FALLING ROCK, STRANDED
Alaska, Alaska Range, Coffee Glacier, Eyetooth
On June 15, JJ Brooks (33) was hit by fragments from a large falling rock that had separated from the main rock face. The falling rock had also cut his climbing rope, stranding him and his partner, Carl Tobin, four pitches up. They established verbal contact. Brooks, though seriously injured, was able to use a fragment of the rope to set up a series of short rappels that eventually got him to within 15-20 feet of the glacier. He let himself go at that point, hit the snow and slid, launching himself over the bergschrund to the snow below. He was able to make his way back to their camp, where he took some pain killers and attempted to stabilize his injuries. Tobin yelled from the wall above, “Ski out,” and then threw his pack down to provide Brooks with more warm clothing. Brooks began a slow, painful descent, knowing that a couple of other teams, Jim Sweeney and his partner, and Alex Lowe and Steve Swenson, were camped two miles away near the air strip. Both Tobin and Brooks yelled off and on to attract attention. Sweeney heard the yells. Lowe and Swenson got to Brooks, made radio contact and began stabilizing him and preparing a sled to transport him to camp. Sweeney stayed with Brooks in camp.
At 2:00 am the next morning. Swenson and Lowe skied up the glacier to the base of the route. At sunrise they began their ascent to help Carl Tobin, who had spent a chilly night on his ledge.
On June 17, after radio contact with an overhead locator had finally made contact, a Pavehawk helicopter from the 210 Air National Guard picked up Lowe and Brooks at 1843 and flew them to Anchorage Regional Hospital. JJ Brooks was found to have a fractured—in fact, shattered—humeral head, possible rib fracture, ankle sprain, and possible concussion. (The reason for Alex Lowe flying out was that when he and Swenson climbed up to get Tobin, he felt some urinary tract discomfort, and by the time they all returned to Brooks, he noticed blood in his urine. He was diagnosed as having a kidney infection, which may or may not have been a result of a long fall he took while negotiating an aid route on an overhang from the Eyetooth, where he and Swenson were attempting a new line.)
Brooks required an operation that has left him with a prosthetic shoulder, and his middle deltoid was shredded.
The 1996 climbing season was particularly warm. The unusual heat melted much of the ice that normally stabilized rocks along many Alaska Range climbs. It is to be noted that Brooks’ self extrication under the circumstances was extraordinary. But it is also fortunate that Swenson and Lowe, who had originally intended to climb in a different part of the range, happened to be on hand in this remote, not-often-visited area. (Source: From a report sent by Steve Swenson, and Jed Williamson)