"Easy" Adventure climbingI wanted to do a climb with my friends for my Bachelor’s Party before my wedding. I figured a climb would be much more enjoyable and longer lasting in memory and experience than a night out at the bxxbie bar. After much consideration, we decided on the north face of Navajo (5.0-5.2), and with Dicker’s Peck as a bonus.
My final party included fw.com members Greg Dooley, Derrill Rodgers, Ben Osborn, Greg Hakes, myself, and non-member Jerome Bollinger. We decided to camp at the Long Lake TH the night before (6.17) to climb on Sunday. For TH directions and route descriptions, we followed Roach’s IPW book, which gave good direction and beta. With warmer than we wanted temperatures, we left the camping area and drove to the TH and left just before 5:00a.m. Heading west, we enjoyed the solitude and views of the sunrise on the IPW. The winds were initially stronger than we would have liked, but the warm temperature compensated. We cruised to the lake, and broke off the trail walking on the unbelievably thick (for that time of year) surface ice. It was still at least 2-3’ thick. This seemed a bit surreal as we walked into the basin in the middle of June.
At the base of the first snowfield we cramponed up, and began the slog up. We crossed several enjoyable snowfields on our way to the Navajo/Apache saddle. The snow was a little softer than we wanted, but we post-holed very little on our way up. We arrived at the base of the last snowfield (approx. 1000’) and gave each other a little space in the event of a slip-n-slide on the 50 degree slope. We kept mostly to the center of the snowfield, and angled up to the south (climber’s left) with about 200’ left to go. We arrived in packs – Greg D. and I, Greg H. and Jerome, followed by Derrill and Ben.
We decided to do Dicker’s Peck first as a fun bonus for our slog up the hill, and began unpacking/breaking out the gear. After a snack and a clothes changing session, we were ready to climb. Since it was my Bachelor’s party, Greg D. deferred to me for first lead of the route. My dad had some concerns about me leading since I was getting married in a week, but I figured that was the best reason for me to lead it. Greg D. belayed me up the route – I started on the west side of the tower, climbed up, traversed right following my gear, and came around the corner a little bit into a biting wind. With the rock on the north side not getting any sun and the wind, my hands began to cool quickly, and I tried to safely push the route. I veered back to the left after placing a few pieces, creating a monumental rope drag Z pattern. I topped out the route in about 10-12 minutes, much to my enjoyment. Dicker’s peck has a nice little summit with slings and crap all over the place with 3 pitons, a slung flake, and a nut wedged permanently in place for all sorts of anchors.
After I made myself safe, Greg D. came up next in his tennis shoes, and cleaned the route, also dragging a second rope up. After he was safe, Derrill followed wearing his gloves so his little fingers wouldn’t get cold. Next up was my dad, who had never been in a harness nor worn rock shoes. Greg D. belayed him up until he got up about 15’ before he ran out of comfortable options, and waited a bit. Derrill, and I flaked out the second rope and I belayed Jerome, a more than capable climber, up to my dad so he could help him with his situation and seeing the route and being on a rope. Dad still didn’t develop a comfort level, so Jerome showed him how to sit in the harness to be lowered. At this point, Ben was below us at the base of the tower, and seeing my dad was coming down shortly, began to put on his rock shoes. Greg D. lowered my dad down and at or around this point, 3 other climbers completed the snowfield to arrive at the base of the tower, and hang out in the area and wait for us to get off the tower. Dad untied his rope while Jerome continued up the route somewhat off to the north where a small roof piqued his interest. He tested the rock once, twice, and went for it. He dynoed past the roof to the holds on top of it, and it suddenly released. All of it. For those of you who haven’t seen the tower, there is a small east trending ramp right in the middle of the route, and when the rocks broke loose, they went both east and west. Jerome shouted. “S&$t!!! ROCK!!!!!!!” The rocks rained down on my dad (this was on Father’s day, mind you) and Ben. My dad ran east when he heard “rock”, and was hit in the back of the head and shoulders from behind, knocking him onto the cornice at the tippy-top of the 1000’ snowfield with a terrible run out. Had it knocked him down the snowfield, I don’t think the outcome would have been good. Ben, who was sitting partially cross-legged at the time putting on his rock shoes, sprang up when he heard “rock”, and was rewarded with a bowling-ball size rock on the middle of his right thigh, and a harsh blow to his right wrist. How the rock didn’t hit him in the head/shoulder, no one knows. He also received a decent laceration on his bare foot from springing up to avoid the death from above.
As the rocks came loose, Jerome also fell and mostly swung clear from the rock fall, his full weight coming on me and my belay from above. Fortunately, I had just tightened my belay for his move, and was able to take his fall without incident. This was the first time I have ever had someone fall unexpectedly on my belay, especially considering it was a blind belay (we couldn’t see the climbers from the summit). Usually you know the climber is going to fall from watching them, or from the climber yelling, “take!” or “falling!” From the summit, all we heard was rocks tumbling to the earth, followed by silence, and then groaning. The second party stared in shock at the scene. No one said anything at first, and then Jerome told me he was ok, and to lower him. I made him repeat it, and then lowered him to the ground, where he untied to do triage. My dad was mostly ok, but we didn’t know the severity of Ben’s leg injury.
From the summit, Greg set up a rappel and rapped down first, and I followed. Derrill remained at the summit for the time being. After checking my dad, we did triage on Ben – put on his waterproof pants, put his leg in the snow, and began packing up the gear. Derrill dropped the rope down and rapped down on the 2nd rope. We packed up the equipment, tried to take up as much of Ben’s load as we could, and decided that because of the steepness of the slope where we were (55 degrees) it would be a bad idea to have Ben try to self-arrest on the glissade down the snowfield. We tied all three ropes together, helped Ben into his harness, and I set up an anchor to tie into and lower him down. We had one person glissade with him, two people stop midway down the slope to help communicate (breaking it into 1/3s), and Greg D. and I stayed at top to lower him down and back each other up with the brake.
We lowered him down to the base of the snowfield without incident, broke down the anchor, packed up, and glissaded down to meet him. Like the bad man he is, he toughed out the hike back out (5.5 miles-ish to TH) with the help of Vitamin I, and we arrived at the TH pushing through hordes of people at 5:30p.m. The following day he had x-rays on his wrist, since it had swollen up to the size of a tennis ball, but fortunately, no breaks.
We were lucky. We all had helmets on, we worked as a team before and after the incident, and we did not sustain any severe injuries. We did learn a few valuable lessons – 1) Helmets are a very good thing. 2) Don’t have multiple climbers on the exact same route above one another on different ropes if at all possible (had my dad been on the rope below Jerome when the rocks came loose, he would have taken the full brunt of the rock fall directly). 3) Always keep an eye up on what the climbers are doing – and don’t stand directly under the route while people are climbing if at all possible. 4) We were lucky, and we had 6 very good people working together. An interesting and memorable bachelor’s party indeed.