Doug Shepherd left Colorado in the afternoon and our plan was to meet in Cody and then proceed to the trailhead and begin hiking under the full moon. At the brink of moonlight Doug and I began our trek back into Spirit Mountain where we had gotten a weather beat down nearly 6 months prior in the spring. I had scouted the mountain the weekend prior with my girlfriend Kelly. Our first date began with hiking up to the mountain in hurricane force winds and snow and then hiking over a pass into another valley to check conditions. Who knows how that didnt scare her off but for some reason she stuck around where most of my partners would have turned around ha.
Doug and I reached the base of the mountain around 2am and quickly built our man cave and got some rest before sunrise. We awoke to blistering winds and the threat of a storm looming over the peak of the mountain, but we were fired up to giver. Realizing the route we’d spotted route last spring was not in, we opted for the most obvious chimney system on the mountain. We knew it had been previously attempted but spindrift, time and a chockstone pitch had frustrated the previous attempts. There was very little snow and we could see ice in the chimney, so we didn’t stand around very long discussing other options.
The route was spectacular! From the very first pitch, Doug and I were having a good time. As we got into the chimney system, the wind became non-existent and we felt like we were entering the heart of the mountain. After the chockstone pitch, as you stare up a steep snow couloir, the mountain tricks you into thinking the hard climbing is over… but two more pitches of hard climbing protect the summit celebration.
To achieve victory, we had to work to earn each piece of protection and elevation gained on the last two pitches. Our celebration was short as it was getting dark and a storm was beginning to take over the summit. Neither of us had been on the mountain before and the walk off wasn’t straightforward. As Doug packed up some of his gear, I walked toward the edge of the mountain where I believed the walk off began. I decided to hike off the edge, take a closer look and make sure it was the walk off I had pictured in my mind from a photo. Once I realized it was the right spot, I waited a few minutes, thinking Doug had seen me walk away and knew what direction I was heading. A few minutes later, as a massive storm started blowing in snow and darkness, I hiked back to the top of the mountain (about 20 feet), but saw no sign of Doug. I began yelling his name and walking back to where we had summited (200 yards away). I still could not find Doug! Minutes earlier we were celebrating one of the best days in the mountains, and then I lost Doug! I felt sick to my stomach. I began wandering around and yelling at the top of my lungs but the 40mph winds thwarted any chance of him hearing me and the blowing snow and clouds were cutting my visibility every second.
As darkness took over I wandered back to the walk off hoping I would see his headlamp, but still no signs of Doug. At this point, I began to think the worst…thoughts of Doug slipping off the edge…falling to the base, but I tried to stay positive. The top of the mountain was now engulfed in a full-on blizzard and I did not have enough clothes to survive a night out in the cold. Neither did Doug. After huddling in the rocks for a while, I decided the best option was to go down. I hoped that Doug had found the other way down or was in front of me. After making my way to the valley below, I sat on a rock, turned my headlamp off and just prayed to see a light in the darkness somewhere. I flashed my headlamp periodically, hoping for some sign that he was still alive. I decided to head over the pass towards camp and hoped that he would be sitting in the tent, wondering where I was. I knew that hope was far-fetched. As I descended over the pass towards camp, in the distance, I could see what looked like fireflies in the valley below. I knew that two of our friends, Tanner Callender and Chris Guyer, were coming up to climb in the valley. I began yelling at them as I got closer, asking them if Doug was with them. Eventually, I made it back to camp but found that Doug was not with them.
Moments before loosing Doug
Suddenly, two of our other friends showed up. Unknown to all of us, Rusty Willis and Daniel Burson were hiding in the dark in their tent with plans to scare the crap out of us. When they overheard the situation, everyone’s tone changed. Quickly, they split into two teams and began the search as I tried to re-fuel so I could head back out and retrace our steps. I was physically and mentally exhausted, but could not rest until I found him.
Rusty and Daniel made quick time heading over the pass, into the other valley where the descent leads. As they crested over the pass, they caught a glimpse of Doug’s headlamp high above and in the distance. Doug was still on top of summit plateau ridge, trying to gain his bearings and looking for signs of me. Prior to everyone leaving on the search, we created a way to communicate via headlamp. When Rusty and Daniel confirmed they found him, they communicated this to me and then I was able to communicate this to Chris and Tanner, who were heading towards the base of the mountain.
If you’re in the climbing game long enough, you will eventually have a friend or two pass away. Sadly, I am no stranger to those feelings but this time was different because I was fully immersed in the situation. Difficult thoughts and emotions consumed me. It’s hard to describe the emotions that pulsed through me…the thoughts of him being lost or even worse, dead…were some of the most difficult moments in my life. As they brought Doug off the mountain, he was blitzed physically and mentally and we began to get fuel back into his system right away.
There were many lessons learned on this trip, but the number one was don’t leave your partner’s side, no matter what. Wanting to save time and move fast, I thought going ahead to evaluate the walk off would save us time, and I just assumed Doug saw the direction I had hiked. Doug knew I was leaving but never took notice of the exact direction and, in a sea of boulders, it’s very easy to get lost. Now Doug and I always use the Buddy System and we haven’t lost each other since!
Here is the video of the route which started of the first Episode of The Regulators
The next TR takes you on to another new route in a series of FA’s that gave Doug Shepherd and myself an early season stoke