappeared into the clouds. I could not see any obvious diversion to the west, but tried not to dwell on the thought as I placed each step before the next.

My pace was absurdly slow, but it was all I could do not to stumble while plunging through the soft upper layer of snow. On average, each step probably sank me to only my calf, and for that I was grateful. Furthermore, I discovered that as I continued to move, the pain had become surprisingly manageable. As long as I focused on maintaining proper form and position, my mind was sufficiently distracted from the discomfort. Years of hiking will teach anyone how to put mind over matter. Putting in 12+ hour days on blistering feet, screaming knees, and starved lungs had been training enough. Frankly, it was far from the worst pain I had been in during a hike.

That of course, was only true while the conditions were good and I did not stumble. As I followed the creek which for periods dived under a blanket of powder, the snow would occasionally swallow me up. If and when I plunged past my knees, sometimes up to my hip, I would flop and flounder to free myself, all the while shouting and cursing in anger and pain. Anyone who has boot packed in deep snow knows its frustration. Now imagine doing it with a broken hip and unstable left arm, and only a shovel for additional support.

I think I walked for a few hours that evening, and likely managed between a quarter to a half mile of distance. When the sun dropped over the ridge and dusk closed in, I knew that I had to quit for the day and produce another shelter. I hadn't seen running water for some time, but I had water remaining and decided there wasn't enough time to go searching. Without a headlamp, darkness was pretty much a curtain call on any activity.

Image
Approximate hike on Monday


I dug into a bank that faced away from the wind, under a large tree. I wanted this shelter to have a narrower doorway to conserve heat, so I thought I'd try to dig the cave perpendicular to the slope. I've never had formal training on snow caves, and mine leave a lot to be desired. With only one good arm, and basically unable to lie on either side, I pretty quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to dig deep enough to stretch out all the way. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this faster than the sun set, so I had to cut my losses. On top of that, after a feeble attempt to wriggle into my cave to continue excavation at the back end, I managed to cave in a third of the shelter.

With the last remaining rays of light, I prepped the unfinished cave for sleep. Again my backpack and boot shells would serve as insulation, while the bivy sack would shield me from the snow and reflect my body heat. To my great disappointment, the sack now had tears down both its sides, a product of the day's clumsy attempts to get in and out of my shelters. It was like a sleeping bag, if the bag had two zippers stuck open and was paper thin. So basically, not much like a sleeping bag at all. I hoped that at least the extra ventilation would keep the bag from collecting as much condensation.

When I slipped into the shelter, I found that even with my legs curled up into a fetal position, my head still stuck out of the doorway. I couldn't move without knocking into the walls or ceiling. Exhausted, I jammed my water bottles into the snow by my head, and tucked the corners of my bivy sack in to ward off the wind, which was mercifully light. I had no fuel for boiling water; my last defense would be the hand warmers I still carried.

To give myself the energy I would need for the night, I chewed down my frozen cliff bar. I don't know why I keep buying those things, I always hate eating them. The night cold settled in right away, and the shivering began. It would not stop that night, and it was more violent than I've ever experienced before. Still, my mind somehow managed to sink into that familiar, delirious defense.

My body cramped and ached from maintaining that sideways, fetal position. It also turns out that boot shells are not very comfortable to rest on with the full weight of one's legs. Still, it again never occurred to me that I had to stay awake to stay alive. My shivering was so intense that I was actually pretty confident of my remaining strength. What did give me pause however, was the numbness I felt in my toes. Water, through sweat and wicking snowmelt through my long johns, had saturated my socks. There wasn't anything I could do to fix it, except for jamming two hand warmers down into my socks. To my disappointment, it didn't help. On top of that, my right glove was completely damp, and my hand becoming quite chilled. I opted to remove the glove, and warm the hand as I had done the left by retracting it in my clothes or slipping it within the layers of my upper body.

What actually became worse than the shivering was my thirst. Out of sloppiness, I didn't fully bury my water, and I polished off what remained in my first thinking that I would have a full 1.5 remaining for the rest of the night. Well, as I should have expected, that bottle froze up. I was out of water, and already dehydrated. As the night progressed, that thirst grew. I would suck on the frozen neck of the bottle, or chip at it with my teeth to produce a hole with which the remaining dribbles of water would flow. After I had gleaned what water still remained, I turned to the inside of my bivy sack. With much cursing and unintelligible muttering, I probed for condensation, licking it off the bag where I could. Needless to say, it did not satiate.

That night sucked.


DAY 4 - 3/7/17


I was awake with the dawn, because I never really slept. That night, I watched as the clouds blew out of the valley, and the stars took their places in the sky. The day would be windier than the day before, but the sun was already coming out in full force. I was eager to catch some rays and tank up on water, so it was with very little hesitation that I returned my boot shells to my feet and packed up my bag.

Today, walking was easier than before. I found my rhythm; a meticulous right step followed by an abrupt plunge with my left. I fixed my attention on reachable targets ahead of me, and enjoyed small victories upon reaching them. Despite this, I couldn't help but notice the mountain group to my left, and how they infuriatingly refused to budge. My pace was ridiculously slow, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

When I tried zipping up my left pant leg's built-in gaiter, it stuck. My fingers were still chilly, and I was reaching the point of obstinacy, so I just left it flapping wide open as I walked. I hoped that my boot gaiter would keep most of the moisture away from my foot, but this was wishful thinking. It quickly became a frozen blob of ice and snow surrounding my calf. But the weather was so pleasant that it could not put a damper on my spirits, which had begun to soar. I maintained optimism even when I tripped on a slope, and fell heavily on my side- dislocating my elbow again. After a bit of floundering and screaming, I managed to find my footing in the deep snow and continue my march.

I hungrily watched as the sun drew a line on the east side of the valley. After a short distance from my cave, I stumbled upon a pond. Ducks played at its edge while I carefully made my way to the edge of its tributary. The snow still created a three to four-foot bank that dropped steeply into the water, and I had to tread extremely carefully so not to break its edge and crash into the water. My technique was to first break the bank, and prod it into the river so that it would not surprise me on my way down. Then I would gently knead my feet downslope, until they sank to the level of the river and hopefully found purchase on river stones. Because I couldn't squat easily, I usually took to dropping my bottles in the water and fishing them out with my shovel when full. I used one bottle to fill the other since it had a larger strap that I could hook with my shovel handle.

I drank to my heart's content before moving out from the pond. I had a good vantage of the valley at this point, and I spent some time searching for a sign of the larger valley I suspected my own fed into. To my dismay, it seemed that the valley ran indefinitely. Doubt swirled in my mind; I knew my hypothesis was reasonable, but that didn't stop me from second guessing each premise and conclusion. So unsettling was it, I even checked my compass several times, each time out of skepticism from the last. When fear is behind the wheel, it becomes hard to think straight. I was so afraid that my lack of geographical knowledge would strand me, without energy to spare, far from the slopes where a helicopter might search. Nevertheless, I kept walking.

The hours rolled by slowly. When I had reached an open space in the valley, the sun finally crossed my path. I spread open my layers, and removed my hard shell. It was the first bit of direct sunlight I had felt in three days, and it was wonderful indeed. I filled my water at the river once more.

As the day progressed, I began to see a number of airplanes pass over the valley. Although that helicopter still refused to show itself, I began to devise ways in which I might catch a pilot's eyes. I tried using my stove as a reflector, before realizing that my flayed bivy was like an orange and silver flag. When I heard the sound of turbines overhead, I'd drop my pack, extract the bivy, and start waving it like a madman. It didn't work, but I thought it was the best idea I had. Starting a signal fire might have been an option, if my stove wasn't out of fuel and if I hadn't left my knife in the car. I did take the time to stamp out an SOS in 30-foot lettering. I have no idea if it was big enough to see, but the less I had to walk, the better.

Although I continued to try and flag down each passing plane, a more immediate problem soon developed. My right glove was wet, from the previous night and likely from handling the water I retrieved from the river. Even though the air felt warm, that warmth was relative. A wind still blew, and the combination of cold air and wind was enough to freeze my glove to my hand. The ability to ignore pain and discomfort is powerful, but there is a reason our body protests. As I gripped the shovel with my right hand, and the fingers gradually froze, I didn't even notice.

I stopped when I realized I could no longer move my fingers. The glove was frozen, so I tried bending the fingers to loosen them. I stuck a fingertip in my mouth and bit down- I felt nothing. Worry consumed me, and I worked at the glove until it and the liner popped off. Each finger, from the tip to around the first knuckle, was a bluish grey. I had frostbite. I couldn't believe it: after two nights in the snow, I got frostbite because I left a wet glove on during the day. On top of that, I still had two handwarmers in my pack, and the hand without a glove was perfectly fine. Sometimes, I suppose, lessons are learned the hard way.

Now that I was in the sunlight, I could remove layers comfortably. I took my beanie, and wrapped my right hand in it for warmth. I still needed the shovel for support, so my hand couldn't retire just yet. I honestly had no idea how severe the frostbite was, but I was even more motivated now to escape the valley. I didn't think my hand would survive another night in its current state.

I plodded on. As I walked, I talked to myself, to my grandfather, and even to a God I hoped was listening. And then, I saw a sign. Literally, I saw a wooden sign sticking out of the snow. It had an arrow, and was engraved with one word: trail. My spirits soared. Some shadows of doubt still roamed in my mind, wondering how long this trail might be, or where it terminated. But I finally had concrete evidence that I was far from nowhere. What was more, I followed the sign, and identified the trail through the woods. Although still fully covered in snow, it marked a gentle path that was clear of debris or pitfalls. I would remain approximately on this trail for the remainder of my hike, only deviating significantly near the end.

I kept walking. When I was hungry, I ate from the tuna packets I still had left. When I was thirsty, water was available to drink. The sun was on my shoulders, and I wore only a base layer. I was in a good mood, and as I searched down the valley I even thought I saw a junction where another valley split to the west from my own. If that was the path of the road, it meant that the valley I currently walked in was the primary I had approached in. As I thought more about it, it made more and more sense. The compass heading agreed; and I became convinced that this trail would lead me directly to the junction with the road.

My progress was still infuriatingly slow, and I was forced to process my new hypothesis for hours before it would be confirmed. The trail ran on the east side of the valley, turning high above the river. If the road was where I thought it was, I would have to cross the river to reach the road. The trail would almost certainly cross using a bridge, but I didn't like how far above the river it currently ran. It was becoming more and more apparent that the trail would not cross for some time. I of course, was as eager as possible to reach the road before sundown in the hopes that a hiker or skier might find me.

The trail continued on the steepening east side of the valley. As I walked I caught glimpses of the other side through the trees. In time, the adjoining valley I suspected came into view. Sure enough, I spotted maroon splattered mountain tops in the other valley. Eventually, even the shoulders of the Bells crept into view. The road was just across the valley- I knew I would reach it today.

The trail paralleled the road for much longer than I anticipated. When I finally broke out of a patch of trees, and reached an open space with signs that seemed to point in counter-intuitive directions, I decided I'd had enough of the trail and was going to cross the river below. I plunged down the steep snow, and navigated the tricky terrain until I reached the river bank. Unfortunately, the point I had chosen was virtually un-crossable. On a hunch I wandered upstream, and was rewarded when I found a large pond with a snow-covered dam. It looked stable enough, and proved to be when I stepped across.

The road was now perched atop the rolling slopes above me. I floundered up the mushy snow, stopping frequently to catch my breath. I was going to make it out alive, although the question still burned in my mind: what if I wasn't found by the evening? Would I continue down the 5 mile road? Would I try driving out to Arvada when I reached my Jeep (yes, this thought briefly crossed my mind). What would happen to my frostbite if I had to spend another night out?

I was prepared to walk the whole night if I had to- progress on the well-packed road would be infinitely faster than the route I had just came from. But I received what was to be the first of many blessings that day when I heard a man shouting above me. I spotted a fat tire bicyclist on the road: he was shouting at his partner. Immediately, I cried out for help. After giving me an incredulous look, the cyclist realized who I was (news had spread of a missing climber), and he hailed his partner before sprinting down the hillside. He gave me his jacket, and his gloves. He gave me chocolate and water. When his partner arrived, the man ran back up to the road to grab his cycle. While his partner ferried our gear up the hill and gave me assistance, he rode down to notify the rescuers.

Image
Approximate full descent line


My second blessing arrived in the shape of a snowmobile. I could not have been on the road for more than twenty minutes before the search and rescue team slid to a stop beside us. They were heading in for the day, as it was after 3 pm, and had been probing the avalanched slope I had stashed my ski gear beside for hours to no avail. The team was all smiles, but I doubt any of them could compete with my own.

The rest, while all part of this crazy adventure, is still developing. On the fall I broke my pelvis in three places, and tore the tendons in my inner elbow, allowing for the bones to slip and partially dislocate. I developed frostbite on all fingers of my right hand, but only minor frost nip on my left and toes. As of today, all of my fingers except for my middle have healed. I'm lucky to have walked away with so little.

What does one take away from an experience like this? There is a lot, and I think I'll continue to learn as I grow and reflect. It's hard to argue (at least in my mind) either way if I made the wrong decision to push for this summit. I certainly made mistakes. But concerning the fall, I don't know if I slipped or if it was just bad luck. Strangely, it was on arguably one of the easiest sections of the climb that I fell.

So again, how can I take that? For one, this kind of a fall is possible on almost any mountain. Mountains have cliffs, and you can slip or they can just flat out break on you; either way a fall is a very real danger. On the surface, I think this experience will teach me to respect the terrain, independent of the grade. If there is exposure, I should not be complacent or overly confident. I'm a confident rock climber, and that's probably the problem. A little fear, it turns out, can be a good thing.

Another takeaway is the value of training. I should have far more medical practice than did. If I had a more serious injury, I probably would not have acted appropriately. Quick thinking is only possible when you've done it before. And training isn't just know-how, it also builds much needed mental callouses. Those survival shelters and cold nights didn't cause me to panic, because I'd been in similar places. I'd tasted that form of misery, and so I knew how to ignore it. That is a very valuable skill, and it comes only from experience.

My final thought that I will share is the purpose and meaning of this experience in the bigger picture. I personally felt unsurprised to be in this situation, which I think was key to not despairing. While my fall was pretty fantastic, it never once crossed my mind to wonder, Why is this happening to me, or I don't deserve this! I climb mountains, frequently alone. I've thought long and hard about the very real possibility of death, and choose to climb anyway. Oddly enough, I had just written a book about this very thing.

But when I found myself in this situation, I realized that even though I had accepted this possibility, my friends and family had not. My life should be a gift, not just to myself, but to others as well. Life is full of risks. And the mountains are worth a great deal of it, at least in my mind. The way I lived, however, prized life in the mountains beyond that of life in the company of others. When I was shivering in those caves, or slogging through the deep snow, I wasn't thinking about how I needed to survive so I could climb again. I was thinking about how I needed to survive so I could hug my family.

I think ultimately, this experience will change my perspective for the better. That's all I can really ask from it, aside from some practical takeaways. I will continue to climb, because I love the mountains. But, there's beauty in other places as well. As long as I can remember that, I think that I will be making full use of this rare second chance.

Image
Happy to be in a hospital bed!


Image
Elbow bruising


Image
Frostbite


Image
My broken helmet


*I want to stay within the guidelines of the site, and I'm not sure that this report provides any insights on climbing on Pyramid Peak. If the admins feel it is not appropriate, please take it down! There was a lot of concern and support for me on 14er forums, and I simply want to share my story to those who care to read it.

**It feels silly to say it, but... I do not give any professional media outlet permission to publish this report. This is for the wonderful community on 14ers.com exclusively.

***The GPX file is an approximation of the trip, drawn by hand. The circle on the east side of the mountain shows where I believe the fall ended.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


Comments or Questions
dpage

Wow!!!!!!
04/08/2017 17:11
And thanks for sharing.


JQDivide

Incredible.
04/08/2017 17:17
Incredible. Thanks for sharing.


CreekRunner

Unbelievable
04/08/2017 17:48
This has got to be the craziest trip report I have ever read. And I totally understand the situation of messing up on the simplest sections of the mountain, except you got the full experience. I also appreciate your positive attitude for such a extreme test. I hope you recover well and can climb another day (with a SPOT tracker next time).


oldasthmatic
Impressive!
04/08/2017 18:02
Kudos to you.


SoCool

Incredible Story
04/08/2017 18:41
This is really well written, thank you for telling the story. It is profoundly educational.


Flips

Speechless
04/08/2017 19:40
What could I say that adds to this report?


Trotter

great writeup
04/08/2017 20:08
Amazing story. That right hand looks terrible, I'm glad you got to keep the fingers


pmeadco

You are one tough dude!
04/08/2017 20:41
I am in total awe. I'm confident that many others faced with the same predicament would not have survived. Your persistence and determination will become legend. I hope that you continue to heal well and that you never face another life lesson as tough as this one.


bmcqueen

Amazing
04/08/2017 20:43
Thanks for sharing this with us Ryan. I'm so glad you are still with us.


Daniel Joder

What a story!
04/08/2017 21:55
Thanks for writing this, Ryan. What an absolutely amazing story with lessons for all of us who go into the mountains.


Mtnman200

Great writeup!
04/08/2017 23:17
Thanks for sharing your amazing story. You are a good writer, and I hope your recovery will be complete.


swadmin

absolutely incredible
04/08/2017 23:22
Thanks for sharing, great writeup! Look forward to seeing your picture from Pyramid summit next season.


LoneStar

Man.
04/09/2017 08:11
God bless you.


MountainHiker

Wow
04/09/2017 09:53
Amazing report. Thanks for sharing.


Yalegirl09
WOW
04/09/2017 10:57
Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad you made it out safely!!!


snowypeaks

Superb report and thanks!
04/09/2017 12:36
"When I was shivering in those caves, or slogging through the deep snow, I wasn't thinking about how I needed to survive so I could climb again. I was thinking about how I needed to survive so I could hug my family. "

Thanks for sharing your excellent and honest report. Risk acceptance is a deeply personal decision that I understand. I admire your preparedness and determination to self rescue. That you are alive may be a miracle nevertheless. The older one gets, perspective chips away at ambition. Best wishes for a rich and full second chance! -bob


goingup

~~~~~~~~~~~
04/09/2017 16:58
Every time I gag down a cliff bar, I ask myself the same question, why?

I read every single word of this report. You write beautifully.

You have inspired me to take an official survival class. I frequently climb by myself, and should know how to save myself if something were to happen.

This is an incredible story Ryan, brought tears to my eyes.


Wildernessjane

A great read!
04/09/2017 17:56
Thanks for sharing! Have you read the book, Deep Survival, by Laurence Gonzalez? He's done a lot of research looking at what separates survivors from others who found themselves in similar situations but didn't survive. He talks about how sometimes people had everything they needed to survive but didn't and then others survived but had none of these things. Physical strength, gender, age, and even experience in a general sense are not very good predictors. Interestingly, he talks about how "Rambo types" are usually the first to go. Your story very much fits with his findings. Survivors are able to fairly quickly accept their circumstances. They are also able to organize themselves and come up with a plan. The other thing he talks about is how survivors often feel the pull to get back to their loved ones. You talked about all of these things. Anyways, I hope you have a speedy recovery! I have a feeling you'll be back at it in no time.


Mountain Maverick

Thankful for Second Chances
04/10/2017 07:43
This is a very good write up Ryan. It really helps clarify a lot of the details that many of us were confused about from reading other write ups and watching coverage of the event. So thank you for that. I have been through some things myself of late that had me wondering about my mortality, and, I also, had second, and third chances. Though I really was riveted by the whole report, I especially appreciate your heartfelt description of the "bigger picture". I am glad you have your second chance, and hopefully all of us who share second chances will use them to humbly help the world in a bigger and better way. See you on the mountain again!


2toes

Thanks!
04/10/2017 08:57
Thanks for sharing, Ryan. This is an amazing recollection of your "adventure". I'm so happy that your story has an ending that we can all celebrate and learn from. I'll keep cheering on your finger to keep getting better


Phill the Thrill

Wow!
04/10/2017 10:35
Amazing story. Thank you for sharing it. And congratulations on your new lease on life!


colokeith

Geez
04/10/2017 11:09
great write up Ryan! What a story!! You have a serious will to survive. As this was unfolding I certainly did not expect you to walk out under your own power.


Beekman
Great write up
04/10/2017 11:09
Thank you for sharing, great job telling the story.


mtree

Yikes!
04/10/2017 11:19
That's one helluva ordeal! Glad you survived and were able to tell your story. Hope you have a speedy recovery. I'm sure it gives all those involved in search and rescue the same hope and determination that, indeed, folks can survive a lot longer than what the norm would suggest. Never give up. Never surrender.


jblyth

Incredible
04/10/2017 11:29
Truly incredible you were able to walk out under your own power being so weighed down with your massive balls of steel. You're a gifted writer - thank you for sharing your story with the community. I hope you write a book about this.


Monster5

Great story
04/10/2017 11:39
Nice job writing this up in a candid and open manner. Fine job getting out of there. It's always good to take action rather than wait, at least for the mental sake, if not necessarily for survival.

A buddy and I recently rag-dolled over steep snow and cliffs too, albeit a fraction of the distance of your fall. It's rather peculiar describing the thought process as it happens. A morbid acceptance, the mind racing through alternatives, and a metaphorical finger tap on the desk waiting for a conclusion. And then the emotions crash on in.


BenjaminTaylor
Wow
04/10/2017 11:56
This was an incredible read. So glad you made it out. Thanks for sharing your story.


nsaladin

Wow!
04/10/2017 12:04
Absolutely amazing and inspiring! Takes a lot to share something like this, and there is something we can all learn from.


SchralpTheGnar

sick tr
04/10/2017 15:26
eloquent and vivid, although it would have been cooler if you launched a corked 1080 on your shovel over those lower cliffs.


KTizzle 136
Thank you
04/10/2017 15:38
For taking the time to post this. Glad you made it out alive, and with great attitude still in place. I look forward to meeting you in the mountains one day.


CheapCigarMan

No Words....Speechless
04/10/2017 16:07
Stayed up till 1:30 am. last night reading this. Shared it with my wife. She says you are an amazing writer. Started to post comments last night after reading, but there are no words to share here. They would be empty and vain. Thank you for allowing me to sit with you and listen to your story. I will carry your story in my heart and will be inspired by it forever.


AnnaG22

Thank you
04/10/2017 16:17
For sharing your story with so much detail and bravery. Sending you positive thoughts for continued quick recovery!

I know you made a note that you don't want media outlets to publish this...but have you thought about submitting it to the American Alpine Club to share your experience with a broader mountaineering community?


DeTour

Thank you indeed
04/10/2017 18:31
Amazing story, but so much more than that - thoughtful, humble, honest, poignant, educational, and more. You have truly taken a harrowing experience and made it a gift to this community. Your words on training, preparation and experience helping you get through the ordeal are something we should all ponder.

I hope you and your family take care of your mental and emotional recovery as well as your physical recuperation. The psyche has to take a terrible beating from such an experience, and could require a healing process longer than your bones and ligaments. But your attitude is stellar, so I trust you will be whole and back in the mountains you clearly love soon.


mojah

Incredible
04/10/2017 19:41
If the comparisons to adventure survival narratives haven't been overemphasized yet, Joe Simpson in film version of Touching the Void says that you've always got to be making decisions. If you stop, you're dead. I just couldn't help but see the parallels in your story to his. Knowing that it's just not going to get better by sitting around. Not to mention the sheer grit.


AlexeyD

Thank you for sharing
04/10/2017 19:54
What an incredible story! In addition to all that has been said (all of which I second), I also hope that taking the time to write down your experiences while they are still fresh in your memory will help you heal from this experience.


Pumpin1
Lessons
04/10/2017 22:17
I have read for many years on this site and this is by far the luckiest story I have seen. The compliments of your determination to get out are well deserved and I am glad that you are alive to tell about it. I have to say in all the time I have been on this site reading the attempts in winter to solo class 4 and 5 peaks or more remote peaks always draws my attention. With that said everyone is free to make their own choices. So after reading this the question burning in my head is two fold. One would you do more solo winter trips?Second is more difficult but based on what you can say would a partner have saved you and night or two in a snow cave or do you think it would have been two people sliding down and potentially kept you from getting out yourself?.


asarsam

Survival Hall of Fame
04/10/2017 22:42
If there is such a hall of fame, you've joined it. Thank you for sharing your story.


vandy

Wow
04/11/2017 15:13
Thanks for sharing your experience! The most amazing picture in your collection to me is your smile and thumbs up in the hospital afterward. It seems like you've responded to a crazy situation in a rational way - I can only hope I'd do the same in that circumstance.


Herbert
Test Passed
04/11/2017 18:38
Well, if life is all about confronting challenges, overcoming them, and thereby gaining the confidence to handle just about anything life throws at you -- man, you passed the test. Congratulations on getting out alive! And like so many others have said, thank you for taking the time to compose such a vivid, gripping account of this experience.


Eli Boardman

Crazy Story
04/11/2017 18:53
Thanks for sharing. Sometimes it seems like a strong will to survive might be more important than any planning or luck. I'm so glad you made it out!

Also, is anyone else amazed that the east face didn't avalanche?


Jay521

I have no words...
04/12/2017 09:25
... but asarsam pretty much nailed it. God bless you - come to think of it, I believe He already has...


jas0nleslie

Livin
04/12/2017 10:31
Quite a story. Appreciate you sharing!


RhodoRose

AlrightOkUhHuhAmen
04/13/2017 16:35
Thank you for your fantastic, gripping story. So thankful that God answered our prayers for your survival, so glad He had plans for you to stay alive to share it with us.


CliminDave

Strong Work!
04/21/2017 18:32
Nice work on the trip report and recalling the details from an extreme self rescue. I greatly admire your tenacity.


d_baker

amazing survival story
04/22/2017 18:30
I finally got around to reading this, and I'm glad I did. And I'm also glad you were able to self-rescue and that you decided to share your story. Climb on!


frankd720

Thank you
04/25/2017 16:24
for taking the time to write this and share your experience. I can feel the emotion in your writing. Enjoy your time with family.


Guillaume_8667

Thanks for sharing
04/27/2017 04:45
Wow just wow, what a story! Wish you the best recovery.


docgliv
Amazing Survival
05/20/2017 12:22
You survived an amazing ordeal. Thank you for sharing this experience with the world.
Would you be willing to share the outcome of your frostbitten fingers? We you are able heal without losing tissue?


montoyaman

Recovery Update
05/20/2017 20:19
I've been off crutches for about a week now: recently hiked Sanitas, Flagstaff, and Green Mountain, so the hip breaks are doing exceptionally well. As far as elbow damage, I'm able to do push-ups, and pull-ups, so good progress there. And for the fingers, the last of the frostbite is now gone- I lost a tiny fraction of the tip of my middle finger. It came off naturally, no surgery required, and in time I doubt it will even be noticeable.

Grateful to the amazing healing power of the body. Looks like hiking season is still on this summer!


jesusfreak1824

Holy Crap!!
05/25/2017 16:12
Dude, I just read the entirety of the forum that was written when you were first lost and the progression of worry and hopeful outcomes coming from this community to the joy and ecstatic elation that erupted when you were found and then to hear of the trials that you had to overcome in order to make it out alive! Then to read this report after you've had time to process through everything that happened and to try and make sense of the chaos that quickly enveloped you...quite unbelievable and incredibly inspiring! Ryan, glad you're safe and that you are able to speak into what's really important in life when you know very well how quickly it can be taken away. Amazing write up! Very immersive and impactful!


Blue6String

Story
06/01/2017 12:41
Now that's a story. You should sell that to Hollywood. Only half joking. Incredible in all ways and thanks for sharing. Glad you made it out and are recovering.


teryan07
Lucky
06/14/2017 22:32
Damn man you are one lucky climber. My friend and I are planning on attempting Pyramid in July. I'm glad you shared this experience. I will take nothing for granted.


Senecar

The Sharp End
06/21/2017 15:02
I read this report back when you posted it, and just stumbled upon the podcast you did for The Sharp End. It was nice to hear you tell the story while I browsed the text and looked at the pictures in this report. Also glad to hear you are recovering well. I am planning a July/Aug climb of Pyramid with my dog, and will take all the beta available.

The Sharp End Podcast


Wentzl

Thanks for Sharing
07/25/2017 14:28
That is a nice write up of a terrible event. I only just became aware of your story but wanted to add to the many wishes for a fast and total recovery. Hope you are back enjoying the Mountains.


HarknessHooligans

Wow!!!
07/25/2017 23:12
Thanks for sharing your story with us fellow hikers! We can always learn from others experience. Happy to see a positive outcome out of such a tragic event


JaredJohnson

Thanks
07/30/2017 23:57
You have inspired me to:

- Start printing off topo and beta again instead of relying on my phone and brain to know only the route at hand
- Pack an extra headlamp inside my pack
- Before each trip, ask myself whether it's time to finally buy a SPOT tracker

Good job staying alive!


climbingcue

Amazing!!!
09/05/2017 20:10
Thank you for taking the time to tell your story!!!!


ZNixon

Wow!!
12/06/2019 12:00
Thanks for sharing your story, it was pretty amazing to read!

-Zac


CaptCO

Holy shit
08/24/2020 14:34
Glad youâre OK. Hell of a guy for making it out of there alive


ltlFish99
Excellent report
08/25/2020 00:45
Thank you so very much for this report.
I could not stop reading it until I find wished it.

On the few occasions when something has gone differently than planned in the mountains, the first question people ask me is , did you learn anything, and what was it?
That is indeed what I focus on after any misadventure that I have. I have never experienced ANYTHING like this, but always try to learn from my mistakes and not let it discourage me much.
For whatever reason as I have aged, I have become noticeably more fearful of things that never used to bother me. I was just thinking about the 14ers I have left and of those the 2 that seem to cause me more concern and even a little hesitation are pyramid and north maroon.
Not that any of them are a given, some are just more risk intensive.


Hiking_TheRockies

Wow!
12/30/2020 12:27
Great report! Glad your ok, that looked like one bad fall!



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