CALL­ING IN THE AC­CI­DENT

Gripped - - FEATURE -

Af­ter the slide “we didn’t see them, and we yelled and we as­sumed they had been killed,” Tobin says. See­ing no signs of them and un­will­ing to en­ter the avy zone due to the risk of death, he and Blan­chard pre­sumed the worst. Blan­chard re­ported the ac­ci­dent on his phone; soon an Army res­cue he­li­copter “went up and down that area look­ing for signs of life and [find­ing none] de­clared them dead. Which was un­for­tu­nate,” Tobin said.

Deal told me later that his whole fam­ily was no­ti­fied of his demise.

That evening the teams flip-flopped their climb­ing sched­ules: Deal and Hin­ton be­gan climb­ing at night in or­der to re­duce avalanche risk, while Blan­chard and Tobin stuck to day climb­ing. Un­der dark­ness, Deal and Hin­ton made it 700 me­tres up the face. The fol­low­ing day more air­craft be­gan to cir­cle the face but Deal and Hin­ton were far above the search area, out of sight in the cloud cover above.

Since Deal and Hin­ton could hear what seemed to be a res­cue, they didn’t know what was go­ing on. When Blan­chard and Tobin’s heads popped up 500 me­tres across the face from Deal and Hin­ton, ev­ery­one was sur­prised and con­fused.

Af­ter some yelling back and forth, Tobin ex­plained that he thought Deal and Hin­ton were dead and that he and Blan­chard had called in the ac­ci­dent. Blan­chard re­calls call­ing over, “the whole world thinks you’re dead, do you want us to call your fam­ily [to clear things up]?”

To fix their mis­take, Blan­chard and Tobin called in moun­tain res­cue and gave them the news that “the lads,” as he grew to re­fer to them, were in­deed alive. That ap­par­ently wasn’t good enough for the park ser­vice, Deal re­calls; a vis­ual was needed to con­firm that the party was in­deed alive. Air traf­fic con­tin­ued.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Deal and Hin­ton climbed over to Tobin and Blan­chard and, as the teams got closer, an Apache he­li­copter ap­proached the wall for an­other look. Deal and Hin­ton waved to the men in the he­li­copter, gave the thumbs up, and con­tin­ued climb­ing.

For the next five days, Deal and Hin­ton, and Blan­chard and Tobin climbed the re­main­ing 2,600 me­tres up the route.

Per­haps from the stress of sur­viv­ing an avalanche, or from be­ing stuck on the wall for a week and en­dur­ing storms and hard climb­ing, at one an­chor Deal and Hin­ton started yelling at one an­other and punches were thrown. “Af­ter wind­milling at each other, we re­al­ized nei­ther one of us wanted to die, so we got back to the climb­ing,” Deal says.

Tobin re­mem­bers it a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, and also re­calls in­ter­ven­ing. “It just didn’t seem like the right kind of place to come to a fight,” he says. “Later, one of the guys took a 10-me­tre lead fall.”

All four con­tin­ued to climb. On the sum­mit plateau, and with the tech­ni­cal climb­ing be­hind them, Deal and Hin­ton crawled into a crevasse to wait out blow­ing snow be­fore mak­ing the fi­nal sum­mit push. They in­vited the other team to seek shel­ter in the

“Per­haps from the stress of sur­viv­ing an avalanche, or from be­ing stuck on the wall for a week and en­dur­ing storms and hard climb­ing, at one an­chor Deal and Hin­ton started yelling at one an­other and punches were thrown.”

crevasse with them but Blan­chard and Tobin de­clined and set up their tent ahead.

The way Deal de­scribes it, the climb be­came a race for the sum­mit with Tobin and Blan­chard in the lead. The next day Deal and Hin­ton got a late start and by the time they crawled out of the crevasse the other team was gone, only their tracks lead­ing to the sum­mit re­mained.

Months passed be­fore the two teams heard from each other, even­tu­ally con­nect­ing and ex­chang­ing slides.

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