Yet another Castle Rock Spire Attempt


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Bill Sherman

Mountain climber
Culver City, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 7, 2010 - 04:52pm PT
So by the title, it's obvious that we never reached our objective. No less though, we had a great adventure.

The trip started off with some exceptional luck. I brought along my wife, her friend, and her friend's 6-year old to spend the weekend up there and enjoy the park. As we rolled in at 0200, there were no campsites available for 45 miles except maybe at Kaweah Lake. We drove through Buckeye Flats and found a space that was reserved through the weekend but abandoned. I guess the occupants had enough camping and moved. We kept the space and had no issues.

As usual, we began the trip with standard gear for the approach.

In addition to the hospital "bunny suit," we employed Ivy Block, Technu wash, and permethrin. So far, no rashes or itching so this stuff may be effective. We had two sets of clothes and cached the first set after the initial ridgeline of thrashing through poison oak and other scrub brushes.

I was relieved to remove the long sleeves and pants as well as the suit in the 90+ degree weather. Nighttime temps only fell into the 60's.

The term "trail" is loosely applied to any number of dozens and dozens of animal trails that carve every hillside. Using a combination of the GPS co-ordinates posted on, a topographical map, and a compass, we were able to navigate in the general direction. The most useful information from the GPS co-ords was the elevation as it kept telling us we were usually anywhere from 100-500 feet below where we should have been. This culminated in an interesting 500' scramble up moss covered slabs and through dense thickets of manzanita to arrive at the final cleared plateau that marked the now casual traverse to the approach gully (Thanks Mooch et al.). Arriving 10 hours after leaving Buckeye Flats campground, light was fading and after spending 30 minutes to find a flat spot we settled on something 100 yards above the trail. This "flat" spot ended up still being at an angle with multiple large rocks scattered throughout. This made for a somewhat uncomfortable night especially given that the entire tent moved about 2 feet and placed us even more squarely on top of these burdensome rocks. Eager to get up at 0430 to start the climb but even more eager to get off the rocks, we finally made our way out and broke camp by 0600. The approach up the gully required some scrambling and some more bushwhacking around the larger cliff bands. We were making fairly decent time up the gully and had covered the majority of it within the hour.

Jordan was approaching slightly below me and so careful not to dislodge any small rocks onto him, I clambered onto a 4' x 3' x 2' boulder. Suddenly, the entire boulder gave way allowing me to drop down to the next rock. Unfortunately, the 1-ton boulder lagged a little bit behind me and decided to land squarely on my ankle before rolling off. The good thing is that it missed Jordan and only got me.

After the initial pain subsided (thanks to 800 mg Ibuprofen) we got me to a flat spot in the drainage and figured out what to do. I made sure I had enough food, water, and clothing to spend 2-3 days up there in case a ground evac was necessary. We could already tell that my ankle was fractured and there was no way just the two of us could get me out of there within a week.

Thus the epic return began for Jordan who spent the next 7 hours getting back to the rangers. The stories of SEKI lived up to its name with encounters of rattlesnakes, more poison oak that one could imagine, bears, mosquitoes, and dense brush. The clothes we had cached were shredded and scattered by bears. Jordan was either following one or one was following him as there was fresh bear scat still warm along the trails he followed. We did take a bear canister for food as a precaution and never had any troubles.

Once Jordan found the camp host, the comedy began. It seems that most of the rangers and staff have never heard of Castle Rock Spire or the Fin and kept directing all rescue efforts to Moro Rock and the surrounding drainages. Providing exact GPS co-ordinates was not much more help as they kept transmitting only minutes among each other and failed to include degrees. Finally, Jordan found a ranger that knew something about anything. This exceptional ranger basically helped organize and arrange the entire rescue, assisted by his incident commander.

Two hours after Jordan arrived, the first bird was sent into the sky. After sitting next to a creek bubbling, churning, and gurgling for 10 hours, I had learned to ignore the sounds as the thoughts of an approaching chopper. However, this time, the sounds kept getting louder. Because of the heat and the direct sunlight, I had crawled to a nearby manzanita bush and laid on the ground underneath its meager shady coverage to escape the brutal onslaught of heat. My thermometer was registering 90.4 degrees in the shade but 140.7 degrees in the direct sun. Not wanting to be missed, I crawled back out and began waving my orange rain parka. They flew over once, then twice, then finally approached again and hovered over me. Not having my glasses on, I couldn't figure out what they were signaling before they took off. After calming down seeing that my salvation had departed without me, I rationalized they didn't have the necessary gear to drop into me or extract me from my location. I succumbed to thinking I was going to spend the night up there as the clouds were now moving in and may be signaling a storm.

30 minutes later I heard the whump-whump-whump of an approaching helicopter again and saw the short haul line with a ranger attached to it. He was dropped in and began loading me up on the backboard and bosun's bag. Once secured, the chopper came back in and extracted us and all gear. The views of the Spire were incredible! It was a free scenic ride of the park. The winds were only a very mild breeze (2-3 mph) so looking up at the helicopter it felt like we weren't even moving. Peering over my shoulder, I could see the ground, the river, the surrounding landscape and realize how remote and wild SEKI really is. 3 minutes later we were back on the ground at Hospital Rock. My wife had informed the guys that I was a doctor so when I taught the medic how to find my pedal pulse all his colleagues got a good laugh out of it and told him that's what he gets for having a doctor as a patient.

Another series of jeering and laughter from the peanut gallery (aka "friends") ensued before loading up into my truck and heading back to Los Angeles to have my ankle x-rayed and examined. Along the way, I heard of Jordan's epics, both on the trail and off with the rangers. I also heard about a quote from a by-stander watching all the commotion: "Is that his foot in that cooler?" This was said in regards to a cooler a ranger was carrying towards the make-shift drop zone in the parking lot. He looked at her with a bewildered look and said, "No, it's Gatorade for the crew out here. Want one?"

Pulling into our apartment at 2300, we unloaded the truck, dropped off some of our passengers, and threw me in the shower to wash off two days of poison oak, sweat, dirt, and grime before heading to the UCLA hospital. Working there sure has its privileges and I was seen without a wait. The x-rays revealed a fractured fibula (Weber A) and would not require any surgery. It was splinted, I was given crutches, a prescription for Vicodin, and then sent home for a good night's rest back in my own bed.

(example of the type of fracture I have, real images would show much more swelling - I'll try to get a copy and upload it)

Big props go out to my partner, Jordan, the pilot of the helicopter, the ranger that dropped in to haul me out (Jack Carreo), and the other support crew on the ground including my wife who drove us all back.

If anyone knows of anything the SEKI SAR teams needs, please let me know. I'd like to try to pay them back for their services and assistance. It would have been a hell of a hike out without them.

So now the epicness and allure of this elusive spire grows. I wish Mooch and his partner the best of luck and success in climbing the spire. Despite failing to install the summit register in its place myself, I will pass the new one along for Mooch to send to its glory atop the "most difficult peak in the High Sierras."

Social climber
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:02pm PT

Wow! Glad you made it through OK. Nasty picture of your foot. Heal well and quickly.


hanging from a crimp and crying for my mama.
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:05pm PT
I have to thank Jordan for hiking seven hours to get help. As for Bill, he forgot to tell you how he was planning a trip to Peru this summer and... Well, we will see...

As for Sally's six year old. Hats off to the kid for being so good while we waited for them to short haul Bill out. He loved seeing the helicopter. The kid didn't know what a broken leg was and wanted to touch it. I so love that kid.

Trad climber
Santa Clara, Ca.
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:19pm PT
Oh man, what a bummer, Bill!

Glad you're alright. Heal up!

Jim Henson's Basement
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:34pm PT
Ho-ly crap Bill!

Glad you got out OK and in good humor. Peru isn't going anywhere. Wouldn't surprise me if you toughed it out in the cast.

Heal quick!


Social climber
Oxnard, CA
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:44pm PT
Wow, what a hellish approach. That shot of you in the bunny suit says it all, what a struggle. Good idea on the bunny suit. Glad it worked out as well as it did. It sounds like things could have gotten much worse. A leg fracture back in a remote area like that is a real problem. I hope you heal quickly and get your trip to Peru in this summer.

John Moore
Bill Sherman

Mountain climber
Culver City, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 7, 2010 - 05:48pm PT
eKat, after working with SAR teams I am well aware of that. I was hoping also that someone might know what is currently on their wish list so I could try to help out with that.
Jordan Ramey

Big Wall climber
South Pasadena, CA
Jun 7, 2010 - 05:51pm PT
It was certainly an adventure! Thanks to everyone involved who helped "retrieve" Bill (the whole SEKI SAR crew, Anastasia, Sally & Robert)!

EDIT to add: Good luck next weekend Dave and crew! The climb looks FANTASTIC!
Jordan Ramey

Big Wall climber
South Pasadena, CA
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:00pm PT
Just thought of this:

Adventure is a four letter word: SEKI


Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:04pm PT
lol, nice Jordan.

Trad climber
Mill Valley, CA
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:13pm PT
Oh Bill and Ana! I am so sorry to hear of your epic. I'm sending good and abundant juju for the healing of the bone. You'll be out there again in no time!

Trad climber
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:22pm PT
Heal up! HellaofA TR too!
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:41pm PT
Hoa! Epic!!

Bill, weren't you just warning me about the vicodin a few days ago?!

Jeez man, I was gonna invite you to the mountains to shoot. How long till you're off the crutches?

Big Wall climber
So Cal
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:50pm PT

Michelle just called me to let me know about this. I'm glad you got out safely. Jordan deserves a medal.

A huge measure of thanks & gratitude to the SAR team.

Heal soon & I hope you still make the Peru trip..

Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:52pm PT
If only for feeling the bear crap to tell how close it was,...

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Jun 7, 2010 - 06:59pm PT

I can't find the pedal pulse!!!!

Yer gonna die!!!!!

Best wishes for a full recovery, nice TR Dude!


Social climber
Jun 7, 2010 - 07:08pm PT
Hope you heal up fast, Bill!

Social climber
Jun 7, 2010 - 07:10pm PT
hey there bill, say, oh my... a good trip-outing is NEVER the time to learn how broken-ankle-patients feel... oh my... ;)
but then, you know that, and extra well now... ;)

say, i heard from anastasia's facebook page, on my...

get well soon.. and god bless you with a speedy and good
recovery, and a nice summer, still...

thanks for sharing your whole adventure here....

happy healing:

once again, god bless..

Social climber
State of decay
Jun 7, 2010 - 07:36pm PT
Jeez Bill, you will do anything to get out of a high altitude trip!
Sorry you're not going to Peru now. I don't feel any better, but perhaps next year will be "our "year". I'm glad it's nothing "serious". I'm sure Anastasia is pleased to have you staying home. Is she still going to Greece? Heal well and fast, Bro . Sorry about your mis-step.

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Jun 7, 2010 - 07:44pm PT
Ow. Broken bones are no fun. Hope you are doing as well as is possible.
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