A Beautiful Climb
During my 16h drive to Fort Collins, CO I had a lot of time to contemplate the events that transpired on August 7th, 2006 during our day hike of Giraud Peak out of South Lake. Below is my experience with a few second hand pieces of info added to fill in the holes. If anything is incorrect or incomplete, please correct me.
At 510am the alarm sounded and Bob and I slowly rolled out of bed. Day 4 of the Sierra Challenge was upon us, and Giraud Peak was waiting. We arrived at the South Lake trail head at approximately 10 to 6. There were around 12 of us, some heading for Giraud Peak, others for Agassiz and other alternates. Scott McKenzie and I took the initial lead up to Bishop Pass, reaching the top at 745am, Shortly after us; Glenn Gookin, Bob Burd, Ryan Spalding, and Tom Becht joined us at the windy/chilly pass. We grabbed a snack and gazed off across Dusy Basin at Giraud Peak oh so far away.
From Bishop Pass
The first section of trail down from Bishop Pass is a nice wide sandy slope, perfect for downhill running. So I jogged the first 1/4 mile or so, then slowed to a fast walk. I paused for a few minutes at 10800ft to let the others catch up, then we all headed cross country through Dusy Basin. At 830a we were at our low point next to the lakes around 10700ft in the bottom of Dusy Basin. Bob found us a nice leap/hop across that left several of us with wet feet.
After that it was time to start climbing, we traversed ledges up toward a prominent notch on the North ridge of Peak 12266. From here(11500ft) the ridge turned into a mix of cliffs and giant steps, so we moved around to the West side of the ridge and made our way through the giant boulders that dotted the basin. As we neared the saddle, we noted that the direct path up to the notch between Giraud and Peak 12266 was a mix of sand and scree, not a fun climb. So we opted to ascend up the ridge line early toward Peak 12266. With Bob leading the way we of course ended up doing a little class 4, but it was short. By this time our group had been trimmed down to me(Eric), Bob, Glenn, Scott M, and Tom. A short walk brought us to the base of the NE ridge, where the fun would begin right away.
Class 4 begins
Bob and Glenn led off up some easy class 3/4, while Scott M, Tom, and I followed a little more cautiously. After climbing the first point on the ridge we ran into our first obstacle, a 30ft class 5 drop that none of us could find an easy way down. Glenn and I dropped back down 20ft and found a way around the cliff, a short step around brought us to a broad ledge that traversed right to the base of the cliffs that had barred our progress. After this came the first knife edge section of the ridge line. A series of 8-10" deep cracks led us across the 45 degree face, not steep, but definitely exposed. It was now just Bob, Glenn and I in the lead group heading up the ridge. Scott M had decided to drop down to the class 2 SE face, while Tom had opted to take his time heading up. The three of us then scrambled up a little more class 3 along the ridge before coming to the second knife edge section. This one was a little more tricky since the entrance was blocked by a large boulder perched directly on top of the ridge. Glenn led off by hugging the base of this boulder then scooting his feet across 4ft of blank slab over to a crack where he wedged his toe. He was then able to reach around the boulder and grab the top of the ridge. Bob went next, opting to bear hug the boulder and mantle straight over it. Noting Bob’s large wingspan in comparison to mine, I opted for Glenn’s approach. Hugging both arms near the base of the boulder I scooted my feet across the slab, a scary moment for sure. After that another series of 2" deep cracks allowed us to tip toe across the ridge line back to flat ground
The exposed knife edge on Giraud's NE ridge.
The rest of the way up became very open, as the class 3/4 ridge we had been ascending merged with a class 2 scree chute from the SE face. The three of us stuck to the ridge line as the rock quality was pretty good, and the scrambling was still very enjoyable. Around 1030a Glenn reached the summit of Giraud Peak, shortly after him Bob, then myself, joined Glenn on top. Triumphant; we sat back, ate a little, took some pictures, and joked about rushing back to have margaritas in town. Tom joined us after 15-20min, and we took a few more pictures. After 20-25min up top Glenn, Bob, and I started back down the ridge the way we had come. When we reached the higher knife edge section I opted to drop down onto class 3 ledges and traverse around it, eventually meeting back up with Bob and Glenn. We kept on cruising down the ridge, enjoying the good rock and the fun exposure to our left(climber’s right). Down below we saw Rick and Ryan at the cliff section that had blocked our progress earlier, we yelled for him to go back and drop down to the South side of the ridge. Glenn pushed ahead and showed Rick and Ryan the magic ledge he had found earlier in the day. Bob and Glenn then went off to prove that the class 5 cracks up the cliff could be climbed(and they did).Bob showing off
. We then descended back down to the notch where Joyce Lin and Ron Hudson were relaxing before deciding whether or not to attack the ridge. David Wright was not far behind, ascending the final wall up to the ridge. We chatted briefly with Joyce and Ron then Bob led Glenn and I down into a rocky moat next to a snow patch. We descended 1 by 1 as there was much loose rock and we didn’t want to hurt each other. I let Bob and Glenn go ahead, stopping half way down the slope, when I heard something terrible.
The accident occurred at the left base of the pinnacle in the center. The snow field she fell onto is visible near the top.
1145a “Oh NO oh NO...NO NO NO” I heard Ron Hudson yell from above. I turned just in time to see Joyce’s body tumbling down the slope with a 2ft piece of talus tumbling next to her. I remember that at that second all I could think was, please don’t let that hit her, oh please(the rock tumbled harmlessly away). She flipped several times, hit a patch of sand, and slid to a halt just out of sight. She had landed only 50ft from where I was standing, so I ran across the talus fearing the worst. When I arrived on the scene she was bleeding bad, but I heard her moan(SHE WAS ALIVE!), so I rushed over to try and attend to her. A moment of panic swept over me as I realized my first aid supplies were very minimal. After saying a few quick words to Joyce I jumped up and ran into the open so everyone else could see me. I yelled down to Glenn, Robert Golomb, and Bob that she was alive and I needed help. I went back to Joyce and tried to support her head since she had landed with her body partially wrapped around a rock. A grabbed whatever cloth I could find and tried to slow the bleeding. Glenn soon arrived and he helped me position her better. I ran back to yell to Bob to run for help and a helicopter, he took off at a full sprint across the talus field, headed for South Lake. Ron arrived on the scene next after carefully descending the chute. By this time we had determine that she was coherent, and had full feeling in her arms and legs, a good sign. The three of us gently slid her onto a flatter section of talus, propping her up with our backpacks and jackets. We pulled out every piece of first aid we had, trying to give her shade and slow the bleeding. Robert(who we discovered was a Dr) and David both came over to assist us in caring for Joyce.
Ron mentioned that there was a Ranger Station straight down hill in LeConte Canyon. Glenn and I looked at each other and I told him I’d go, knowing that by some strange twist of fate I had worn my trail running shoes that day. I grabbed 1/2L of water and half a bagel, leaving the rest of my pack behind, and took off as fast as I could down the talus field for the Rainbow Lakes(1215p). I moved as fast as I could without putting myself in any eminent danger. Once past the lakes I popped out onto the prominent slabs over which the Dusy Branch flows down into LeConte canyon. I jogged straight down the slabs, finally spotting the trail off to my right. Once on trail I ran with reckless abandonment, sprinting downhill asking everyone I saw if they’d seen a ranger or had a radio. I reached the ranger station at 115p, only to find it locked and deserted, my heart sank, knowing I had failed. I ran around to everyone I saw trying to see if they had seen a ranger, same answer every time, “nope, sorry”. I left a note at the ranger cabin, and sent notes heading North and South with hikers in hopes they’d find a ranger. I bummed a liter of water and some food off two very nice groups in LeConte Canyon, since I had brought almost nothing with me. Then, completely defeated, I started my 3200ft climb back to Bishop Pass.
Little did I know that at that time(130p) Tom had returned from the summit of Giraud and by some miracle was able to get a hold of Monique Polumbo on top of Bishop Pass. Her and Scott Hanson then made their way down the trail until they found someone with a satellite phone who was able to call SAR for a helicopter. Meanwhile Bob had crested the pass and was sprinting downhill(after puking of course). Fifteen minutes after Monique and Scott H made the call, Bob came across the group, exhausted, but relieved that help had been called. Back at Giraud, Scott M had returned, then left to ensure that Bob’s message had made it out. Rick and Ryan soon joined the group at the base, taking turns covering Joyce’s wounds and waiting for the rescue helicopter.
My hike out of LeConte Canyon, was a hot, lonely, and exhausting trudge. With a bag of food in one hand, and a bottle of water in the other I made my way back up into Dusy Basin. Just before 4p I heard the distinct thump of chopper blades, I screamed in excitement. I watched the helicopter circle the basin once, then drop down into LeConte Canyon. It then made two passes over me. I frantically waved my arms each time, trying to direct the chopper toward Giraud just like a airport runway director. The helicopter finally stopped over Giraud Peak and descended into the valley. Soon after that it took off, with what I assumed was Joyce. I later learned that the helicopter had to go dump weight before returning around 425p to pick up Joyce and take her to the Northern Inyo Hospital.
SAR Team lands on the snow field for the rescue
I kept my legs moving, though fatigue was setting in. I reached Bishop Pass around 430p, finally the uphill was over. The sun was beginning to dip behind the mountains and the temperature was dropping, I knew I had to make it out before dark, or I’d freeze. I jogged/sped downhill, finally making the trail head at 6p, greeted by not a single challenge participant. Since I had hitched a ride up with Bob(who left at 230p), I was forced to bum a ride back into town(only took 15min). I returned to Bishop and the Starlite motel to discover that Joyce had just been admitted to the NIH, and only myself, Tom, Bob, and Scott M had made it back from Giraud. The others who had gone for alternate peaks; Scott H, Monique, Bill Peters, Evan Rasmussen, and Mike Larkin had also returned. It was only after arriving at the motel that I realized how much my ankles hurt(having sprained them several times running downhill. A little ice, a little food, and some rest was needed. After eating Bob went to the hospital, returning with the joyous news that Joyce was doing alright, other than two broken arms and some lacerations, she was going to be ok. She even had the sense to tell Bob to get her car and all her food in the left hand bearbox. We went up to get her car and food, hoping the others would be back when we arrived at the trail head, not luck. We left a note for Ron and the others, and headed back to town. At 1030p Glenn and Ron arrived back at the motel, tired but glad to hear Joyce would be ok. The last 4; Rick, Ryan, David, and Robert would arrive just before midnight. By days end everyone was back safe and sound, and the crisis that was August 7th, 2006 had come to a close. Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved Joyce should make a full recovery and be back outside in no time.
We must remember that we are merely guests in Mother Nature’s domain, and as enjoyable as climbing is, it is also dangerous. You better believe that from now on my helmet comes everywhere with me.