With all due respect to the family and friends of Matthew Greene…..
The following report is factual, though the fact remains that no one knows where Matthew Greene went, or whether he is alive or dead. This report of our recent search assumes that Matthew went into one of the areas he and his friends discussed prior to his disappearance. Given that assumption, and given the facts that we DO know in regards to what equipment Matthew likely had with him, along with the severity of the terrain, I am of the opinion that Matthew is deceased, and we searched for him as such.
This event is a terrible tragedy…..I simply cannot fathom the grief Matthew’s family and friends are enduring. The following report contains information gleaned through years of climbing and SAR experience, and at times is rather blunt. Though some information may or may not pertain specifically to Matthew, for those that know and love him, these facts may cause additional grief, and for that I am truly sorry. Of course, this is not my intent.
As with any tragedy, hopefully there may come something good out of the circumstances…perhaps something learned by someone that may save a life…and save another family like Matthew’s the pain and sorrow they are living today. That would be my hope and prayer.
The opinions posited herein are my own, and should not be attributed to any other entity.
Again, my profound apologies for any additional grief this report may bring. Matt’s family and friends are in my prayers.
"Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end."
These mountains…..they lure us. Their stunning beauty and rawness stir deep emotions in those of us with a passion for the high and wild places. We reach one summit…..and we’re captured……and on the way down, we are plotting our next goal. With each success, we become more addicted…..a true mountaineer has a diet of this stuff that is insatiable.
I don’t know Matthew Greene….but I believe that he could have identified with my words above. And I suspect I speak for most of us here on Supertopo when I say that all of us have likely ventured into the mountains alone, pitting our honed physiques against all the mountains have to offer….and gotten away with it.
Though we may never know, Matthew Greene, in all likelihood, did the same thing, and paid the ultimate price. Though I will speak more to this issue later in this narrative, if Matthew did die in the Ritter Range, he made his biggest mistake by not telling anyone where he was headed.
In October of 1984, a 3 ½ year-old little girl named Laura Bradbury went missing from her family’s campsite at Indian Cove, in Joshua Tree National Park. There was absolutely no information on where she might have gone. This case captured me and would become my first search, drawing me into the world of SAR, which remains a passion to this day.
When I heard the news of Matthew’s disappearance, and the lack of facts known in the case, I immediately thought of wee Laura’s parents…..I’ve never forgotten the look of desperation on their faces. I could not help but think that Matthew’s family and friends were now experiencing that same dread, and there was no question I needed to try and help.
I won’t review all the facts here….they are well divulged on the other thread here on Supertopo. However, after hearing that Matthew had discussed the Michael Minaret area as well as the Ritter/Banner cirque…..had mentioned wanting to get on some ice and snow…… and had left his campsite with only his boots, crampons and ice axe (no bivy gear), I felt a strong leaning towards the Ritter/Banner theory. Frankly, it’s what I would have done had I been in Matthew’s position of wanting a fun, full value day in the mountains, and from all reports, the mileage was well within his capability.
With any search or rescue event, the Sheriff and the SAR team have one critical criteria that is of the MOST value to them……information.
Within any county in the State, the Sheriff is mandated by law to provide SAR services for both residents and guests alike. However, a search will only be called on actual actionable information….not hunches or assumptions. By simply not taking a few minutes to leave information with someone, Matthew tied the hands of the Sheriff and the SAR team.
I was of the opinion that the few bits of information that WERE available, warranted a search of these regions of the Ritter Range that Matt had spoken of…an area I know very well.
I went to my long time friend, neighbor, local climbing guide, and climbing partner, Doug Nidever, and shared the information of the case with him….in hopes that he’d be keen to join me. Just like with the many climbs, rescues, and assorted other adventures in the past, it didn’t take Doug more than 3 minutes to say, “When do we leave?”
Admittedly, I dragged my feet for a couple more days, as I was battling a pinched nerve at C5 in my neck. The Chiropractor was recommending more time…..but what does he know? We were out the door at dawn thirty on Sunday. (11 August)
Leaving from the Rush Creek Trailhead near our homes here in June Lake, we crossed the dam at Agnew Lake, ascended the west flank of Carson Peak to Spooky Meadows, then on up to Clark Pass. We then dropped down to Clark Lakes, with the intention of going to 1000 Island Lake, and skirting it’s south shore enroute to the Banner Peak region.
However, near Clark Lakes we discussed the logic that if Matt had been interested in the glacier on the east face of Banner, or chosen this way to come out, he would have likely utilized the Garnet Lake area and not 1000 Island Lake. We dropped down the River Trail and headed up into the Garnet Lake drainage.
With the trail around the north side of Garnet Lake as the popular route, we chose the faint trail along the south shore….much less traveled and wrought with areas where one might find some potential trouble. Our goal was to get to the tarns above the west end of Garnet Lake and bivouac there for the night. We arrived there at 1530, established our camp, and began scanning the Banner Glacier with binoculars.
I also contacted a couple of SAR members in Mammoth via radio, utilizing the Mammoth HAM band, giving them our position, and also hoping that perhaps more information came in over the course of the day. That, however, did not happen, so our plan was to continue up the peaks the following day.
Prior to darkness, we felt that in all likelihood, Matthew would not have ascended the glacier on Banner’s east face, as it ends at the massive, impassable face, forcing one to retreat straight back down. However, just south of the main face, a small notch with a snowfield above, allows passage to the much-traveled Notch route, that divides the Ritter/Banner massifs. We agreed this would be our route come morning. The notch can be seen between the trees behind me in the picture below.
Searching for a likely deceased subject is a daunting chore…both mentally and physically. Any SAR member will tell you that we live for using our skills to SAVE lives, and thrive on that aspect in order to feed our adrenaline junky personalities. This search was, for the most part, devoid of that. To compensate and lift the mood, a fine bivouac becomes a catharsis. Ideally, this means great location, stunning view, excellent water source, and (especially if I’m along) LOTS of food! We had it all, and were treated to a stunning meteor shower courtesy of the Persiod phase…..GORGEOUS! The night passed wonderfully, with a light breeze and moderate temps. We slept like pigs in mud.
First light is all about one thing…..COFFEE!!!!!!
OK…two things….MORE FOOD!!!!!
At 0830, we shouldered our packs and got back into search mode….facing a daunting ascent of a challenging talus field in order to reach the notch.
I’ve found it best to not search for people, but to search for signs that LEAD to the person. I scan the landscape for color, and more importantly, for things that just seem out of place from the consistency of the search area. With this in mind, I stop every 50 feet or so and do a 360 degree scan. It is especially helpful to look back behind you, as seeing things in the opposite aspect of light often pays HUGE dividends, and in the case of a deceased subject, it would not be hard to simply walk right past the scene.
This style of searching becomes infinitely more challenging in a talus field, and far more dangerous and exhausting. I pick a large boulder 50 feet ahead of me (ideally one larger than those around it, giving a loftier view) focus on each step to safely get there, then do my 360 scan. Then repeat…….and repeat…..and repeat……about a zillion times. Even finding a LIVE person in this type of zone is a challenge…..can you see the searcher in the picture below?
One must keep in mind that MOST of the search area that Matthew may be missing in, looks just like this landscape. The task is, in a word……daunting.
In an hour and a half, we had gained the entrance to the notch, climbing a short section of 3rd and 4th class to reach the snowfield. We focused on the base of each snowfield specifically, looking for ANY sign. It is easy to become myopic in this type of search, thinking that you are simply looking for a body. However, Matthew may have suffered an injury that did not kill him outright. Injured people often lose or drop equipment in their haste to get to help. Finding ANYTHING of this nature would go a LONG way in shrinking the search area, and if we could find something that could be confirmed as his, we could then call in HUGE amounts of resources.
We continued up the snowfield and gained the spectacular ridge above. One of the benefits of being a searcher……the VIEWS!
1000 Island Lake
The Minarets and Iceberg Lake
It was nearing mid-day, so we descended about 300 meters to a nice ledge, and while having lunch, scanned the glacier on the Notch route with binoculars. We also began to scan our next main search area….the cliff band below the Ritter Glacier.
I had been concerned about this area from the start. After a normal winter, the gullies that split the cliff are laden with snow, allowing easy access to the glacier. With last winter’s paltry snowfall, the cliff was entirely melted out, leaving a deadly fortress of loose rock and flowing water. We would have to find a safe way up that, as well as search the base for the possible scene of the end of Matthew’s journey.
With much caution, we descended the rest of this hateful slope…..crossed the hateful base of the Notch route, and entered the equally hateful talus below the cliff band. The picture below shows the ridge from which we came….the low spot on the skyline….and really puts this search into perspective.
At this altitude, a body very quickly changes from the effects of the environment. Weather, the freeze/thaw cycle, animals, low humidity….all these things alter the scene, making it smaller and much harder to see, and susceptible to movement into smaller and smaller places. Again, the word here that seems appropriate is…..daunting.
We moved our away across the base of the cliff, looking for a safe way to ascend.
We ended up all the way over on the south side of the cliff, and utilized the standard route used in low snow years….a mostly 2nd and 3rd class line, with some 4th class as you near the glacier. We ascended this for 1000 feet, and gained the toe of the glacier.
Getting back into crampons was a treat….a fine break from the past 8 hours of dangerous, moving talus.
About a 1/3 of the way up the glacier, Doug stopped to scan the upper reaches of the lower glacier with binoculars, while I continued another 1000 feet to the top.
I did NOT search the HUGE bergschrund….just TOO dangerous. I’d estimate it’s depth at 80 feet.
I found a small piece of cordage on the glacier…..looked to be a shoelace…..but other than that, not a single sign. I quickly descended back to Doug, and we began heading down the mountain.
Doug Nidever, with his ‘nearly’ namesake Nydiver Lakes in the background.
With the lateness of the day, the peak went into deep shadow, which only added to our sullen moods, realizing our search was coming to an end, with no success. Our bodies were aching from the nearly 8000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of 4 miles during the 11 hours of hiking. We were sore, and dejected.
While I pumped some water from a nearby stream, Doug found cheer in the vast amount of wildflower carpeting the lower flanks of the mountain….GORGEOUS!
We headed for the treeline above Ediza lake, and set to lightening the mood with another fine bivy and lots of water and FOOD!
My favorite…ramen and smoked salmon!!!
We were treated to a fine view of the last light of day on the Minarets, and had another perfectly restful night.
Dawn’s first light on the Minarets and Mt. Ritter and Banner Peak
Not long into breakfast, we heard Ed Roski and his SkyTime helo enter the area, and watched as he buzzed the Minarets and Ritter and Banner.
It was tough to turn our backs on the area, knowing that Matthew might be out there somewhere…..we prayed for the other teams still searching, and for Matthew’s family and friends…and thanked God for the stunning beauty of this place.
At 0930 (I know…..LAZY) we began descending down to Ediza Lake, Shadow Lake, and eventually, to Agnew Meadows and our way home.
The Minarets from Ediza Lake
Mt. Ritter from Ediza Lake
Doug Nidever, the Chief Knucklehead, at Ediza Lake
We stopped a few times to care for our most used (and abused) piece of equipment
At 1530, we arrived at the shuttle stop at Agnew Meadows, and bummed a ride to Mammoth Mountain Inn, and by early evening were at home in June Lake.
This event is a profound tragedy. If indeed Matthew entered this area, he has lost his life there. The search for his remains is the ultimate needle in a haystack, and the fact is, no evidence may ever be found. However, as I mentioned on the other thread, we had another case that went 7 years and 3 months, before remains were found….it CAN happen.
In spite of cases like Matthew’s that I have been involved with in the past, I still occasionally go into the mountains alone, with the caveat that I leave detailed information on my itinerary. In fact, I go so far as to leave a list of my gear that I am carrying, including the color of my clothing. I even make a photocopy of the tread print of my shoe…as I said at the beginning of this report, the most valuable tool a SAR team has is GOOD INFORMATION.
I look at going solo in the mountains two ways….using the manner detailed above is like playing Russian Roulette….there is risk, but you are not playing alone, and at least your loved ones are going to know when and where you lost.
Going solo without telling a soul is, in my opinion, so equivalent to suicide. Most suicides happen alone, no one is told beforehand, and above all…..the ultimate victims in a suicide, are the loved ones left behind. They are left with all the questions….the disbelief….and so many things left unsaid.
For months while I searched for Laura Bradbury, I watched her parents agonize over her disappearance. I’m certain that the family of Matthew Greene are dealing with that same level of agony, and my prayers and those of my family are with them.
We don’t know where Matthew went….it’s possible he never entered the mountains, and is out there in the world somewhere. If that is true, hopefully he will be located soon.
Evidence says it is quite possible that Matthew entered the Ritter Range…if he did, he has lost his life there…..but his spirit soars.