Climbing Heroes


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Topic Author's Original Post - Jun 23, 2014 - 02:23pm PT
For a possible story in Climbing mag, I'm seeking climbers who have performed heroic acts. No, I'm not talking about climbing Everest. I'm talking about someone who saved another climber's life or prevented serious injury through timely, selfless, and/or courageous action. No professional rescuers, please. We're looking for ordinary climbers who've done extraordinary things.

Got someone you'd like to nominate? Comment below or drop a note to I will follow up and interview folks individually. Many thanks.

Dougald MacDonald

Trad climber
Hankster's crew
Jun 23, 2014 - 03:34pm PT
Fabrizio Zangrilli on K2.
Mike Friedrichs

Sport climber
City of Salt
Jun 23, 2014 - 03:46pm PT
Obviously Alex Lowe on Denali and probably more. He's one of my heros in that he made the special seem so ordinary and convinced me to try things I never would have.

Trad climber
Talkeetna, Alaska
Jun 23, 2014 - 08:01pm PT
Carl Diedrich helping Bill Pilling get back to Basecamp from the summit of Mount Vancouver in 1993, after Pilling took a 40 footer into a crevasse near the summit and completely destroyed his knee. 7000 feet vertical descent and over ten miles. In fact they should both be nominated. A truly epic self-rescue.

Topic Author's Reply - Jun 24, 2014 - 07:31am PT
Forgive my ignorance, Under Cling, but what's Mitchy's story?

Thanks to all for the great suggestions.

Cheers, Dougald
steve shea

Jun 24, 2014 - 07:42am PT
Doug Scott rescuing himself. Ogre.

Trad climber
Jun 24, 2014 - 07:49am PT
Chuck Huss on Everest in the 90's. He was on his summit bid, and as his team reached the South Col, they witnessed an icefall rip through a camp on the Lhotse face. They could see a Sherpa lying injured and alone on the snow. So Chuck, an emergency room doctor, sets off alone to traverse over to the injured man. He gets to him and carries him 500 feet or so up the slope to the wrecked camp, sets up a tent and tends to his injuries through the night, which included, as I recall, two broken legs. In the morning Chuck hoists him onto his back and starts carrying him down. Members of the injured man's team meet them just above the icefall and carry him down from there. Chuck was so exhausted from his efforts that he had to abandon his own summit attempt. Chuck was, and may still be, the head of the Emergency Room in Iowa City, IA.

As an aside, he is one of the few survivors of the worst disaster in climbing history. He was part of a huge international climbing extravaganza in Russia. They were told by the Russian sports ministry to camp below some ice cliffs. Chuck and the other 3 Americans refused, setting their camp up in a safer location. During the night the ice cliffs collapsed, and the avalanche ripped through the official camp and swept it into a crevasse field, killing everyone. Something like 50 climbers died. I can't recall the details, but you could probably look it up.

Big Wall climber
Terrapin Station
Jun 24, 2014 - 07:53am PT
Werner Braun for rescuing,....well....everybody!

The Warbler

the edge of America
Jun 24, 2014 - 08:30am PT
I like the self rescue story told to me by Joe Faint of an accident on the Steck Salathe. His partner dislodged a big block on lead and was pinned underneath it with a broken leg. The block weighed several hundred pounds. Joe rigged up some slings under the block and attached them to anchors above on either side of the chimney. Using their two hammer handles he was able to gradually lift the block by twisting the doubled slings one set at a time, locking one hammer handle against the wall while twisting the other.

I believe an unplanned bivi was involved.

They completed the climb and descent unaided.

I see it as heroism on a small scale and I've always been inspired by the tale.

Mountain climber
Anchorage AK, Reno NV
Jun 24, 2014 - 09:10am PT
Dave Nyman's rescue of Jim Sweeney in the Ruth. Perhaps the most badass survival and buddy rescue story I've heard in mountaineering. Period.

Carnegie Medal awarded

citation (doesnt come close to really describing the desperate nature of the events)

David M. Nyman saved James P. Sweeney from exposure and avalanche, Denali National Park, Alaska, April 21-26, 1989. On April 19, 1989, Sweeney, 33, was climbing Mt. Johnson, at a point near Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park, when he fell, fracturing and dislocating a hip. His climbing partner, Nyman, 31, civil engineer, laboriously lowered him to the base of the mountain, where they spent the night. The following day, Nyman left to seek help. He skied to a lodge several miles away and dispatched rescuers, but the next day, April 21, he learned that they could not reach Sweeney. Nyman immediately returned, alone, to Sweeney, believing that evacuation by air was forthcoming. A snowstorm began, causing avalanches, several of which struck Nyman and Sweeney and buried them despite Nyman's repeated efforts, over four days, to secure refuge as they awaited help. On April 25, their supplies nearly depleted, Nyman began to remove Sweeney single-handedly. For two days he would make a path through the newly fallen snow, which would accumulate to about four feet, tramp it down, then drag Sweeney over its course. In this fashion Nyman painstakingly covered almost a mile over terrain that descended 1,200 feet to the glacier; the men were continually threatened by avalanches, one of which deposited them in a deep crevasse. On April 26, they were evacuated by helicopter from the glacier and taken to a hospital. Sweeney was detained six weeks for his injuries. Nyman recovered from marked dehydration and frostbite.

Trad climber
Talkeetna, Alaska
Jun 24, 2014 - 11:42am PT
Indeed, the Nyman/Sweeney is incredible.

Dougald- read the 1984 AAJ article by Robb Kimbrough on the east face of Huntington. He and his partner were avalanched over a cliff on the descent. Kimbrough broke his ankle. His partner John Tuckey tried to go for help and was then avalanched 1000 feet through rock bands from the Rooster Comb-Huntington col and knocked unconscious. He tried to go again a day later but due to his concussion passed out in the snow for the entire day. Tuckey then moved Robb and their camp a mile closer to the base of the col. By then they'd lost all their axes in the two incidents and Tuckey had to use a shovel for an ice axe to climb back up the ridge. He ended up climbing back to the col twice more to yell for help to some climbers camped in the west fork of the Ruth before they eventually were rescued.

Social climber
flagstaff arizona
Jun 24, 2014 - 12:01pm PT
John Wason and partner self-rescuing from high on the West Face of Huntington with a leg and ankle smashed to smithereens by rockfall. Major league epic getting off the mountain and hailing a chopper. 2002.

Social climber
1187 Hunterwasser
Jun 24, 2014 - 12:42pm PT
Not climbing exactly but what about Ammon?
The Larry

Moab, UT
Jun 24, 2014 - 01:49pm PT
I think Ammon has more than one story. Mostly self rescue.

Trad climber
Wolfeboro, NH
Jun 24, 2014 - 04:30pm PT
Werner of Yosar, is not the type to toot his own horn, but I'm sure he would qualify in Spades, as well as recommend many others.
Larry Nelson

Social climber
Jun 24, 2014 - 08:04pm PT
Nyman's rescue of Sweeney

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
Jun 24, 2014 - 08:47pm PT
Peter Terbush. He kept his leader on belay with tons of rock headed his way.

Social climber
Jun 24, 2014 - 11:14pm PT
A couple of corrections and some more info.

Steve Shea.
Doug Scott self-rescued on the Ogre, not Changabang, unless of course he did this twice.

The Warbler
Joe Faint and his partner were hoping to do a new variation on the SS, and so [luckily] had taken a drill and some bolts along. They were attempting this variation, on new ground, when the boulder [chockstone?] fell on his partner. Since they had a drill and bolts Joe was able to place the bolts in a position from which he could "crank" the boulder off his partner's leg. They were unable to complete the climb, and were rescued the next day by winch and cable, and helicoptered off the summit. One of the earlier technical rescues. Word of the accident had reached us in C4, so we all watched the rescue from the meadows. Good luck and good thinking both played a part. Chris Fredericks and John Evans may have been part of the rescue team.

Later that summer I shared a campsite in the old climbers' camp in the Tetons with Joe, and got all the details. We did a few climbs together, including the north face of the Grand Teton in an 18 hour push from Jenny Lake, only the 2nd continuous one day ascent at that time. NFGTIAD!!!

How about Joe Simpson's self-rescue on Siula? As in "Touching the Void"?

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
Jun 25, 2014 - 06:02am PT
our beloved mucci dug lars
out from beneath a pinnacles boulder
with his fingers.

that boy is might, in myne eyes.

and lars ain't feeble either.

Topic Author's Reply - Jun 25, 2014 - 10:49am PT
Great stuff, everyone, thanks very much. You've reminded me of some long-forgotten tales and pointed me to others I'd never seen.

Has anyone ever heard stories of people heroically preventing an accident, versus performing a rescue? I've got one great story of a guy, unanchored himself, reaching over to grab a woman who was about to free-fall to the deck and then pulling her up onto the belay ledge, fueled by hoisting-car-off-baby-style adrenaline. The Peter Terbush story is another example.

I'd love to hear more stories like these if you've got ’em. Cheers, Dougald
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