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reed magazine logoMarch 2010

On the Ledge Continued

“I told him, ‘This is going to hurt. I’m sorry, but I have to do this,” recalls Sofich.

He gently lowered Anderson on the rope, then downclimbed to the sloping slab, while his friend tethered himself to a nylon sling looped around a chockstone. Sofich checked his cell phone: no service. He would have to seek help himself.

Which meant he’d have to hike out alone and somehow reach the ranger station at Marblemount—a 20-mile drive from the trailhead—before dark. Otherwise Anderson would be stranded on the ledge for an entire night, if not longer. (During the Mount Terror mishap a few weeks earlier, one climber endured four miserable nights on the mountain after a freak July blizzard grounded search and rescue efforts.)

helicopter lift

Later that day, Anderson was lifted out by helicopter.

courtesy of National Park Service

Sofich sat his friend down on a foam pad, bundled him in his fleece jacket and insulated coat, leaving him the first aid kit, all their food (a few energy bars) and all their water (two quarts). Then he said goodbye and rappelled over the edge, pulling the rope down after him, leaving Anderson uncomfortably slung in his harness, staring out at the peaks of the North Cascades, alone with his thoughts while his blood trickled down the sloping rock face.

“I wasn’t in my right mind because I was shocky and nauseous,” recalls Anderson. “But I remember clearly fearing for his safety because he had to walk across three glaciers of crevassed terrain and over snow bridges that potentially could collapse. I thought, ‘My God, if he dies because of my sorry ass, I’m gonna be really pissed.’ I was really, really freaking out.”

Sofich didn’t walk. He ran, racing the sun, picturing his friend sitting on that ledge alone. He ran across precarious snow bridges and boot-skied down the slope leading from Dorado Needle. By the time he reached their bivouac, he had an agonizing thirst, but decided it would take too much time to set up the cookstove and melt snow for water. Instead, he steeled himself to run his own personal backcountry marathon, the endurance event of a lifetime. Before long, his mouth was parched, his legs were burning, his lungs were screaming. And his mind was racing.

“I’m trying to think about my years of learning about rescues, that oftentimes rescuers end up getting themselves hurt or killed,” Sofich recalls. “I had to slow things down and put things in perspective. I’ve got to take care of myself because if I get hurt, Chad doesn’t get saved. I went through the whole range of emotions. I was scared. I was nervous. I was pissed. I’m thinking, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Am I going to be quick enough?’”

Burdened with 25 pounds of gear, his friend’s fate weighing heavy on his mind, Sofich ran for hours, pausing only to check his cell phone (always no bars), and scoop handfuls of snow into his mouth. Slaking his thirst from a pool of brackish snowmelt near a trail junction, he spied a lone figure on the trail to Eldorado Peak. Should he sprint after the climber to ask if he had a working cell phone? Should he try summiting the peak himself to increase his chances of acquiring a signal? Considering the hours he’d lose if his side trip proved fruitless, he continued down the mountain. “Those were unknowns,” explains Sofich. “The known was that I could get down and get help.”

He leaped over crevasse after crevasse like a track star clearing hurdles. Further down the trail, he encountered a trio of climbers on their way to Eldorado Peak, and paused long enough to ask if anybody in the party had a working cell phone (they didn’t). “What’s going on?” one of the climbers shouted.

reed magazine logoMarch 2010