What Our Plan WasIn Loving Memory of Kevin Hayne (June 15, 2010) A great friend and climbing partner. You will always be missed and I will never forget you through these next years of my life. I will miss you a ton.
Climbers are sometime’s faced with life-threatening descisions. Many escape death while many others become apart of it. Many think It will never happen to them and that there somehow invincible. Let me tell you, when things go wrong, that thought will change. Me and Kevin were faced with the Inevitable on July 31, 2009.
The Maroon Bells are nicknamed the “Deadly Bells” on purpose. They kill people. They are notorious for loose rock and steep cliffs. That’s an accurate description. If you fell at any bit of this climb you would end up 1,500 or so ft. on a rock pile. Between the two of us, we have significant experience. I am good with the more difficult class 4 and class 5 terrain. Kevin is very good with route finding and class 1-3 navigation. The Maroon Bells, while considered Colorado’s hardest 14ers, were in our range of experience. Both of us are also fairly good at weather decision making in the high country, though there is no “good” weather predicting at that altitude. A storm is able to form and come in a matter of minutes without notice.
The ClimbWe left at 7:30pm on Thursday to get there as early as possible. Arriving at 1am we went to sleep and woke up just about an hour later to get an early alpine start at about 2:00am and we began “the approach.” The approach was wet, but fairly easy. After finding a cairn that marked our ascent route at 5:30am, we worked our way up the most frustrating section of the hike – 2,800 feet of elevation over the course of about 1.5 miles. Which means, it’s just about straight up. It’s annoying and tough to follow.
At about 8:30am we reached the top of the ridge at 13,300.
The summit was great. We arrived on time at about 10 a.m. We planned the early summit to do the traverse. I wouldn’t recommend anyone get near it, the views are incredible. You can see EVERYTHING, from the dangerous looking summits of Pyramid and Capitol, to the spacious snowfield on Snowmass Mountain. It was incredible. We talked to each other, and the weather was great so far with hardly any clouds, and we were making great time. We decided to give it a go. We didn’t stay long on the summit, and headed down the saddle towards North Maroon Peak. We were faced with some technical (class 4 AND class 5) down climbs before we reached the low-point on the ridge at 13,700ft – the top Bell Cord Couloir (A couloir is a steep snow-filled gully). You look down into the vast air and huge cliffs and that alone scares most off this traverse or the mountain for that fact.
The IncidentWe searched for the route up North Maroon and we both thought the route lead different ways. Kevin thought the route went around left and up. (Which I started leading and knew was not it due to how hard it was, well above low 5th class) I thought it was straight up which was true but we did not get to the point of finishing the traverse. A storm was starting to form and roll in. It had came out of no where with "fingers" coming down. Knowing we could not backtrack or keep climbing because the lightning would kill us as we would only be going up for a while until we hit one of the summits. As we sat at the top of the couloir, the storm blew in. The weather made a tremendously quick change for the absolute worse. At 10:45, it was thundering like crazy and snowing to where you could not see much at all.
A while later, the storm was still getting worse. We decided our only choice was to attempt to slide down this couloir with a trecking pole used as a brake. The couloir itself had a good 3 inches of good snow on top of ice. It seemed okay to glissade down. Kevin went down first and lost control flying into into a moat on the side. I went down next scared and I lost control going to the left of the couloir slamming right into the rock with my leg. We both knew this was first not possible and second suicidal. I was on the opposite side of Kevin and I knew I had to get on his side but I could not traverse the snow. I pulled out a piece of emergency rope I have and tied it to my waist and Kevin used what he could as an anchor to belay me over. I got across safely. Now there was dangerous snow above us and below us. Slippery Cliffs to both our sides. We pulled our space blankets and hunkered down to wait out the storm. As the storm slowly began to “taper” off and the fog surrounded us, we realized just how bad our situation was. The climbs up to both South and North Maroon Peaks were now technical AND exposed to long deadly falls. Neither of us had packed for a snow climb – our crampons and ice axes were at home. The left and right edges of the couloir had melted out, creating intermittent and very deep cave-like openings that apparently are known as “moats.” Thus, down the couloir was not an option either.
This is where things got pretty dangerous. I was getting cold even with all my extra layers due to my feet getting a little wet from the slide down. We knew we had to move to not get any colder. We thought our only way down was this couloir. Kevin brought up the idea of glissading down. While it seemed like a great idea to get down quickly I was not up for it due to the dangerous conditions of the snow without snow/ice gear. Kevin lead the way by attempting to slide down it with his trecking pole. In a normal situation, You would have your ice axe to arrest with, stopping the fall. This time, there was nothing but a hiking pole. As I knew this was a bad idea for him, I was sure right when I thought he was dead. He was being flung left and right through the couloir on a very speedy downwards trek. He had lost control and was leaving my eye sight into the clouds. After a few HUNDRED feet of downwards movement he finally “exited” the couloir on the left (north) side, headfirst, into the cliff wall on North Maroon. His helmet took the full force of the fall and turned him around enough that my feet hit snow. He had basically slid a few hundred feet down at high speed into a cliff and didn’t break a single bone.
He was bleeding from somewhere. I had a hard time moving my leg as it was also bleeding from hitting the rocks. We were both scratched and scraped everywhere, and Kevin’s right leg was exceptionally painful. I stood there starting to get quite emotional because he was not responding to me and I knew I couldn’t loose a good friend and live with him dieing right in front of my eyes. He finally replied and screamed up to me not to try this, but to stay put. I DEFINATELY agreed. In the matter of act, I couldn't of got the guts up to send myself down that thing with just a trekking pole to self arrest with. At this point, I realized how badly our luck had turned. His SPOT tracker, a small GPS/satellite device that allows us to tell home that were “OK” or notify 911 that we were in trouble, had come off of its harness during the fall and continued down the couloir. We had just lost the last connection to help for at least a couple of days. But things improved slightly. He searched (slowly) around the area, and as Kevin looked further down the couloir, he realized that the moat he was in continued downwards for a VERY long time. He had a chance to get down by crawling through the moat. He yelled to me that he had a chance of getting it.
From here, the two of us were split up, with no way back to one another. I was starting to get colder and I knew my only way out was to find a diffcult line up all these cliffs back over the summit of Maroon Peak and back the route we came from. Maybe it's just me, but I also don't want to ever be rescued unless I physically can't do it at all. I thought you got yourself in the situation, now find a safer way out. Kevin started down as the fog FINALLY started to lift. I finally chose to go on this uncharted territory. I have never prayed so much. This included traversing the steep loose rock with cliff sections every five feet. I knew I would be history If I totally slipped. While I wasn’t sure what Kevin did at this point, he worked his way down the couloir, using some ledges along North Maroon to get down as far as he could. At 13,300ft, he discovered his SPOT tracker in the middle of the snow. Unfortunately, it was in a very steep section, and he had no way of getting to it. All sudden I stepped on a rock that was loose and caused it and others to fall down the couloir. I caused a rockfall. One of the rocks actually bumped his SPOT tracker out of the couloir down into a moat on the side! Within 10 minutes he had the device.
With the orange box in his hand, he was forced to press the 911 button. He knew pressing the button would mobilize the search and rescue (SAR) teams that were necessary, but It would cause panic back at home. He pressed the button.
Kevin was stopped by the couloir and the end of the “moats.” He was stuck. He chose to traverse the side of North Maroon Peak in hope to find the route down that peak. Of course, soon he climbed himself into a trap when he was stuck on a ledge with 300 ft. cliffs below him and no where to go except hope the rescue will come.
Being alone and tired in the wilderness can be a trying experience. I started seeing things thinking my parents were right there with me. But then I would find out its just a rock. I would go on random acts of crying. You got to pull your head together when your in these situations but I just couldn't help it. Route finding and searching can be tough, especially when there is nobody to backup your decisions. My route needing the best routefinding especially with the downclimb. I finally climbed my last unstable cliff and the summit was ahead. The weather seemed to be coming again. I just knew, with more rain, this would be harder. The weather held off luckily and my route finding was pretty strong. I got off track once but in about 1.5 hours I was back at 13,000 ft. at the saddle where we were 12 hours ago.
The Aspen Mountain RescueIt was about now that SAR sent out an airplane to try and spot us both. Unfortunately, wind kept him from circling as low as he wanted. I started to head down the steepest part from the saddle in an "interesting" condition. I got about 1,000 ft. down when I heard something. At sometime around 6:30pm, the SAR helicopter came searching for us. I was extremely happy, we had a good chance. After a number of passes, they finally spotted Kevin, and with some help from his flashlight, he made first contact. There were about 30 guys on the search and rescue looking for us.
By 7:15, an Aspen Mountain Rescue team was on the ground and in contact with Kevin. Kevin conveyed my last known location. Now every 10 minutes or so I would fall to the ground from exhaustion both mentally and physically. I had been awake for about 50 hours. I got down this face to the trailhead. I took a 15 minute rest trying to get it in my head what was happening. I stayed there. And then I heard someone yell,” Noah?”I yelled,” Yeah, I’m Noah” The two mountain rescue team members came to me in a rush. I told them I was alright and not hurt. I asked if Kevin was safe and they told me he was and they were working on getting him down off the cliffs. I was very relieved to hear that news. At once, I drank a ton of water and was feeling almost back to normal.
We both got out on to the trailhead after dark and were fed dinner. I layed in the warm Mountain Rescue Truck thinking of this traumatic day. It’s something that I never wish to experience again. I was first worried about my parents because I was suppose to be home 6 or so hours ago. I knew they would not be thinking positively. They drove us to the cabin they had in Aspen. I made a bunch of different phone calls letting everyone know I’m okay. The sheriff and SAR directors talked to me to get a feel for how things went and how I was. They told us we made all the right descisions except going down the snow and seperating. Soon we were at a hotel that thankfully Kevin’s dad had booked for us. Finally, after almost 22 hours of climbing we got some much needed sleep.
We Owe Our Lives To The Aspen Mountain RescueWe owe so much to the Aspen Mountain Rescue as well as the Pitkin County Sheriff. They were all great to us, and I can’t thank them more for the work they voluntarily do to help people caught in unfortunate circumstances. It’s amazing what they did and continue to do.
The quote I followed the whole time.
“You always have to make descisions, unless you know your situation is going to get better.”
-Written by Noah and Kevin
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding"
I give God the glory!