Friends missing on Palcaraju


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Social climber
Ridgway, CO
May 29, 2013 - 12:38am PT

Trad climber
San Diego
Jul 27, 2013 - 09:53pm PT
Still can't believe it's been a year. It feels much longer.

Social climber
Jul 28, 2013 - 10:26am PT
Bump. Love your friends today more than yesterday.

Social climber
State of decay
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 13, 2014 - 05:18pm PT
Two years gone today, but I remember.
Love your friends today more than yesterday.
Couldn't be more appropriate Greg.

Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Jul 15, 2015 - 11:02pm PT
3 years since the tragedy...sad time.

Social climber
State of decay
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 7, 2017 - 12:05pm PT
I had a dream last night. I was climbing high and free, swinging tools up an expanse of white, toward a cobalt blue sky,

Bringing myself back home

The clouds had begun to block out the sun and whatever warmth it had provided was fading. My world was changing from color to black and white. The shades of gray that were now filling my eyes matched the uncertainty that I was feeling. I wasn't sure of anything. Only that my friends were dead. The wind picked up a bit, and big, wet, sticky snow flakes were swirling around on the breeze. They stuck to my eye lashes and helped to disguise my tears. My climbing trip to Peru had begun with the colorful promise of adventure, discovery and fun. This day, like this season, had faded into monochrome; a surreal landscape of confusion, disappointment and death.

I had finished the inventory of Gil's personal belongings, packed up his stuff in his pack, and begun to do the same with Ben's gear. Ted, on the Sat-phone with Adam, had implored us to carefully safe guard their gear and personal affects. He was worried some of their climbing gear would be heisted and sold for pocket money by unscrupulous members of the High Mountain Rescue Police (HMRP). So, I secured their ice tools and other gear, items of clothing and most importantly, the data card from the only digital point and shoot camera we had found. The camera was practically broke in half, a testament to the violence of their fall, but the data card was intact and we secretly stashed it away. I had no way of knowing if images could be retrieved from it, but if so, perhaps they would provide clues to just what had happened on their descent from Paclaraju Oest.

It was late in the afternoon when we started down with Gil. We worked our way down a faint trail on the moraine to a high pond and the campsite of the HMRP. Up to this point it was relatively easy to carry Gil's body in a makeshift rope stretcher. From here it was decided to traverse the hillside until directly above and across from the base camp compound at the head of the Cojup Valley. This seemed like a good idea at the time. However, we soon found the slope was uncomfortably steep, the footing on slick grass, and, we had thousands of feet to descend. We began to lower Gil, pulling from below and belaying everyone from above from anchors that were barely holding the weight. They surely would have failed had anyone shock loaded the system. That would send everyone cascading down the slope, sliding and tumbling. And to make matters worse, the HMRP were ill trained and seemingly unmotivated to the hardship of the undertaking. Eric built the anchors, directed the rope work and generally shouted directions to these “ high angle specialty trained” personnel. It was grueling and nerve wracking. All the while, the fate of my buddies played over and over in my mind like a broken record. What had gone so terribly wrong? How could this have happened? I agonized over possible answers and scenarios. Questions bubbled up; why had they left their pickets behind? Why did they summit so late in the day: in the Blanca night falls fast. There is very little twilight this close to the equator. This left precious little time before dark to navigate a torturous, glaciated ridge descent. In the dark, with the limited visibility of headlamps, getting back to their bivi would have been time consuming and difficult. I guess I a needed mental distraction from the task of manhandling his corpse down the grassy slope. Finally, after several thousand feet of lowering, the angle relented and we found ourselves on the valley floor. It was here the HMRP gave up all together. It was with a look of contempt mixed with embarrassment, that a waiting Arriero ( mule driver) chided the HMRP as he single handedly hefted Gil's still frozen six foot frame, into balance over his broad shoulders, and slowly, deliberately, carried Gil the last hundred or so yards to the fenced compound of base camp. Like so much cord wood, he deposited him on the top of the low, wide stone fence, that cordoned off the herders shelter.

Eric, Adam and I made our way into the compound and sat down under one of the sheltered tables. We were worked and starving. We just sat there talking, trying to process the events of the day. No one was moving so eventually I made some Ramen and passed it to Eric. Every now and then I would look over to see Gil, perched on the wall, wrapped in his parka as if taking a nap. It was unreal, like a bad dream. With a bit of gallows humor, we were cracking jokes to ease the tension, to deal with the grief. Adam said that Gil probably thought we were idiots; dumb asses for risking our lives to bring him home. We spoke as if he could hear us, as if he was laughing at our expense. At one point I turned to say something to Eric. He was just sitting there, silently, staring down at his soup. In the dim light of the headlamp, I could make out the huge tears streaming down his cheeks. They plowed furrows through the grime and sweat of the day's effort. I turned to Adam who stared blankly back at me with blood shot eyes. The thousand yard stare. We were emotionally and physically spent. Done. I heard the silence roaring in my ears and the blood pounding in my temples. I looked out beyond Gil, and on the hillside far above us, and saw the flashing of headlamps. Ted's crew was bringing Ben down and would soon be here.

I slept all of about ten minutes that night. I couldn't turn my brain off. Mentally, I went over and over their climb, the line of descent, and what could have gone wrong? How do two experienced alpinists fall to their deaths roped together? Providing no answers, the morning came all too quickly and with it the donkey's sent to carry our friends down to the trail-head. Adam and I left early, before the donkeys started down. Met by our friend Jared at the trail head, we waited. Eventually the donkey's arrived and our friends were laid out by the side of the road. Some Peruvian officials had also arrived, taking pictures of the bodies, interviewing the HMRP team members and talking to a reporter. After the media frenzy, Gil and Ben were loaded onto trucks and carted off to the morgue. It was like a carnival of the macabre.

The next day, Ben's father arrived in Huaraz and Adam, Eric, Jared and Gary ( who helped with communications) and I sat down with Mr. Horne and Liora (a very good friend of Ben's) at their hotel and we discussed the details of the climb and accident as we knew them to be. Mr Horne was very appreciative. He asked pointed questions, which we answered with respect and candor. He was sometimes calm, sometimes emotional, sometimes in tears. He was a father who just lost his son. In the retelling of our experience, I realized how emotionally shattered we all were. We took some photos before we left. I tried to be accommodating, however, my thin and tight-lipped smile only punctuated the pain and emotional and physical fatigue that my weary eyes couldn't hide. That night, I finally slept long and deep; the first time in a week.

Jared said, “Climbing is such a unique addiction..... We assess the risk involved, draw upon our experiences but in the end life and death may be a simple matter of luck. Some climbers choose to embrace the modern ethics of climbing and rise up to the challenges of pushing limits and setting new routes. Some climbers embrace the social aspect of the sport and enjoy casual outings with friends on easy terrain. Some climbers lie in middle. The truth of the matter is this sport is dangerous and at whatever level you climb, there is always risk involved. “

Almost five years gone and I still think about that grim season in Peru. I didn't know it at the time, but the events of that season precipitated a fundamental change in understanding risk and how we attempt to manage it. Slowly, I began to understand, to accept that I too was mortal. After a while, I guess, it's only time in the shooting gallery. Perhaps I too will find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some get that epiphany early on in life, others, like me, later in life. Whenever it happens, its a sobering event. And still, unanswered questions remain. My friend Chris Owen said, there is no “why”. Sh#t just happens. Similarly, Mark Twight said, “ We may train ourselves to be adaptable as possible, to respond appropriately in each situation, but the ideal of controlling the outcome or steering events as they occur must be relinquished. Chaos rules it all.” I suppose so. Still.....

I am still processing this event after all these years. I still dream about it occasionally. I am still dealing. My apologies for airing my dirty laundry with you all. But you are my climbing family, brothers and sisters of the rope, and while, hopefully, most have not had to endure this kind of tragedy up close and personal, we've all known the pain of loss. The unanswered questions. The void left un-filled. I wish us all Peace.

Trad climber
Fresno/Clovis, ca
Feb 7, 2017 - 12:24pm PT
Thanks for sharing that heavy and heartfelt account. A beautiful and heartbreaking account. May your writing bring you comfort today and in the days to come. Chin up. They'd be proud of your love and devotion to them both.


Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
Feb 7, 2017 - 12:54pm PT
Tony, you take care, man.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Feb 7, 2017 - 01:45pm PT
Thanks for sharing, Tony.

The Good Places
Feb 7, 2017 - 06:38pm PT
friends are good for distributing the difficulties. the tough leads, the joy and the pain.

thanks for letting us think on your experience. peace be with you.
Myles Moser

Lone Pine, Ca
Feb 7, 2017 - 08:03pm PT
Thanks Tony... keep climbing boys
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Feb 8, 2017 - 06:22am PT
Damn, Tony. That's rough. Beautifully written. I'm glad you felt okay about sharing this story. It's good to get this stuff out, important and valuable for all of us. Hang in there.


Frozen In Somewhere
Feb 8, 2017 - 07:25am PT
I am sorry for your loss Tony. I don't think I've met you, but we've lived some of the same experiences and your writing rings true. Peace with it all. I think what you've written is important, and should be read by everyone aspiring to be an alpine climber.

Trad climber
Feb 8, 2017 - 07:45am PT
Thank you for sharing you feelings.
The best to you.

Big Wall climber
Feb 8, 2017 - 07:50am PT
hang in there Tony!

Ice climber
Feb 8, 2017 - 09:07am PT
I'm sorry for your loss. I remember well when it happened, as I was still very raw from my loss of my husband, Jack Roberts, from a fall on Bridalveil. Great that you are writing....that has been the single-most beneficial activity for me...that and long distance "hikes." (Like the Camino de Santiago de Compostela). Like you, for me it has been 5 years, a timeframe I can't comprehend. It feels like a long time ago that I did my first Camino, summer of 2012. And yet it feels like only yesterday I lost Jack...the emotions are still so close, so vivid and close.
I still climb, although honestly, mostly at the gym these days. I blame age and available time, but really, it's a form of fear. Not even necessarily of falling, getting hurt, or dying. I feel very close to Jack when I climb, which is both great, and intensely painful. Sometimes I'll do a particular move, and I can feel him moving with me as well....we climbed so much together over a 27 year period, that many of our movements and bits of body language of course became the same. I don't know....all I can say is keep writing, and keep loving your friends. Remember that each day is a gift, and live it like it truly is the only day we might have left.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Feb 8, 2017 - 09:16am PT
I hope you can take some solace from your eloquence as we have.

Feb 8, 2017 - 09:21am PT
Intensely experienced and intensely shared. Thanks for posting this, Tony. The bell will toll for all of us. Meanwhile, onward with as much joy and grace as we can gather up~

Social climber
State of decay
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 15, 2017 - 10:11pm PT
Five years have gone by, yet it's like yesterday.
Light streaming into the Cojup Valley. Even with light and color, it seemed sterile. The mountains all around us were constantly sending avalanches crashing to the glacier below. Day and night. It was not a forgiving place. The entire time I was there I had an uneasy feeling.

The head of the Cojup Valley. The base camp compound can barely be seen, on the left, tucked up against the edge of the moraine at about 14,700". I called this the valley of Death. Besides the reason for our being there, the valley was filled with the old bones of cattle and sheep, and with more than one rotting carcasses littering the landscape. It was, at once, a beautiful, dark and cold place. We, Adam Lawrence, Jared Vagy and I, had mountain biked( road and mostly pushed) our way to BC. Riding out was a gas though! I just wish our visit to the Cojup would have been under different circumstances. Still thinking of you guys climbing high into the sky.
RIP Ben and Gil.

Trad climber
Upland, CA
Jul 16, 2017 - 05:44pm PT
TYeary, thank you for sharing your stories and your emotions. I wish you all the best.
Peace, Phyl
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