Recap of the Split Mountain Epic
A summary of my 2015 Epic on Split Mountain. Used a climber life, but gained valuable knowledge and belief in my own ability and significant reserves.
We departed LA on Thursday, August 13, 2015 at around 2000 hrs. Our objective was the East Arete of the North Face of Split Mountain. We arrived at the Red Lake Trailhead at approximately 0200 hrs on Friday August 14. We sacked out under a moonless night and woke with the sunrise about 5 hours later. We pushed from the trail head elevation of 6500 feet to Red Lake at 10500 feet, and arrived at about 1530 hrs, after approximately 6.5 hrs of travel. We had a pleasant evening of relaxing and preparing for our ascent the next day, and bedded down at 2000 hrs.
On Saturday August 15, we awoke at 0430 hrs. We said good bye to Scott, who was taking the standard Split Mountain route, and agreed to maintain radio contact during our day and ascent. Paul also brought his cell phone with him. In anticipation of possible problems, I packed a bivvy sack, and Paul and I brought extra clothing. We had approximately 7-8 liters of water for both of us. we also had cliff bars, salami, tortillas, and apples.
The approach was a harbinger of things to come. First, it was incredibly time consuming, and the moraine and scree we encountered was exhausting and not much fun. Also, the two snow fields at the base of two couloirs saw major rock fall, and at one point Paul and I were having to dodge debris, some pieces the size of a microwave and greater. We stopped after about 90 minutes, and we were able to refill our water supplies, putting us to 7-8 liters. We finally gained the start of the arete route, and I started climbing exactly at 0845, and we made the first three pitches in about 150 minutes. On the third pitch, I got us a little off route, and ended up freeing a 40 foot chimney feature, unable to put in any protection. Paul had never attempted any feature like this before, and we had a lot of problems with rock fall above him as the rope dropped into the chimney.
The whole time I considered this route, I always expected and prepared for the option of a bail, in the event it was too challenging, or the weather turned, etc., and was prepared for this option. After the 3rd pitch, however, I began to believe that the rock was entirely too unstable for a rappel. I also was under the belief that we only had to clear 6 pitches to gain the ridge. The climbing at the 4th pitch became more challenging, and by the 6th pitch was in the 5.8 range.
The rock never stabilized, and I was running out a majority of the lines at this time, too intimidated to put in a piece of pro and rely upon it in the event of a fall. Unfortunately, at pitch 7, I was about 15 feet above Paul, when I pulled a huge flaked directly on to him. I watched in horror as the rock barreled to him, and struck him square on the back. I was surprised when he told me he was uninjured.
I continued up the increasingly difficult pitches. As I began the 9th pitch, I picked the most direct line, but encountered a harder section that was capped by a ceiling feature. I put a Black Diamond .4 in to a crack, and then climbed another 4 feet, and put another Black Diamond 1.0 in to the crack. I surveyed the route for my next move, and was not feeling very inspired by my options. I stepped climbers left and saw what I thought would be an option. As I made my way up, I could sense I would fall, and as I began to fall, I called out my fall. Unfortunately, my fall was not arrested, and I fell approximately 20 feet and landed on my ass on a ledge system.
I immediately cried out in agony from the injury to my rear end, and laid there for a moment, moving things around to see if I had broken anything. Once I realized I had not broken anything, I looked around and noticed a significant amount of blood all over the rock and my gear. I looked at myself to find the source, and discovered I had an 8cm x 3cm gash in my right arm, bleeding profusely. I stood up, was very dizzy, so I sat down again. I assessed the situation, and made a plan to continue. First, I had tourniquet my wound, and after a minute I remembered I had my bandana on me. So, I pulled it out, wrapped my wound, and stood up and felt ok. As I had not broken anything, I called to Paul that I was climbing, and I pendulum over to climbers right, found an easier line, and climbed another 50 feet or so to the ridge. I built an anchor and then called for Paul to climb to me.
Paul could no longer climb due to fatigue. As such, I rapelled to Paul using a body rappel and a locking caribiner, as I had forgotten my grigri. I wrapped the slack of the line around my waste, ran it through the biner, and descended to Paul. However, I was only able to make it partly down. So, I free climbed back up to the anchor, put Paul and myself on a fixed anchor, removed my belay device that I had on Paul from the anchor, took myself off the anchor, and rappelled down to Paul to render aid. I aided him up the route, physically assisting his moves, and at the same time self-belaying and free climbing the route. I also managed the slack in the rope from him as well as me to make sure it didn't snag. All on a single hand rappel with injury. Eventually, Paul was able to make the ridgeline.
At this point, I conceded that a rescue operation was necessary. We radioed Scott about our situation, my injuries, and also called the Inyo County Sheriff Department. Deputy Durr asked me if my injuries necessitated an immediate response, and I stated that they did not. We planned to have a CHP chopper arrive the next morning around 10 am, and also a ground crew was preparing to aid in our rescue.
Paul and I were on a precipice with approximately 1000 foot drops on all three sides. I slung an anchor and put Paul and I onto it, and we began to clear a spot for us to spend the night in an emergency bivvy situation. We were fortunate to be able to clear a flat area that would really only accommodate 1 man, and he and I laid down and shared the space for warmth. The night was a miserable one. I gave Paul my liner gloves and he let me have the bivvy bag. We each had on 3 upper layers, and I had on pants and an outer thin wind layer, while Paul had only his pants. We also had our approach shoes and socks. I was in agony from the injury to my rear end, so every time I moved I screamed out in pain, and we had to keep shifting around to try and stay comfortable. Sleep was fleeting and half dreams were frightening.
The next morning, I was a bit dizzy and we were both exhausted from the night. We had additional contact with Scott as well as Deputy Derr. By about 1030, we heard the first sound of the CHP chopper making its way to us. The chopper spotted us, and then took off to Bishop for refueling, and returned about 45 minutes later. At that point, a Search and Rescue man Matt dropped in to our position, no easy feat, and secured the area. He put me in the SAR harness, the chopper came back, and I was hoisted into it and then to Bishop. The CHP officer Andrea was the operator of the hoist, and when she had me in the chopper she told me it was going to be ok and I cried a bit, out of relief.
I was taken to Bishop hospital, where I was given pain medications, a CT and Xray which came back negative, and Dr. Timber provided me care and stitched up my arm.