JULY 3, Mt. Rainier, Day 5. Avalanche
The initial grinding sound of an
avalanche of ice falling and the cries to run took time to reach me. I could
already see climbers trying to run. Fred and Justin were unable to follow the
twisting path, and running in different directions were jerked off their feet
by the rope.
When they got up and tried to run
again they fell. This was the exact spot where the people were sitting when they
were killed the week before. Fred and Justin were disoriented and ran into ice
blocks left from the devastating avalanche from the previous week and fell. Their ropes tangled. When they tried to get up they were again
pulled off their feet or tripped. Nancy Goforth, the leader on their rope, was
pulled off her feet, and when she tried to get up was pulled down again. The
team disappeared from the view of those in camp.
Climbers already in their tents, and
some of the support team in high camp, started to move from the tents and away
from the roaring, crashing sound of the falling ice. Everybody was yelling,
"Run!" or just screaming anything that would come out of their
throats, panicked at the realization that the events of the week before were,
against all reason, repeating themselves.
I was afraid that somebody would fall
on their ice ax or step on another person with the two inch crampon spikes.
Bud, on Jim’s rope, said he heard the
ice crack and fall and felt the ground shake. “It sounded like a train.”
Jim could see the block tear off from
the towering jumble of ice near the top of the Cleaver and watched it fall, hit
an outcropping of rock and explode into several parts expanding the path of
destruction. He sensed, based on a lifetime of guiding and climbing, that the
block would break apart, and each of the smaller blocks would continue to
fragment until none had the momentum to continue down the mountain onto the
panicked climbers. The mass of ice twelve days before had been larger and had
swept down the same slope another hundred feet to bury the eleven climbers.
He yelled, "It's OK; it's OK;
The last piece of ice rolled within
twenty feet of the climbers as they got to their feet. It took a few seconds to
catch their breath and feel to see if any injuries had occurred. Jim reached
them and headed up the last forty feet of slope to the tents. From where I was
standing further up on the slope, it looked as if Jim had picked Bud up by the
pants and carried him across the avalanche track in a dead run. Bud later told
me he had a surge of energy and told Rick Ridgeway to “stay a head of me if you
don’t want to get run over.”
Fred Noesner, who was on a rope-team that was
directly under the fall, and was miraculously spared, told me later that after
he heard the sounds of the falling rock and ice slow and come to a stop he knew
he had been spared. He said the air
tasted wonderful, the ground under his feet felt great. Every sound was vivid and pleasant. As he walked back into camp with his heart
still racing, he wanted to talk with and share his joy with his fellow
climbers. Hearing Kirk and Sheila
talking quietly in a nearby tent, he moved to the open flap and greeted them. Sheila screamed and started crying.
Understandably he was at
first puzzled. Inquiring what could be
wrong on such a wonderful day? Between
sobs, Sheila said, “You are dead!”
Kirk Explained. “They told us your rope-team was buried in
In the confusion and
emotion of the moment, sighted climbers didn’t relay the good news to the blind
in camp that the rope team in front of the avalanche had been spared. Fred
assured Sheila that he was not a ghost.
A large rock swept across the slope
in front of me as Rich Rose approached the avalanche track. Rich waited until Svein and I were off the
traverse, and then moved across the avalanche slope at a pace which did not
reveal the exhaustion of fourteen hours of climbing and four minor epileptic
Warren's team came off the traverse last. They
removed the fixed rope and the anchors as they moved down the face. There was a
release of tension as they arrived.
The shock of the moments before set
in on Justin. He was standing staring through unseeing eyes. I happened to be
watching him as his fingers started to quiver then shake and then his whole
body shook and tears poured down his face. I went over and hugged him and held
him up. Several others came over to see if he was OK. He relaxed and we all
congratulated one another.
Steve Marts unveiled a bottle of
champagne. The bottle was passed around and everybody shared a toast to their
unique accomplishment and narrow escape.
Climbing Mount Rainier is tiring. Most of the party went into
their tents for a short nap before dinner and retiring for the night. Fitz
checked with every person to see if any injuries had occurred during the ice
fall. Everyone had escaped the ordeal without injury. I mentioned to him that
Rich had had a couple of seizures going up. Fitz talked with him and discussed
the four seizures Rich had had during the day and suggested an increase in the
dosage of anticonvulsants. Rich had not had a seizure for three months prior
to the climb.