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plumbbob

Winter Solo of Devils Thumb

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This took place last week. The folowing article is from the Petersburg Pilot.

BP

 

Historic climb and heroic

 

rescue on Devil's Thumb

 

 

Klas Stolpe

 

March 16 , 2006.

 

"Not so good,” came the last words at 10 am Tuesday morning from Zac Hoyt’s satellite radio phone on the frozen ice under the towering mountain known as Devil’s Thumb in southeast Alaska. He was responding to a question by his close friend Dieter Klose asking how things were going. Hoyt, 30, had just completed the first winter ascent of Devil’s Thumb. In the world of mountaineering that is one of the greatest feats, and he had done it solo.

 

 

“Top of the world,” were the words Hoyt said to his dear friend Dieter Klose as he called from the summit of 9,500-foot tall Devil’s Thumb, a rock and ice encrusted mountain across Frederick Sound from Petersburg. The northwest face of the mountain has never been successfully summitted. Over 39 climbing parties have gone to Devil’s Thumb, 15 have summitted on routes other than the northwest face. There have been three fatalities on the northwest face and one on another route.

 

 

Although he had pulled the climb off without a hitch, his words spoken before the sat-phone lost reception worried his best friend.

 

 

“With that, knowing Zac as he’s one of my very best friends,” Klose stated. “He’s the master of understatement. I knew ‘not so good,’ meant ‘pretty darn bad.”

 

 

Hoyt had eaten breakfast Saturday in Petersburg where he is employed by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game as a fisheries biologist and diver. His climb started at 7:00 AM and by noon Saturday he was on the summit of Devil’s Thumb where he made his first phone call to Klose.

 

 

“He just called to check in, to just say, ‘hey, I’ve done it,” Klose stated. “We agreed he would call, that it would be pretty cool.”

 

 

Hoyt followed what is known as the Krakauer Route, named after Jon Krakauer who climbed that path in 1977, the mountain’s first solo ascent. It’s a straightforward snow face followed by a traversing climb and lots of exposure, 2700 hundred feet of technical climbing without a rope, meaning a climber could look down a long ways. Hoyt did four rappels and the rest was down climbing on this southeast face of Devil’s Thumb.

 

 

Hoyt called again from a ‘high camp’ at 4:00 PM where he spent the night on the upper ice cap above the Baird Glacier.

Mid-day Monday he fell 100 feet into a crevasse, injuring his shoulder. He had minimal but essential gear, including just one ice axe to climb out. He spent the night in the crevasse, which was just wide enough for his one-man tent. This was when he made his last contact to Klose, stating he was in the middle of the icefall and things were not going well.

At the time of the last phone contact, Klose took action. He called Foggy Mountain climbing shop in Juneau and reached Ryan Johnson and two friends, who had climbed Mt. McKinley. They were packed and ready in two hours and on the afternoon jet.

 

 

“In the end I can’t say it was a life and death situation if we wouldn’t have gotten him,” Klose stated. “I suspected it may have been the case, seeing the conditions we had in town and knowing he was in a spot with harsh weather. Zac was totally prepared, completely experienced, the kind of person to be doing this with the knowledge and the equipment to pull this off. Zac Hoyt is an incredible athlete, this feat would be heralded in Europe, and will be in the climbing community. He wasn’t some bozo up there, he’s a really sharp climber… but the scales tipped.” Klose was on the Coast Guard helicopter to rescue Hoyt on Tuesday and first spotted his tent below.

 

 

“It was a completely terrifying experience for me,” Klose said with misty eyes. “I was at the open door, strapped in and looking out because the window kept frosting. It was an incredibly heroic performance by those pilots. The next thing I knew he (Hoyt) was in and next to me.”

 

 

“This is a one shot deal, if you can’t get your boots on forget them,” United States Coast Guard LCDR Bill Timmons said via VHF to Hoyt in the tent below the hovering H60 Coast Guard helicopter. “Get in the basket if you can, we only have one shot at this.”

 

 

Winds were sustained at 40 knots and gusted to over 60 with reduced visibility and blowing snow. Moderate to severe turbulence was over Burkett Glacier. Temperatures outside the helicopter were minus 30 degrees Celsius. At 100 feet above the stranded climber and 5,400 feet above sea level, the hoist would be a daunting task.

 

 

“We’ve never encountered anything like this before,” Timmons commented Wednesday by phone interview. “We were trying to maintain a stable hover… we had very little visual cues… our power required to stay safely in flight was right at our margins. From a pilot perspective, from an aircrew perspective, we pushed ourselves to our maximum limits… with respect to our training standardization. We operated at the edge of the operating envelope of our H60’s capabilities. There was very little margin of error, if any at all.”

 

 

The chopper pulled away for better visibility and then radioed their final request. It was too risky even to lower the rescue team onto the ice. The chopper again hovered into position. After clambering into the basket, Hoyt was safe in the chopper in 30 seconds.

 

 

“Dieter was instrumental in the rescue,” Timmons said. “His knowledge of the area was crucial… he was right on within a half-mile. It was the smartest thing we did taking him on the chopper. Trying to find a tiny tent in those conditions at that altitude was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. We would have been jeopardizing the safety of anyone lowered onto that location… there was no guarantee the weather would improve.”

 

 

Added Timmons, “I’ve never been any more proud, in my twelve years of flying, than at the end of yesterday’s rescue. Our crew and our helicopter operated to its maximum capabilities… we were at the edge of our envelope but we were able to get the mission done and save someone’s life. There was a lot of relief and a lot of joy when we got back to Petersburg. As Coast Guardsmen we craft our skills for rescue off the water… I’d never envisioned this type of rescue, on a high mountain, when I enlisted.”

 

 

“I spent 45 minutes on the summit, enjoying everything,” Hoyt stated Wednesday from his hospital room at Petersburg Medical Center. With 15 years of experience and climbs in the Alaskan Range, New Zealand, Patagonia, and many mountains in the western United States, Hoyt is considered one of mountaineering’s better alpinists. “You could see town… Fairweather, Glacier Bay, the big mountains in Canada, Baranof… and to see everything in winter white was truly magical. It’s my life, it’s my passion, it’s what drives me forward… it’s what I love… it’s what I waste all my money on.”

 

 

His hands bandaged because of frostbite, Hoyt spoke of the particulars of his ordeal.

 

 

Leaving his base-camp at Devil’s Thumb, heading northeast toward Burkett Glacier, Hoyt was on an icefall that loses elevation between the two. Wearing skis and pulling a sled carrying his pack he fell through a snow bridge 100-feet into the ice crevasse.

 

 

“Uh oh,” Hoyt said his first thoughts were as he lay amidst the ice and snow. The following hours would be incredibly daunting as he struggled against fatigue and falling snow.

 

 

“I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through the night… I thought I was going to drown in snow. It was pouring in nearly as fast as I could shovel… my hands have paid for that.”

 

 

In the morning he began to climb out of the crevasse using his single ice tool, trailing a rope, he made his last sat-phonecall, rappelled back in to retrieve some gear, climbed back out, each trip taking 45 minutes.

 

 

“It was one of my most technical and toughest climbs,” he said. “Basically just two hands on one axe, heaving up, getting your feet locked… trying to grab onto something to reset the axe and then doing it all over again…”

 

 

He pulled his gear to the surface and tried to reestablish himself, and began making plans of attempting to ski on. Weather conditions forced him into the tent.

 

 

“When I first heard that helicopter I didn’t think there was any way I was actually leaving on that helicopter,” Hoyt said. “The conditions were too poor, a complete blizzard…”

 

 

Unable to get his boots on and told of the final attempt by the chopper, Hoyt abandoned the tent and jumped into the basket, holding on as hard as he could. The struggle would not end just by getting into the basket. The winds slammed Hoyt into a serac once the hoist began.

 

 

“I was pretty overwhelmed having Dieter, my best friend, right there,” Hoyt said of being inside the chopper. “The comfort of him and the helicopter and knowing I was safe.”

 

 

Hoyt’s injuries include a possible torn rotator cuff and frostbite on his fingers and thumbs.

“I just want people to know how thankful I am to everybody that was involved,” Hoyt stated.

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Let the armchair/monday morning quarterbacking begin...

 

I think he was stupid for venturing out on the glacier solo.

 

Impressive effort up to the part where he fell in a crevasse and endangered his friend's and rescuer's lives.

 

I wouldn't be too proud of the "achievement" if I were him.

 

Discuss.

 

p.s. BTW, there was some previous discussion of this event after a posting by CBS I believe. I'm too lazy to look it up.

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Well, I'm sure there's not much going on in Petersburg during the winter. Gave them something to do, besides go to the bar, I suppose.

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Does it count as a succesful climb if he had to get rescued off the mountain? rolleyes.gif

 

According to whom?

 

What do YOU think?

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According to whom?

 

According to the teams of record keepers and official timers and GPS coordinate trackers. Obviously it is only important what they think. Geek_em8.gif

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Guess I'll stick in my $.02.

 

He ventured out on a glacier solo - but doesn't everyone in the winter? Virtually every weekend we're out skiing on glacier's that we won't go near after May (without ropes and crevasse gear). Alaskan alpine history is full of winter solo ascents. Some successful - some not. This one is somewhere in-between.

 

As for the question - "Does it count if you're rescued?" Depends on who's counting. I doubt the folks in Juneau and Petersburg care. They're just glad that the coast Guard did what they do so well: picking people up in hair-ball situations.

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A solid 'hell yeah' to my brother crews in the North!! Makes me miss being out of country.

 

Nothing like seeing this when having a bad day!

558593-HH.JPG.7e79f59a43eb1ed266720209f293dd66.JPG

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In today's paper:

 

Devils Thumb is a wicked climb

PUNISHING: Rescued alpinist was one of few to make it to the top.

By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK

The Juneau Empire

 

Published: March 26, 2006

Last Modified: March 26, 2006 at 03:34 AM

 

JUNEAU -- A Canadian climber once was quoted saying of Devils Thumb, "Let's climb it so no one else has to."

The climber, Guy Edwards, and his friend died while attempting to scale the Petersburg mountain's near-vertical 6,000-foot face in 2003.

A rock spire sticking out of the Stikine Ice Cap, the 9,500-foot Devils Thumb has daunted alpinists since the first successful ascent in the 1940s.

Last week, a highly experienced Petersburg climber, Zac Hoyt, was rescued from an icefall below the mountain after falling into a crevasse. The Coast Guard helicopter rescue was fraught with danger. Winds gusted up to 60 knots, with blowing snow and freezing temperatures.

Due to its isolation and often nasty weather, only about a dozen people have bagged the Thumb. There have been roughly 40 expeditions total.

"You need to be pretty serious to even go there," said Stefan Ricci, a Juneau climber.

The mountain does resemble a thumb -- a beautiful but punishing digit of hard rock and thin ice.

It was here that famous Everest climber-writer Jon Krakauer later wrote of learning "what mountains can and can't do, about the limits of dreams."

Krakauer spent his youth fascinated by the Thumb. He was sucked into its mystique by a daunting photograph of the rock in an early edition of a popular rock-climbing text, "Mountaineering: Spirit of the Hills."

"It made my skin crawl," Krakauer wrote in his book, "Eiger Dreams," a collection of mountaineering essays.

Devils Thumb is a draw to climbers in part due to its aesthetic appeal. "It's a strikingly beautiful place," Ricci said.

More important, the Thumb contains one of the last major unconquered rock faces in North America. Krakauer and several others, including Edwards, have tried to scale the northwest face of the mountain, and they all have failed.

The weather can turn bad quickly. Also, the ice conditions below and near the top can be dangerous. Many climbers have been repelled due to lack of ice near the summit.

Petersburg climber Dieter Klose, the man probably most familiar with the Thumb, also made some failed attempts on the northwest face. Klose has also posited in climbing journals that the wall may well be unattainable.

After being denied in the mid-1970s, Krakauer found a much easier route to the summit of Devils Thumb. His was the first solo ascent of the mountain.

Hoyt attempted a winter solo following the Krakauer route. Though he successfully reached the top, the trip nearly ended in tragedy.

The young biologist, who works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was picking his way down to the Burkett Glacier through an icefall when he fell 100 feet into a crevasse.

While in a clinic last week, Hoyt told the Peterburg Pilot the accident happened because he was "too complacent."

"I was through the most difficult ground and just wasn't probing like I should have been and fell through (a) snow bridge ... in 10 more minutes of travel I would have been out of danger."

Fellow Stikine Ice Cap adventurer Kevin O'Malley has skied several times to the base of Devils Thumb.

"One of the things that happens is climbers get so jazzed up that sometimes they are a little skewed when they come down," O'Malley said. "You might not be thinking like you normally would."

While most who are attempting to climb the mountain charter a helicopter, there are a few like O'Malley who choose to simply enjoy the Devils Thumb from a safer distance.

O'Malley treks to the base of the Thumb from sea level.

"I've done it three times now, and it's a mission. You have to get in a boat in Petersburg and sail over to Thomas Bay. Just docking the boat for a week ... that is a mission. Then you have to take a kayak and cross a river with all of your gear," O'Malley said.

The trek -- considered moderate for a skilled mountaineer -- involves a 10-mile hike up the Baird Glacier using climbing skins or crampons, and ascending about 2,200 feet to a scenic spot called Witches Cauldron.

The spot has "brilliant views of Devils Thumb and the northwest face," O'Malley said Thursday. "Your position on the planet seems very small ... you are nothing compared to this huge face," he said.

A possible side trip runs around to the other side of the mountain.

"It's a full view of what Southeast Alaska is.

"It's a phenomenal 360 degrees of what is really going on in this region. You are looking into the Interior, where it is drier, the dramatic peaks in the Coastal Range, the ocean ... I wish more people had access," O'Malley said.

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He tagged the top, and it sounded like he was off the mountain. The issue is him being rescued after the climb descending through an icefall. Normally, correct me if I am wrong, people are usually flown in and out of the Devils Thumb? If this were true, and he was off the climb, the rescue bit is not a big deal. If you look at it in black and white, he was flown in and out. Just like everyone else.

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Who cares about the semantics, they had to have a reinforced stretcher to hold the weight of his balls

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Who cares about the semantics, they had to have a reinforced stretcher to hold the weight of his balls

 

lol amen... we need people with balls, determination and drive like that in this world. I'll foot the bill for the occasional helicopter rescue.

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I don't know if anyone cares, but Zach is back in good health climbing again, and looking for strong partners to climb in the Stikine with.

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Good to hear. Sounded like it would be a long road. Hardest working climber in SE!

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