Smashed on top of Numa Peak
On 9/17/95, the weather was as good as it gets for a trip into Glacier National Park. The climbing season was drawing to a close and I was hoping to climb a new peak that few have reached. Numa peak is up in the wild NW part of the park sitting along the west shore of Bowman Lake about 8 miles from the campground located at the trailhead for Brown Pass. Although I normally preferred to climb with my friend, Vern Ingraham, he had other plans for the day (golf???) and so I found myself hiking up the trail that winds around Bowman Lake completely segregated from the human species.
On a previous hike in the area with the Over the Hill Gang, Walt had noted a drainage leading up to the base of Numa, so I had some idea of where to look to begin my climb. My plan was to try the South Face route as described in Gordon Edward’s guide to climbing in Glacier.
Looking at the bushwhack that was at the start of the climb, I thought I would try going up the creek bed which did not have a lot of water this late in the season. My climb almost ended there as the rocks were exceptionally slick making staying upright nearly impossible. After a couple of minor falls, I decided to get out of that environment before I suffered a broken limb.
I stayed to the right side of the creek and bushwhacked for several hours until reaching a large basin at the base of the peak. The guidebook suggested taking a vegetated ramp that was just east of the center of the SE face and extended some 600 – 900 feet to the base of a cliff where a distinctive couloir would be found on the left and followed to provide the easiest known route. I studied the mountain and could never identify this highway to Mecca so eventually just started picking my way up through the cliffs testing my route finding abilities to the limit. At least I didn’t have to deal with a second or third opinion other than those I might generate on my own if things failed to go as hoped!
Eventually, I made it up to the S face where the scrambling was a bit easier and continued working my way up a gully which eventually became a narrow chimney near the top. The exposure was quite impressive, but there were lots of good foot and hand holds on both sides of the chimney and I was greatly enjoying the perfect weather and exciting climbing. After gaining close to 5,000’ vertical, I was about to break out on top of the chimney which was partially blocked by a chockstone at that point.
Perhaps the fatigue of the approach had dulled my senses, but in any event, I reached up around and over that boulder to pull myself up on top of a saddle and failed to notice that it started to move. It had probably been balanced there for decades and once it started in motion, it was a fait accompli! I had my feet braced against opposing walls of the chimney as well as my hands which I pulled away from the boulder. For a moment, it looked like it was going to plunge straight down the chimney between my feet, but unfortunately, it smashed my left boot into the hold I was standing on.
Luckily, it then continued crashing down for more than 1,000 feet and I was not pinned in place! After my initial curse at the pain, it dawned on me that the golfing gods had just spared Vern, who invariably would have been a few feet behind and below me in the chimney. I climbed up on top and tried to test my injured foot and hoped to feel the pain subside after the initial shock. Unfortunately, that did not happen and when I tried to put weight on it the pain was intense. Never having been good at dealing with such setbacks, I was afraid to take off my boot and look…what if it was bleeding or had a compound fracture? Instead, I decided to apply my main form of first aid…a 600 mg Motrin.
My next step was to evaluate my next step! Since I was almost on top, attempting to retreat from here was not one of the options. I looked around and decided to turn SW and finish the climb. It was a good test of my remaining capabilities…going higher was really difficult. I reached the high point and stopped to rest and try to eat a snack. As I looked at the tremendous views, my heart nearly stopped. North of me was a higher section…the true summit!
View east from summit Rainbow Pk on left
Again, no great debate…I found that going down was not as bad and I reached my initial spot on the jagged ridgetop and continued to the true summit where I again rested and signed the register which only had a handful of entries.
The weather was holding and I could see the South end of Bowman Lake where I had left my car.
View south from summit
I was injured and there was a major obstacle of 5,000’ along with 8 miles between me and the end of the day. It was time to start moving. The biggest fear was that I would get off route and cliffed out. This only happened for a few minutes at one place, so I was really lucky, because it became clear that going down was about all I could manage. Eventually, I made it back to the trail and went a few feet further to the lake shore where I washed my face in the cool refreshing waters. From there I was essentially home free…the trail miles passed steadily and the foot wasn’t even slowing me down much once a rhythm was established.
It turned out that the 4th and 5th metatarsals were broken. My doctor showed me a textbook description of a Jones fracture, which can normally be treated with a metal screw. However, in my case the bone was so crushed that there was nothing for the screw to tie together. Thus, it would have to heal the best it could and then probably be broken and reset to mitigate probable pain. The best part of the story is that it healed and didn’t require any subsequent surgery. Another good part of this tale is that my wife knew where I was going and could have alerted rescue personnel if I hadn’t made it back. Finally, the summer ended not only for me, but for Numa the following night when storms brought in some serious “termination dust”.