Accident Report Cathedral Peak (7/1/09)


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Viren Perumal

Trad climber
Topic Author's Original Post - Jul 10, 2009 - 01:02am PT
Kathy and Julie arrived at the base of the route probably around 3:30 PM. I later learned that they ran into a party of 2 novice climbers that were scoping out the route for an ascent the next day. It sounds like the 2 were surprised that Julie and Kathy were starting the 700 foot route so late in the, day and decided to stay and watch.

Julie and Kathy had a light alpine rack that they had used for matthes crest, and a ½ rope (8.1 mm) that they had doubled and therefore had 30m of rope (~100 ft) between the 2 of them as they “simul climbed”. Due to the light alpine rack, the skinny line, the late hour and the fact that Julie did not have her helmet that day (she always climbs with one but did not have one that day probably because matthes is a ridge with no rock fall – I had mentioned before I left the 2 of them that cathedral was a good one to have a helmet due to other climbers above) They weighed their options and decided that the route would be within their limits and appropriate to climb that afternoon.

The 2 of them decided that Julie would lead the whole route, as she was faster on Matthes. Julie and Kathy exchanged gear once at a bush a little below the chimney according to Kathy’s recollection. There was a team in the chimney about ¾ of the way up the route and they both decided that they would rather not do the wide crack section and would do a variation to the left of the chimney that may keep them out of the way of the other team and perhaps pass them (speculation).
Kathy was simul climbing and had cleaned 5 pieces of gear when she got to a piton that Julie had clipped a sling to. She was about to unclip the sling but waited till the slack was gone from the rope. Julie was out of sight of her and so nobody (except maybe the 2 unknown guys at the base) witnessed Julie falling so the exact height of the fall is unknown. Kathy just remembers waiting at the piton and then hearing Julie screaming as she fell…. Kathy reached for the sling on the piton and braced for a catch. The rope never came tight on her due to the fact that there is a ledge system at the base of the chimney. Julie landed about 20 feet left of the start of the chimney on the ledge and appeared initially to be unresponsive.
Kathy I’m sure had the unfortunate wave of emotions and sickening feelings that comes with being attached with a rope to a partner that has just fallen to their death. This fall must have occurred around (*** PM).
Nobody knows why Julie fell or how far she fell but since she was climbing really strong that day and because of all her experience it is probable that a hold broke off causing her to lose balance and fall. I don’t have any information about distance between gear placements but I do know there were several pieces attached to the rope between her and Kathy. Also she was wearing a backpack that now has a 90 degree bend in the aluminum stay which appears to have taken much of the force of the impact (which also saved her life)
Julie began to make moaning sounds but was still not awake. Kathy stayed put in her stance as she was no longer “on belay” due to the amount of slack in the system. The team above (Josh and Carrie? Climbers from mammoth) were able to rappel down to the ledge and make contact with Julie – Josh was not medically trained but Carrie had taken a Wilderness First Responder course and the skills learned in that course that they used in their field treatment for Julie probably aided in her success. Julie apparently sat up and was screaming and josh was able to have her lay supine and hold c-spine and get her legs elevated for shock tx.
Julie’s face and head was covered in blood mostly due to a highly vasculated scalp laceration and she was exhibiting symptoms of a head injury. She was screaming that “she was dying” and had sever neck pain and also back tenderness which ended up being a spinal injury (T12/L1)fx.
She sprained her ankle (which was first thought to be a break) and it looked like she may have broken 2 ribs but those appeared to be shadows in the x-rays. She also had cuts and scrapes all over her body indicating not a clean fall but rather a tumbling bouncing one.
Kathy had her cell phone and attempted to call 911 which went through (a miracle in the mountains) and was able to relay details about julies accident and current condition. I am told that this whole time josh and carrie were praying for Julie as they held her head stable and kept her warm with an emergency blanket. YOSAR was dispatched and a helicopter with a medic was sent to cathedral peak from the crane flat helitak pad in the park. The medic stabilized Julie to a long spine board and Julie was “short-hauled” in a litter (flown in a basket on a line under the helicopter to be “plucked off” the cliff). She was packaged into the helicopter, flown back to crane flat where she was met by a life flight helicopter for the flight to DMC in Modesto, CA.
The other 3 climbers were met by the SAR climbing team (including our good friend Ben) and they were aided in rappeling off the cliff.
Meanwhile I had been dropped off by Derek and Scott at their turnoff and was hitchhiking to go get my motorcycle in El Portal around 6 PM Derrick got the call from Kathy about the accident and they took off to look for me but never found me – I got on my bike and headed straight back the way I came to meet Julie and Kathy in mammoth as we had planned. It was almost sunset when I got to the meadows and as I drove by was surprised to see Kathy’s car still at the trailhead parking. It was not really alarming as they had started a long route pretty late in the day but I figured they would be out soon. I parked my bike and decided to hike up the trail to meet them on their way out. It is about an hour hike to the base of the cliff and it soon was getting dark and I did not have a light. I decided to go down and borrow a light and see if my friend Ben (who knows Kathy and Julie) who lives on the YOSAR site would hike in with me to meet them as I was starting to get antsy. I left a note on Kathy’s car to tell them not to leave if they got back. I asked several people for lights including the guys at the guide service and had no luck as it was getting really dark by this point I was getting desperate and saw the flashing lights of a ranger pulling over some poor folks that were driving faster than the 25MPH speed limit through that section of park – I think I cramped his style as I pulled up my bike into is ticketing scene. When the ranger got to me I asked him if I could borrow a light and that I was concerned about my wife and her partner who were out later than expected but I explained they were both competent climbers and had headlamps and warm clothes and could probably get themselves out of a pinch but I wanted to hike in for my own sake to meet them… I told him they were climbing cathedral peak…
To his credit he was very rangerly and straightfaced said “I don’t want to alarm you but there is currently a rescue on cathedral peak – there were 4 climbers involved 3 are being rappelled down the face in the dark and one was flow by helicopter. – He took down my name and had me follow him to the SAR cache.
There I found out that Julie had taken a fall – she was conscious though combative and disoriented but had intact CSM’s at the point that the medic made contact with her – she was flown out to Modesto and no info was known at that point further about her condition.
I was on my motorcycle and had nothing with me I asked to use a phone – and made the phone call I never wanted to make – I was calling julie’s parents in Ohio – probably waking them up and to tell them Julie had taken a serious fall and I did not have any other info…her dad sounded awake when I called and I blurted out what had happened – he told me he knew already- Derek was able to get ahold of julies sister after not being able to find me – she called her parents and was on her way. Dr. Maguire told me that Julie had just come out of a CT scan and was stable and had no signs of serious brain injury or cord injury – his calmness and new info made me feel 100 times better and at this point I knew I just needed to get to Julie –he said matt and jenifer were on their way from merced – and so I got off the phone and I got on my bike not really knowing where the hospital was and as I drove through the meadows saw a 25 mph sign and looked down at my spedo and saw I was at 100…..I decided with my being so amped up to get to Julie – I would most likely also be getting a helicopter ride and probly kill myself on a corner – so I drove 10 miles in the opposite direction to get the RV and pushed that little engine so hard that when I stopped to get gas there was smoke coming out of the tires from the burning brakes on the windy park roads.
That drive was probably the worst moments dark and silent driving the motorhome as fast as it would go down the road by myself with no cell reception and just my thoughts tormenting me. Nausea and head spinning – what happened to Julie – all the questions – myself to blame – if she had never met me she would never be climbing out here….
Got to reception – got directions from matt but was lost – zack penrose one of my best friends woke up in the middle of the night to sit at his computer and walk me through every intersection I would pass on the way to the hospital as he listened to me fully lose it…
In the ER jenifer was by Julie – she was laying there with many tubes and wires sticking out of her – the clothes I had seen her wearing that moring cut off and laying on the gurney and she was covered in dried blood – the ER buisness was mostly done – she was a stable patient –Scalp lac stitched, cervical spine cleared – she was still in a c collar and had a T12 Compression fx and L1 burst fx. I also got a report that she had a few broken ribs and a broken ankle..neither were the case. she recognized me but was still confused amnesia about most of the day – closed head injury (concussion)– she was not all there and kept asking questions that I did not have answers to – jenifer and matt had said she kept asking if she had an IV in her neck..they left to take the baby home when I got there
Julie got transported by a trauma nurse to our new home for the week – 3rd floor west wing – I stood up there all night as she went in and out of sleep – in lots of pian – no heavy pain rx as not to mask neuro symtoms. Clear fluids flat on her back unable to move – she was in the ICU for several days – Unstable fracturs and monitoring for brain trauma symtoms. More tests scans – decisions between surgery and brace

Julie’s parents flew out, my dad drove up, I had many hard phone calls to make I tried to post info on Julies facebook account while she took a nap. Did not really leave her room for …well I am still here as she naps (Monday afternoon)
Matt printed out some of her emails – we read them to her in bed – she felt so loved – many text and phone messages.
Well this is super long so now Julie got her TLSO Brace (Thoraco-Lumbar-Sacral Orthosis) which is a 2 piece clamshell brace that she has to wear all the time – she even has to put it on lying down (which is unusual) we are hoping her fractures heal in a stable way and x-rays in the future show proper bone healing to prevent her from having surgery.

Julie, her dad, and the TLSO Brace
Her next several months will include a lot of pain – being in the brace at all times (except when she is supine in bed) and feeling pretty helpless. It was fun for me to just enjoy being with Julie and feeling so lucky – cutting up jello for her – holding her bendy straw to drink – brushing her teeth for her and getting her brace on and walking her every time she needs to go to the bathroom now – Man I miss the catheder
OK I’m back –
Julie after going to the bathroom since she had her brace on just went for her longest walk – I pushed her in a wheel chair down to this courtyard and she went outside for the first time since the accident and walked a few steps with her walker – she is progressing really quickly.
It will be still several weeks till she is more independent and geusses are a year before fully recovered…our hopes are that she will not need to be dependant on her pain meds for too long.
For the next little while – we will be in Merced at her sisters house – probably going to the coast for camp meeting with her parents and then who knows – perhaps we will take up photography or painting – or just enjoying being together and spending time – things will be slow paced and that is OK with me – I am just lucky to have her alive…
All your prayers thoughts and phone calls have made a huge effect on Julie staying positive and not feeling horrible about being in a hospital – right now she needs prayers for poop – that’s right we have been trying various efforts for BM success – she will kill me if she knows I am sending this part out to ya’ll but she is napping –
Possible discharge tommorow or the next day…all the staff at the hospital (minus her pysician who has seen her for a grand total of 5 minutes in the past 6 days) have been amazing – Julie is pretty convinced that she will be a way better PT after being on this end of things. Give her a call and keep checking on her making sure she is staying psyched about her recovery and how much she is loved and how lucky we all feel to have her in the world

You can reach her at 937-286-4252 or
As far as living in a motorhome well that is no longer condusive for our spine injury patient so the future is still to be determined but we will be in Tennessee this fall as planned – I will teach at the university again and Julie is hoping to be able to be working again by this fall as well
On a more practical note – Julies parents had gotten us a “catastrophe” insurance plan for Christmas as neither one of us were covered by work – (Julie was only when she was on contract as a travel PT and AAI does not)
So we don’t know what all will be covered but I know that theoretically some part of the rescue/hospital/rehab expenses may be covered by that and we feel super blessed about that…I am not a big insurance fan but would encourage all my friends and other guides out there without it to look into it.

In the end we are nothing but THANKFUL…..
To the choices and actions of Kathy and the couple from mammoth (josh and carrie) providing proper field care and activating the evac .
To the speed of the medic and the YOSAR climbing team and the helicopter pilots, to the hospital staff here working to make Julie as comfortable as possible – to our parents for coming out to be with Julie, and matt and jenifer for being so supportive (they brought me my first meal when I didn’t realize I needed to eat anymore) and thankful all our friends and family who have been calling to ask about Julie and give encouraging words
Most of all I am sooo thankful for Julie – she is alive, well (minus the ability to poop) and she is walking – she is not dead or paralyzed which she could easily have been.
I am so lucky to have her and realized so much that I could not live without her…..

Viren Perumal

Trad climber
Topic Author's Reply - Jul 10, 2009 - 01:05am PT
Hey never posted on ST but this document is also a PDF with photos of julie and additional details...

Julie is recovering well at her sisters place - I have gotten off as much time as I need from guiding on the east side and am grateful to spend time with her as she recovers


John Moosie

Beautiful California
Jul 10, 2009 - 01:37am PT

That was some experience. I am really glad that it appears that your wife is going to be okay. I hope that she heals fully and retains her love of adventure. She sounds like an awesome lady. Good luck to the both of you.


Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jul 10, 2009 - 01:41am PT
Wow, that's pretty intense. I heard about the helicopter circling Cathedral from a partner so knew something had happened and then my partner and I climbed the route on Saturday. We were climbing the same variation and came across the accident site. I'm really glad to hear that she's doing alright, the worst came to mind when I blood stains on the rock.

My thoughts are with you all. Good luck with a speedy recovery.


A long way from where I started
Jul 10, 2009 - 01:42am PT

Did you and Julie climb the West Face of North Early Winter Spire in the summer of 2007? Well, stupid question, I guess. How many people from Tenessee that look like you climbed at Washington Pass in 07? Can't be more than one.

So, we've met. You floated by us about 2/3 of the way up the West Face, and Julie came along a few minutes later at the other end of the rope.

I remember the big diamond on the fourth finger of her left hand, and how beautiful she looked as she floated by, leaving the crack, as you had, and detouring around us up the holdless face to the right.

I've been somewhere close to where she is now. Helpless, in pain, not sure that I'd ever walk again, let alone climb, and I know how much it means to hear good wishes from other climbers. So, please pass this on to her, and tell her that everyone out here is pulling for her.

David & Mari

Trad climber
Jul 10, 2009 - 01:45am PT
Sorry to hear about this and I'm glad there is still hope for her. Hang in there.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Jul 10, 2009 - 01:57am PT
Positive vibes to Julie!

Trad climber
berkeley, ca
Jul 10, 2009 - 02:01am PT
I (as well) was climbing Cathedral Pk on Saturday, alone, and the party to my left mentioned seeing the evidence of what must have been an awful sight. I'd guess this was Jason and partner.

Thank you for having the courage to share.

Trad climber
The pitch of Bagalaar above you
Jul 10, 2009 - 02:16am PT
Sorry to hear about this, Hope the recovery is fast!

Social climber
Jul 10, 2009 - 02:26am PT
hey there, bump for julie...

say, viren, oh my... thankful is a mighty powerful word... and you have hit all the bases, too.... alive and able to return to life again, and to function, to do so--folks will be in your corner through this, praying, and sending best wishes now...

here is bump for your contact share:
You can reach her at 937-286-4252 or

*having someone down there praying for her at that time, too, in pre/or mid rescue was sure on-the spot perfect timing, too, along with all the rescue skills...

keep getting well, julie...
think of being a butterfly, after this cacoon experience...
one that lives a full human life though (not a short butterfly one)---and may you "fly" and reach all your dreams, again, soon as you can.... :)

Social climber
No Ut
Jul 10, 2009 - 02:34am PT
Best wishes to Julie for a speedy and complete recovery. Many positive thoughts in your direction too, Viren, so you can be strong for her as she heals.

-Jeff Lowe

Trad climber
Los Angeles, CA
Jul 10, 2009 - 02:40am PT
"I (as well) was climbing Cathedral Pk on Saturday, alone, and the party to my left mentioned seeing the evidence of what must have been an awful sight. I'd guess this was Jason and partner."

Yup, that was my partner Deb and I that you saw up there, and ran into again the next day near the permit station.

Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Jul 10, 2009 - 03:15am PT
"In the end we are nothing but THANKFUL….. "

That's perfect. There is no point in not making the best out of any situation, even the worst one.

Noticed the Blood on the very summit area of Cathedral Peak. Strangely like some kind of blood offering in this pagan cathedral of nature.

WIshing that the experience has lessons and that it brings you closer.



Social climber
Jtree, now in Alaska
Jul 10, 2009 - 07:13am PT
Hopefully we can all learn!

Trad climber
Jul 10, 2009 - 08:34am PT
damn, that's harrowing. positive vibes her way for a full and speedy recovery.

Jul 10, 2009 - 09:44am PT
Thinking positive thoughts for a good recovery !

Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Jul 10, 2009 - 10:08am PT
Best to all of you - Julie, you, her family and friends.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jul 10, 2009 - 10:27am PT
Best wishes to Julie for a speedy and complete recovery.

I stole that from Jello.

Thank goodness she's gonna pull through this. We've had about all the bad news we can take around here this year.

Thanks for posting this for us to share.

Sneaking up behind you...
Jul 10, 2009 - 10:27am PT
Here's wishing a speedy and full recovery!

Trad climber
boulder, co
Jul 10, 2009 - 10:41am PT
Speedy recovery Julie! That was a tough story to read I cant even imagine going through that. You two will be stronger because of this. My thoughts are with you two! Take care.
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