Just finished reading a fascinating thread at 14ers.com about a guy who got stuck above 13,000 feet on Colorado’s Quandary Peak. If you’re thinking, “what the hell’s a guy doing soloing fourteener in December?” you’d be missing the point. Some guys just have to do that kind of thing, because they can. The mountaineer (perish the thought of calling him a mere hiker) is a 26-year-old guy named Dylan who knew what he was doing up there, had the right gear, but got screwed when his GPS unit failed.
He dug a snow cave when he knew he was lost, and didn’t really get in any trouble until after the rescue helicopter spotted him: he did his patriotic duty and stayed put, but ended up having to wait another couple hours before climbers got up to his point to get him down off the mountain. Stopping made him very cold, and he was full-on hypothermic when rescuers got to him.
The best part, though, is that he explained himself pretty much in full at the fourteeners forum — fessing up to his mistakes, thanking all who helped, remarking the nature of luck, both good and bad.
If you’ve got some time to kill, read the whole thread. Dylan’s post is here. An excerpt:
I don’t think I would have survived without bivy gear. No sleeping bag, just the shell. It kept me warm enough, but I was wet all night. A lot of what saved me came from Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism. You assess the s**t-storm you just created and make a plan. It’s ironic that the determination that got me down is the same that got me stuck in the first place.
I only panicked when I first realized I was off-route and couldn’t see more than 30ft. Something took over after that, something rational, commanding, and determined. I knew I was in a bad place and that this was how people died, but I never let fear consume me. I didn’t think beyond the immediate situation. I knew it was bad and getting worse, but something kept me calm and calculating. I thought about people that would be upset if I didn’t make it home, but I never got angry with myself. I fully understand how and what happened, but evaluating blame is useless at that point.
Story in the Vail Daily is here.
Dylan’s roommate, who called in the rescue, summed up the lessons learned:
I think the big take home messages here are:
1.) Always tell someone where you are going
2.) Be prepared to spend a night outdoors, be prepared for the worst
3.) Make sure you have something to tell you where you are going
4.) Don’t ever give up once rescue is spotted (cold weather conditions) – staying active keeps body temperature higher.
5.) Make a plan and stick to it (unless rescue intervenes)
6.) Double check your gear to make sure its working and that you have the right stuff
7.) Be knowledgeable about terrain, natural dangers, weather
8.) As the boy scouts (of which Dylan was an Eagle scout) say, Be Prepared
9.) Train above your threshold in controlled environments so that when the real deal comes along you can handle it – maintaining proper physical and mental fitness are essential in situations like this
10.) Don’t be afraid to call search and rescue when you have a good feeling something is not right (if you are the person in #1)
11.) Be safe unless you have absolutely no option but to take forced risks
12.) I’ll agree with Gsliva – having the proper gear is often what makes or breaks you.
No. 13 might be: be ready for the Monday morning QB’ing when they have to pluck you off the hill.
(Turns out Quandary is considered an “easy” fourteener, which goes to show how winter changes everything).