Downward Bound-Stories of Failure


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Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 5, 2008 - 04:03am PT
I’m sure everyone has them. Some proud, some not, either way they in their own right can make for as memorable a trip up-err, down as any successful one.
Post up.
If you feel, like me, that its time to “just get it off your chest” this is an opportunity not to be missed.


Warning -what you are about to read is true, the names have been changed to protect the guilty…

...We’d made it to Sickle Ledge fairly uneventfully after a too early morning hike up and a long overnight drive from (uh...) Chico.
I’d write about those first few pitches but that is another story, one that belongs in the thread “What’s the worse thing you’ve done in the Valley.”

Anyway, this was back in (Hmm must have been about…) the spring of 1985. There were the 3 of us, Tom, Jerry, and me.
Tom I’d know for years and he and I had been itching to get up the big stone together for awhile. Jerry, well, I had recently met him through Tom, had never climbed with him but was assured that he “has what it takes” so we became a threesome.

As I rapped back to Sickle after fixing the next pitch on our first full day on the climb I was feeling pretty good. Scared yes, for the days ahead, but excited too about finally being where I had only dreamed of being. Yesterday’s fiasco getting to Sickle was over and I’d moved on and was looking forward to a night snuggled in my bag.

However, in retrospect these many years later I should have known at the time that when I pulled my bag out of the haul sack and yanked it out of its stuff sack that things were already beginning to unravel. You see, what popped out of my bag and smashed onto the ledge in so many pieces was a bottle of Jack Daniels which had found its way (unbeknownst to me) into my bag. Tom was pissed-pissed that I broke his bottle, I was pissed-pissed that I now had to sleep in a pool of bourbon, and Jerry was pissed because there was too much glass in that pool to suck up anything that was left.

Somehow we managed to get most of the glass off the ledge and settle into the night. And what a beautiful night is was.

It all ended too quickly as nights do on walls and before I knew it I was back at our high point the next day after and early morning call of nature.

Things went pretty smooth over the next few hours. Tom was slotted for the aid pitches up higher so Jerry and I were swapping leads. I remember being in the Dolt Hole when I heard a loud whummmp explode right above me. Cowering in as tight a ball as I could, thinking any second I was going to get whacked with a falling rock, I hear Tom below me shouting and laughing pointing at the parachute which had just opened 100 ft to our right. Then another whummmp as the second base jumper pulled the line of life. We watched them hit the road below diving into a van with a siren whistling in the distance. Wow, I thought what a wild ride that must be.

Somewhere towards the end of the day, and the end of the Stovelegs Tom and I were savoring the view and our exposed position when from up above and at the end of the rope we hear what sounded like Jerry whining about something.

Yelling up to him, we couldn’t figure it out until finally he screamed, “I’m coming down!”
What the…so lowering him back down to the belay with the haul line tied into the lead rope, we were not expecting what came next. “I can’t go any further”.
“I can’t do it man, I can’t go any further!”
Thinking it was too hard for him, Tom said to me, “right get the f^ck up there and finish the damn pitch. I was all set to go when in a light whimping voice Jerry says, “No man, you don’t understand, I can’t go any further…”

It then occurred to me (though it took a few seconds to register with Tom) that Jerry was freaked. He couldn’t go up any higher. He just COULD NOT DO IT. I don’t know if it was the height, the fear of falling, or what but I could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice that he was SCARED SH#TLESS!

In all honesty I’d been scared the whole time too but was committed to going up. I had that fear under control. Jerry though had had enough.

Man the next few minutes were some of the most intense ones I’d had.
Tom went absolutely nuts. “Whatdoyoumeanyoucan’tf*#kinggoanyfurther!” “Gityourheadoutofyourassandgetthef*#kbackupthere!!!!!”

That was about the time Tom turned to me and said, “You tell him!” I realized then that Tom and my dream of climbing the Nose just wasn’t in the cards.

“Tom, don’t you see, we can’t go up. Look at Jerry man, he can’t do it. We can’t just leave him. We can’t just toss his ass off,” (though that’s exactly what we both felt like doing then and there). I knew that to go any further was a fool’s errand. Jerry had become a liability IN A BIG WAY.

Well, Tom was fit to be tied.
He began yelling and cussing.
“F**k man!”
“Just F**K man!”
Over and over again.

So, at that point we decided the only option then was to bail. I looked up at the sky, it had been late anyway and now after all this dicking around we had probably about 45 minutes of light left. Tom opened the haul bag swearing under his breath that he wasn’t “going to haul any of this sh#t any longer especially down this f**king rock”
He began yanking out jugs of water and tossing them out into space. As I watched the carefully duck taped bottles sail away I managed to grab his arm just in time before the last one slipped from his fingertips.
“Tom, wait, we’d better keep at least one!!”

“Fk it man, fk it!” was all he said.
When we had finally divided up the haul bag into two smaller loads, one in our day pack and the other still in the haul bag- lighter for sure now-Tom had even chucked the cans of food, we sent Jerry down a single line to find the next station for the following rap.

Dark was closing in fast so Tom looks at me and says “give me your headlamp I can’t see sh#t.”
I told him I didn’t OWN a head lamp and he could just dig his own one out of his frick'in bag and get HIS.
At that point we both knew in an instant we were screwed. “I don’t have one,” was all he said.

We looked down and Jerry was dangling at the end of the line messing with the anchors. Tom and I had threaded the rope through our anchor set for the rap. We were both still clipped in. All Tom had to do was toss the other end of the line, zip down it and then I’d clean the rest of the belay and join them both. Hopefully Jerry would by then, be on his way down further to the next anchors.

Well, that was how it was suppose to go, but by now Murphy was along for the ride too.

“ROPE!” yelled Tom “ROPE!” he yelled again, Jerry down below waved and Tom tossed the rope.

In slow motion I still see in my mind’s eye that rope uncoiling on its way down.

Just as it got to the end, just as that whip happens, Jerry looked up.
Tom and I could not believe what happened next…
CRACK went the tip-right into Jerry’s eyeball.


Jerry let go of the rope (he hadn’t anchored himself in yet) and grabbed his head enclosing (what we thought looking down what was left of his eyeball) his face in his hands.
Dangling on the end of the rope we thought for sure Jerry was going for the big ride…

By the time I got to the anchors after Tom, Jerry had recovered enough composure to continue. He said he could still see, “sort of” and “just get me the f**k down!”

Things went (I’d like to say fast) very slow from then on. The sun had set, though there was still a bit of a glow left and both Tom and Jerry were hell bent on getting to the base.

However, it was not to be. I reminded them in a not so calm voice the we “HAVE NO F**KING HEAD LAMPS SO HOW THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO FIND THE GOD DAMN ANCHORS IN THAT SEA OF GRANITE DOWN THERE?”

I managed to convince them of the folly of continuing into the black of night. I sure in the hell didn’t want to be hanging on the end of a rope all night somewhere in the middle of nowhere with my harness clenching in all the wrong places!

One more rap brought us up to a 4 ½ cheek size butt ledge. Unfortunately we had 6 checks between us. We ended up keeping the ropes tied in through the top anchors, did our best to anchor ourselves in on the “ledge”, set up an elaborate sideways hanging haul bag with aiders for our legs and finally relaxed. By now Jerry’s eye was a big concern, though in truth I think Tom and I figured he’d had it coming anyway so it was hard to feel too sorry for him.

Luckily I had some smoke (which after the broken Jack I figured was best kept in my pocket) and we enjoyed the last of the water. The bummer was that the bottle I managed to keep Tom from throwing off was the one we had been drinking from all day so it only had about a quart left. Cotton mouth soon set in…

As we drifted in and out of sleep waking up with a start every time we leaned too far out we passed the night.

However sometime during the night we saw a tow truck with lights flashing hook Jerry’s car up and tow it away. When we saw this happening (what ELSE COULD GO WRONG I thought) we began to yell that “we’re coming down, don’t tow that damn car!!!” over and over again until we realized not only could the driver probably not hear us, but someone else might, and think we needed a rescue.
That was the last thing we wanted so we reluctantly shut up and spent the rest of the night dreading the long walk back to camp.

The night passed, we froze.
By the early dawn’s light we were rapping. Thank god we hadn’t gone any further that night because the anchors were not in a straight line down but wandered off the fall line. We NEVER would have found them in the dark.

Finally, what seemed like eternity we were down on the valley floor freezing our butts off in the cold morning air. It was then that we began the walk of shame.

I figured I go take a look (for some reason) at where we’d park the truck just to see I guess if I hadn’t dreamed the car scene last night. Both Tom and Jerry thought it was a waste of time but we all trudged out to the road.

Low and behold there she was, our ride back to camp! The car towed must have been one either parked in front of ours or behind. Either way finally, something had gone in our favor.

Jerry discovered later that day when we were at the deli that the rope had split his contact lens in half narrowly missing his eyeball. He had spent the last 12 hours with two bits of broken lens scrapping around his eye.

Tom and I have not gone back to the Nose. Though we still climb on occasion, and though we have slightly different memories of that “climb” together, we talk about it now only with fond memories.

Jerry, well I never saw him again. And, frankly don’t think I ever want to.

Barcelona, Spain
Mar 5, 2008 - 07:26am PT
Heh, heh, that was quite an epic. During spring break of '87 my partner and I drove down from Davis to do the Nose, my first wall route. I was concerned since I had tendonitis in my knee from too much running. The first day we went to Sickle and left the pig there, rapped down to sleep. The next morning, a couple of base jumpers scared the sh#t out of us, but at least we got an early start. My knee was pretty bad. Jumaring up, I was hating life. When my partner got to the ledge, I gave him the bad news. So, we had a couple cans of Fosters each, and tossed the pig off. This was of course pretty stupid, and we knew it, but we were not in the mood to lower it, and no one was down there, as we could easily see. Amazingly enough, it didn't ruin the bag (a Forrest model, I think). We got down without problems, and cleaned up the mess.

Went back at the end of June and did it, with no other parties on the route. Had a great time. The first day was pretty hot, but up higher the breezes kept us cool. The peregrines and swallows were good company. My camera battery died, though, so I guess I'll have to go back sometime.
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 5, 2008 - 11:05am PT
"The first day we went to Sickle..."

Any glass still there?


Trad climber
Lee, NH
Mar 5, 2008 - 11:30am PT
Oof, that's an ignominious El Cap story. I had much better luck with a blind-date partner when I first went up there, he turned out to be brilliant. My (relatively few) partner-fell-apart stories fortunately happened on smaller climbs.

Trad climber
Mar 5, 2008 - 11:35am PT
16 years old, 1972 or 3, leaning tower. an old army duffel bag as the pig. no aid experience at all other than the old bolt ladder on the bear creek (?) boulder. No idea about daisy chains or frankly much of anything. I must have taken 3 hours to lead the first pitch. We decided to bail, pulled the rope to rap......dumb, very dumb. When I tried to rap and clean, I ended up 20 feet out from the rock with the rope going down way past the ledge. I was only wearing a one inch swammi. Hanging out in space I started to lose strength and energy, starting to get hard to breath. Finally just couldnt hang any longer and just slowly started slipping down to the end of the rope. My partner kept trying to throw me the haul line to pull me in with no success. I really thought I was done for. Rapped to the end of the rope, past the ledge where I found a bolt. Someone in the past had been as dumb as me. Jugged the haul line back up to the ledge, tossed the pig where we watch it expolde below. Never went back to the tower.

Barcelona, Spain
Mar 5, 2008 - 02:16pm PT
I don't think we saw any glass, but I may have smelled your piss at Camp 6.

Mar 6, 2008 - 10:33am PT
Great tell, Dog.

Thanks for posting it.

Chalkless climber
the Gunks end of the country
Mar 6, 2008 - 12:23pm PT
Classic Post!

Great Narrative.

But slightly mis-titled. In a true failure, you die!

Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.

Trad climber
Denver, CO
Mar 6, 2008 - 02:23pm PT
Sad tale, but wonderfully told. I've not had
bails that bad, but have a couple to my credit--
Actually the worse was when a buddy of mine 'short roped'
me up Northcutt-Carter on Hallet's Peak. I had gotten
three or four pitches up and just lost it there. The
weather came in, and fortunately it was just clouds, but
my bud just kept trudging away on the lead, while I
whimpered up behind him. I bought him a few beers that
night, and we did climb together, though not as often, after
that. Oh, and then there was the time at Seneca when I
was doing a simple 5.5 and then the monsoon hit--dropping temps
about 30 degrees, and me just wearin' a t-shirt and shorts.
Ohhh, it was hard to get off that damn rock without shakin'
myself off it due to the convulsive shiverring I was doing.
My partner then, a real jerk, couldn't stop laughing while I
was becoming hypothermic. Karma got him, though. He tried
climbing the NW face of Half Dome, had his buddy lead the
entire route, (especially since he dropped the damn haul bag).
He's lucky his buddy didn't through him off. . .

chica from chico, I don't claim to be a daisy
Mar 6, 2008 - 08:48pm PT
Delhi D, Andy here. Great read! You should consider a career in outdoor adventure short stories.

When you get back state-side don't forget to bring your boards to Chico for a Lassen back-country spring ski.

Celestino just showed up with a pie, gotta go.

Trad climber
Anchorage, AK
Mar 6, 2008 - 09:04pm PT
Great epic, anything you can rap off of (without rapping off the end of the rope) is all good.

One of mini epics was at Courtright resevoir. I'd read and re-read the articl in rock and ice, and was all fired up to do my first multi pitch granite climb. As I was cheap, not frugal, I convinced my partner we should take his Ford Festiva for the trip from the south bay.

As I recall we left early in the morning, and when we got there figured there was enough day left for the climb. Instead of driving across the resevoir to the top of the dome and descending the gully, parked on the far side of the canyon, hiked down to the bottom then up to the start ledge. I'd glanced at the picture of power dome before heading down, and figured I had the correct start to the route which was supposed to be a 9. Curiously there were more bolts at the start, and it was much harder than a 9, so I "french freed" that section, and lead about 1/2 way up the pitch. I arrived at an old 1/4" thread head with leeper hanger, clipped in, and as far as I could see there was hard face climbing with no bolts in sight. Dark cumulus clouds had rolled in, thunder was heard in the distance, and I figured this was my signal to cut and run.

The funny part was getting back to the campground and setting up a tarp over the picnic table over a line suspended between two trees. Just about as we got the tarp setup, it started to rain, and must have poored for an hour. We just sat there, and waited for it to stop. I don't think we had any rain clothing, and definately not a tent. Since the campground was well and goodly soaked, we ended up sleeping in the Ford Festiva, man was that miserable.

The next day we drove to the top of the dome, descended into the canyon and after a more thorough review of the topo, got on the correct route. I managed to twist my ankle jumbing off a boulder onto a brush obscured sloper in the canyon, but still managed to lead the correct route and get us back out. I was pretty much hobbling around after the twisted ankle, so no more climbing for that road trip.
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 7, 2008 - 05:06am PT
TP writes:
"Dark cumulus clouds had rolled in, thunder was heard in the distance. Who among us hasn't been there, and I figured this was my signal to cut and run."
Who among us hasn't been there.
Thanks for the post.

Ya TIG maybe I should have titled it Stories of Survival, (but then maybe Survival might think they were stories about him...hmmm).
"Any landing you can walk away from is a good one."
Yep, this is my thinking when flying too.

Andy, looking forward to it!

Thanks to the stories above, fun to inamgine...

In another thread I think it’s Who has climbed El Cap the most begins with a tribute to Gerberding (And rightly so too, a great guy!) I noticed besides so many ascents that there were a significant amount of bails too.
These are the kinds of stories I want to hear about. I'm sure there are funny, sad, scary, educational, ballsy, etc... ones however long or short, that we would all enjoy.

Please post some more if you have the hankering.



Mar 18, 2008 - 11:36pm PT
A tale worth a rerun.

Social climber
The West
Mar 19, 2008 - 12:12am PT
That was too fukcing funny, and real-life(!) Delhi!
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 19, 2008 - 02:29am PT
Thanks guys:>)

Interesting how time works in our favor too... hairball at the time, now just a funny experience.
I guess that's why women can have more than 1 kid, time smoothes off the edges of all that child birth pain.

Still waiting for more stories...

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 19, 2008 - 11:36am PT
I have a lot of them...

On our first trip to Canada in 1985 we started in the Bugaboos. The infamous Canadian weather gave us about four good days there the first week, which is great. We had a copy of Fifty Classic Climbs In North America as our "tick list" and failed to tick any of the Bugaboo climbs, in fact, we didn't make it up many climbs at all, a memorable bail-in-the-rain off of Snow Patch Spire is another story.

Well the absolute plumb in that section of the book, at least to our eyes, was Wishbone Arete on Mt. Robson. There is the classic black and white "mountain portrait" of the route, and a great story. We had talked about it in the Kain Hut and someone there said, wisely, "if this is your first time, why not go for the SSW Route with a greater chance of making the summit?" which seemed reasonable, of course we had no guide book for the area.

We stopped off in Banff and found a public library with a guide book. We copied the page that had the route description for the SSW ridge and the picture with the approach marked on it. I remember looking at it and thinking "the fact that it makes a 45º angle is due to the weird foreshortening..."

If you've never been to the Mt. Robson it is hard to describe believably. You are driving Canadian Hwy. 16 towards Tete Jaune, you round a bend and come up on a rise and there is this huge snow mountain dominating the landscape. We stopped in at some inn for breakfast, a Austrian couple ran it, we had that foreboding that sometimes descends on a team when they realize that maybe this is a bit bigger challenge than it seemed back at home reading the descriptions.

After that meal we drive out and chat with the wardens, seems the weather is unsettled, but they had reported seeing a team on the way to the summit recently, not seeing what happened because of the weather. The recounted the year's successes and failures, more failures, and I recall some discussion of rescues and death (though this might just be a post failure-to-summit memory).

We get our stuff together, we are not sure we'll be able to stay in the hut, so we grab up all our tentage, and cook kit for camp on the SSW Ridge. Oh, perhaps I missed describing the change in our plans... from the Wishbone. There is a certain kind of decision that gets made collectively, but with no words passed between team members. Just sitting at the overlook and surveying the mountain, and the Wishbone is very visible, well, we all decided individually that perhaps the Wishbone was not in the cards this trip.

Anyway, we pull on our huge packs for the approach and up the trail we go.

It is a nice walk until we get to the turn off. At this point it doesn't take very long to notice that the 45º trail is not to far off of reality. We're clawing our way up the slope pulling on vegetation, until that runs out... just gassed. We've taken a liter of water each, assuming we'll replenish supplies along the way. At some point we're licking moisture off of moss inside of little recesses.

I remember slowly making upward progress, kicking a rock loose and watching it bound into the abyss below thinking about not f*#king up. Eventually our party of three is strung out along the trail. I'm last... after an eternity spotting the hut, and then after another eternity arriving.

The Japanese team that is already there has tea for us, there is no more wonderful a gift than tea after such an ordeal. I think it took us 13 hours to negotiate up that trail. Our arrival reveals that the hut is open, and has a full complement of cooking equipment and fuel. Nice conditioning hike for us to bring up all that stuff!

I'm starting to shiver uncontrollably after the exertion, so I crawl into my sleeping bag, trying to hydrate. Reading the log book at the hut we find that our transit was direct, and not so slow for a first time. There are stories of people getting lost for days on the approach. There is the sad story written out about a climber we had thought was Gloria Vanderbilt's son [see Clint's correction below] who came to climb the Wishbone and was never heard of again. There are tales of Robbie Rodent, the hut's rat, and the mischief he creates, which we live later that night....

Not to make this overly long... the next day we start up the ridge, everyone moving slowly, we should have rested more, but we feel that we can at least recon to the top of Little Robson. This is real Canadian Rockies mountaineering, covering ground that is essentially stacked loose rock glued together by ice. We're finding old fixed ropes, the scenery is awesome, and we make the top of Little Robson about the same time as the clouds do in their descent.

Lawrence is the young guy of the team, "let's go up a little higher and see what's there!" Mike and I are all: "it's clouds up there, we're not going to see anything" an on que the debris of an avalanche trickles down a gully away to the right. We're not going up today...

Back down to the hut, good eating, always good eating.

That night was fitful, the wind blowing the guy wires making a noise that Mike thought was goats eating rock all night long. The next morning, we can't read the weather, not blue skies, but not snowing either... we decide to descend.

On the hike out, after hitting level trail on an equally epic descent, we look over our shoulders at the thinning clouds and see one of the most beautiful summits smiling at us from on high. This is not a gloating sort of smile, but a friendly, wistful smile. We should of stayed and tried again.

I still think that someday I'll return and make the summit. Now those "somedays" are running out... but it is one of my best mountaineering memories, that failed trip up that mountain.

Trad climber
Grass Valley Ca.
Mar 19, 2008 - 01:05pm PT
O.K., here is a story of my Failure and my brother's success..Cracko, Festus and Jacko head for East Face of Mnt. Whitney, I think 1992..We camp at Upper Boyscout instead of going to Iceberg Lake.The next morning were up early and headed for the climb..We get to the Tower Traverse and I get an attack of Nerves and Run like a little girl down to Iceberg Lake, leaving Cracko and Festus to do the climb..I sat at Iceberg and watched them going up the Washboard,and I decided to walk around to the Northwest flank's thinking it might be an easy walk-up and I could meet them at the Notch Of the Mountaneer's route on there way down.Got up close to the Notch and could see lot's of snow and Ice above the Notch.With a Pounding headache I gave up and went all the way back to Boyscout Lake(Yelling at the Brother's as I went by the East Face, that I would see them back at camp)They were moving up the Grand Staircase at the Time.I got back to the Tent took some Asprin and crashed..I woke up at around 1:00 in the Morning, called for the brother's and heard nothing, they were not back..I quickly got my clothes back on and headed back up the wash to the East Face.Had I not been scared shitless for my brother's well being,it would have been one of the most amazing Hike's I have ever taken.A perfect calm moonlit night,with the East face glowing..I got to the base of the climb and yelled for 15 minutes,Never heard a word from them or anyone else.I was truly alone in this beautiful place..(Later I would find out that while I was searching for my brother's in the middle of the night,Those Bastards were Sleeping on a bed in a F-ing Motel in Lone Pine)They had made it to the top, got shut down on the retreat from the summit to the Notch of the MR do to Ice.They were forced to go down the Trail and had no way of letting me know..I woke up at first light from boyscout,packed everything I could fit in my pack and headed for the parking lot to get a Rescue going..Just above the Creek crossing I ran into Festus. Total releif and a little bit of anger about the Motel thing.Festus headed up to get the rest of our gear while Cracko was already halfway to Lancaster after a good night's sleep on a F-ing bed...2 year's later the 3 of us would go back to the EF, make the summit return down the MR with no Epic....Jacko
Delhi Dog

Trad climber
Good Question...
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 21, 2008 - 12:24am PT
Hey thanks for sharing guys.
Ed, that is beautiful country up there no doubt.

"I still think that someday I'll return and make the summit. Now those "somedays" are running out... but it is one of my best mountaineering memories, that failed trip up that mountain."

That's what I mean, some of the best memories do not always include summits (though those are fine too). As always its the journey that counts...

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 21, 2008 - 01:26am PT
Lawrence with Mt. Robson in the background, you can see the Wishbone Arete.

Mt. Robson on the approach, the Great Couloir has the ice decending it, the peak to the right is "Little Robson"

Lawrence and I rest at the tree line...

On the approach... steep ground.

In the upper part of the bowl with the hut on the ridge line above

Lawrence with the hut in the background, amazingly far still...

Mike and Lawrence talking after dinner, the Japanese climber's camp in the background.

Looking down the ridge on our ascent, the hut is visible as a small white rectangle...

Trad climber
sorry, just posting out loud.
Mar 21, 2008 - 01:42am PT
WOW! the enormity of that formation is monstrous!

thx for the pics.
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