Unplanned Bivouacs: Dreadful or Delightful?


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mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 04:00pm PT
Riding my bike to the library
Horn-honking guy in the car calls me over
Just now
He offers me a ride to the Valley on Saturday next
And it's free
I'm giving you all the warning I can
I'm bivvying on top of LCR
Not been on that Cathrock before
Gotta plan the campaign today so:

Who's on the Gunsight right now? :), or not

Anyone up for some spliffin and cliffin?
See me in Camp 4!
Or make a reservation!
I swear on my scout's honor this is a legit invite.
Cherybabushka, Vitaliy?
Quo vadis.

Mouse Been in Merced too long.

Trad climber
Washington DC
Apr 28, 2012 - 04:17pm PT
Hey Mouse, what is your real name? I am trying to place you as I am sure we ran into each other over the years.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 04:31pm PT
Brian J. Bermingham
son of Boomer and Bobbie, proud t'say.
I cannot for the life of me place your name.
Are you a long-time Northwest climber, because the only ones I've met from that area are the one-of-a-kind Floyd Turner and a friend of Cowboy Larry Moore named Ron, who had done some Squamish climbing...

Wrong District?

What, me lost?


Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Apr 28, 2012 - 05:35pm PT
Hey Mouse;
You need an avatar.
Not the ST generic one.

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 05:39pm PT
Good move and gosh, thanks.
I was leaning toward a cool pic of Charlie Sheen with shades or Arnold making a telling point.
Wait til the scanner comes next week.

Mickey is not the mouse avatar for me, even though his creator was an hon-whore-ary Sierra Clubber.

The Sierra Club Bulletin, vol. 40, #4, April, 1955

Walt Disney Named Honorary Member

For "his magnificent contributions to a widespeared appreciation of our wild life"....such movies as The Prairie, and Beaver ___ ....

"Disney is like a sun ripening the gain for the wilderness advocates..."

We need...an army of Disneys...blah.

Besides, I really hate cold and ice is cold. I never even went on the Matterhorn ride when I was in Disneyland in '58.

But you're right. I am avatar bait.


Trad climber
Washington DC
Apr 28, 2012 - 07:19pm PT
No Mouse, born in Modesto, grew up climbing in the Valley.

Trad climber
AKA Dwain, from Apple Valley, Ca. and Vegas!
Apr 28, 2012 - 09:47pm PT

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 28, 2012 - 10:00pm PT
Must be a hemp rope.
Triple twist.
Tasty and cheap.
Half-ropes, anyone?
I mean half-a-rope.
I doubt any mouse could eat a full-course rope--in one sitting, anyway.
Thanks a "mil" for the suggestion.

Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 29, 2012 - 02:39am PT
Last bivouac story.

Bivouacing in the Himalayas is of course, a relative term when traveling with traditional Sherpas. They generally donít carry tents or tarps, or even sleeping bags. They curl up together in their clothes, utilizing overhanging rocks or caves instead, cooking on wood fires as high as 19,000 feet. Though to me, there is not much difference between sleeping under an over hang or out in the open, to them it matters a great deal, as I was to learn when I crossed Trashi Labtsa Pass which connects with the Mt. Everest region,

I had two young Sherpa girls as porters as we followed a well equipped Italian expedition, and preceded an even larger German one. To cross the pass one had to ascend from a 7 mile long flat glacier at 18,000 ft up through a hanging one to another valley at 19,000 feet, and ultimately the pass itself at 19,700. We chopped steps before the sun rose and hurried above the place where Edmond Hillary and Charles Riddiford, were nearly killed by rock fall in 1951, when they were the first westerners to visit Rolwaling. Huge rocks as large as cars, hung precariously in the overhanging ice awaiting the slightest melting before they came crashing down.

We three had planned to sleep in a cave atop the pass and attempt Par Chamo, a 20,293 foot peak above it. As the afternoon passed on however, high storm clouds started to roll in. Since we had no tent and neither of the Sherpanis had sleeping bags, I decided it was time to descend. We all agreed that we would camp above the hanging glacier and its rock laden couloir, cook dinner, and continue only after it had frozen again. When we got to that section however, the girls spotted the German group down below complete with large numbers of Sherpa men from other regions.

Both girls started down the narrow ice chute. While I was trying to catch up to them they descended into the depths of it, carrying all of our supplies including the climbing rope and my crampons, with them. They both got scared when they discovered that the ice steps of the morning had melted. For greater traction, they decided to take off their Tibetan boots which had poorly tanned leather on the bottom with wool on the top, and were stuffed throughout with dried grass. As my heart sank, they down-climbed barefoot gripping their boots in their teeth.

Somehow I managed to down-climb in my mountaineering boots without falling, and then they took off running again. Normally stonefall in this coulour was continuous yet we ran downhill for 20 minutes and nothing fell. The girls were constantly murmuring prayers to Guru Rinpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism from India to Tibet. When we got to the bottom, it seemed that half the mountain avalanched down the icy path we had just run, and I said to myself, ďThatís the stupidest thing Iíve ever done in the mountainsĒ. The girls meanwhile told me, ďSee memsahib Jani, we know the right prayersĒ.

After that I ate some noodles and crashed out on the glacier with an ensolite pad, a huge expedition bag, a down vest, down pants, and a down parka all inside of a bivouac sack. The girls along with about 25 Sherpa guys, crowded into the kitchen tent for the night amidst much giggling and joking. The Germans were of course tucked away in high quality tents. I slept like the dead and awakened only in the morning when one of the Sherpani brought me my morning bed tea amidst much exclamation, as three inches of snow had fallen during the night, and my bivouac sack was completely covered. More impressive, they seemed to think, was the area of sleeping bag around my face, which was covered in ice and frozen stiff from condensation. All of the Sherpas were incredibly impressed that the American woman was the only one who slept out all night. Meanwhile, Iím thinking to myself, ďAny fool can survive outdoors with 25 pounds of down gear. The really impressive feat is that I climbed to 19,700 feet yesterday and got down that suicide couloir aliveĒ.

Recently, I had the fun of telling this story to Phurba, the grown son of Purdigi, one of the Sherpani. Phurba has climbed Ama Dablam and Everest more than once and worked as the laison officer for an Annapurna expedition thanks to his college degree and knowledge of English. His uncle Chhiring Dorje meanwhile, survived the spring K2 disaster in which eleven people, including some well known western mountaineers died. Chhiring was able to belay one of his cousins down the infamous Bottleneck after the fixed ropes were destroyed. They made it without falling, even though the cousin had no ice axe. This epic occurred after Chhiring had already summited K2 that day without oxygen. Thanks to email alerts from his office to his worldwide friends, we knew already that night that he had made it down alive and was sleeping in a tent, and not out like so many others, bivouacking their last, above 8,0000 meters.

Trad climber
Newcastle UK
Apr 29, 2012 - 05:23am PT
In 1976, I visited Chamonix for the first time, with my then partner, Les Morris. Were were part of an international crew of scruffs and misfits on Snell's Field, and were along with all the other happy campers evicted by the Police, equipped with dogs and guns. (That's another story).

Amongst our adventures was one unplanned bivouac. BITD British climbers had a standard ticklist which for many started with the Brown Whillans on the Blatiere, an alpine rock climb of some quality, with a relatively notorious off width crack low down.

Catching the first telepherique of the day we got off at Plan d'Aiguille, hiked to the base, but found ourselves beaten to it by a French party of three. It didn't matter as they pretty fast, were seconding together and soon put some distance between us.

The climbing was great, solid golden granite, blue skies all set off by Alpine views, and while not as fast as the French team we were moving quite well and made rapid progress. I recall at one point on a hanging belay looking up and seeing a slender white glider cut through the blue above us, close enough to hear the roar of the wind. Not too long after that some wisps of white appeared, not particularly worrying, but they were notable in a sky that had been universally blue.

We elected to take a short cut onto a the ridge on the left, (the West Face lite option) and when we reached it could look across at the Grepon which until then had been hidden from our sight.

The view was alarming . A huge black mass was tumbling over the summit of the Grepon and stretched off to the right without break. We quickly got ourselves sorted and began the descent to the Grepon glacier. Some easy down climbing, (I don't recall abbing) got us down to the glacier, during which time it had started to rain and sleet, in torrents and sheets. By the time we reached the glacier it was dark and lightning began to strike the summit of the Grepon and Blatiere,

The flash and bang were simultaneous, the ground shook and you were left with a snapshot on your retina of whatever your eyes were seeing at that moment. Thankfully the glacier was dry, and we worked our way down in the dark, not needing to use head torches, the lightning being frequent enough to light the way!

By the time we reached the moraine we were soaked through and it had started to snow, A large boulder offered some shelter and we crawled under it and got some respite from the storm. The rest of the night we spent spooning in an effort to retain what little warmth we retained.

Eventually the storm moved on, this coincided with a grey dreary dawn. We eased ourselves out of our squat and headed back to the telepherique where we joined other victims in varying states of disarray. As we waited for the first car, others appeared who clearly had had a much worse time of it than Les and I. Lots of them looked like sh#t (and we were pretty bad!) And had spent the night 'en route', at altitude taking the full fury of the storm without the protection we eventually found.

It was a very salutary experience, a classic alpine storm that came out of nowhere, was violent and non negotiable. If you were in it - you 'got it, and good and proper' (Back then there was no Gortex etc, and even the best gear was pretty piss poor, you were certain to suffer)

I think we scooted of to the Dollies soon after!

mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 29, 2012 - 08:05am PT
Jaysus, Guru Rinpoche, John Muir and Hugh Glass!!!!

Bravo, Jan. Not only a harrowing tale but one worth framing. Bravo!

And Blakey, I can't say much. Gobsmacked comes to mind.

Stories like these two are exactly why I like California.

Endless bumps! Gold stars for each and thanks.

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 29, 2012 - 08:24am PT
California is okay, mouse, especially as the West Coastīs gateway to climbing in Utah and Colorado.

Trad climber
Apr 29, 2012 - 09:08am PT
Nice one Blakey!!!

Tony Bird

Northridge, CA
Apr 29, 2012 - 11:47am PT
did somebody say disney?

here's what i think about every time goofy and darth vader show up in the ST banner:



Mountain climber
Okinawa, Japan
Apr 29, 2012 - 11:50am PT
At the top of the infamous 1,000 foot couloir, altitude 19,000 ft.
You can see why we are rushing to get over it before the sun hits the ice.
And how the steps would disappear once the melting began.

To keep all in perspective however, the Sherpas have in the past,
drug yak down this couloir and have many interesting tales of pulling
them out of crevasses.

Trashi Laptsa Pass, Rolwaling,Nepal

Trashi Laptsa Pass, Rolwaling,Nepal
Credit: Jan

Trad climber
Newcastle UK
Apr 30, 2012 - 03:07pm PT
All this reminiscing has got my memory juices flowing..........

The year before the trip to the Alps I describe above, so in 1975, I was as a callow 19 year old youth, fortunate enough to get on a trip to Baffin Island. I was one of a party of eight or sop climbers from the North East of England - all of whom were pretty experienced alpinists, and a couple of which had been to, or resided in the Valley for a while.

While Baffin had been visited a number of times, and of course Asgard had been climbed well before, it had not caught the imagination of the then 'modern' big wall climber until I think Doug Scott's trips @73 and 74 highlighted the potential of it's fabulous walls.

Ours was to be a mid summer trip to explore the opportunities around the Weasel Valley. We did all of the usual malarky, flying in to Pang on an ageing Dakota that popped rivets as it bounced through the air. A short stay in Pang married us up with the pre ordered supplies and allowed a degree of negotiation with the local Inuit about hiring a boat ride up the fjord.. This all took several days, during which time two of the group decided to hike up the fjord ahead of the group with HUGE packs.

Anyhow one at the Overlord camp, the stars (i was not one) had a look at ULU peak a few miles up on the right. An abortive attempt was made, with retreat being forced by what looked like a long blank section that would have required rivets or bolts - neither of which were on the agenda.

Anyhow, when the A team party came back, one of them, Ken Rawlinson could see I was itching to get on something and suggested we had a look at the Central Pillar of Overlord.

Overlord towered above the camp area and comprised of three distinct and huge pillars come buttresses. The Left hand one., the least steep of the three had been climbed by a Japanese party
the year before. the central pillar had been attempted the year before by Doug Scott, but we were aware that they had retreated when on of the party had been hit by stonewall. The right hand pillar was as we were aware, virgin.

Anyhow, we opted for the central pillar, Ken pulled together the rack, which I recall was memorably light, 'you've got to give it (the mountain) a chance Steve', he said with a wink. So with a few nuts, sling pegs and crabs, off we went. We set off up the pillar and the climbing naturally drew you to a line on the right hand side - there, after a few pitches of stepping climbing up slabs and grooves we found the first of a number of pegs and nuts, marking the descent route used by Scott's party the year before.

Being summertime we just climbed until we started to get weary, pitch followed pitch and at about 1/3 height we came across a genourouse rubble covered ledge that was suitable for a bivi. I think it even had some moss! We cleared space for our bags ate some grub and crashed out, pretty exhausted.

At some point however, I was awoken by the a strange sensation accompanied by the loudest noise I'd ever heard. The ledge was shaking violently and it was clear that the cliff was being rent apart. there was little to do and nowhere to hide, I curled up in my bag making myself as small as possible, while for what seemed an eternity the mountain shook, the vibrations being interspersed with what were clearly massive impacts close to our ledge.

Eventually the roar subsided, what followed was a smattering of large, but modest in comparison crashes and bangs. I eventually plucked up the courage to poke my head out of my sleeping bag to see two huge columns of dust rising up the couloirs either side of our pillar. the air was thick with the smell of sulphur and almost felt electric, probably static in the dust. Ken too had surfaced and was out of his bag, wide eyed looking at what had passed. We stood gawping at the colds of dust, slowly rising up the full height of the south couloir. He had just started to gabble something out, when the relative silence was broken by a noise even louder that the one we had just experienced! Snapping our heads to the right we saw the tip of the hanging glacier opposite break away and tumble to the valley floor, I''m guessing multiple thousands of tons of ice ended up in a huge cone below the fracture, this was spectacle heaped on spectacle! A second or so later we felt the blast of displaced air followed by a relative silence.

I can't recall what we said, probably something very English like 'that was loud'. We had been lucky in the selection of our bivi ledge, it was on the crest of the pillar and a vertical wall above us gave some protection, i don't think any stonefall hit the ledge, a miracle given what had broken away.

It took most of the day for the dust to settle, and for us to gather our wits about us and continue. we concluded that there musty have been an earthquake to have dislodged materials on both sides of the valley. Later in the trip we met a Japanese party who had been on Thor when it hit, they had been lucky to get away and off unscathed.

We were on the route for another two days with another bivi two thirds of the way up, throughout Ken was in charge, pointing me in the right direction. The quality of the climbing was outstanding, sustained 'VS' (5.6) interspersed with occasional E1/2 (5.9/10). The main difficulties culminated at the top of the pillar. A hanging belay at the base of a slender ramp that cut up the face for a hundred feet or so. The junction between the ramp and wall was fractured by a good finger crack which guaranteed success. This was important as by now, 40 odd pitches up, we didn't have enough kit to reach the first of Scott's absiel gear. Up was the only option.

We cleared this obstacle, and the breche beyond, and this brought us to the summit snow field. From the valley, this sliver of white looked tiny. Up close it transformed into a 200' slope of granular ice. We had neither axes or crampons, so i set up a rudimentary belay, sitting on a perfect edge of dry granite, with my legs dangling above a 4000' cavernous drop. We tied both 9mm ropes together, I gave Ken my Stubai hammer, and with two of these (and in EBs) off he went. cutting buckets for his feet in the granular ice he worked his way up. Eventually cresting the slope. It was a nerve wracking half hour to say the least. I took my socks off and put them on over my EBs, and with him walking down the glacier i set of up the line of holds.........

The walk down the glacier in EBs wasn't sooo bad, but lordy, had we cut it pretty fine! and Ken had been phenomenal; unflappable, good humoured and never less than 100% certain we would make it. (That said the relief in his eyes when he saw the crack in the back of the ramp pitch was pretty apparent).

The rest of the trip was not as successful, two other efforts led to interesting adventures around summit lake and Asgard, tales for another day perhaps. The other lads had success on Turn weather, Tinfoil and Northumbria. We encountered Charlie Porter ferrying his loads up to Asgard on his lonesome, and I'm guessing we must have met or past Rick Sylvester somewhere up there.

Here's the killer. Being 19 and poor, I didn't have a camera. I have but one photo of the peak, thankfully the memories are pretty vivid.

it's a measure of the level of commitment on Baffin that the route, all 4000'+ of it at 5.10 A0 is only
a grade V! I think Scott and Hennek climbed the right hand pillar in 76?

Oh the happy days of youth!


The Japanese Route on the left. The Central Pillar  guess where... The...
The Japanese Route on the left. The Central Pillar guess where... The Scott/Hennek line takes the right hand pillar.
Credit: Blakey


Gym climber
Berkeley, CA
Apr 30, 2012 - 04:32pm PT
Jan, Blakey, both of those are pretty serious and cross the threshold from "merely uncomfortable" to "I'm lucky to be here."

Trad climber
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Apr 30, 2012 - 04:39pm PT
The only time I thought my friend Kevin and I would have to do an unplanned bivy in a cave was when this batshit crazy old bastard buried us inside while we explored for ten hours. But nope, we dug out the six feet of rocks, logs, and dirt the dude entombed us under and were having a beer at the Posse East next to UT in under two hours. Best beer I ever tasted. Seeing the stars through the last bit of rock collapse and dust was beautiful.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 30, 2012 - 06:27pm PT
Jim, Oklahoma is OK for the same reason. There are really good jokes to be made about the okie invasion, but the best is that the realized they were closer to SLC than they wanted to be.

An okie once named his daughter Nina May so he wouldn't forget her birthday. When Nina May had her own daughter she named her Ada May.

Git it?

For the record, I hate seeing California's name being shortened to "Cali." But I understand WY the posters here do it. Most cannot spell it, let alone the name of the Golden State. Kind of the same logic in calling the greatest governor we ever had "Arnie."

Doh. How's that for a nickname, Jim?

Rick A

Boulder, Colorado
May 3, 2012 - 09:20am PT
Came late to this thread and itís filled with good stories.

Stich-you were in a cave and when you tried to get out the entrance was sealed? What a horror! You should sell the movie rights.

Blakey- Blimey! You put socks over EBs to improve traction on wet rock? That is something Iíve only heard about in the ancient lore! Didnít Joe Brown do that on the first ascent of Cenotaph Corner?

Jan-Sherpas going barefoot to handle treacherous ice? Iíve heard of barefoot rock climbing, but ice? Now thatís hardcore.

MFM-Count me as another curmudgeon who does not like "Cali". I wrote a piece in Climbing when Bachar died and the editor substituted "Cali" for "California" without telling me. Still irritates me.

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