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South America, Peru–Cordillera Blanca, Chacraraju Este, South Face Accident

Chacraraju Este, South Face Accident. Up the south face we went, first climbing a hanging glacier, up and around ice bulges, across a schrund and onto the nearly vertical main upper wall. The southern exposure and continual stormy weather meant intense cold. Rob Coppock was our cinematographer assisted by Dr. Dan Garnett and Barbara Roach. One climbing team was composed of Gerry Roach, Randy Berg and Mike Hane. The second included Garry Palmer, Bill Hackett and me. Roach had just taken over the lead from Berg and was going for the top of the face, 20 vertical feet above him. Although the wall was vertical here, they were both in a little gully. Moving on aid, Gerry Roach found a hole through an ice rib to his right and decided to enlarge it for a stance. The ice rib Gerry was chopping was apparently holding part of the wall under tension. Suddenly the rib gave way, taking part of the wall with it. Gerry somehow managed to hang on by grabbing the nearest ice screw. The avalanche swept straight down at Randy Berg, who was hit, bent double and knocked out of the way. A rope-length lower, Mike Hane was directly in the path belaying, tied to several ice screws. The force of the avalanche smashed some of his carabiners and one ice screw. Gerry and Randy found Mike hanging from his ropes below the belay station, unconscious, breathing irregularly and in critical shape. After Palmer and I arrived with necessary equipment from below, the evacuation began. A litter was constructed from pack frames. Inside a sleeping bag, Mike was lashed to the litter, which then was lowered, pitch by pitch, a thousand feet down the wall. We got down to an ice cave at 18,500 feet that night. Our doctor examined him there. Despite his hard hat, the main problem was head injury. He seemed to be breathing more easily now. The next day the lowering operation continued, but it was hard work in deep powder snow. We reached Base Camp after dark. We carried him down the lower slopes of the mountain and the thirteen miles to the beginning of the road. We arrived by mid-afternoon. Luckily Coppock managed to have a vehicle waiting for us. By evening he was in the hospital in Huaraz. Mike’s condition, unfortunately, began to deteriorate. At 6:30 the next morning, he died. An autopsy showed that the cause of death was head injury complicated by asperation pneumonia.

WARREN BLESER