I have been lagging on my trip reports lately and I apologize for my absence. A turn of events in my life has delayed me from adding news posts. On September 6, 2014, on our first anniversary, Eric and I set off to climb Le Petit Cheval. Though Eric summit with me he never did return. He was killed in a rappelling accident on the mountain. This post contains a full trip report of that day in my usual style, but also includes the story of the accident. It is my hope that everyone can learn from this tragedy…

Eric and I drove to the large pullout on Milepost 165 on Hwy 2 at about 4am aftering sleeping in our car at Washington Pass. The sun rose over the mountains as we ate a quick breakfast watching the silhouette of Le Petit Cheval take shape in front of us. Our goal was the climb the peak via Spontaneity Arete (5.7).

I think we began at about 6:30am. There is a trail in the middle of the pullout (hard to see at first but marked by carins) That leads down talus to the trail below. The trial is easy to follow at first an descends to Early Winters Creek. Log jams provide an easy crossing here. From the creek the trail begins to ascend crossing into some rocky terrain. Carins mark most of the scramble route yrails. At one point we lost the trail altogether, and then rejoined in just above the first handline. This was just as well since the handline looked kind of ratty. The second handline was even worse and featured some core shots. We climbed this steeper scramble (maybe class 4) terrain without using the line since it seemed sketchy.

We continued to follow the trail through the rock bands until we reached the base of the route near some trees. If you go too far right you’ll know it since you’ll con across the bottom of the dirty descent gulley. We dropped out packs here and geared up. The start of the route was supposed to have slings to mark it, but there weren’t any. We set up an anchor on a tree. Eric lead the first pitch. It began as a scramble which led to an upper ledge. This ledge had a tree and could have been used as a higher belay. From here there is an awesome crack with a perfect fist jam. The crack continues with awesome hands and classic crack moves at abut 5.7.

The second pitch looked amazing from the large tree belay. I led this pitch beneath the massive roof to the right using the horn to get over a very exposed but fun move. After this the going was easy to the tree belay. We simul-climbed the next pitch which was mostly a class 3 scramble. Then we reached a large tower and crux of the route. Eric led this since he was much better at cracks. The beginning the the pitch is a 5.7 hand crack over a bulge followed by delicate 5.4 fingers. Eric made it up the pitch though the going was rough on the crux.. I found out why when i took my turn. The crack was a bit wet. I fell about 4 times.

We next did some simul-climbing through some easier terrain to pitch 6. I led this one as I like off-widths. The off width crack take a chicken-wing move well. From here with again simul-climbed to the base of the final pitch which Eric led to the summit. The sky was clear and revealed the awesome splendor the the Liberty Bell group and other Washington Pass summits. We didn;t stay long though… we were very thirsty and wanted to rest a bit in the shade and get a drink before descending.

There are two options to descend… a whole bunch of raps or descend the dirty loose, gulley beside the arete. We decided to take the loose gulley. After resting and drinking under some trees we began to pick out way down. The ground was indeed loose and we had to be careful to stay close together or take different paths to prevent rockfall on each other. It got very tedious however and with found a way to cross back over to the climbing route at the bottom of pitch 4. From here we rappelled and things went much smoother.

Finally we reached the base. It much have been around 6:30pm by then. We drank a whole bunch of water, had some snacks and packed up our gear. We left on our harnesses. We noticed some rappel stations above the sketchy handlines on our approach earlier and planned on using those instead of the ratty handlines.

Eric was moving faster than me at this point  and already had the rope strung through the first rappel station at the top of the first hand-line by the time I arrived. He went first. I asked him twice if he had on his auto-block which he confirmed twice. We mentioned a few words about being hungry and looking forward to dinner. Then he began his rappel. I hate watching rappels. Usually i turn away and sing so i don’t have to listen to the rope creak. For some reason this time I was watching. It was 7:15pm.

Warning… the following contains content that may be disturbing.

I’m an not sure which event I saw first. All i know is that suddenly the rope was whipping through the rap rings and Eric was falling. He had only tied one knot at the ends. I watched him bounce on the rock like a toy. Like he wasn’t even real. Like this wasn’t even real. And then he was out of sight. I don’t remember when I began screaming. During or the fall or after I could no longer see him. But I yelled his name over and over asking him to please respond. He didn’t. So I switched to yelling “Help”.

The core shots to the handline no longer mattered. The fact that I hated down climbing no longer mattered. I descended the first handline yelling for help the whole way. Climbers below began to ascend. They called up to me asking what was wrong. I told them my husband fell. They began searching for him. I descending the second ratty handline. They found him. I could see a climber leaning over a figure laying in a heap against some trees below me.

“There’s a pulse, but its faint.” He called up to me. “Stay where you are”.

I didn’t listen. I kept descending. “I know wilderness first aid” I said again and again. I saw his water bottle  in the rocks. And then I saw blood splatters. And more blood splatters. And then I was there.

It wasn’t him. It wasn’t us. I was outside of my body looking at a scene in a movie. So much blood. Blood pouring our of his mouth, ears and nose in volumes I never dreamed possible. His shoulder was not right. His neck was contorted. Everything about his body was all wrong. But I was in rescue mode.

“We need to do C-spine” I said.

There were two men. One named Paul and the other named James. We studied his neck and evaluated how we could get him into C Spine without causing more damage. We decided to shove much backpack under his head as best we could and elevate him a bit. We could not do  C-spine. I closed his beautiful green eyes that stared blankly. We clover him with sleeping bags and down jackets.  Carefully, I cleared Eric’s nose of blood. I put my fingers down into his throat and scooped out blood. I pulled his tongue out and held his mouth open removing blood as more pooled. If he was indeed alive I wanted to make sure he could breathe. But I knew. I looked for the shallow pulse. I never found it.

Meanwhile the other climbers were coordinating a rescue effort. Two climbers had driven to Mazama to call 911. Two others watched at the roadside. James’s wife waited halfway down the trail. James and Paul put up some orange flagging on the trees to show mountain rescue our position. They out up some the headlamps on blinking mode and lite up some orange glow-stick type rescue flares. Everyone had a walkie-talkie to communicate. I told them they had to call Jeff, one of our friends who is in Everett Mountain Rescue. The Sheriff’s office got a hold of him. Jeff was on his way…

I talked a bunch of James and Paul. I think they were unsure what to make of my calm demeanor. But Eric always showed me that panicing never solved anything. I had to be logical. I had to make good decisions. I had to take care of him and be calm. I asked them to check for his pulse a few more times. At one point Austin, a climber on the road, asked me for info regarding age, weight , height… and if his pupils dilated in the light. I opened his eyes with one hand (the other still holding open his mouth) and James shined his headlamp. No response.

I don’t recall every detail and things are out of order in my head. I know mountain rescue and the Sheriff showed up at the road. They had a meeting for over an hour deciding what to do. In the meantime i noticed that Eric’s body was getting cold. But I also noticed that his mouth was still warm.. and then I realized that it was probably only because of my warm fingers heating the small space. I began to realize what I already knew… but still clung to a tiny bit of hope. Someone passed by with a headlamp.. the light shown briefly on Eric’s bloody face. I was taken aback. I asked whoever it way to shine the light again in our direction. I hoped i was wrong. But i was not. Eric’s skin was ghost white. So pale. And I knew that he was no longer there. Beside me was only emptiness. I took my fingers out of his mouth and shut it. I turned away. Moments later a voice on the radio said there would be a body recovery in the morning verifying what I had already concluded.

I was given the option of staying and waiting for the morning choper. I didn’t see the need to stay on the mountain. I carried Eric in my memories. He was not in the body that laid in a heap on the slopes of Le Petit Chavel. James, Paula  I descended. They had created handlines out of my rope to guide the rescuers to us. We used them to aid in the descent. I even rappelled off of one of them… it was all unreal.

The sheriff deputy was the only one waiting for us at the road. He too was shocked by my calm. He asked me to fill out an accident report. When I took the pen he handed me he saw my hands, burgundy with dried blood. He gave me to wet wipes, but i couldn’t get it all off. Besides, blood covered me everywhere. James and his wife drove me to Mazama. Paul followed in Eric’s car. Together we took out our sleeping bags and slept on the dirt in the Mazama Store Parking lot. It was Midnight. Jeff had left at 11:30… he said he would be there in two hours with a friend so he could take Eric’s car back. Afraid he would be speeding we set up blinking headlamps around us before turning in.

I didn’t sleep. I just laid there looking at the stars. I sat up at the sound of every car that passed. It wasn’t Jeff until 4:00am. Only then did I finally cry.

Epilogue:

Eric was my best friend for 12 years. He was my boyfriend for 2 years. My husband for one year. During that time he made me a better person. He taught me not to whine, but to solve my problems. To think logically. To always be blunt and never flowery. To follow no one rules but my own. To go against society’s standards. To take chances even though you might also make a mistake. To be honest with not only others, but with yourself. To find happiness not only in the things that make you smile, but by making someone else smile. To always ask questions and not always accept the answer. To fight for whatever you are passionate about and that persistence pays off. And he taught me that I could love someone more purely and perfectly than I ever thought possible. Eric made me better.

And now his memory will continue to make me better. I was working on some things for him before he died… I will continue do so. I will be a better crack climber. I will have more climbing partners. I will project more at the gym. I will take more time to rest my muscles. I will fare better with change. I will get a job. I will not become dependent solely on one person for everything. I will control my stress. I will think more steps ahead in BJJ. I will be the person I was trying to be for him.

And I will go all the places we planned to trek. I will climb every mountain, crag and waterfall we intended to climb together. Eric and I planned a lifetime of adventure in the wilderness and far reaches of this world. My mission now in life is to make sure that each of these goals is met. I don’t care how long it takes to touch every part of Earth we talked about, but I will indeed stand on every peak and hike every track. And I will continue to hear him whisper “breathe” whenever I get struck on a rough move and “it’s been three hours. You better put on sunblock” every time it’s a sunny day. Though his body is no longer here, his words will always remain with me and they will make me a better alpinist.

And perhaps it is all of this that brings me solace. I know that my behavior since Eric’s death is not reflective of a wife who watched her husband plummet 80 feet down a rocky face to his death. But there are no questions in my head. Eric told me what to do. He was blunt with me. He told me he wanted a direct cremation. He told me to take the ashes to every mountain and trek I went. He told me he would want me to keep climbing. To keep traveling. To find happiness with someone. To keep grappling. To think logically. To never ever give up.

He told me all of this on several occasions. So I do not have to wonder about what he wanted for me. I simply have to carry out his instructions. Knowing that I can and will do everything that he asked of me gives me happiness. There are no questions. I know what I need to do for Eric.

Eric is part of the mountains now. His ashes already scattered on three summits… and more will be scattered in the years to come. But more than just the ashes remain. I remain. And with me I carry his memory. The memory of Eric, who he was and what he stood for, will never die. And that is my mission now. To be better for him and for me so that I can move forward with his memory close beside me.

3 Comments

  1. I am so sorry to hear about this horrible tragedy. I’m very grateful that you shared the story. I recently got in a terrible climbing accident that nearly killed me on several levels. I’m currently typing with a sling on one arm and a messed up finger with the other as well as other various injuries. Climbing as you know is a very dangerous sport. I’m at a point where I don’t plan on quitting, but I do know that I should do it less often. I was climbing so much that my brother told me that my accident was inevitable. When I got home from Canada I heard the news about the death near Liberty Bell as well as another one. It was scary to know that more people in our state were dying in the mountains and my other friends are injured. It really is painful for me to say “climb less” I love the sport more than any other physical activity in the world. To me the mountaineering world has been a lot safer in the snow realms, even though it can get pretty rough.

    Great epilogue, sounds like Eric was a great guy. Wish I could have met him. I’m wishing you all the best.

  2. Thank you for writing this. It hits very close to home. But reading stories like this helps remind us how easily things can go wrong out there and maybe will prevent it from happening to someone else.

    Pugh and Dickerman are 2 of my favorite hikes. I’m glad you’re still getting out. I wish you the best.

  3. Hey , Was looking for some information about Mt MacFarlane and came across your blog.

    Obviously I came across this entry when clicking your about me page and I just really felt the need to offer you my condolences.

    I can’t honestly imagine what you have/are going through and I just really want to wish you all the best. I know I often find solace in the mountains/woods from my fairly insignificant problems and I hope that you will find your own completing all those trips you planned with your husband.

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