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bcollins

Death on Gib route

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Just read an article in the Everett Herald, ap story about a climber falling down Gibralter Chute. My thoughts and prayers are with Mike's family and friends.

Barry

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old news, but still tragic none the less. I was on the Ledges in March and was right at the spot he fell at the top of the Chute.

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Clintoris, you are not reading the post carefully. But, that is OK.

This accident hapened last Friday. Climber went to climb the mountain directly from night shift and he didn't even kiss and hug his kids.

It's hard to hear stories like this. Make sure you say to your family how much you love them before you go to serious climb.

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Climbing is a selfish sport. We risk our life - not for money and fame, but as a lifestyle. Sad.

 

Any details on this tragedy?

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Climbing is a selfish sport. We risk our life - not for money and fame, but as a lifestyle. Sad.

 

Any details on this tragedy?

 

He wasn't soloing (had a partner), but was not roped up? Is that typical for this route - at least for the Gib Chute?

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Climbing is a selfish sport. We risk our life - not for money and fame, but as a lifestyle. Sad.

 

Any details on this tragedy?

 

He wasn't soloing (had a partner), but was not roped up? Is that typical for this route - at least for the Gib Chute?

 

I don't believe they were climbing the Gib Chute. It sounds like he lost his footing for whatever reason at the top of the chute while ascending the Gib Ledges route....

 

Not much pro there so it's probably better they weren't roped. They both would have gone...

 

One of my pet peeves is suicide packs of people on steep terrain, roped, and without pro. Creepy...

 

-Fear

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On Glaciers you would want to stay roped up because of crevasses. On the ledges, no. It sounds like they were heading to a point to rope back up when he fell.

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Climbing is a selfish sport. We risk our life - not for money and fame, but as a lifestyle. Sad.

 

Any details on this tragedy?

 

He wasn't soloing (had a partner), but was not roped up? Is that typical for this route - at least for the Gib Chute?

 

I don't believe they were climbing the Gib Chute. It sounds like he lost his footing for whatever reason at the top of the chute while ascending the Gib Ledges route....

 

Not much pro there so it's probably better they weren't roped. They both would have gone...

 

One of my pet peeves is suicide packs of people on steep terrain, roped, and without pro. Creepy...

 

-Fear

 

So for the gib ledges climbers typically unrope when they get to them, and rope up again when they are out and onto the Ingraham?

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Thats the way we did it when we skimmed that route back in 96, sketchy, but unroped has its place as BillyGoat sad.

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Tomorrow will be four months since June 10th. I wrote this to post on August 16th, on what would have been Mike Beery’s 30th birthday. I was Mike’s climbing partner when he died in a fall down the Gib Chute on June 10th. As with most accidents, there are a few of you that know exactly what happened, and the most of you know what is in the papers or on the tube. I originally penned this open letter to put my thoughts on paper so that I could stare at the words, perhaps hoping to ease the hurt I have felt with Mike’s death.

 

More recently, I think there is possibly something to be learned from Mike’s death, and perhaps those of you that frequent the slopes will be safer for reading about our experience instead of having to live it. I am not much of a poster, I would rather read and learn from the rest of your experiences than to think that what I have to say on a usual basis is all that interesting. I am not writing to ease myself of any responsibility in Mike’s death, but if any of you are any safer for having read this, then I can take some solace in that. It also seems really important to thank publicly those great guys that helped me/us that day. They get to live with the trauma of these accidents, and don’t ever get a pat on the back, or a kind word.

 

In some ways it has been a long time since the accident, in some ways it happened yesterday. I have found that there are a lot of people out there that have watched friends die: scuba, climbing, on the freeway. I have never known what they feel, what they have gone through, I have been the one dispassionately watching the news. Even as a firefighter, when prying a dying person from a car, there is a distance that you maintain. Mike was my climbing partner, and there was no distance. I suspect that all partners feel a level of responsibility for the accident, even if you internally absolve yourself of direct causal linkage. In the same way I know that I couldn’t help Mike from the second he fell, I also know that I was there and have to ask myself why we were there, and what happened, and how to make peace with it.

 

It seems that there is no point in regurgitating most of the history of the climb, as this is not a trip report. There are some details that are worthwhile to bring up, perhaps. The first is probably our choice of route. Mike and I chose the route for a couple of reasons. First off, we are both more inclined to climb where there are less folks. It isn’t that we don’t enjoy the company, but there is something to be said for climbing where we are actually ‘on our own’. Being on your own nearly all the time has an intrinsic beauty, but when some bad thing happens, it is ugly and you are indeed on your own. Mike and I loved to hike and climb in the Olympics for that very reason – we usually had the place all to ourselves. Often we were absolutely alone, with the privacy and solitude that some never experience in the hills. And yet we found all kinds of challenge in climbing there. In some ways and depending on the time of year and your route Constance, Deception, Mystery and Olympus are every bit as challenging and strenuous as Rainier. Please don’t think that I am being arrogant about Rainier to compare it, we both knew how mean Rainier is - bigger, higher, way more dangerous.

 

We were indeed trying to avoid the herds that were utilizing the ID. The previous year climbing by the DC, we bore witness to the so-called RMI money trains, bottlenecks and (irony) potentially unsafe things we watched many do. Third, with just two of us (our third climber had to stay home with his daughter on emergency the day we left), and with the daily reports of crevasse falls, we wanted to avoid the unseen danger of those obstacles in the ID. We felt most comfortable on mixed routes (like the Olympics), and that played into the thought that the Ledges were a good choice for us. We liked the directness. Neither of us had climbed by the Ledges. But we had lots of good route info, and a number of friends that knew the route well who gave us the insight of their passages.

 

We also chose to climb in the ledges un-roped. Indeed NPS recommended (all three climbing rangers we spoke to) that you climb through the ledges themselves un-roped. Many of you have climbed the Ledges and for those of you that have this description is redundant. The Ledges are at times an rock ramp, at times more like the top edge of a partially snow and ice covered coarse talus slope at the base of the Gibraltar Rock face. The ledge system is undulating, in some places more like a goat trail than a ramp, and varied in its terrain. The morning of June 10, it was in relatively good shape in my opinion, but I saw that NPS had declared it to be unsafe or not climbable by June 12th or 13th perhaps in response to Mike’s fall and their assessment of the conditions when they retraced our route. There had been some snowfall the days previous to our climb, and while portions were bare rock, the route was very climbable. In fact it was a lot of fun – until the fall we were having a great climb under near perfect weather conditions.

 

While we were within the ledges, we understood why NPS recommended not being roped up, and we traveled knowing that the terrain was unforgiving of a fall. The terrain was definitely mixed, and the rock slope to our downhill side was not something you would want to be drug through. In some areas near the beginning of the ledges, I would say the distance down the rock face below us was at least a thousand feet. The distance to fall on the snow covered talus slope was short, in many places it was less than say fifty to a hundred feet, steep at perhaps 40 to 50 degrees in places, and sloped down to the left across our line of travel. A fall by the trailing person would have jerked the leading person from the slope and with the short distance it would have guaranteed both of us would have died. A fall by the leading climber could have been possibly caught due to the cross slope, but it didn’t seem like a sure bet at the time. When Mike did fall, I am pretty certain that I could have caught his fall had we been roped, but who knows. I know that a deep and strong axe placement was not certain.

 

The morning of the fall, the weather conditions were super. There was barely a breath of wind, it was cold, perhaps 10 to 15 at 12,000’, and clear. We had daylight, in fact the mental photo of the Nisqually Icecliff looming ahead of us while alpenglow bathed the summit hump above Mike as we climbed was stunning. The snow and ice was hard, but our crampon points gripped well. Even at those locations where the heat of the day had previously caused melt high above, and the falling water from Gibraltar slick-coated the rocks at our feet and saturated the snow, the ice had a good grip. We couldn’t set pro as the snow was too hard and thin for our pickets and we had not taken our screws on advice of one of the climbing rangers at Paradise. I don’t believe that a screw would have done anything anyway, there was no real ice to screw into. Even so, there was no sketchy feel to the grip of our crampons, our location, or our physical or mental condition. In places it felt quite exposed, but not sketchy. We moved steadily and without feeling the effects of the altitude. We were right on our schedule, felt rested and fresh legged - overall we were feeling great.

 

Mike fell just before 6 am at 12,280 feet (by my altimeter watch, which I had reset prior to leaving Muir is maximized there). We were, quite literally, about 75 – 100 feet horizontally from entering the true trough of the Gib Chute where the Ledges merge with the Chute near the headwall at the upper margin of the Nisqually Ice Cliff. We were traversing the still rising slope, and were near the face of the rock. We moved steady and carefully on the slope – it required concentration to make sure that your feet and axe placements were good. Mike was a short distance ahead and above me, and because I was concentrating on my feet I did not see how or why he fell. The slope was perhaps 45 - 50 – degrees (one of the climbing rangers thought perhaps a bit steeper but I thought it was at the lesser end) at that location where the fall occurred. Because we were so close to the Chute, Mike’s downhill direction took him laterally to the chute at about a 30-degree angle from the chute’s fall line. Mike almost arrested the fall, but hit a low, triangular rock just as he was coming around on his axe, lifting him up off of the snow, spinning him around and catapulting him into the chute head-down.

 

Mike didn’t hit any rock outcropings that I saw on the way down or fall through the rock face. Ice chunks were frozen like knots on a log to the slope, and at that temp they were just as hard as rock. I want to believe that it was a potentially survivable fall under slightly softer or slower conditions, despite the elevation he went down. But the conditions were fast and hard, and the upper part of the chute seemed pretty steep. It was pretty unforgiving terrain for a fall.

 

It took me quite a while to downclimb to Mike and he certainly could have used my help faster – I wished that I had not left my Pulsar and screws, albeit the screws were worthless as Mike had the rope, in the car. Under the conditions, it was the best I could do: the chute was not as hard as water ice, but it took hard kicks to get my points in, axe placements with a single axe were awkward and extremely tiring. My legs and lungs were beyond burning by the time I got down to him, and it was a fight to keep my head into the task at hand. I certainly wish I had been faster, stronger and not as rattled going after Mike.

 

The next couple of hours was both a mental and physical struggle for me and the details are pretty personal, most of which I don’t care to share with anyone. I can tell you that you feel very helpless and alone in that situation. You pray for help, you despair for your partners wife and kids, you think of your own kids and the folly of being high on the mountain, the tears burn your eyes trying to choke back your emotions enough to help your partner. You imagine voices and the rumble of helicopter rotors. You barely notice shit flying down the hill around you, or that your own situation is precarious or risky, or that hours pass and that your lips and fingers are frozen and you no longer can feel your feet. If you find yourself in that situation, I hope each of you would make your own safety a priority. If you ever find yourself in a bad place, I hope you remember my situation when you get there, and remember to think about your own self.

 

I have tried to post two pictures taken the morning of the climb, but without success. If anyone can help me with that I would appreciate the assistance. The first is of Mike on the Ledges with Adams in the background about 30 minutes before he fell. The second is looking back up the Chute where Mike fell. I took the second photo while the climbing rangers were trying to get Mike ready for the flight off the mountain. Mike Gauthier posted a photo in July showing the Nisqually from the air, which also shows the fall line (http://www.cascadeclimbers.com/plab/showphoto.php?photo=11625&size=big&sort=1&cat=500). The line is on the right hand side of the photo and starts near the top of the rock on the right. You can see the rising horizontal lines of Gibraltar intersect the snow, down the narrow chute and if I recognize the terrain, the bottom of the photo is about 10,500 to 11,000’.

 

In July, I read the accounts of the fall on the ID, in which the RMI guide and three others fell. According to the news reports, there was a helicopter stationed within the park that day and another one came from Ft. Lewis. NPS and RMI rescuers were at the scene very quickly in part because of that. I still do not know why it took four hours for a helicopter to make our location the morning of June 10th. (NPS was alerted by about 6:10 of the fall and it was 10:00 before the helicopter got there.) Does anyone know if the park has a policy that says they wont send a helo until there is confirmation of live patient with injuries v. body recovery? Every ranger I asked that of was uncomfortable with the question, or perhaps more importantly the answer. I was told there was ZERO helicopters in the park the day Mike fell and that they had to call around to find one, finally getting a helicopter from Renton. I have no reason to believe it wasn’t true, but what was the difference between June 10th and July 8th? There is no blame or recrimination in asking the question at all. If NPS needs someone to lead the charge to our congressmen (i.e. to those who fund the NPS) with making sure there is a helo at the park all the time during climbing season perhaps I can turn the answer to the question into something positive. Would Mike have survived if a helo was available? Probably not. But he certainly had no chance after his golden hour was gone. Four hours for the helicopter certainly ensured his mortality.

 

On September 10th, I hiked a good part of the way back up to Camp Muir with bothers Trever and Justin Kissel who were trying to memorialize firefighters and police officers that died in the WTC in 2001. They dedicated the climb to Mike and police officers Saul Gallegos and Steve Underwood. It was a moving experience to revisit the mountain in general, with them specifically. I found myself fixated by the mountain staring up at Gibraltar, and the melted out and impossibly nasty looking Nisqually. I was certainly sucked back into the trauma of that fateful June day. I tried to find the whereabouts of any of the rangers that helped me in June, only to find the mountain basically deserted. I spoke to a woman ranger coming back down the mountain from Muir, a volunteer (I think her name is Lisa) who works at MS for a real job and climbs for the rest of the time. Just like the rest of the rangers, she was really heartfelt. She cemented my desire to publicly thank all of the guys that helped me that day.

 

So, thanks to Matt Hendrickson and Andy Winslow. These two guys climbed to me that morning with amazing speed. From Cathederal Gap where they were going out on patrol and back to Muir, then down around to the Nisqually and up to me at elevation 11,350 by 9:00. Thanks to them for their strength, their compassion, their respect shown for Mike, their help for me when I could barely summon the strength or courage to stumble my way back to Muir. I believe that NPS would do well to hire Andy permanently.

 

I also want to thank the guys from Muir that followed the rangers over to the Nisqually to lend their assistance. Try as I might, I can’t remember their names, but I can remember their faces. Thank you to rangers Paige Ritterbusch, Glenn Kessler, Ralph Bell. Besides these three, there was at least five other climbing rangers at the Kautz airfield that I cant recall, all kind, all trying to get me a drink and a sandwich, a chair to sit down in. I apologize for not remembering your names when your compassion and professionalism was so heartfelt. Thank you for shielding me from the press, contacting family, for your understanding and compassion that afternoon even in the midst of having to complete your necessary investigation, and in the days that followed. A public apology to Ms. Ritterbusch: I am sorry.

 

The individuals that I met within the NPS were extraordinary. However, I will be critical of one of their systems. The park should have a direct 24-hour emergency number, so emergencies can be reported before 7 am. I mean, what the hell is 7am to climbing anyway? In any event, communication is so important and cell phones (at least Verizon) didn’t work well from up there. I was lucky to get two calls out, but who I called couldn’t reach the Park Service quickly. I would be happy to buy my own and carry an emergency 2-way on Rainier but where would I tune it? Perhaps Rainier needs a different system than just RMI and NPS having radio contact?

 

Yet more thanks: My friends and hiking and climbing partners Steve McKim and Debbie Randall, and my brother Bruce Tillman for their help that afternoon and coming to retrieve me. Steve has summited Rainier many times and was to lead a Mountaineers group up there on the 11th (we were going to leave tent, stove, rope and hardware for them at Muir). Bruce has been up several times too and their combined perspective that afternoon was comforting and invaluable. A special thanks to Mark Anderson and Debbie Cahill and for sharing your experience with me and giving myself and Jody Beery your support. You are amazing. I am sure that there are many more to thank.

 

A last note: Mike was a great man – kind, gentle, strong, principled - and a very skilled and careful climber. He left behind his loving wife and two beautiful kids. Mike did not forget his family, climb with their care in disregard, or climb without saying goodbye to them as some accounts seem to reflect. His family was always foremost in his thoughts and actions. Thanks Mike for climbing with me, I will always remember.

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Ryan- Thanks for sharing that. To answer your question, most helicopter rescues in Washington are carried out by the military (MAST). This is not always true on Rainier, or in the north cascades ntnl park. I believe it is a policy of MAST not to recover dead bodies (at all) as it endangers the crew without the possibility for acutely helping a human life. But not everything is hard and fast, and as such, most bodies are flown out anyways.

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Thank you for sharing this Ryan. It seems like climbing often brings about the most extreme of human emotions... Sometimes it brings sheer joy, and other times pure sadness. I'm sure Mike will be remembered for the great person he must have been, and hopefully everyone can learn a bit from your personal account of the story. Rest in Peace Mike.

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Dear Ryan,

I can only imagine how difficult this was to share. Many times I have wanted to write out my own tragedy on Mt. Rainier, which you know all too well! I am overwhelmed with emotion reliving the day that I returned to Rainier with Mike Gauthier, trying to relive the moment that I lost the man I loved so dearly. I climbed hoping to receive some magical answer, some epiphany that would lessen the pain of tragedy and sudden loss. Those answers never came and in the end, I returned to the rest of the world even though I wanted so desperately to fall asleep in the snow on that tremendous mountain.

I know that finding the words to share your experience was perhaps as painful as the experience itself. Words make the surreal and unbelievable all that more real and and absolute. In some strange unanswerable way, tragedy has a way of becoming 'a grace disguised'. I can only share with you how I am slowly learning the hard lessons that only death can provide. There is beauty beyond this.

With grateful appreciation,

Christy

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It was hard to read your post ...

Thank you for sharing your emotions. Be strong and keep up going. I don't know what else to say.

Zoran

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Ryan thank you. Mike was fortunate and blessed to have you as a climbing partner..........in many ways he still is.

Barry

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Ryan, once again you did everything you could that day. I hope that you can at least find some peace knowing that. I am glad you were able to share your feelings here and i hope it helps you come to terms with the whole experience. The whole thing definatly caused me to do some serious thinking. In the end it makes you realize how fragile and special life really is.

 

andy

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