My Time in Patagonia Near death experiences and others
Posted 27 July 2012 - 01:09 PM
The first incident happened roughly two months into the mountaineering portion of the expedition, we had planned to execute a summit over the nearest mountain, roughly 2.5 km northeast of our position. The design was to hike to the base of the snow cap, set up a fortified snow camp and then coordinate rope teams to summit the pass from there.
The first day of hiking up through the steep, wooded mountain side was met with harsh rain, making the climb a tedious process. About 6 hours in, we encountered a massive cliff face in our way, it's stretched in either direction about a .5km and going around would result in a significant loss in valuable daylight. As front of the scout team, I was instructed to examine the cliff face, determine an effective route over it, and make sure it was safe for all members of the team.
Looking back on it, I knew the moment that I began my inspection it was not a safe or suitable route, and required some technical climbing. Whether it was due to overconfidence, mental fatigue from the long day, or just the desire to get camp set up on flat ground before nightfall, I decided to continue scouting the cliff regardless. I successfully made it to the top of the cliff face in a few minutes, I yelled down to the rest of the group that while possible to execute, the route was unsafe and too risky for multiple people to undertake.
At this point I made it a point to turn back around and head down the cliff face to the rest of my team, this required scaling a narrow ledge, but nothing to worry about because I had just done it a few minutes prior. It was at this moment where I made my mistake, I did not account for extra weight on my back and how it would affect my position when turing around. The weight of my backpack swung my weight around outwards, pulling me away from the cliff, I knew I was going to fall, I knew something awful was going to be a result of it. I made one last ditch effort to secure myself by grabbing a small root at the top of the cliff, but the rain had softened the solid, and my body weight was too much regardless, I went plunging backwards, only seeing the sky and the trees, not knowing exactly what was beneath me.
My life didn't flash before my eyes like in the films, it all happened much to quick for that, but I also remember not feeling afraid, what was going to happen was going to happen. In an instant my body struck the ground, but it wasn't over, I had hit a ledge halfway down the cliff face, and was not flung backwards again towards the ground. I hit the ground a second later, the wind knocked out of my lungs, thinking I must be seriously hurt. I remember looking next to me and seeing a large amount of jagged rocks, surely I had smashed my body on several others close by.
As it turns out I narrowly missed the rocks by a few inches, and what caused me to fall, my extra heavy backpack, may have proved to save me as well. The backpack helped to pad my body from suffering the full extent of the blows when it hit solid rock, after falling 20ft, and then being slammed again from 20ft above. I ended up receiving no injuries at all from my fall, not even a scratch or a bruise, only the regret that I was not more careful.
I will detail my other experiences from the trip in another post soon if you are interested to hear more
Posted 27 July 2012 - 01:29 PM
I'd like to read more.
Posted 27 July 2012 - 02:10 PM
I could never climb mountains, I'm always afraid something like this would happen.
It really was just pure luck that I didn't hit the rocks, I suppose. It's interesting that what probably saved me from at least being injured was my backpack, the very same thing that led to my fall. Climbing mountains takes a certain personality, mine really isn't one of them, although I did it. When you climb you have to be confident, second guessing yourself only leads to a lapse in judgement and making mistakes.
Posted 27 July 2012 - 07:04 PM
Credit to Phins4Life for the sweet Eric Decker sig
Posted 06 August 2012 - 04:59 AM
The morning after my fall we woke up and set out for the base of the peak, our route looked to be relatively simple, rough terrain but no cliffs in our way. A few hours through the snow covered forest we came to a clearing, there it was, the peak we had come here for, it was finally visible again. We carefully traversed the slopes, slowly moving towards our destination at the base of the peak. This process was painstakingly slow, we determined the degree of the slope to be prime for avalanche, about 30-45 degrees, the greatest risk of avalanche. In the end we were able to successfully reach the base of the peak.
Once at the base of the peak we had a decision to make, attempt a summit that afternoon or set up camp and hit the pass in the morning. After much deliberation, the decision was made to set up a fortified snow camp and make our summit in the morning. Although a wise decision given the circumstances, it would later prove to be a big mistake.
We woke the following morning, the downtime and rest was welcome and we all felt good about our decision to delay our summit by half a day, it was the right choice. We ate breakfast and coordinated rope teams, three groups of six, knots double checked, gear locked and ready to go. Before we could get very far, the wind picked up, nothing out of the ordinary for the altitude and especially Patagonia, a place once referred to as where the wind sweeps like the broom of God. We continued onward, but weather changes quickly without much warning, a storm was coming in, seemingly out of nowhere a very large and dark cloud had positioned itself a few kilometers from out position. That was it, we weren't making our summit today.
New plans were made, we would wait a few hours at most to see if the storm would pass, but it wasn't looking good, and you don't move at night. We had no luck, the storm hung around and we returned to our tents encompassed by fortified ice blocked walls we had spent building the day before. I assumed that a summit would be possible the next day, that the storm was only temporary, but I was wrong, it only got worse. What began as a dark cloud followed by light precipitation and gusts of wind, became a full on blizzard that transformed our small base camp and what was around it into a whiteout hell.
In the remote wilderness, mother nature decides what your options are, you surrender almost all control to the forces of nature, biding your time until you can make your move. We were stuck, and the only option was to wait this out. Throughout the night you could hear the wind howling, trying it's best to rip your tent along with yourself and everything in it off the mountain. You can't get much sleep through this, and you don't particularly want to. More important is getting out of your tent every three hours to remove built up snow away from the tent's air vents, too many mountaineers have suffocated to death in their sleep due to carelessness.
Four days went by, four days of cooking food in the vestibule of our tent, sleeping as much as we possibly could, and playing games to entertain ourselves. It was finally announced we would be heading back down the mountain in the morning, we would not be making the pass over the summit, we failed to do what we came here for, missed out only chance. I awoke the next morning to my tent mate heating the stove in the vestibule, I only remember being grateful someone else had decided to do it. He handed me a hot drink, I took a few sips, slipped on my frozen boots and made my way outside.
The blizzard was finally gone, and the skies were clear, it felt good to finally see something other than white for the past four days. I noticed another tent group playing a game and walked over to join them, they greeted me, asking me if I wanted to play. I made an attempt to say yes, but this simple word didn't come out right, I made another attempt, this time clearly saying the word, but they didn't hear me... something was not right.
More than anything I was frustrated and confused, what was going on?? While I stood there I noticed something else, my body was starting to numb, I felt limp and without control. The next moment, before I could understand what was happening, my body fell lifeless, backwards into the snow. Just like my fall, I could only see the pale blue sky, my body was completely numb at this point, the surrounding sounds muffled, then finally, my hearing was gone. All that remained was my vision and my consciousness, the blue sky turned metallic, resembling mercury, I felt very peaceful, and then it turned bright white, and then... nothing.
I came to, unaware of how much time had passed by since my last thought, people were all around me, my vision had returned, and slowly my hearing as well. I rolled over and as my body convulsed I vomited, alarmed to have movement and feeling return to my body even though it was met with pain. I was helped up and brought to a tent to receive additional medical attention, as they asked questions I was reminded of waking up next to the stove. That was it, I received carbon monoxide poisoning, inhaling it for who knows how long. The only treatment for CO poisoning is inhaling oxygen, if it wasn't for the fact that I decided to get out of the tent, I don't believe I would be alive.
I still remember the feeling I had as laid there, just before I lost consciousness. Surprisingly, it is the best I have ever felt in my life.
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