I posted the pictures below on Instagram and then realized that I had never really told the story about this trip or climb from 4 years ago. I did put together a video, but as you know editorial pieces tell a story much better than some random video segments. Below is the Instagram posts and the full story on how I lost Doug Shepherd minutes after we summited this incredible new route.
Here are some other photos that I did not post on Instagram.
Half way to the top, on one of the best alpine routes in the Beartooths. This route is still waiting for a second ascent, I believe. Deep in this chimney, the snow field gives a false illusion that the technical climbing is over. Doug Shepherd and I found out we still had to earn the top. The Spirit Chimney remains one of my favorite big multi-pitch first ascents… despite losing Doug for many hours on top and thinking he was dead, but that’s another story.
Here @dpshepherd gets intimate with the Spirit Chimney on one of the crux pitches. This is the 5th or 6th pitch, about half way up the chimney. The large chockstone sneak is very key on this pitch. We had ideal snow and weather conditions which made this pitch doable. The snowfield that I posted yesterday lays right above this pitch, which means if it’s windy at all you’re going to be climbing up the barrel of a loaded gun. I will post one more shot tomorrow and then give the final story on losing @dpshepherd on the summit.
The snow slope in the picture posted at the top of this page led right into this bottleneck chimney, which proved to be the second crux of the Spirit Chimney route. A nice little vein of ice led me into the overhanging blocks, which provided some airy navigation. Once through the blocks, the vein of ice reappeared, leading me to a very exposed slope with a nice cornice umbrella and a desperate anchor one pitch below the summit
As Doug topped out on the last pitch of the chimney, the sun had set. I climbed up from my perch below as fast I could, knowing that neither of us had stood on top of this peak before and neither of us really had a good idea how to hike off. Rappelling the route wasn’t an option since the last two pitches had few gear possibilities as it was and we knew there was a way to walk off. We quickly celebrated on top as a storm was beginning to blow in and darkness was on our heels. I threw my things in my pack and Doug was fighting to loosen his frozen straps on his crampons to get them off. In an attempt to try and get an eye on our descent route before complete darkness set in, I started boulder hoping across the summit to look over the east side of the peak to where I believed the descent route would be. About 100 yards across the summit, I hiked down about 20 feet and found our route. I sat for a few minutes thinking Doug was right behind me, but when he didn’t appear I began to hike back to the top. At this point about ten minutes has passed. I clicked my headlamp on as the storm had started to blow snow and visibility was going away very quickly along with any kind of day light. I yelled and yelled and could not see or hear Doug anywhere. The wind was blasting across the summit as I made my way back to our top out point. No signs of Doug anywhere. Fuck…where did he go? At this point I went from being so psyched to have completed this big new route with Doug and celebrating on top to thinking Doug tripped and fell off the face. I shined my light down into the chimney yelling his name. Nothing… I was now alone and had no idea what happened to Doug. Obviously the worst thoughts went through my mind, but I knew Doug was not the type to wander off or trip over the side of the mountain. It was pitch black now and I began to wander around in the blizzard, hoping to see a headlamp or hear a voice. About 45 minutes passed by and the weather was getting worse as my core temp began dropping quickly. Two scenarios were in my head at this point. Either Doug found another way down or he had fallen off the summit and tumbled to the bottom. I started my decent into the valley below, hoping that if he was somewhere on top he would see my headlamp. As I dropped lower into the valley, visibility got much better and I eventually sat on a rock, an emotional wreck. I continued to question my decision to leave the summit without him, but here I was and still no signs of Doug. I sat on the rock turning my light on and off, hoping that I could maybe see a light above me. After 30 more minutes, I decided to head over the pass and into the opposite valley where we had camped. An hour later, I was over the pass and getting close to camp. In the distance, I could see our friends’ headlamps at camp. They were trying another route in the valley, but got shut down and were back at camp. Unfortunately, I could only see two headlamps walking around the tents. I yelled as loud as I could, but the wind was overpowering, so I continued to hike down. As I walked into camp, Tanner Callender and Chris Guyer met up with me, wanting to know what all the yelling was about. I was absolutely exhausted at this point, emotionally and physically. My last hope was that Doug was in camp and worried about me, but that hope quickly diminished when they confirmed they had not seen Doug. As I sat on the ground trying to regain some composure, Rusty Willis and Daniel Burson appeared out of the darkness. They had just hiked in, planning to climb the next day and were planning to scare the crap out of us in our tents that night. After giving them all the details, they quickly packed some light packs and headed out to look for Doug. Rusty and Daniel decided to head back over the pass and retrace my steps while Chris and Tanner began to hike over to the base of the peak. I wanted to head out with them, but my body was beginning to shutdown so I go into our tent and tried to eat and get my core temp back up. About two hours passed. I was beginning to feel better and started to get ready to head out to help with the search. I stepped out of the tent and looked above to see three headlamps coming over the pass. I could not have been happier to see his light and know that he was not dead.
Eventually they made it into camp and Doug was able to fill in the unknowns of what had happened up there. Shortly after I had left, Doug got up and headed in the same direction, but couldn’t see me because of the large boulder fields. I think I was below him but not visible when he looked over the edge at the descent route. Doug had never been here—I at least had an idea of where to go. By the time I had hiked back towards our summit point, he had already continued down the ridge plateau. Doug fell and got a foot stuck in some rocks, which kept him from being visible when I walked back to the top and then eventually it was dark. The incoming storm and the rolling plateau with large rocks kept us from ever seeing each other. Doug eventually turned around on the plateau and spotted Rusty and Daniel’s headlamps in the same area where I had sat on the rock. They spotted each other and made their way back to camp. So many lessons were learned on this trip. The main one being you should just never leave your partner’s side on the summit or descent.
Here is the video I put together years ago on the climb.