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Golden Ears Misadventure

by Jason on July 8, 2013

What an unnecessary series of mishaps today while climbing Golden Ears. The good news is Mike Timms and I finally summited a mountain. And it only took us 5 hours to get to the top. Unfortunately, it took us 8 hours to get down. Mike decided to rock climb the last part up to the top, about 400 ft. He got stuck in one part 50 ft from the top and took off his backpack to lower it down. Unfortunately, he dropped the backpack ALLLLL the way down off the cliff.

We thought it was gone and it would be a miracle if we were able to locate it. We descended down the trail to the bottom of the cliff where Mike started his climb. Mike wasn’t about to climb back up the rock face, so we hoped the backpack fell all the way down. Inside the pack were the following – iPhone, GPS, $450 jacket, snowshoe rentals, and — drum roll please — the CAR KEYS……Thanks Mike!

I actually did something I normally don’t do, which is reclimb back up an area, and that was to help Mike find and retrieve the pack. We really didn’t think we would find the pack, but to our astonishment we located the pack at the bottom of the cliff. We were excited because there was a low chance we would even find it.

Unfortunately, there is also a permanent snowfield at the bottom of this cliff. The snowfield is quite large and deep. The snowfield curves up to the cliff in a really steep slope, curving especially steeper towards the top, well past 45 degrees. The worst part is the four-foot separation between the cliff and the snowbank.

The pack had landed on the edge of an outcropping 10 feet below the top of the snowfield in between the snowbank and the cliff. Mike looked down and realized the pack and the area the pack lay were unreachable from the top of the snowfield, and it was impossible to descend to get to it. So we thought we were screwed. To make matters more intriguing, beneath the outcropping, the crevasse continued at least another 50 feet below in between the cliff and the snowfield.

Mike and I thought the pack was lost, but Mike got an awful, crazy idea. He asked some other hikers for some straps. He took some of our straps. He tied them all together and had more than enough strap length to reach and touch the backpack. He tied the straps to his ice axe with the attempt to hook the pack on the axe and lift it up.

Unfortunately, we quickly realized our bright idea would be much more difficult than imagined. Mike was dangling at the top of the snowfield hoping the top wouldn’t collapse underneath him into the crevasse. I was holding Mike’s feet just in case he fell positioning myself as far away from the crevasse as I could.

The difficult part was that the backpack was literally underneath us. The snowbank instead of going straight down, actually curved inward, so that nothing but air was directly below Mike — only a few feet of snow and then air beneath as the bank gently sloped inwards the further down it went.

So with the backpack beneath us Mike had to swing the straps and the ice axe just to attempt to touch the backpack. And if it wasn’t enough, the pack was inches from the edge and one wrong nudge would send it off the edge and all the way down the crevasse.

Mike swung the ice axe for about 10 minutes sometimes brushing the pack, but not getting anything to hook. A few times he almost knocked the pack off the edge. After 10 minutes of futility we were about to give up because we HAD to get off the mountain and back down soon.

Mike had one more idea out of desperation. He started knocking away at the snowbank to create an opening in the snow so he would have a direct shot at the pack without needing to swing as much. I was terrified because I hoped Mike wouldn’t fall into the crevasse as a result. This whole situation felt eerily similar to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when he’s dangling in the crevasse trying to reach the gold cup before it falls in. The words “let it go, Indy” just kept playing through my mind.

We only had a few last tries left. Mike was desperate, and he finally got to the point knowing he had nothing left to lose. Only a few shots left, so it wouldn’t matter if the pack fell off the ledge. I also became his peak performance coach right then and told Mike that if he could touch it, he could hook it. So I heard some football coaches 10 years ago tell our receivers if the football came their way.

I told Mike I believed he could get it, and I repeated it solidly. A few seconds later, the unthinkable happened….

Mike swung the ice axe one last time at the pack…I swear it happened in slow motion…The ice axe hooked less than half a centimeter of fabric…I crossed my fingers as Mike pulled the straps upward…

The line remained taught as Mike continued to pull the pack upward inch by inch…I saw the top of the pack…Soon the whole pack was in view…Mike dramatically clutched the backpack, and we both celebrated with joy…

Did I mention we had said a prayer beforehand about the SAFE recovery of the pack without dying? We felt so grateful to the Lord for a successful recovery. Everything still worked, and nothing was lost! The Cheetos were powder and the mini eggs were flattened into a chocolate pancake. Thank you Cheetos for breaking the fall of the GPS and iPhone.

So we started descending the mountain quickly…unaware of our second mishap that was about to occur…

Thousands of flies continued to harass us, just as they did on the way up, with hundreds landing on my face at any given moment. We were both tired and well behind all the other groups. We were following the switchbacks on the way down, and soon we realized we had lost the trail.

The GPS was working so we thought we would find the trail soon again with the help of the GPS. 60 meters uphill. Perfect. We went 20 meters uphill, but now the GPS said 50 meters downhill. Oh crap. This went on for a few more tries both ways. One thing was for sure — we couldn’t find the trail, and we could no longer trust the GPS.

Perhaps the GPS was having a tough time after a 400 ft fall. We searched and searched in all directions for the trail, but we couldn’t find it. 30 min more had already passed and we were even more tired.

We said another prayer to find the trail again and to pray for guidance. I said let’s just go straight down. 90 minutes of bushwhacking later we found the trail. Mike and I were just as excited as when we found the backpack. Except we were SOOOO tired and our legs were almost done.

At that point, we still had 7 km to get to the car. We soon got back to camp. We broke camp, and we put on our 50 lb packs for the last 6 km. Good thing most of it was flat, but even the slightest up or downhill burned my legs like crazy. My legs were so overtired and overworked out that everything burned when we finally reached the car.

13 hours of hiking. A lot of that unnecessary. I see now that in my life I can get to the top, but that other unnecessary obstacles get created from our own errors that make things a lot more difficult. All the other groups got down a lot easier and sooner than us. It could have been the same for us. I see how I do this in my life, and in my business, and I see how I can make things flow a lot smoother.

I got home and I couldn’t even get up the stairs at home on my own. My legs burned and burned, and I voluntarily took a bath for the first time ever.

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