Exorcising the Demons
To begin this trip report, we have to join Mr. Peabody in the "way-back" machine (if you don't get this, you are too young
to read this report--go review your classic Rocky & Bullwinkle).
Picture yourself on Labor Day weekend 1998, we had been climbing hard every weekend all summer, had put up a
few new routes in the Grandjean area and repeated other classic 5.9-5.11 backcountry routes all over the Sawtooths
and southern Idaho. We thought we would try a line at the North Fork of Baron Creek which had never been done, but
we had looked at many times as we headed up the trail to the Tohobit / Warbonnet area.
MR and I (GP) got to the area, crossed Baron Creek and started up our intended route of 500-600 feet of 5.5-5.6 slabs
with a crux pitch or two of a huge off-width chimney which exited out to a 5.9+ face and then more blocky slabs to the
summit of peak 9105 East of Grandjean peak. We calculated the route would be nearly 3000 ft of mostly technical
climbing with some steep scrambling mixed into the climb for a great day out in the mountains.
We slapped on the sticky rubber shoes for the easier lower slabs and after we both free-soloed to the upper bowl
below the crux, the route had been everything we had wanted, technical but not hard, with a good deal of exposure. Our
only company so far was a single mountain goat who ran up the slabs in front of us like he was on flat ground and
kept stopping to watch us play catch up.
We got to the base of the upper cliffs and roped up and since it was my line, I got to lead the crux pitches; so up the
chimney I went--nice rock, a little mossy, but great 5.8+ climbing. Half a rope length later, I had only placed 2-3 pieces
of gear and felt solid. The chimney was becoming overhanging and a little awkward, so I moved out onto the face to a
small ledge and set some more pro. I had a choice; there was a chockstone 10 feet above me to my right in the
chimney which would make a good belay just below the crux face or a beautiful seam and 6" ledge just out on the face
to my left 20 ft above me and also just below the crux. I headed over to the chockstone and it was awkward and felt
cramped, so I decided to head up to the ledge. (Mistake #1--not slinging the chockstone for a BOMBER piece of pro, I
thought there would be too much rope drag).
After about 15 feet the face turned blank, with no place to put any gear whatsoever and the moves went from smeary
5.8+ to 5.10+, but I was 1-2 moves from the ledge, 15 feet above my last piece of pro, and I thought I could make the
move. (Mistake #2--mentally rehearse the tough moves repeatedly before executing them on a run-out face).
That was the last thing I remember of the route: MR later told me I said "watch me" and then I slipped and slid
backwards face first down the rock for 5 feet before cart wheeling down nearly the entire route. I remember my feet
catching and sitting back waiting for the rope to come tight on a #3 Black Diamond cam as I fell past it and thinking
that I was falling at a funny angle. Well, the rope came tight, I swung sideways into the chimney on my right and I
watched the cam snap out of the rock like a rocket and I thought "This is going to hurt" and the lights went out!
The next thing I remember was MR standing over me saying "wake up you $^&*#@, you ARE NOT GOING TO DIE ON
All I knew was that I was numb and the whole valley was spinning in and out of the blackness. I felt something on my
face that felt like sweat, but different (it was a lot of blood) my feet and back hurt and I couldn't breathe. I told MR "I think
the climb is over, we should probably try to get home".
So as I sat in a stupor, MR packed up everything and we tried to head down the mountain. I thought we were 1/2 way
down and it took us about 15 minutes, but MR later told me it took 2 hours to go 100 yards.
We realized I wasn't getting out without some serious help, so MR left me and started back to Grandjean for a rescue
team and hopefully a helicopter. It took him about 2 hours to get back to Grandjean and in the meantime I was slowly
getting my wits back and assessing my situation. Constant bleeding from my nose, face and forehead; a left leg that
looked like hamburger and I couldn't stand on it; a very intense but dull pain in my lower back and a nagging pain in
my right wrist which kept me from gripping anything.
I laid on the mountain for 7 hours before I heard a helicopter in the distance, then about lost all hope as they flew 1000
ft below me and didn't even slow down.
They were smarter than me, they headed straight to Grandjean to pick up MR and have him show them where we
were climbing. As they flew back, they tried to get to me but the helicopter was too heavy for the altitude and heat and
landed in the valley and dumped everything out on the ground (crew, gurney, monitors, etc., even the outside door!)
This allowed the pilot to slowly corkscrew up to gain altitude, where he dumped out the lone passenger about 200
yards below me and then he flew back out into the valley to assess how to get me out.
The paramedic got to me, asked how I was doing and I told him I had had better days. He actually laughed.
Then we found a somewhat flat rock he thought the helicopter could put a skid onto to load. We talked to the pilot and
figured we had one chance, the pilot came in slowly and as he was putting the skid on the rock the paramedic
shouted he was going to push me in and it might hurt--I DID NOT CARE, I just wanted in the helicopter! So, 5 seconds
after the pilot put one skid on the rock, I jumped the best I could and the paramedic pushed, then the pilot banked
away from the mountain steep enough that we slid into the far wall of the helicopter and it was off to Grandjean where
a whole campground full of people who had heard a climber was nearly dead from a fall. Well, I didn't disappoint
them, because I was one bloody mess.
The rest of the story is now history--one helicopter ride, 6 days in the hospital, 1 surgery to fix my broken nose and
cheekbones, broken bones in my left foot, sprained right knee, broken right wrist, 3 broken vertebrae in my lower back,
a bruised kidney multiple deep cuts on my head, shoulders, legs, face and back and 1 broken climbing helmet.
I walked with a cane for a year and have never since climbed rock at the level I was climbing the day I fell.
All told, we decided I had fallen about 80-90 feet and missed decking on the ground by about 5 feet. Truthfully, I should
have been dead and without a helmet, I would have been dead. The helicopter ride and insurance bill finally totaled
out to just over $75,000, by far my most expensive climbing trip to date.

Now, back to the future...........