The Bachelor Party
by Gary Peterson

It started innocently enough, Carrie, my fi ancée, suggested that I get together with some of my friends and have a party to celebrate our impending nuptials. I had other thoughts, however, and quickly rallied a few friends for a quick climbing trip. I would be joined by Ed, a faithful companion on many epics, Jim, an ex-pat Aussie visiting from Japan, and Paul and Mike, both well- seasoned alpinists.

We picked an easy objective in the Tatoosh Range for a number of reasons, foremost being that it was an easy drive from Portland, had a fairly short approach, and Mr. Beckey described the routes on Pinnacle Peak as fairly good. We made short work of the drive, and had coffee in the parking lot as we racked up. We made plans to travel as a team of three on one route, and a team of two on another route. The approach was a great warm up, and allowed us to all get a feel for each other. Paul was super-stoked, and feeling more motivated than anyone else. He made a passing comment about soloing one of the routes to make sure we moved fast. After looking at the chosen routes and the horribly fractured, chossy rock that they were on, we were able to convince him to lead with a cord so he couldn’t get too far above and knock stuff down on us. We third- and fourth-classed up to a semi-good belay ledge, and with substantial effort were able to build a belay for the start of the fi rst pitch. Unfortunately, the belay consisted solely of a couple shitty, small stoppers in highly-fractured rock. I belayed Paul as he set off, and Mike belayed Ed as he led another route nearby.

Both started on some of the shabbiest rock I had ever seen and I silently implored Paul to place a piece of gear. He was eighty feet off the belay ledge when he fi nally placed his fi rst piece. It looked like crap from the belay ledge, though, so I yelled at Ed on the next route over to place more gear, hoping that Paul would pick up on my angst and place more as well. Paul moved quickly and confi dently for another eighty or so feet to a good size ledge, mantled up on it and I breathed a big sigh of relief. Ed was off about twenty or so feet to his right, about twenty feet below the same ledge, when I heard a horrifi c sound followed by a blood-curdling scream. I looked up to see Paul, holding a refrigerator-sized block arcing backwards off the ledge, the fridge pushing him downwards. I yelled “ROCK!” and looked over to see Mike and Jim staring in disbelief as Paul began bouncing down towards me. I realized that the force of the fall was going to rip every one of us off of that ledge, as we were all relying only on two crappy stoppers. I reached over and quickly unclipped myself from the belay anchor; it was obvious that Paul was falling to his death, and that he was taking all of us with him, so I was going to cut the losses and maybe he’d only take me. “That’s probaly going to piss Carrie off,” I thought, as Paul and tons of rock bounced past me. He kept going, and I locked off the belay device and prepared to plummet. His sole piece held, though, and the next thing I knew, I was hanging a few feet off of the ledge and Paul had stopped yelling.

I was freaked, but went into autopilot. I lowered myself down to the belay ledge and told everyone to hang tight. Ed was above, afraid to move, as the rock had fractured all around him. I put in a knifeblade pin below the two stoppers and tied off Paul. I said a quick prayer, untied, and rapped down to Paul.

Paul was drifting in and out of consciouseness when I arrived and blood was everywhere. There was a party of two approaching up the talus fi eld below when I arrived, and they agreed to go for help. I attended to Paul as we hung there and I used up as many bandages, and pieces of clothing as I had to stop the bleeding. I knew Paul had fallen hard because I had seen the whole thing, but what really drove it home was the fact that I had to dig a cam out of Paul’s thigh, which, once recovered, had bent cam lobes! I got Paul hooked up onto me and rapped with him to the talus below. As soon as my feet touched the ground I carried him off to the side so neither of us would get hit by more rock fall. Ed managed to get in an anchor and rap down to the others and then arrange another rappel back to the ground.

One by one, they joined me on the ground. Ed was last and I hugged him like he was the last human on earth. We shared about six cigarettes in a speed-smoking frenzy, our bodies needing the nicotine to replace the depleted adrenaline. We got Paul stabilized just as the Park Service Paramedics arrived. We decided to slide Paul down the talus slope in a stokes litter and we all pitched in to wrestle him down. We fi nally hit the trail and Paul was whisked away, fi rst by ambulance, then by helicopter. Paul arrived safely in Portland later that night before we were even able to call our signifi cant others and let them know why we were going to be late for dinner. The long drive home that night was unbearable. We all had to routinely explain why we climbed to our loved ones and we were trying desperately to fi gure out how to put a positive spin on the day. It was going to be an uphill battle to get out again anytime soon.

Gary Peterson, besides boasting a world-class climbing resume, including peaks and routes all over the planet, Gary is also a senior account manager at Omega Pacific.

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