STRANDED—SOLO CLIMBING, CLIMBING UNROPED, INADEQUATE EQUIPMENT/CLOTHING, WEATHER
Alberta, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Mount Brock, Southwest Face
C.F., set out on July 2 around 1400 to do a solo, ropeless climb on Mount Brock, about 50 kilometers south of Canmore in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. He told his roommate, J.S., he might head to Mount Brock and joked that if he wasn’t back in two or three days, “to call someone.” It was hot and sunny. He carried a chocolate bar, two hard candies, two liters of water, a guidebook for the route, a topographical map, helmet, headlamp,sunglasses and climbing chalk. He wore nylon pants and a nylon jacket. The route he planned to climb was a moderate 5.6 pitch, which he climbed with ease after he ate his chocolate bar. At the top of the ridge, the Southwest Face of Mount Brock exposed itself, presenting “some of the best limestone I’ve seen,” C.F. said Monday. “I decided to explore that face. I had a lot of confidence in my ability...maybe too much. I made the decision consciously. I was leaving the intended route. But I also intended not to climb anything I couldn’t climb down.” He spent some time exploring the face. A nice pitch of 5.7 took him to a very steep face of limestone with a corner. “When I looked at this I was pretty much blown away; it was pretty awesome, three stars for sure.” He focused on the holds, the climbing. Up and down he went, executing the moves, forcing his mind to relax, enjoying what was “probably one of the most amazing climbing experiences of my life.” He scaled a pinnacle, a towering rock formation similar to a hoodoo, that brought him to some shattered, broken ledges that he traversed and “in hindsight shouldn’t have.” Getting up and over them was one thing. Trying to back-climb them was “one of the most hideous experiences of my life.” By then the sun was beginning to set, and he set his sights on the summit, planning to scramble down the other side after watching the sunset from the peak. He traveled over to another pinnacle and raced up it, thinking that there would be an easier way down the other side. What he found was an imposing wall of rock. He was only 20 feet from the summit, but the two holds he found on the rock face gave him a bad feeling. He didn’t want to attempt them. Nor did he want to try to climb back down the shattered ridge in the dark. He found a small ledge about two feet wide and settled his back against the rock for the night.
His feet dangled down the mountainside, about 1,500 feet of nothing between them and the base of the face. In the dark, he heard rock trickling down the mountain and the scrabbling of claws. With his headlamp, he found the source—the huge bushy tailed wood rat or pack rat. He shooed them away and resumed his sleepless wait for sunrise. The next day he had two starburst candies and a bit of water for breakfast and continued his search for a way off the mountain. “I wanted to finish the route really bad. I read the rock, playing the moves out in my head, trying to focus on climbing the wall but the holds still deterred me. I was skeptical about committing myself to climbing back down those ridges.” He did attempt them but the loose rock convinced him to go no further. Several times he got on the wall and tried to do the moves but climbed back down onto the ledge. The wind was “annihilating,” burning his face. Another night passed, with a visit from the rats and hours of mental resolution. “I was trying to keep myself positive, to not be scared, to be confident. It was such a learning experience for me. I learned what my capabilities are, how to control my mind. You have to push fear aside. You have no choice.”
Day three dawned overcast and cold. C.F. was cold, the rock was cold, the wind was howling. He was out of water, fighting hypothermia and losing his war with fear. The day passed much as the second had, in a frustrating search for a route off. “I just wanted to go down. I knew I was in trouble.” That night it snowed, near blizzard conditions at that altitude, and his thoughts turned to his own mortality. He pulled his arms into his nylon jacket, sat on the guidebook and map, and placed his pack across his thighs. “At that point I was scared. I was hoping to God someone comes to get me. I’m thinking, ‘Man, I screwed up! I’m in trouble.’ ” As the storm raged around him the rats came out to visit him again. “I think they wanted me to come and visit them inside their hollow pinnacle but I wasn’t going to fit. They seemed genuinely concerned about me though.” He also thought about his parents back in Regina. “I did the real soul searching. I started thinking about things I’d like to do before I die!” On day four he despaired. “I was fighting a mental battle not to go for those unstable holds. There were two options. I’d take a 1,500 foot fall or get over the top. The storm really beat me down. I was hallucinating, I was fighting hypothermia, my legs were stiff. I was a mess. I was going to commit myself to climbing down that day, and then the helicopter showed up.”
Back home J.S. and his other roommates hadn’t become concerned about C.F. until Thursday night, when he failed to show up for his shift at work. By then, there was no point in alerting rescue crews because nothing could be done in the dark. At first light Friday, they called in the alarm, and by 4:00 p.m. Alpine Helicopters pilot Lance Cooper had spotted their friend. The sight of the chopper sent one thought through C.F.’s head: “Somebody likes me.” Cooper had to hover in close to the rock wall with provincial conservation officer Randy Axani dangling from the end of a 100-foot rope. Axani managed to make it to the ledge, scrabble through a rock wall C.F. had built for protection from the wind, and snapped the stranded climber into a harness. Back home, roommate J.S., one of C.F.’s frequent climbing partners has leveled an ultimatum. “He’s grounded. No climbing for a week.” (Source: Carol Picard, Rocky Mountain Outlook)