Rescued part 2

I woke at first light, having barely gotten a wink of sleep with the goal of getting off O’Neal Peak. I chose to try and follow the main ridge which would connect me to the O'Neal Pass area, after assessing the route for a few hours the previous evening. 

It was very steep going getting off the main summit block. Finding rock hand holds was a challenge, since the rock was so crumbly and rotten. I opted to just use tree limbs, or any vegetation I could find, to keep myself from falling. The foremost obstacle was a large column of rock on the main ridgeline - unclimbable with my skill level.

I made the choice of trying to drop down and go around this column (shown near the top of the red line in picture below). This led me to a series of multiple gullies that fed off of the ridgeline. Using some luck, I manage to navigate the first one. The second gap, however, had me facing the point of no return.

In a moment of a pure adrenaline, I decided to try to make three big steps to cross the gully. By the second or third step, my feet washed out on the loose debris and I began to fall - feet first across the rock. I immediately tried to self arrest, first on my left and then on my right. Somehow my right foot caught a lone nub of rock that stopped my fall, right before a section of exposure. My water bottle, with filter attached, did not stop however. I continued to listen as the bottle bounced and bounced into the valley below. I never heard it stop until it was out of hearing distance.

Photo taken at a later date, shows summit block and gully where I fell and the ledge where I awaited rescue.

Immediately after, I had the feeling of all my bones breaking on the rock below - experiencing an out of body moment that came rushing in all at once. It seems through the years in the Olympics, I have found myself to be sort of immortal. Doing progressively more each season, until I felt I needed to be a mountain goat and do these unique routes. Until now, where all I felt was reality and humility. The situation I put myself into was very real and could take my life.

I looked up, trying to find a way back up to where my fall had started. I could not see a feasible path. During the fall, my foot sustained an open wound sliding across the rock. I decided to climb down to a little ledge where I could treat the wound and address the swelling in the same ankle. At that moment, I just wanted to be on a surface where I could stand. Then make a judgement call on what to do next.

Once down on the ledge I took a stone and notched out two holes in the scree where I could put my feet. This allowed me enough traction to actually stand on the steep surface. Thought to myself - what am I going to do? I put myself into a nasty situation and almost lost my life. Looking in all directions - I could see no safe way to get out of this. There were three main issues.

One: after falling, I lost all faith in the rock and terrain holding me and my self confidence was at an all time low. I knew, based on my own skill levels, I was in way over my head.

Two: I did give a contact back in the city my route, but I was not expected back for another week. A feeling of panic began to set in knowing that no one could find me. If I fell into the gully system, my body probably wouldn’t be found. Rescuers would have to search the full length of the Park due to the extensiveness of my itinerary.

Three: the swelling and pain in my ankle had me concerned on my ability to rock climb. This likely could have been managed - if the other factors didn’t come in to play.  

hiker fall
Looking up and assessing my situation from the ledge where I stood after the fall.

A short while later, I remembered that even though the old cell phone I carried was disconnected and didn't have a number - 911 should work. I made the decision to take the device out of airplane mode and see if I could get a signal. I held my breath as I waited to see if there would be any bars of service. It only had a sliver of connection and kept bouncing in and out of roaming. With only a little battery life left, I decided to place the call. As soon as that operator picked up I knew they were recording the conversation. I was very clear about my situation and location. Even if the call dropped and never worked again, I felt a sense of relief that someone knew where to find me.

lake quinault
Lake Quinault from O'Neal Peak. Later on I figured out there was a cell tower on that lone hilltop in the far distance. Having that in almost direct line-of-sight is what saved me.


What would you do?  Fallin, tripped or perhaps ever rolled an ankle?  Leave a comment below.