Eight years ago today, on beautiful sunny day in Yosemite Valley, Chris Hampson and I set out to climb on Lower Cathedral Buttress.
We started the day full of joy and enthusiasm. Chris and I had climbed a longer, much harder route on Middle Cathedral Buttress (the Kor-Beck) and were going to climb Overhang Bypass to look at Overhang Overpass.
A short way from the car, I noticed I’d forgotten my helmet.
“D*&%, I forgot my helmet! I’ll go back and get it.
Chris dissuaded me, saying that on this easy climb we wouldn’t need helmets.
We decided to simul-climb, both moving at once, on this easy route (one 5.7 pitch, and the rest easier). When I finished the long traverse left below the roof (the ‘Overhang Bypass’), and then started up to the left of the roof, the rope caught in the crack at the roof’s edge, forcing to stop and belay.
I placed gear, and belayed Chris up to me.
“Can you give me another cam?” I asked. “I want to beef up this anchor.”
“Hold on a sec,” he replied. “I want to enjoy this view.”
Chris stood below me and the roof’s edge, with Bridalveil Falls roaring down to the depth in all its glory almost right next to us.
After placing another cam, I tied all of our anchor points together and tied myself in to one center point.
“There. Now we have a bomber anchor that will hold anything,” I said, satisfied with my heavy-duty belay anchor.
“Yeah, but we won’t need that today,” Chris replied.
From here, we’d climbed the hardest pitch. A ramp diagonalled up and left, past some trees, toward a long ledge crossing the wall above us.
“I’ll head up to the ledge and traverse right once I reach it. I won’t place much gear to avoid rope drag,” Chris explained.
I sat at my belay, slowly paying out rope, as Chris climbed up the ramp and disappeared around the corner. I continued paying rope out slowly as he moved up, out of sight.
Suddenly, I heard a shout.
Over the waterfall’s roar, I could barely make it out. Was he telling me he was up? Was it a shout of triumph at reaching our goal?
Then, an indeterminable time later, I felt a jerk on the rope. Then nothing.
He must have fallen. But he wasn’t shouting, and I couldn’t see him around the corner.
I sat for a few minutes, wondering what to do now.
Miraculously, Bob, a climber I knew who worked with Tuolumne Search and Rescue, appeared below me, soloing the climb.
“Bob, my partner fell and I can’t see or hear him.”
Bob soloed up the easy ramp to the tree above Chris.
“Chris, can you hear me?” he yelled.
“Yeah, I can hear you, ” came Chris’ reply.
“Where do you hurt?” Bob asked.
“I hurt all over.”
“There’s a ledge just above you. Can you try to climb to it?” Bob asked.
“Yes, but I can’t see very well.” came Chris’ response.
Bob climbed back down to me, now using my sling that had been around the tree to tie himself in to the rope leading from my belay up to the tree.
“I’m going down to get SAR. Your friend has a life-threatening injury. Get yourself free from the belay and climb up to talk to him.” Bob told me.
Bob left, looking shaken and nervous about down-climbing the route unroped.
I slowly, methodically, and carefully, changed my tie-in from the end of the rope, to a prusik. After double-checking the system, I climbed up along the rope, now fixed between the anchor, and the tree below which Chris hung. It was maybe 70 feet to the tree, along an easy ramp. Once at the tree, I saw Chris hanging below me at the end of his rope.
“Chris! Try to climb up tot he ledge, and I’ll pull in the rope as you move up.”
However, Chris could not climb up. At 6′5″ and 215 pounds, I could not pull him up. We had only one rope with us, so I couldn’t rappel down to him.
Even if we’d had two ropes, I’d have to do a single rope rappel, and I still don’t know how I would move 215 pounds.
“Hang in there, Chris, ” I shouted. ” YOSAR is on the way.
It seemed like an eternity. The sun moved, and our shady ledge came into direct sunlight. I got hot, and Chris got hot.
Then things got worse. He started moaning and shouting in pain.
I jumped up and down, waving my arms wildly, to the YOSAR personnel I saw below. If they would only get here sooner.
Keith Lober and Lincoln Else, two park rangers I’d worked with, arrived.
“Is that tree good?” Keith asked.
“No.” I was forced to reply. “I wouldn’t trust it.”
The tree was small, and half-dead. It might hold the weight of three people, and us hauling, but then, it might not. I’d already looked around for good cracks, and there were none.
Keith placed several bolts over another lifetime.
Finally he descended.
Lincoln was on radio.
Chris had stopped screaming.
“I’ve got bad news for you, ” said Lincoln. “Your friend is dead.”