Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Burnout and Tragedy in the Palisades

I think its important to write about this, these trips do not always go well, and its important to learn from them. I really need a serious rest and some reflection on safety and what can go wrong in the mountain. 

I'm officially burnt out. My weekend in the Palisades was a fiasco, and I'm exhausted. Adding to the situation, for the first time in my climbing experience, there was a fatality near where I was climbing. I met the person who died, although only for a passing moment. 

18 miles of hiking, 50 lb pack, and I didn't climb a single thing. On the plus side, the hike in was beautiful, and I now have a better sense of what this spectacular area is like

The magnificent Temple Crag

Middle Palisade on the North Fork

A hiker contemplates life at Sam Mack Meadows

The plan was to meet Richard out in the Palisades, do the Thunder bolt to Sill traverse, but things did not go according to plan.

Part of the Palisade Traverse. Palisade glacier below. 

I hiked in on Friday before he did, we were supposed to meet at the terminus of the moraine. On the way up I met a bunch of people going climbing, including a pair of brothers in their 60s planing to climb North Pal. MORE ON THIS LATER

When I got there, there was no water or snow to melt, so I moved the camp back about 0.25 miles to a spot with a snowfield.  I thought he would  easily see the tent. WRONG

My base camp in the Palisade moraine

When I woke up he was not there, so I went looking for him. I could not find him, but I thought I saw someone in the snowfield in the couloir. So I went back packed up my day pack and headed up the couloir. I didn't see any tracks, or ice axe plunges. 

On the plus side, I made backcountry pizza. Yummy!

When I didn't find him I figured either:
1) He had not shown up for some reason
2) That was him in the couloir and he had decided to solo the route thinking I had not shown up

At that point it was getting pretty late and I was feeling totally demoralized, my psyche to climb was about zero. So I decided to just walk out and head home rather than remain on the exposed glacier.

Post Trip Analysis 

After an e-mail exchange with Richard, it turns out he had a similar experience to me. He was exhausted and burnout, he actually bivied lower than me on the glacier, and when he could not find me he went up T-bolt. 
I'll never meet in the wilderness again. Similar to my experience on Rainier, making decisions as a team is better than making them alone. 

Climber Killed on North Pal.

The other shocker I got from Richard concerned those brothers in their 60s I ran into on the approach. They had planned to climb North Palisade. Richard had travelled with them a bit on the glacier, and after they parted ways, one of the brothers was killed when he slipped in the couloir. Unbelievable, this news was very sobering and has put me into a pensive and self-reflective mood. 

One of the brothers had brought his wife on the trip, she was camping and waiting for them below the glacier. I will never know if she lost her husband that afternoon. When I walked by, she asked if I had seen them, I told her I saw 2 climbers heading up the couloir, I told her I saw them entering the climb, and they looked fine. Who knew one of them would not make it back. 
I can't even imagine the pain of losing my brother on a climb.


Burnout -  I am burnt out and exhausted. When I look back over my blog and see that I have been climbing continuously every weekend since Jan, many of those trips being alpine climbing. I have also been training so hard. 
Its time to take a serious rest, recuperate for my trip to Canada, so I can be a safe and competent partner for Kyle in the Bugs and the Rockies. 

Communication - I should not have hiked in alone. I am going to get a proper cell phone, and always meet at the trailhead in the future. 

Being a Better PartnerBeing a trustworthy, competent and good climbing partner is really important to me. I feel like I failed as a partner on this trip. I've had partners fail me on climbs and trips in the past and it can be frustrating and demoralizing.
I let my burnout get in the way of my decision making process. I took home some lessons from this experience which will hopefully make me into a better partner in the future. 

Mountain Safety Finally, this is the first time I have been anywhere close to death in the mountains. Its chilling and sobering. A reminder that what I am doing can actually be dangerous. Its so easy to feel secure and safe when the sun is shining, and I am having a blast climbing. 
In the future I will need to carefully consider when to rope up, even on easy terrain in the future. This makes me glad that I decided not to solo the route, and reinforces that I made the correct decision to retreat from the whiteout on Mt. Rainier. 

Post-Trip Fun

To reduce the gloom of this blog post, when I got back to Fresno, Teresa and I went out and climbed the South Pillar of Fresno Dome. This is one of my all time favourite, easy multi-pitch climbs. Climbing this route always revitalized me and restored my psyche.  The movie is crap, but you get the idea. (BTW, GoPro really is not great for climbing movies...)

So from now until I leave for the Rockies, its rest, rest and more rest. No more big trips, no more hard core training. Relax, and mentally prepare for the big fun in Canada. 

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