Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Lives Lost

Today I remember my friends and climbing partners, Sandy Miller and Kathryn “Tap” Rees, who died in a mountaineering accident on the Little Matterhorn in Rocky Mountain National Park on July 31, 1953. We were a party of eight women. We had spent the summer climbing the “high peaks” in the Park and felt ourselves experienced and well-trained.

My friend Tap was directly in front of me. We were, perhaps, hurrying a bit to get to the summit before a storm closed in. Suddenly Tap slipped while we were crossing a steep field of scree (talus) and tumbled 150 feet to the bottom of the slope. The two co-leaders, Joan Brown and Gretchen DeGroot, determined she had died instantly.

They decided the slope was unstable and the rest of the climbers would remain in place under Joan’s direction while Gretchen and the strongest climber, Sandy Miller, would hike out for rescue help. Gretchen later stated that on the way down she and Sandy disagreed about the route to the trailhead, and they separated. Gretchen made it to the ranger station. Sandy slipped on a snow slope and tumbled to her death.

Five of us huddled on the mountain as the storm came in and drenched us. The rocks became even more slippery as they got wet. When a team of rescuers finally arrived, it took us five hours to descend and we traveled the last stretch in the dark. When we arrived at the ranger station, we learned that Sandy was lost in the wilderness. We called our families and then ate a meal in silence. We wanted to wait for the Search and Rescue climbers to return with Tap’s body and news of Sandy, but they were unable to carry out the recovery due to darkness and weather. They did not find Sandy’s body for two days.

Having risked my own life, and having lost two close friends, I can better understand the story that has unfolded on Mt. Hood this past week.


Blogger Cari said...

Wow, I had no idea you went through that. The Mt Hood situation is dominating the news here too. It sounds grim...but miracles happen.

12:19 PM  

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