Nick Hall, known by many as “Cliff Dogg”, was a unique person. A natural leader that everyone around trusted and could rely on. Cliff was a man of few words. His calm demeanor and dry sense of humor instilled a quiet confidence in those lucky enough to have spent time with him.
As a Climbing Ranger and my shift lead on Mt. Rainier, this was Nick’s fourth season with the Mt Rainier Climbing Program. In the winter, he worked as an Avalanche Forecaster for Yellowstone National Park. He was also a veteran of Steven’s Pass Ski Patrol, the Mt Baker Climbing Program, and the United States Marines. Nick was a professional.
Nick's dog Grommet even tagged along on some of his adventures!
I will be brief. On Thursday June 21st, 2012 in a highly technical upper mountain rescue, Nick was preparing to load the second of four patients into a litter that would be hauled up into the belly of a hovering CH-47 Chinook, but amidst an empty litter being battered around by howling winds and icy conditions on the upper Emmons glacier, something goes wrong. Nick and the litter fall 2500’ down the Emmons. I was not in the park at the time of the operation.
Our Time Together
I first met Nick Hall in July of 2011. I spot a Climbing Ranger opporunity for Mt Rainier posted online in an AMGA newsletter, and apply.
After running up Denali in eleven days with one of the few climbing partners I’ve had the privilege of tying in with of Nick’s caliber. Vitaliy Musiyenkio, and I fly from Anchorage to SFO, and drive 13 hours directly to the White River Ranger Station in Mt Rainier National Park. Capitalizing on our acclimatization and vacation time… Vitaliy and I fly up Liberty Ridge with ease! We summit from Thumb Rock and are back down to the car even in time for pizza in Packwood! I think Vitaliy may have even had a beer. A great consolation prize to scrapping our plans on Denali’s West Rib. While in the park, I check in on the Climbing Ranger opportunity, and never return to my desk job from my Alaska vacation.
Vitaliy and an Italian couple drinking Pepsi at 18,500', that we summit with via the West Buttress. Denali. June 2011.
Vitaliy leading alpine ice above the Black Pyramid on Liberty Ridge. June 2011.
A week later I’m back on the Eastside of Rainier, on my first NPS patrol with Nick. We try to climb up and over the Emmons and back down to Camp Muir but are turned around in white-out conditions.
I spend the next four months rangering around Rainier’s westside based out of Camp Muir with Nick. I summit Rainier 9x that summer, usually with Nick. Neither of us are very strong rock climbers, but we’re both motivated and mesh as partners. On our days off, we climb mixed free and aid routes around the Pacific Northwest.
Nick enjoying a foot massage after a hard day of saving lives. Camp Muir, July 2011.
Nick leading the 5.9 corner on the 9th pitch of Liberty Crack (V 5.9 C2), Liberty Bell, Washington Pass. August 2011
Nick and I on an impact survey of Camp Hazard and the Turtle Rock high camps below the Kautz Glacier route. We approached via Comet Falls and Van Trump to enjoy the waterfalls, and Rainier’s signature alpine meadows in full bloom. I highly recommend this approach in the late season. October 2011.
Leading my first real aid pitch. Town Crier, Upper Wall, Index (IV 5.9 C2+). August 2011, photo by Nick Hall
Nick on an upper mountain patrol, crossing a ladder over the final shrund before the crater rim. It’s hard to tell but there’s a big grin plastered on his face. July 2011.
Fall 2011, Nick and I eventually find ourselves in Yosemite National Park. We get on the Prow on Washington’s Column. For both of us, this is our first “big wall” and we climb it uneventfully over 3 days… sans North Dome Gully.
Nick and I hiking loads the to the base of the Column. October 2011.
Myself, Nick Hall, and Eitan Green who we unexpectedly run into at a crowded belay ledge on the Prow. Eitan is an all-star guide that works for Alpine Ascents on Rainier and always has a smile on his face. October 2011.
Update: Sadly, we also recently lost Eitan while he was guiding Liberty Ridge. I struggled with the dilemma of whether or not to leave this photo and words about Eitan in my report but ultimately decided to leave it as a testament to him and his character, as I wrote this before the accident on Liberty Ridge occurred. Although we weren't great friends, he was someone that also left a lasting impression on my life.
Initially when I set out to solo a wall in Yosemite, I want to solo the South Face of Washington’s Column over two days. However, I realize it will not properly prepare me for longer and harder grade VI routes. Unwilling to purchase the wide gear required for the 12th pitch of Zodiac… I decide on Ten Days After on Washington’s Column.
Ten Days After shares it’s upper and lower pitches with the Prow which I’m already familiar with, I can dedicate this climb to Nick, and it will prepare me for harder routes on El Cap! Perfect!
This ultimately leads to my decision of choosing Ten Days After as my first rope solo. After all, if it weren’t for Nick, I would have never contemplated dragging heavy bags of water to the base of the Column by myself! Praise Jah!
I spend a lot of the time on the Internet in the Curry Village Lounge. I cipher through the forum exchanges of Pete Zabrak and Mark Hudon’s and finally conjure up a plan and set of systems in my mind that I think will work to get up the route. At this point, everything is still theoretical.
Having never self-belayed a pitch of free or aid before in my life I shamefully start up the splitter .10a lieback corner of the Prow in aid-mode. I want to free climb more confidently, maybe next time. My mantra is Do Not Fall. I know how much a fall can potentially set me back. I’m mostly worried about mental setbacks, it’s been a while. I settle back into the groove of wall climbing continuing up the Prow’s first two pitches to avoid the mungy start of Ten Days After before traversing right on rivets on to the route proper.
I tie my haul line and my lead line together, and fix from the top of the 3rd pitch of Ten Days After. It rains the day after fixing, and I’m relieved. I get to drag it out some more. I know it’ll take me at least three days from here. I’m scared to commit.
Hiking loads to the base of Washington's Column by myself.
The Prow intersects Ten Days After (V 5.8 C3/A2+) on a traversing rivet ladder at the top of the 2nd pitch.
(left) Nick Hall leading the 2nd pitch of the Prow, October 2011.
(right) Looking down the same pitch self-belayed before traversing out right on to Ten Days After via the rivet ladder. May 2014.
On Ten Days After now, my anchor at the top of P2.
Running low on gear on the 3rd pitch, I placed this.
Looking down the 3rd pitch. Some underclinging cam hook moves get me from the fixed pin in the photo to the bomber 3/8” ASCA bolted belay where I shoot this from. Later in the evening while rappelling my fixed lines, I get the privilege of passing a knot free hanging far enough away from the wall I can’t stop from spinning, while a sump of water soaks me from above, in the dark. McTopo don’t lie! Pitches 3 - 5 are steep!
After the low pressure exits the Valley, I return to my fixed lines and begin the jugfest. Pitches 4 and 5 continue up the overhanging dihedral. Both go clean with cam hooks.
Tomorrow I have planned as my hardest day. I have a horizontal pitch I’m worried about cleaning, and the seventh pitch, nailing crux. I don’t have much experience nailing, other than some beaks before bailing off Wet Denim Daydream with Nick in 2011. I setup my ledge for the first time on the route at the top of the 5th pitch, and pass out.
The next morning as I’m racking up and about to set out for the day, I hear a climber in the distance.
I think to myself “that sounds like Vitaliy”, but quickly dismiss the thought as Big Wall Delirium. It’s lonely up here. I lead out on my traversing pitch for breakfast. Shortly after, I glance over at Astroman and see an orange helmet.
There’s a long pause…
The last time Vitaliy and I climbed together was on Liberty Ridge, and it’s been three years now. I just recognize his helmet color from photos online. It’s exciting to see an old friend; even better is the time and place. Vitaliy and I exchange a few words, and snap tons of photos of each other. My doomsday mood is instantaneously gone.
The following pitch is the crux of the route. I take my sweet time but it goes by smoothly and setup my ledge again at an exposed hanging belay for my second night on the route at the top of the 7th.
I can see the lights from Yosemite Village on the valley floor from here, they’re beautiful. My “big day” goes by relatively flawless. And other than some sheath damage to my haul line from rappelling the horizontal pitch, it’s a great day!
More underclinging camhooks starting pitch 4
Pitch 5 belay
Leading off on Pitch 6, after my first night on the wall.
Vitaliy sending Astroman (V 5.11c).
Vitaliy and his partner Cristiano, leading.
Myself on the traversing Pitch 6 of Ten Days After, photo by Vitaliy.
Re-aiding and cleaning pitch 6, having a great day. Photo by Vitaliy.
The crux of the route. I nailed 3 Lost Arrows, and a medium beak. The route traverses out right underneath the roof but I’m able to camhook and back-clean through this section to keep my rope running straight over the roof for easy cleaning. One nice aspect of rope soloing is you don’t have to worry about rope drag. The .10a lieback first pitch of the Prow, can be seen in the upper right of the photo.
The next day is supposed to be my rest day. All I have to do is link pitches 8 and 9 which are supposed to be easy and will be re-joining the Prow. I also plan to sleep on the ledge at the Tapir Terrace, so no hanging belay ledge setup like the previous nights. I know if I have problems today, it will because I’m linking. When I arrive at the 9th pitch intersection of the Prow, I consider for a moment hauling from here but decide the payoff of linking is worth the risk.
I enter into mandatory 5.6 free climbing just before Tapir Terrace and my ropes are pulling down on me, hard. I can’t figure out of if it’s because I’m free climbing and the GriGri I’m self belaying with isn’t feeding, or is my haul line that’s barely 50 meters, too short? Unable to tell, I become worried. After several minutes of thrashing around, I yard up on the slack end of my lead line disconnecting it from the haul line in the continuous loop I’ve been climbing on. I clip the end of the haul line into a fixed copperhead and pull up 20’ of slack in my lead line and clip into a knot. I take myself off the GriGri belay, scramble up, clip the belay bolts, and take a breath.
I end up hauling the bags up on the free end of lead line, with the haul line connected. I pass the connection point using a prussic and finally the bags arrive at Tapir Terrace. I knew I’d pay for cutting that rope too short some day!
At least I don’t have to set up the ledge tonight! I tidy up Tapir Terrace and run a fixed line from the belay anchor 30’ out right to some rotten quarter inchers on the bivy ledge, inhale some cold Trader Joe’s Choley Dhal, pound a gallon of water, and enjoy as the alpenglow sets Half Dome on fire.
(left) Lowering Nick out on the pitch leading to Tapir Terrace. October 2011.
(right) Lowering myself out over the same ledge after re-joining the Prow from Ten Days After. May 2014.
My sloping bivy on Tapir Terrace. I wake up several times to find my tie in point weighted from slowly sliding off the ledge through the night. The ¼” bolts over there have seen better days…
The remaining lower angle pitches finishing on the Prow go relatively uneventfully and I top out after four days. I take zero falls as planned, and fail less than five bounce tests. On top of the Column I meet Alix, Jim, Matt, and Antonio who are all topping out on Astroman together. It’s great to meet them. They even help me carry my portaledge and ropes down the gully! These guys are amazing!
My duct tape repaired haul line.
On top finally. Jim and Alix top out shortly after this on Astroman and help me carry my gear down.
There is no doubt in my mind that if it weren’t for the time I spent with Nick or the inspiration I still gather from him today that I’d of been capable of this climb. He is still someone I still aspire to be like, and is on my mind often. Especially when stressing over the difficulties of a committing undertaking such as this climb. I've often found myself getting so busy mourning what’s gone, that I've ignored what's not.
I’d especially like to thank Jim Reynolds for helping me down North Dome Gully, Vitaliy for the climbs we did together in preparation for Denali and the photos for this trip report, Peter Ellis for always taking the high ground, Ian Katz for always being there, Shasta Base Camp crew for Jah love, Chris Kennedy for making me laugh, Nate Bucholoz for being real, Aaron Sieczkowski for being patient and teaching me how to place a cam =), Scott Berry for the Mission Patches ;-), Ray Williams for always being down for a roadtrip, the Hall family for raising an amazing person to make such a lasting impact on my life, and YOU for making it this far in the trip report.
Donations in honor of Nick Hall can be made through the following accounts. Cards and condolences may also be sent to either address as well.
Nick Hall Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 431
Patten, ME 04765
Please make checks payable to Nick Hall Memorial Fund. Donations to this fund will support search and rescue in Maine and assist the Hall family with travel expenses.
MORA Search and Rescue Fund
55210 238th Ave E
Ashford, WA 98304
Please make checks payable to DOI-NPS and note that the donation is in honor of Nick Hall. Donations to this fund will support search and rescue at Mount Rainier National Park.