Peak(s):  Jagged Mtn  -  13,824 feet
Date Posted:  06/11/2018
Date Climbed:   02/09/2018
Author:  Dad Mike
Additional Members:   blazintoes
 Alive  

Jagged Mountain
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Approach on Thursday:
-Vallecito TH to Camp
-7.2 miles, 1800 feet of gain
-9:30am - 12:30pm

Summit and Return to Camp on Friday:
-Vallecito Trail to Sunlight Creek to Leviathan Basin to North Face of Jagged
-24 miles, 6300 feet of gain
-3:30am - 3am

Return to TH on Saturday
-Camp to Vallecito TH
-7.2 miles, 800 feet of gain
-9:30am - 12:30pm


It has taken me 4 months to write this report. I started writing it on the advice of Amy. She thought it would be helpful for both of us to put it on paper to help the healing process. When she told me that, I remember thinking that I didnāt want to re-live what happened. I was already having nightmares every time I closed my eyes. I had to tell the story every time a friend saw the bandage on my head. And my injuries have made it impossible to forget about. I wasnāt going to do it until Amy sent me her story. It was amazing to experience what happened to us through her eyes...to understand how my decisions affected her...to see what she was thinking when she fell...to hear about her struggles. I started writing soon after that, but got frustrated and gave up a bunch of times. In an earlier version, I wrote that I wasnāt proud of this story. Now I donāt think that is accurate. Iām proud that we climbed Jagged in winter. Iām proud of the way we worked together. Iām proud that we didnāt call for a rescue when we easily could have. Iām proud that Amy and I walked away from this experience. And Iām proud that we both have gotten back into the mountains since this trip. Yes, we made some bad decisions. At the time, they seemed reasonable. After the fact, some of them seem irresponsible and obvious. Just writing them down has been difficult because Iāve had to accept responsibility when my instinct was to blame someone else.

Through this process, I was never sure if I was writing it for myself, for Amy, or to share with the Colorado mountain community. I know now that it has helped me. I hope it will help Amy when I share it with her. And I hope by sharing this story with all of you that someone out there will benefit and not make the same mistakes we did. The 14er.com community has always been there for me and I really appreciate it. If it werenāt for you, I would have no one to tell these stories to. With that, here is the story of our winter climb of Jagged Mountain.

On the drive to the trailhead, I pulled over to take this picture of Vallecito Reservoir. I was surprised how dry it was and realized our hike to camp was going to be easier than expected.
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We took separate vehicles so we followed each other to the trailhead and started sorting our gear in the parking lot. It was here that we made three quick, seemingly harmless decisions that would directly affect the outcome of the trip. Itās easy for me to look back and question these decisions now, but when you are faced with almost 9000 feet of elevation gain and 38 miles and only 800 feet and less than a half mile of that is technical, it's tempting to save some weight.

Decision #1
We decided to only bring one 30 meter rope instead of two. Our plan was to use it in case we needed a belay for the short technical sections and to rappel back down the face. We decided to use a biner block system that would allow us to rappel the full length of the rope while still being able to retrieve it using a long piece of cord. Most importantly, it would meant we could leave one of the ropes in the car.

Decision #2
While we were talking this through and trying to figure out what pro to pack, I saw Amy strapping her helmet to her pack. I immediately knew I had forgotten mine in my garage. I knew there was nothing I could do so I quickly convinced myself I wouldn't need it. I never gave any thought to driving to Durango to buy one, so this wasn't really a decision...more just a dumb mistake.

Decision #3
Next, we had a conversation on crampons vs micro spikes. I have gotten very comfortable with micro spikes over the years and prefer them to crampons in mid-winter snow conditions. They also weigh less. The decision was easy for me. I don't want to speak for Amy, but I didn't give her much of a chance to question that choice. I'm pretty sure she would have brought crampons if I wasn't so confident with my choice.

The Vallecito trail was mostly dry with some annoying sections of ice mixed in. We didn't start hitting significant snow until about mile 5. Our original plan was to hike 10 or 12 miles in to shorten our summit day. Given the good conditions of the trail, we changed our plan in favor of less mileage with heavy packs and an earlier start on summit day. After 7 miles, we found a nice open spot along the trail with easy access to the creek. It was only 12:30pm, so we took our time setting up tents, collecting firewood, building stump seats, eating food, etc. For the second time this winter, I found myself having to pound snow stakes into rock hard dirt. Those stakes are now worthless.

Map of our approach
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Irving Peak to the north
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Sunset to the south
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We decided on a 3:30am start on Saturday. We zombie hiked up the rolling Vallecito Trail, hoping that sunrise would come soon, but not wanting time to move too fast. We had a fun time of trying to figure out when to put snowshoes on. Every time we convinced ourselves we were on snow for good and would put our snowshoes on, we would get a long dry stretch. After some frustration, we arrived at the intersection with Sunlight Creek around 6am, just as it was starting to get light. We were excited to finally start gaining some elevation. We initially found a trail to follow, but it came and went and we opted to just hug the right side of the creek. I was hoping my experience in Sunlight Creek from 6 years ago would help us, but there was so much less snow that nothing looked familiar to me. That time everything was covered and the snow was perfect for snowshoeing. This time it was a full on bushwhack with sections of unconsolidated snow mixed in. The dry conditions made the hike up Sunlight Creek more difficult. I felt like we were walking in place at times.

Here's Amy smashing through some willows.
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After a little while, this rock came into view. Amy was convinced it was Jagged. I remembered thinking the same thing from last time and knew we still had a long way to go. This is actually the edge of what could be called the east ridge of Jagged. It's the long ridge that separates Sunlight basin from Leviathan basin.
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The south-facing side of the creek was dry in sections so we were drawn to it. Because of that, we were pulled away from the creek and towards Vallecito Peak. Our plan was to climb a route on the South face of Jagged. We had both loved the idea of climbing something that we didn't know much about, the possibility of a FKWA, and the thought of climbing in the sun. I also got spooked on my first attempt and wasn't excited about going back up the north face. Once we realized our navigation error, we tried to traverse back and around a cliff band to get back on track, but quickly ran into thigh deep snow. We each took a few turns breaking trail, but we were getting nowhere. It was past 9am and I felt like we were falling behind schedule. If we kept going towards the south face, we might have nothing left for the technical climbing. I had looked at Leviathan basin as a possibility for a quicker descent. Now that option was right in front of us. We talked about it and quickly agreed the north face was our best chance at success. We veered away from Sunlight Creek and started up a huge boulder field that ended at a saddle between Vallecito Peak and the east ridge of Jagged. The boulders were huge and covered with 4 - 8 inches of snow. I remember thinking we didn't want to be on this boulder field in the dark.

Map of our route
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Boulder Field
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We crested the boulder field at 11am and finally had some cruiser terrain...nice firm snow and a mellow valley. It had taken us longer than we expected to get to this point, but we still felt good about our chances. We followed the valley up and over a little bump to the base of Jagged's north face.

Amy happy to be on flatter ground in Leviathan basin
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Jagged
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On our way up the valley, I made another poor decision that would cost us later. It was warm and early enough. I decided to drop some weight. I left a cache of stuff including my headlamp, down jacket and some food. Why would I need any of that stuff? Just writing this down makes me mad. The amount of weight I saved was not significant.

As we got closer to the face, the shadows descended on us, the snow's mood changed and our pace slowed...just like last time. This time I knew I didn't want to veer too far to the right of the couloir. I was sure the best option was to climb up the couloir until we found an exit ramp on the right near the saddle. Amy had been up Jagged in the summer, but it was a while ago and she combined it with a few of the pinnacles along the summit ridge. So neither of us were sure of the exact way to go. We slowly zigzagged up deep snow in the couloir. It took us 2 hours to get up it. About 3/4ths of the way up, I ran into a large boulder that was wedged into the narrowest section. It created two possible climbing options...left and right cracks. Both were about 10 feet high. I tried both options without success. This section was vertical and a fall would have been bad. The climbing wasn't too difficult, but failing snow footholds and cold hands made it tough. Finally, I was able to string together a couple awkward moves on the right side to pull myself up and over the boulder. In the process, I blew apart a snow step that made it impossible for Amy to get up. I set up a quick hip belay and helped Amy up it.

Overview of the route showing the three cruxes
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Here I am getting closer to the 1st crux
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From near the top of the couloir, we started the traverse across the face. After climbing a steep section to a little notch, we looked down on this view and I was immediately taken back to 2006. I knew this was where I turned around. I was right below the highest rock band. This time the snow was in better condition and we were able to weave our way up and around the difficulties.
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red = ascent
yellow = crux 2 and 3
green = 1st rap
blue = 2nd rap


From here, we continued across the face, looking for a weakness that was needed to get up to the notch. The next two cruxes were a down-sloping traverse and another short 5th class rock section. I was pretty focused during this part of the climb and worried about our time, so I didn't take any pictures. The traverse was pretty exposed and this was the first time I wished I had crampons. I soloed up the short rock section and yelled down to Amy that we had made it to the notch. I could see the sun coming through and couldn't wait to get to the other side. I set up a belay for Amy from an existing rap anchor. Amy made quick work of this section and we had a brief celebration in the sun. We had put the hardest climbing behind us. It was now 3:30pm and I knew we would be descending the boulder field and Sunlight Creek in the dark. Shit. Now our focus was getting to the summit and down the face before dark. This is where my headlamp decision started to haunt me. No lamp? What were you thinking? I didn't tell Amy out of embarrassment. I was hoping I wouldn't have to.

The south side of the peak was pretty dry and the route is easy to follow...cut across on a ledge until you hit a dead end...take a hard left and climb the 4th class chimney...a short scramble to the south ridge...then over to the summit.

Amy on the ledge
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Amy looking up the chimney
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I wish I could have enjoyed this summit more than I did. I was too worried about getting down. At the time, I didnāt even realize this was my Centennial (non-winter) finisher. Amy had to remind me. Amy on the other hand is unflappable. I love that about her. In all the times we have been out together, I have never seen her show any signs of stress or weakness. She is always positive. Itās what makes her such a good partner.

Jagged summit!!
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Brooke & Ben cairns...these 2 were on my mind all day, cheering us on
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Summit views
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We didnāt stay up there for long. We hustled back to the notch and Amy started setting up our first single rope rappel. It was around 4:30pm at this point and we knew it would be dark around 6pm. Amy was our anchor builder. The first one we used the existing rap ring and webbing and she backed it up with a cam. The fat guy raps first so off I went. In the process, the keeper cord on one of my mittens came off my wrist and I dropped the mitten. I had liner gloves and I figured we would find it on our way down, so I didnāt worry about it too much. The rap went well, but it ended in an awkward location.

Start of the first rap
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I told Amy she should try to go left of my line and to keep an eye out for my mitten. She came down shortly after with no mitten. No big deal, it wasnāt that cold. Time to see if our plan was going to work. We pulled the cord and it didnāt come. We tried everything...snaking it, different angles, full body weight. It wasnāt coming. I now know the problem with this system...the bulky knot likes to get stuck. This system would work really well on vertical, smooth rock. It doesnāt work well on mixed terrain. It also didnāt help that we went down different lines, creating more friction in the system.

Here is what the system looks like (taken on a different trip)
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I started to freak out a little. I wanted to leave the rope and down-climb the rest. It was going to be dark in an hour and I wanted to get out of there. I also wasnāt convinced that the same thing wouldnāt happen again. Amy didnāt like the idea of leaving gear on the mountain, thought we would want the rope and insisted on climbing back up. It was the right decision. She was able to use the rope as a hand line to get past the two upper cruxes. She freed the rope, rapped back down on a straighter line and the rope pulled clean. All of a sudden, our mood lifted. Maybe this would work. Amy set up the anchor for the second rap (see picture # 12) using a piton while I sorted the rope. This line was much better because it was steep and straight. It went just as planned. We both got down and the rope pulled with no issue. Amy continued to find the next anchor spot while I sorted the rope. The third rap would take us back into the top of the couloir. We build the anchor...we both rap...we pull...nothing. We gave it everything we had, but it wouldnāt come. Now we had to leave it. It was almost dark, the climb back up and down would have taken another 20 minutes or so and the line wasnāt clean. It would probably get stuck again. Iām pretty sure this is when I broke the news to Amy that I didnāt have my headlamp...another reason we had to move. I convinced her I could lead us down the couloir and over the last crux. She agreed.

I hustled ahead to make sure I could find the safest way down the rock. I looked at both options and picked the right side because it was pressed up against a wall that I could use to brace myself. This was not the way we came up, but this option was better for the wedge and jump technique. I was able to work myself down about 2/3rds of the way and then jump into the snow. I felt a huge sense of relief. All the difficult stuff was behind me now. Lots of miles ahead, but nothing dangerous. I yelled up to Amy and told her which way I suggested. I told her she should check out both options in case she liked the other way better. I positioned myself in the middle and waited to see which way Amy would come down. Then I heard her scream. Itās a blur now...I just remember her saying she was falling. My stomach dropped. I looked up and saw her in a free fall. I moved over and tried to catch her. I thought I could pull her into the snow to keep her from falling down the slope. Upon impact, the snow under us gave way and we started rocketing down the couloir. Our fall probably lasted 5 seconds, but it felt much longer. My best guess is we fell 150 feet. It was total chaos. I felt like I was in a washing machine. My head hit a rock really hard. It felt like someone hit me with a baseball bat. I hit rock a couple more times. I remember thinking I was going to die. I remember thinking about Dani, Brooke and Ben. I remember feeling really sad and scared. I figured I would keep hitting rocks until I was dead.

Here's my best guess at how far we fell (photo stolen from someoneās TR)
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As suddenly as our fall started, it stopped. We were side by side and we were both conscious...and alive! How are we alive? That thought was followed by a string of "what the fucks" and "holy shits". How hurt are we? We both inventoried our bodies. We were banged up, but all four of our legs worked. My biggest concerns were my head, my neck and my hip. Amy had similar issues. What do we do now? Do we call for a rescue? I think Amy would agree that we never really considered that option. As long as we could walk, we could save ourselves. Would a helicopter have even flown in the night? I didnāt think so.

After taking a little time to collect ourselves, we got up and started to walk. We tried not to think about the 19 miles ahead of us and how much pain we were in. First objective...get back to my headlamp, food and down jacket. My non-mitten hand was now frozen, it was getting colder and in a few minutes, it would be too dark to see. I needed to get warm and the battery on my phone was dying quickly (I was using the flashlight). I noticed that Amy was really struggling to keep up. I told her I needed to get to my stash before I had no light to see and that I would meet her there. I didnāt want to leave her behind, but I would be no help without a headlamp. My phone died just as I got to the stash. I ate some food, put every piece of clothing I had on, and changed out my soaked liner gloves for an extra pair of socks. While I was waiting, I took off my winter hat to put my balaclava over my liner hat. My hand touched the spot where I hit my head and I noticed it was wet. I pulled my hand away and it was covered in blood. I could also feel the disfigured shape of my head. All of a sudden, I felt like my life was in danger again. Iāve never had a serious head injury before, but this canāt be good. Amy caught up a few minutes later and I told her about it. She wanted to look at it, but I didnāt want to know how bad it was. My hat was working like a bandage and I didnāt think there was anything else we could do about it. Hearing about how bad it looked or how much blood there was would only make things worse.

Our next objective was to get down the boulder field. We tried to stay high and left to avoid the biggest boulders and to stay closer to dry ground. In the dark, it was like navigating through a huge, endless maze. We kept cliffing out and were forced to climb up, down and around the boulders. This was time consuming and painful. We couldnāt move our necks and were having trouble walking...we must have looked like robots. If it wasnāt so serious, it would have been funny.

We got through the boulder maze without hurting ourselves further and met back up with our tracks from the morning above Sunlight Creek. At this point, we pretty much stopped talking. We were both in our own worlds of pain and reflection. Every once in a while, we would stop to check in on each other to make sure nothing was getting worse. It took us 7 hours to get from our accident site to the Vallecito Trail. It felt like 100 hours. It was now 1am and we were finally back on the trail. It was a small victory, but we still had 6 miles to camp and another 7 miles to our vehicles. We took a quick break and had a discussion on what to do next. I wanted to put my head down and get back to camp as quickly as possible. I felt like I was working against the clock and needed to get help. I knew, in her condition, she wouldnāt be able to keep up with me. It was difficult for me to ask this of Amy, but I felt like I needed to. I told her if she wasnāt comfortable with this plan that I would stay with her. She assured me that she was fine with the plan. She had been texting with her husband through her Delorme and he encouraged her to take a short nap before continuing to camp. We hugged, I told Amy to let me know when she got back and off I went.

I was relieved to be able to put my headphones on and drown out the voices in my head for the next 2 hours. Those 6 miles in the dark were hard, but the trail was easy to follow. I got back to camp at 3am...23 1/2 hours after we started out. I boiled some water, ate a little food and crashed in my tent. My neck hurt so bad at this point that I had to brace my head with both hands for every movement. I was too afraid and in too much pain to sleep, but I knew I needed to rest a little before starting the 7 mile hike back to the trailhead.

Amy rolled into camp around 6am. I knew she would be fine, but it was still a huge relief to know she was back. I got up around 8:30am and started to plan my next move. The adrenaline was starting to wear off and the pain was getting worse. I didnāt know how I was going to carry my pack 7 miles. I decided I would pack everything and see how if felt. If I couldnāt carry it, I would hide it and beg for someone on this website to help me out. I tried to lighten my load by eating all of my food, dumping my water, and burning my trash with my remaining stove fuel. It was still a big load. While I was packing up, Amy started to stir and we talked a little. It was the first time I saw her face since our accident and I noticed her cheek and eye socket were bruised and swollen. She also showed me the scar on her helmet. We both agreed we had felt better.

Amyās helmet
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I shouldered my pack and it wasnāt terrible. I decided to give it a go. Amy wanted to rest a little while longer so we said bye, wished each other luck and parted ways. The 7-mile walk back to my vehicle was not much fun...the voices in my head seemed to be louder than whatever podcast I was listening to, the pain in my neck and hip were constant and the last 2 miles of the trail are all uphill. I got back to the car at 12:30pm and immediately called Dani to tell her what happened. She wanted me to go to a hospital. I knew I needed attention, but really didnāt want to be stuck in a hospital 6 hours from home. More than anything, I wanted to be with my family. My brain was still working and I knew I could drive. The compromise we made was that if I started to have any issues with my head, I would pull over and call 911. Luckily, that didnāt happen. The drive was going pretty well until I hit a whiteout in Walsenburg. The drive from there to the Springs took over 2 hours and was quite possibly the most dangerous part of the whole trip. I pulled into the driveway at 6:30pm, 24 1/2 hours after our accident.
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The reunion with my family was emotional. All the thoughts and feelings that had been running around in my head for the last 24 hours just poured out and I cried like a baby. My kids asked what happened and I told them Daddy hit his head. My son immediately chastised me for not wearing a helmet. He would be the first of many.

I wish I could say that once I got home, everything was better. The diagnosis, recovery and healing process has been a long, frustrating and difficult one. My poor wife has been by my side for all of it. I don't know how I could have gotten through it without her help. Hereās a summary of the aftermath...
-bruising on both arms, left hip, both knees, chest and butt
-torn glute muscle on my left hip...no surgery needed, still sore, but getting better
-lost feeling in 9 of my fingertips...regained feeling in all of them in the last couple weeks
-concussion...still dealing with the effects from this
-2 inch cut in my head...because I kept my hat on until I got home, it helped seal the wound shut and I didnāt need stiches
-loss of hair...when I pulled my hat off of my head for the first time a big clump of hair camp with it...luckily it has almost completely grown back
-whiplash and nerve damage to my left shoulder...still dealing with this
-displaced spine between C5 and C6
-17 visits to the chiropractor
-3 pt sessions
-4 doctor visits
-6 deep tissue massages
-xrays to my hip, shoulder and neck
-mri of my neck
-1 failed self-cupping session...it made the pain worse and I had large hickies all over my chest, shoulder and back for a week
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Iām happy to say that after 4 months Iām finally starting to feel like I could be 100% again. There was a long time where I didnāt think that was possible. I donāt want to speak for her, but I think Amy is doing much better also. She is now an expert at dealing with traumatic accidents. This was nothing compared to her bike crash. Because of her experience in dealing with head, neck and back injuries, she took a more holistic approach to her recovery. Sometimes I wish I had done the same. I spent a lot of money to find out that none of my injuries are treatable...they just need time to heal.

I know this sounds obvious and overly dramatic, but I am so happy to be alive. I think about it every time Iām out in the mountains, every time I have a bad day and every time I see my family. I know how lucky we are and how easily this could have been written by someone else who would have been guessing about what happened. Iām grateful to be able to share this story with you.



Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
TakeMeToYourSummit

Wow, just wow!
06/11/2018 15:08
Intense write up Mike! Glad you & Amy both made it out okay. I forgot my helmet when we snowboarded Daly a couple years ago & was convinced "that was the day" I'd collide with a rock...

Heal up strong & get back out there!


Trotter

helpful
06/11/2018 17:20
Its tough to write up and analyze mistakes, but helpful to the rest of us.


bmcqueen

Thank you
06/11/2018 19:14
Mike - thanks for sharing this story. You and Amy did an amazing job of self-rescuing out of an extremely remote place. I'm amazed you were feeling up to Gladstone and another couple Dallas attempts after this...you are a driven individual!


PaulVee

Glad to hear
06/11/2018 19:45
you made it out OK. Gotta say if that was me I would probably be freekin' out a lot more about possible internal injuries than it seems you were. Not that any rescue would have been able to get there quickly in case you did. Can imagine you feel pretty lucky and surely won't forget your helmet again!! And glad you're back close to 100%!


fepic1

Great story!
06/11/2018 20:40
Glad it ended so well, both of you home safe. Amy is a BadAss!!! I already knew you were.


blazintoes

Listen to the pain
06/12/2018 06:12
It's both history teacher and fortune teller. Pain teaches us who we are. Sometimes it's so bad we feel like we're dying, but we can't really live until we die a little.


RyGuy

Even the most experienced climbers...
06/12/2018 08:57
Make mistakes. Thank you for sharing your story, Mike. Glad you both are ok and have been able to climb since!


Monster5

Dude
06/12/2018 09:01
Cool story. A head injury of unknown extent that deep in the wild - not super cool or anything.


Jay521

Yikes...
06/12/2018 10:41
Every time I read one of your TR's, my palms get sweaty... So thankful you both came out relatively OK. And I agree with Amy's comment above - very well put.


Brooke and Ben
Dear Daddy,
06/12/2018 11:37
We love you and we're very happy you come home to us after your adventures in the mountains!
But if you go without your helmet again, you're going to be in timeout for a very long time!
And Timber will be your guard so you don't get away. That's the rules.
We're the boss.

Love,

Brooke & Ben


dannyg23

Heavy
06/12/2018 11:38
I can barely recognize some of the terrain on the NF to be honest. Ryan and I had a very different route on the bottom half.

Glad you're both alright. A lot of fortitude from you both, individually.


Dad Mike

Thanks
06/12/2018 21:36
Everybody. I appreciate your kind words. This one was hard to write, but I'm glad I did.

Brooke and Ben...Not sure how you opened an account and learned to type and spell, but I promise not to go without my helmet again.

Danny...Even after looking at the Roach route description and my pictures, I'm still not sure what the right way is. I'd love to see it without snow and hope to get out there this summer to retrieve our gear.


Tornadoman

WOW!
06/13/2018 09:42
Glad you both survived and were able to self rescue. I don't know if SAR would have been able to do much that far back in winter. That is one heck of a story, I am sure I will go back to read this trip report more than once to take it all in.

Andrew


jbchalk

Damn, Mike
06/13/2018 10:46
Amazing write-up and perseverance to get out of that one under your own power. I'm sure it helps to talk and write about this experience. Something like this sure puts things in perspective. I was knife-edging the east ridge of The Fly in the Gore spring 2017 with skis on my pack and broke through a cornice and fell about 40' screwing up my lower right back a bit which still bothers me here and there. Nonetheless, I gathered myself and still summitted and skied the peak but definitely made me think about things in my life from a much clearer perspective realizing I shouldn't have been on some sketchy knife-edge snow cornice at 10am when it was already a bazillion degrees outside. Anyway, well done to you and Amy and so glad to hear you guys are ok. Cheers man!


illusion7il

Scary !!!
07/12/2018 10:01
It was your Winter 94 feet report that inspired me to do Jagged in a day, in the summer of course. Now this report makes me want to stay home. Glad you two made it out alive. You have defiantly earned this summit. Congrats on finishing the Centennials and I'm looking forward to your Winter Centennial finish.



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