Summit attempt with RMI. Set off for the DC route at midnight from Camp Muir, setting off across the Cowlitz glacier, a relatively flat and straightforward traverse with little to no crevasse danger. It was dark and we followed our guide, along with many other rope teams. We then ascended a rock route up through Cathedral Rocks, a total messy kitty litter like affair – soft sandy gravelly type rock. Not much fun. We crossed the rocks and gained the Ingram Glacier, walking past the IMG camp and other independent tent parties, we sat down for our first of three scheduled breaks. It was dark and cold, and we ate some foods for fuel.
After 10-15 minutes, we continued on a path, traversing the Ingram Glacier to gain the base of the Disappointment Cleaver. About 5 minutes in we crossed a ladder spanning a deep crevasse. It was so deep it was black. The ladder had a 6inchh span of plywood on which to walk and a fixed hand line from which to create tension by pulling upwards, hence creating some stability. Best not to look down, expect to ensure your boots and crampon are securely finding purchase and footing. We crossed the glacier and met with the base of the DC, walking through an area of notorious rockfall called the bowling alley.
We continued our ascent of the DC in the dark, pulled along by my guide, following the wanded route up, zig-zagging across crumbly, loose rock, upwards, following a never-ending strong of lings of the rope teams ahead of me. The pace was fast. Too fast for myself by the time I reached the top of the DC and upon mutual agreement, decided it best for myself and the other climbers and parties that I descent with other injured or tired climbers.
Although we are experiencing records high temps in the 90’s, at the top of the DC, the wind was blowing and I needed all my layers to keep warm. Always be prepared for all weather and temperature conditions, even if the forecast calls for warmer clothing. We skidded down the poor rock comprising the DC in our crampons, crossing the bowling alley and the ladder spanning the crevice on the Ingram Glacier when we heard a loud boom and explosion of rock falling just behind us. Voices and screams were heard, as a party form IMG has hit by the rockfall. Our guide literally ran us down to the IMG camp and ran back up to the incident side, proving first response aid. We learned that ladders higher on the route above 13000 feet had fallen or failed and that a route that day to the summit was not possible. Every guiding service descended from the mountain or climbed up from lower camps to provide aid and assisted to the injured parties. The National Parks Service climbing ranger and other guides did a very professional job of providing first responder assistance, coordinating a helicopter evacuation of the injured and kept idle climbing parties safe during the 2-3 hour process. Once the helicopter evacuated the most critically injured climber, we descended with our guides in the early daylight back to Camp Muir.
The experience shows just how active the Mountain is at all times with rockfall, icefall, expanding crevasses, and a constantly changing landscape due to the kinetic nature of the environment. The rockfall brought forth the clear dangers of climbing, even for the most prepared, as many accidents are simply a function of timing and circumstance. My advice is to always climb with an experienced guide who has a deep knowledge of the routes and environment you plan to climb. These are professional people who spend countless days in the mountains and know the routes intimately. Ideally climb with a guide service and guides who have climbed the routes many times, as, in a time of emergency, their knowledge may prove the difference between life and death as evidenced on my day on the mountain.