Gripped - - FEATURE -

Now out in front, Deal and Hin­ton started up left of the In­fi­nite Spur, and when Tobin and Blan­chard got there they headed more in line with where the route started. “When we saw them go into a drainage, we screamed and shouted at them,” Blan­chard says from his home in Can­more, Al­berta. “We thought, ‘Fuck, what are they do­ing? They’re go­ing into the gun bar­rel.’ There were two to three lay­ers of ser­acs above them. You’d have to hold a gun to my head for me to go in there.” Hin­ton re­mem­bers it dif­fer­ently. He re­calls he and his part­ner meant to head that way but that Deal’s leads and an­chor build­ing were tak­ing too long, thus ex­tend­ing the team’s ex­po­sure time.

Hin­ton de­fends their decision: “We chose this route know­ing the dan­gers, hav­ing mon­i­tored nu­mer­ous slab avalanches rip­ping down the same gully the pre­vi­ous af­ter­noon from 1:00 p.m. [on­ward]. As the slab avalanches were be­ing trig­gered in the af­ter­noon, we planned to climb in the cold of night to re­duce risk of slab or ice­fall col­lapse, and I set a safety dead­line to be out of the rub­bish gully by 11:00 the next morn­ing. We failed to get out of the gully by [then].”

It was noon and con­di­tions on the wall were heat­ing up when a serac col­lapsed, caus­ing a snow avalanche above Deal and Hin­ton who were now 800 feet up the wall.

Deal says, “I looked up and the whole sky above was white with this cloud that was com­ing at us fast.” He yelled down to his part­ner to take cover, then grabbed his own pack, throw­ing it over his head and lean­ing into the wall for cover. When the avalanche ended snow was ev­ery­where: in their ears, mouth, down inside their one­piece suits. The fall­ing de­bris had “pum­meled us and we thought we had bro­ken bones at first,” Deal says. Af­ter check­ing them­selves for signs of trauma and find­ing only bruises, Deal brought up his part­ner and the two called it a day. They crawled into their bivy sacks and waited un­til dark be­fore get­ting back to climb­ing.

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