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reed magazine logoMarch 2010

On the Ledge Continued

Sofitch climbing

Sofich and climbing partner Chad Anderson before heading up to Dorado Needle.

Courtesy of Ray Belt

The climbers woke just after dawn, breakfasted on energy bars, sipped coffee brewed from melted snow, and drank in the panorama of ice-encrusted peaks glistening like multifaceted jewels in the first light of day. Traveling light, carrying only bare essentials, they set off for Dorado Needle at seven that morning. Roughly two hours later, Anderson began ascending the pillar, clipping the rope that was knotted to his waist harness into metal chocks and expanding mechanical cams he inserted into cracks for protection from falls.

As his partner advanced upward, Sofich paid out rope from a coil at his feet, shouting encouragement from below. At first, the climbing seemed almost effortless. Anderson danced up the face until he reached the end of their 200-foot rope; then sitting on a ledge, he reeled up the rope as Sofich followed and “cleaned” (removed) the fixed protective gear. Within an hour, Anderson was dangling more than 600 feet off the ground, when he reached an impasse: a massive outcropping of overhanging rock (called a “nose”) that blocked his way upward. Wedged beneath the obstruction, he gingerly maneuvered onto the rock face, intending to climb around the nose by jamming his hands and clipping his rope into a crack that, according to his guidebook, was supposed to run up the face of the buttress.

Except that the crack wasn’t there.

Panicked, Anderson called down to Sofich, who was standing on a sloping slab of rock 175 feet below and yelled back that his partner had probably wandered off the established route.

Unable to climb back down, palms sweating, forearms knotting with lactic acid, Anderson struggled to find his next move. Desperate, he lunged upward for a handhold. But as soon as he weighted the flake, it peeled away in his fingers, pitching him backward, sending him cartwheeling head over heels onto a narrow ledge 20 feet below, where he landed hard, tail first, impaling his right gluteal muscle on a dagger-shaped shard of rock.

“I remember tumbling and tumbling, hitting something, and eventually the rope stopped me,” recalls Anderson. “I tried to sit up but my ears were ringing, I was feeling light-headed and nauseated. I remember Rodney calling up, ‘Chad, are you okay?’ ‘I’m fine,’ I squeaked out. But I wasn’t fine. I didn’t know I was bleeding.”

Sofich scrambled up and found his partner sprawled on a narrow ledge, slumped in a pool of crimson blood beside the rock spear.

“Suddenly, he wasn’t my climbing friend who I shared beers with,” Anderson says. “Rodney went into guide mode. He was stone-faced, which is good, because you don’t want your rescuer to get all emotional. He got matter-of-fact and said, ‘This is what we need to do.’”

Following the tenets of wilderness first responder training, Sofich stabilized his patient, dressing the wound—the rock had sliced through layers of tissue and muscle—with a quartered handkerchief and staunching the flow of blood by cinching the harness tight. Although Anderson was conscious, he exhibited symptoms of shock and could barely stand, much less climb. It was clear that he needed immediate medical attention.

Sofich’s first order of business was to move his friend down to the less exposed—and more accessible—sloping rock face where he’d been standing when the accident happened.

reed magazine logoMarch 2010