On the morning of February 3, 2007, Joseph Bullough (known affectionately to his friends as Gristle) and Brian Dutton (Dunsum on SP) set out on the classic mountaineering adventure known as the Beatout. They ascended the buttress out of Red Pine in good time and crossed the knife-edge ridge to the base of the Pfeifferhorn. The avalanche danger was generally low with a moderate danger reported on slopes "with recent deposits of wind drifted snow." About half-way up the Pfeifferhorn pyramid, just such a deposit gave way sweeping both climbers off their feet and sending them over the cliffband. They bounced several hundred feet through the exposed rock and came to rest on the apron of snow below the cliff, Joe face-down in the snow and closer to the cliff, and Brian somewhat further down-slope and in a sitting position.
When Brian got his bearings he scrambled back up to Joe, freed his face from the snow, and tried to assess the extent of his injuries (as well as his own.) Brian reports that Joe was semi-lucid but was having trouble breathing. He cleared Joe's airway and got him as comfortable as possible and then retrieved his cell phone and called for help. Over the ensuing hours, even though his own injuries were serious (broken bones and soft tissue trauma), Brian tended to Joe, who was in and out of consciousness and suffering from shock and cold. Brian basically laid on top of Joe and kept him warm and breathing until SAR arrived and took over.
Both climbers were hospitalized. Joe was listed in "extremely critical condition", spent a week in ICU and a month in the hospital.
Getting back on the horse
Joe's frustration with his long, slow recovery was palpable. He didn't just pop out of the hospital the uber-mountaineer he was before the accident. Lots of little baby steps were required.
Last August, six months after the fall, Joe and Shelley, his sweetheart of a wife (CragHag on SP,) invited me to join them on a hike. Where to? The Pfeifferhorn, of course. Joe had to let the mountain know he wasn't blinking. It was a beautiful day. Great company. A leisurely pace. A very leisurely pace.
In January Joe and Shelley came along for the WMC Lone Peak Winter Ascent, but turned back short of the summit. Then on April 12 Joe and I climbed Broad's Fork Twin Peaks from Deaf Smith. And two weeks later he was among the group who climbed Lone Peak from Big Willow to help me celebrate my 100th ascent. On May 10 Joe was one of four who completed the Triple Traverse, classic route.
So I figured it was time for Gristle to go back and finish what he started almost sixteen months ago on the Alpine Ridge.
Lee Johnson and I, two old men with big ideas, met up with Gristle at 6:00 at the Bell's Canyon TH on Wasatch Boulevard. We left cars there and were graciously driven up the canyon and delivered at Red Pine by Shelley. We got away at 6:15 at the dawning of a Bluebird day. I turned on my GPS as Lee recorded our departure on his digital voice recorder.
The bridge over Little Cottonwood Creek was free of snow and the sign at Red Pine / White Pine Junction was melted out, but there was still a lot of snow for the last day of May. We had decided to bring snowshoes at the last minute and all three of us ended up wearing them before the day was over, but at this early hour on packed snow they seemed like a nuisance. We knew there was an SP group planning to climb White Baldy and that they were about an hour ahead of us, so as we gained the upper end of the drainage we started looking for them. Just above Upper Red Pine Lake we spotted first one, then another, and then a third person sitting under trees up ahead. We correctly assumed this was the SP group and we visited for a few minutes before going our separate ways. We gained the summit ridge easily and caught our first sight of the Pfeifferhorn, scene of the crime. We made our way across on good snow and climbed the Pfeiff in big bucket steps that others had left for us. We snacked, took pictures, and went on.
We descended the SW ridge of the Pfeiffherhorn and climbed UPWOP (Un-named Peak West Of Pfeifferhorn) and talked about the plane wreck site in Hogum and tried to figure out which line the skiers call the Hypodermic Needle on the east side of North Thunder. The ridge between UPWOP and Chipman is the funnest part of the Beatout for me, but this much snow actually makes it easier than in, say, August, and therefore not quite as fun.
Chipman Peak sits on a spur ridge running south from the Alpine Ridge but this short out-and-back is mandatory on the Beatout. As we prepared to go out to Chipman I asked Lee (when he got through talking to his digital recorder) if he remembered what happened here in 2004 when he and I left the WMC Beatout group who chickened out on UPWOP and went to the Cotton Bottom for beer and garlic burgers. He didn't remember. (I climbed down into a snow-hole big enough for me and my pack.)
As we were snacking again ("they don't know about second breakfast"-Frodo) on top of Chipman, we thought we heard human voices and finally spotted a lone hiker coming up from the direction of Lake Hardy. He gained the summit ridge but had descended again before we got over there. At several places along the ridge just east of South Thunder we eased up to the lip and looked STRAIGHT DOWN many hundreds of feet into Hogum. This is a good place to contemplate your mortality. The summit log on South Thunder had few entries since last fall, one of them from Moogie and crew.
We opted to descend South Thunder directly NW into Bell's towards the upper reservoir. There is so much snow covering the rock and vegetation that you could plunge-step any number of routes in full glorious sun. I put on my snowshoes just above the reservoir and walked out onto it, though there were some melt holes of blue water near the shores. Gristle followed suit and came across behind me, but Lee stuck to the bank and finally put on his snowshoes on the far side. The summer trail between the reservoir and the big meadow is hard enough to stay on and we made no attempt to stay on a trail in this snow. We actually separated at one point but hooked back up in the meadow.
On a day like this, we knew there would be many hikers in lower Bell's, and we made a game of counting them. I said we would see 27 people. Gristle said there would be 32 and some of them would say, "Did you get all the way to the waterfall?" Lee took 25. Sure enough, we started encountering hikers, almost all of them young, and sure enough, at least one asked us if you got all the way to the waterfall. I had counted well over Gristle's 32 before we got to the wooden bridge across the creek and I stopped counting at about 45.
We got to the cars in 10:59:40 (Gristle's watch) tired, sunburned, and happy. And Gristle got his revenge.