Mount Caubvick - Trip Report - Part 5Click here to go to the Peak Page for Mount Caubvick
Sunday, August 8, 2004
The Climb up the Koroc Ridge
I woke up at 4:30 AM when I heard voices outside, and not wanting to disturb Jack (who was not making a summit attempt today) I got dressed and pulled out my pack and gear as quickly and quietly as possible. Billie was up, and I wolfed down some random cold food for breakfast while getting my pack in order. We would need a rope for the Koroc Ridge, and I had Jack's all ready to go, but Andrew was packing Roland's rope, and we agreed we only needed one. Roland's rope was lighter, so I volunteered to take it as the one rope our two teams would need. My pack also had a gallon of water, food, climbing harness and slings, plus extra clothing, etc. It was very heavy for a day pack, but I figured that for rescues one didn't want to skimp on gear.
|Left-hand red line is our route up the Koroc Ridge, right-hand line is|
approximate descent route, both on August 8, 2004.
Billie and I left camp at 4:50 AM, heading up the Bennett Brook valley on grassy slopes and hopping across the innumerable small streams that were always barring our path. We passed above and to the northeast of a oblong lake where Jack's team had camped in 1997 (and perhaps where Dan and Susan had camped, too). Jack had directed Billie and I to a dagger-shaped snowfield on the slope above the lake, and we headed for that and were soon climbing steep, rocky, heathery slopes. It was actually kind of annoying climbing--very steep and with the footing occasionally poor--and Billie and I were both reminded of steep heathery scrambling in the Cascade Range. We wound our way uphill until the slope topped out at a big flat area, and from there we turned right and climbed a long, steep section of big talus, not too bad but still unexpectedly steep. Jack had said that the Koroc Ridge was fast and easy in its lower sections, but this first part, although not technically hard, was still a chore. I was a bit confused as to exactly what section of the Koroc Ridge we were climbing, and took out my GPS at one point, but it soon became clear we were approaching the crest.
Billie kept up a good pace and we made good time, and maybe a little over an hour from camp we were up on the expansive, gently sloping plateaus of the upper Koroc Ridge. It was another sunny, perfect day. We aimed for the crest of the ridge, and eventually reached the cliff edge. We could see the south cirque below, the easy-looking south-central ridge we had climbed yesterday (seeing why Jack had recommended it to Dan and Susan as an easy way down), and even the fluorescent red tape Jack had wrapped around the stone shelter at the base of the south-central ridge.
Sometime before 7 AM we saw the Parks-Canada helicopter buzzing around, and it appeared to drop off 2 handlers and the dog in the south cirque. We tried to stay back from the ridge crest, so they would not see us (and then tell us to stop like they did yesterday). The ridge was gentle, but pretty long, and we rock-hopped along the broad crest for quite a while. At a prominent rock false summit we took a long rest, eating some food and scanning below with our binoculars. I saw two rangers and the dog at one point, probing the lower part of the snowfield in the cirque. At some point they were picked up by the chopper, and as we continued along the ridge Billie and I saw helicopter activity over by the football field, including a hoist line coming down from it at one point. We had no radio or phone so had no idea of what was happening.
Eventually Billie and I arrived at the point where the Koroc Ridge suddenly becomes narrow and exposed. Traveling first, I came upon a stone inukshuk, and thought it might be a clue. We had no idea where Mitch, Sue, and John had been stopped yesterday, and we had not heard them talk about the inukshuk, so we thought we might be the first to see it. It's construction reminded me of the stone shelter a bit, too, so I thought there was a remote chance that Susan, known to build inukshuks, had made it. I took a photo and maked it with tape and a note to Roland, following behind us.
From the inukshuk the ridge became a crumbling, steep, exposed knife edge. Billie, more experienced than I, led off, and our route wound over gendarmes, across rotten rock ledges, and up or down steep little pitches. I had trouble with my water/camera pouch in front of my pack, and stowed everything in the main pack bag. I would call this route mostly hard class 3, with some class 4 stuff, due to the tremendous exposure--the ridge dropped off thousands of feet in steep cliffs on both sides. One had to be very careful and deliberate with their handholds and footing. At one spot I accidentally let loose a big rock that thundered down the cirque below, now understanding the rangers' concern from yesterday. We knew there was no one there now, fortunately.
After about a half hour of careful scrambling we came to the top of the rappel step. The summit was just ahead, and we could see a whole crowd of people up there, including Mitch, Sue, John, and members of the north team. The top of the rappel step was the top of a big rock, about ten feet square, with two rock horns projecting above it. Billie tested one and found it rocked a bit, and the other one, pretty far back from the edge, was "part of the mountain". So we put slings around the solid horn, got the rope through the slings, put on our harnesses, and got ready to rappel.
My rappel technique was a bit rusty, and Billie had to give me some pointers as I threaded the rope into my ATC and backed off the edge. I carefully let myself down the thirty or so feet, steering myself to the very narrow ridge knife edge where the route resumed. Once down, I stepped back away and Billie descended. We left the rope for Roland and company, following behind us, and stopped to examine the spot where Dan's body had been found yesterday. The rangers had left his rope, gloves, and water bottle behind for Roland, and we did not disturb anything. Dan's rope was tied around a massive flake--a totally bombproof anchor--and had been pulled up from the cirque, where it had been dangling with Dan's pack (removed by the rangers). Like the rangers, we had seen no evidence of slings above, and there was not much for us to do at this scence. Roland, with François and his camcorder, would be along shortly to more thoroughly document the site.
Billie and I now had just a couple hundred feet to climb to the summit. The first part of the climb, though, was over two very rotten gendarmes, which required tricky class 4 moves to circumvent. The second featured a narrow slot--Jack had called it the "fat man's misery"--and my bulky pack forced me to kind of clamber over it rather than through it. Once past that, though, the rock changed from the rotten red junk of the notch to more solid gray-white boulders, which were much easier to climb. We scrambled easily and confidently up the final summit pyramid, spurred on by the crowd of familiar faces above.
At the Summit
It was about 11:30 AM when Billie and I reached the summit of Mount Caubvick/D'Iberville. Mitch, Sue, and John were there, having climbed the south-central ridge, plus Jim Rickard, Katherine Rickard, and Luc Alary from the north team. Ward Hobert, Beth Schlicter, and Paul Morgan, also from the north team, arrived soon after we did, so there were eleven of us on this remote summit, probably a record. The first news we heard from this crowd was that the helicopter had found Susan's body this morning.
Susan Barnes was found on a ledge about 100 feet or so down the north side of the mountain, just below the football field. The helicopter, after dropping off the dog team in the south cirque, had been doing a last check of the north cirques and spotted to body. I think the consensus was that she could not be seen from the football field, and only a helicopter would have found her. Still, those of us who had waited hours yesterday near the football field felt bad for not having searched harder while we waited. Susan had apparently left Dan, re-climbed the peak, traversed the Minaret Ridge, and dropped her harness. Then, in a terrible storm, she got disoriented and lost and might have been literally blown off the ridge. The Rickards, who were possibly as little as a few hundred yards away from that point earlier in the day, said the wind was so strong that it was blowing them over. Initial reports (later discounted) were that Susan was found in the fetal position, so we thought she had survived the fall and then succumbed to exposure on the ledge.
The eleven of us on the summit discussed this finding, all agreeing that Susan's heroism was incredible. It was especially emotional to be chatting to the Rickards about all this, now that they knew how close they had been to the tragic events of August 11, 2003. We still did not know what route Dan and Susan ascended, or what happened to cause them to separate. The rangers had recovered a camera, camcorder, and GPS from Dan's pack, and were planning an autopsy on him, so some answers seemed to be forthcoming.
Aside from the impact of this news, we all did the traditional summit activities. We admired the expansive views on this clear day (although a few high clouds were starting to move in), ate our lunches, took pictures, and signed the summit register--Dan and Susan's entry was right there, mentioning a "wicked snowstorm". It was nice to catch up with the members of the north team--apparently Bill Salter, Mike MacCauley, and Scott Cockrell had tried a ridge that was too cliffy and dangerous and had turned back.
The summit area was a small, oblong, relatively flat spot with steep faces on all sides. There were two cairns, one at the clear three-ridge junction that marked D'Iberville, and, about thirty feet north (38.1 feet, according to my WAAS-enabled GPS), a slightly higher cairn marking the Caubvick summit. I had a hand level that I used to see just how much higher Caubvick was, but the large cairns made determining which natural rock was highest for each "peak" impossible. My best guess was that Caubvick was about a foot higher, and that D'Iberville had no discernable prominence.
Eventually we saw Roland, Andrew, François, and Tom below on the Koroc Ridge, approaching the rappel step. They were moving very slowly, and I was disheartened to see Tom with them--until now I was not sure if he had stayed back or not. They found the rope Billie and I set up, and started rappelling down--first Andrew, then Roland, and then François helped Tom, who, by appearances, had never rappelled before. François was last, and he yelled up to the summit if they should pull the rope. Billie wanted to return via the Koroc Ridge, but I was more interested in making a traverse and crossing the technical part of the Minaret Ridge that the other 9 on the summit had just come across. I wavered, and finally decided that the Minaret was the way to go (Billie reluctantly agreeing) and that they should pull the rope and take it up. Poor François had to re-do the rappel anchor twice due to my indecision, leaving just one hard-to-see purple sling and removing the ugly bright red extender sling.
By this time the crowd on the summit was starting to thin--the clouds were getting thicker and concern about weather moving in was rising. Mitch, Sue, and John left first, to return to camp via the Minaret Ridge and south-central ridge they had just ascended. Then most of the six north team folks left, leaving just Luc, who wanted to talk to his friend Andrew when he arrived. So Luc, Billie, and I waited for Roland and company to make their way up from the notch to the summit, which had taken Billie and I about ten minutes. But Roland was taking his time looking around at Dan's final perch, and after gathering Dan's rope and gear they started across the rotten red gendarmes and got really bogged down. Apparently Tom got really spooked by all the exposure and now needed a belay. Prior to the rappel step the four of them had been unroped (indeed, they had no rope), but now they had two (the rappel rope Billie and I had left, plus Dan's rope). So Andrew and François, both experienced climbers, scampered over the gendarmes, but decided to belay Tom and Roland via a route that dropped down steeply on rotten rock to the north and then regained the ridge.
The three of us on the summit found watching their progress to be excruciating. It must have taken them an hour to climb up from the notch, with almost half of that bypassing the gendarmes. Luc finally left, having a very bad feeling about the weather, and Billie and I considered it, too. We felt like we should stay to help with the weight of rope and gear, though, and we kept thinking they would be up top soon. I passed the time by copying down all the summit register entries in my notebook, chatting with Billie, and drinking in the wide-ranging view. At some point, as the party of four neared the summit, I think it dawned on us that we should stay to make sure that everyone got off the mountain safely.
At long last, at about 3 PM, Andrew, Roland, François, and Tom arrived at the summit, Tom being belayed by Andrew from secure sitting stances. They all spent about an hour on top, doing all the picture-taking and snack-eating that Billie and I had long since finished. The highlight of this time was Roland going over to the summit register (I had carefully replaced it as it had been), taking it out of the Caubvick cairn, removing the papers inside, and reading aloud a simple note: "August 11, 2003. Susan Barnes and Dan Pauze. In a wicked snowstorm." I choked back a tear as Dan's best friend read the last words he ever wrote.
Billie and I then conferred with Andrew and François, and they told us that Tom had "bonked" and would probably need belays across the Minaret Ridge. None of the six of us on the summit had been across that stretch of crest, but nine members of our expedition has traversed it twice today, all unroped, so we felt sure it was easier than the Koroc Ridge we had just ascended. Still, Tom was tired and unsure of himself. He was busy taking pictures and video of the summit, and by the time it was getting near four it was getting time to move. Billie and I, as the most experienced climbers, decided it was our job to get Tom down, so we put our harnesses back on and tied in to each end of Roland's rope. Then we put Tom in the middle, and the idea was that Billie would go first until she ran out of rope, and then I would belay Tom down if she was below him, or she would belay Tom up if she was above him.
Long Day's Journey into Night
So at 4 PM we set off. The Minaret Ridge was challenging, with more rocky gendarmes and unrelenting exposure, but the rock was much better than the rotten junk on the Koroc Ridge. We had no rock protection like cams or nuts, so for belay stances I found solid sitting stances that would hold a slip of Tom's on the class 3/class 4 terrain. Billie started throwing slings around rock horns when it was her turn to belay, and I followed her practice after my first couple belays, since the rocks on the ridge had many good flakes and horns for this kind of anchor. Tom moved very slowly and was clearly not an experienced scrambler, and he definitely felt much safer clipped in to the rope. We got into a rhythm: Billie would lead off, trying to remember the route she had seen the others take earlier among the rocks of the ridge; Tom would follow, belayed by Billie or myself, depending on the vertical direction of travel; I would scamper on along behind, gathering up the rope in coils as I went; then Andrew would belay Roland along, using Dan's recovered rope (which was cut at one point and very weather-beaten, but still usable); and finally François would clamber around these two teams, helping out with scouting and belaying when needed.
To me, this traverse was kind of a blur, and I don't recall the sections of the ridge or the moves we took very well. I was very focused on not falling, on belaying, on making sure Tom was moving along OK, and on rope management. I was very conscious that it would look really bad for a search-and-rescue team like ours to need a rescue ourselves. Like Billie, Andrew, and François, I was totally unbelayed, so I had to be very cautious, especially since a fall of mine could take Tom and Billie down with me. Fortunately, the terrain was actually pretty easy. Roland needed a belay for the first part of the ridge, due mainly to tiredness, being emotionally wrung out, and his bulky plastic boots, but after a while he was OK and finished the route with no rope. Tom, to his credit, kept going along, never freaking out or refusing to move. His rock-climbing skills showed marked improvement during the hours we spent on this traverse, even if on several occasions François or I had to provide him with hand or foot-holds with our hands. We all kept up a good, informal banter, joking about our predicament somewhat. François even broke out his video camera a couple of times. The main issue was that belaying someone every step of the way was very slow.
At about 7 PM the satphone in Andrew's pack rang, and he told John back at camp that we were OK and moving, but still on the Minaret Ridge, and that we would call back at 9 PM. At this point we were wondering how much longer the technical section of ridge would go on. We were traversing below the crest on the south side, and to get a good belay I climbed to the very crest and anchored myself with a sling, and Tom traversed below, following Andrew and Billie, who were routefinding. I felt we should be staying closer to the ridge, but we stayed low. I climbed back down once Tom's rope was taut, and the scouts ahead excitedly said we were at the end of the technical ridge. There was one last short cliff to scale, and François belayed Tom up while I gave him a boost in the butt with my hands. Soon we were at the cairn that marked the spot where Susan's harness was found, an extension of the flat football field area we had been at yesterday.
It was now 7:30 PM, having taken us 3 1/2 to traverse the ridge. It was now pretty overcast, but the clouds were very high and it was still calm and very warm. We quickly looked at Susan's harness spot, and then moved to the expanse of the football field, where we took off our harnesses, stowed our ropes, and drank some of our little remaining water. Roland, filmed by François, went to an inukshuk built by the rangers at the edge of the football field to mark the spot where Susan's body had been found below on the cliff. Roland got on his stomach and peered down the cliff, saying good-bye to Susan, while I looked down from a spot that projected out a bit from the edge. This is an image I will never forget.
Even though we were all across the difficult terrain, we were still up above 5000 feet and had a long, long way to go, down lots of tedious talus, before reaching camp. Focused on the ridge traverse, I don't think we realized just how late it was and how far we still had to go. While Roland, François, and Andrew did their thing at Susan's inukshuk, Billie and Tom set off on the talus traverse to the south-central ridge. I followed and soon caught up, and it was not long before I realized that at Tom's rate of speed we would be hiking well past darkness (10 PM or so at this latitude). Soon all six of us were sort of together, and after some shouted communication we all congregated for a pow-wow. The weather was holding and was not a problem, and we all had lots of extra clothing and food. Our main lack was water--we had about a quart among all of us. Andrew had inserted a snow-filled water bottle next to his shirt in an attempt to melt it, and I did the same, but this never produced more than a few drops.
We decided to keep moving down, since we still could, so we slowly made out way across to the crest of the south central ridge, Billie taking a low traverse route to avoid the mild rock peaks on the upper section of the ridge. Once on the ridge we headed down--this was the third time Billie and I had been on this ridge in past two days, so we knew it well. By 9 PM it was starting to get dark, partly from the cloud cover, and we called basecamp on our satphone as promised. Our phone batteries were low, so Roland made the call and got right to the point--we were OK, still moving, but if they could send up John or someone with a tent, pad, water, food, etc. that might be a good idea. The phone cut out right after he said that, so we just kept on heading down.
Our main problem was thirst, but we carefully rationed our limited water supply, drinking only the slush from our snow-bottles, which was not much. At about 10:30 PM we switched on our headlamps, and stuck together to try and provide a concentrated area of light. Tom did not have a headlamp, but someone had a spare so he was OK. He was still moving very slowly on the rough talus of the south-central ridge, using a ski pole to ease himself down, and we got into a pattern where Billie or I would pick the route (since we had been down the ridge before), Andrew would sprint out ahead to do the large-scale routefinding, and François would walk along Tom and shine his headlamp to help him see the terrain ahead of him better.
During this time we kept in pretty good spirits, and lively conversations swirled constantly. Billie explained her concept of "epic potential" and how this trip had a high amount of it, to much acclaim. I warned people about the demoralizing effect of too many "food fantasies" in our fatigued state. We also swapped stories about various other nightmares of forced bivouacs in our climbing past.
At one point we saw a headlamp below, but it seemed too soon for our relief party to arrive. Probably at about 11:45 PM or so we came near a small, flat snowfield I recalled, but my thoughts were that there was no way to get water from it other than the ineffective bottle-on-the-chest method. Andrew, ahead, came upon the snow first, and he excitedly called us down to its base. There, he had dug out a hole with his helmet, and it had filled up with water that had percolated down from the snowfield. We were all very grateful for Andrew's ingenuity as we all dropped our packs and scooped out bottle-fulls of cold water and drank it down thirstily. We each quaffed a quart or so, and filled up enough bottles to get us back to camp.
We resumed our march down in the darkness, and soon after our water stop the lone headlamp came up to meet our motley crew. It was Jack, who had left camp at 7 PM, after our first phone call. He had a pack full of water (no longer needed) and food, and we stopped and took a long break and ate lots of Jack's lunch and snack food. He was happy to see us, and explained that he and John had taken off at 7, with the satphone, and at 9, Roland had been talking to John, already 2 hours up from camp. Roland asked for tent, pad, etc. so John turned back to camp to get those items. Roland, of course, had no idea that John was not at camp, and the truncated call did not allow for any explanations. We had seen some headlamps far below, and reasoned that it was John (and Mitch?) on their way up after returning to camp.
After our snack, the seven of us (now with Jack) resumed our journey down. Again, to Tom's credit, he kept going--the food and water seemed to give him a second wind, and we hiked down the last steep and rotten portion of the south-central ridge with no incident. Still, he was very slow, keeping us all back at his rate of speed. Near the bottom of the ridge I was leading the party and I saw the three big rocks from my last trip down, and I mentioned that the stone shelter was behind one of them, for those who had not yet seen it. Andrew, Roland, and François detoured over to check it out, not able to see very much in the dark.
Once off the ridge the routefinding was much harder--we had to find the grassy bench that arced above the river canyon to our left, and in the dark the undulating expanses of talus were impossible to navigate on. Jack, Billie, and I all knew the area pretty well, and we took turns leading our party onward and then getting confused, shouting to others about what the route might be, and somehow muddling along. The terrain seemed very unfamiliar to me a lot of the time, and we crossed a bunch of tiny snowfields (one of which had a slope to it that gave Tom some issues) I didn't remember, but somehow we all found a route that included a fair bit of nice, grassy walking.
By the time the bench started its descent to the stream confluence, it starting getting light out again, and it became clear we were on the right route. All that remained now was an easy descent on a grassy slope and the trivial walk out the valley that led to camp. We took a long rest at the top of this slope, and some (Jack and Billie mostly) wanted to take a nap there. The others and I took off, and Billie followed, too, so only Jack stayed back. Halfway down the slope most of us turned off our headlamps, and as we crossed the river and started down the valley, in various clumps of people, it became fully light out. Tom was still very slow, and I would wait and look back to make sure he was OK, but most of use were just dog tired and ready to get back to camp. The one mystery was the location of John--we had seen a headlamp from up high, but he had never intercepted us. He must have turned back.
I chatted with Billie on the last stretch of valley, both of us frustrated with our long day and how Tom had been allowed to get himself up the mountain, despite the warnings of people like Mitch and myself. He clearly did not have the experience to be anywhere near the summit ridges of this mountain, but at least things turned out OK. And, we were glad that Tom had incredible stammina--things would have been far worse if he had stopped moving.
We finally turned the corner out of the valley towards camp, the mosquitoes showing no respect for our efforts, and I took a lower route that swung out to avoid the talus field above camp. I arrived at our tent city at about 4:10 AM after 23 1/2 hours on the mountain. Sue and Mitch were in their tent, watching us arrive, and they told me that he and John had indeed turned back, John exhausted from his efforts to the point of near-collapse. I saw a figure behind me on his way into camp, and figured it was Tom. At this point I no longer had the energy to be concerned for him any more.
I staggered to my tent, utterly wasted and footsore, and was very soon lying down. It was extremely warm now that the sun was out, and I had to just lie there with no sleeping bag. Jack arrived soon after, having abandoned his nap plan, and soon we were both sleeping intermittently in the warm morning sun, dead to the world.
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