Written by Ted Alexander
August 3 2010
On July 29 a guided party from the US based company Mountain Madness, departed from Huaraz Peru and headed to ‘Cebolla Pampa’ which is the trail head of the Yanapaqcha. Yanapaqcha, 5460m high, is one of the commonly guided mountains in the Cordillera Blanca. While it does have some steep technical sections it is well within the scope of most clients who do not have prior technical climbing experience.
The climbing team consisted of Mountain Madness guide Tyler Anderson age 37, and clients Jack, Sue, Sara, and Nate.
They used 3 porters who assisted carrying the load up to their camp on the moraine (then descend) and a local cook who remained at the moraine camp along with Charmaine, the girlfriend of Tyler.
The group spent a day going over skills – during that day the clients received instruction on self arrest, maintaining the proper tension on the rope during glacier travel, practiced proper foot work techniques. Tyler discussed with them as well what to do in the event that he should fall into a crevasse. They were instructed to remain where they were and not approach the crevasse allowing him time to ascend up and out.
On Saturday July 31st, the group departed from the moraine camp at 4:30am. There were no other parties climbing that day. The team gained the glacier on a steep icy area of ‘dry glacier’ where Tyler placed several ice screws in ‘running protection’. They then proceeded along the glacier and joined the ‘main route’ which starts from an alternative moraine camp 3 km to the South.
They followed this route through a series of crevasse fields along the convex roll over of the glacier and then ascended a broad ridge to the base of the West face where the technical climbing begins.
After a magnificent alpine sunrise the group got together in a protected safe area to drink some water, snacks and a few photos. After that they followed the track up a 50 degree slope traversed around a horizontal crevasse. Then Tyler led them off the track to the base of a 65 degree slope. (The main tracks continued horizontal around the slope to the left). At the base of the slope the team grouped together and was instructed to wait until further notice from Tyler.
At 7:00am Tyler placed a picket and clipped the rope through the picket and began climbing up the slope. The client’s view of exactly where Tyler went was blocked by a bulge in the glacier. Tyler led straight up the wall to where a large crevasse blocked any further advancement. He then slung a protruding ‘penitente’ and clipped the rope through to provide a directional for the clients before traversing along the lip of the crevasse.
After 10 minutes all the clients heard Tyler yell: “Climb On’ (The command that indicates that the lead climber has installed sufficient security for his/her followers to begin climbing up after him). Sue clipped passed the picket and begins climbing up the slope, Tyler pulled the rope tight as she climbs. After Sue climbed 15 feet, the rope got tight between her and Jack and he clips through the picket and follows as well. A moment later Sue heard Tyler yell down “Hold On” or “why are you climbing” (There is some disagreement amongst the clients as to exactly what Tyler yelled. But they all agreed that it was not a ‘normal command’ that they had been using previously) Sue and Jack stopped climbing. They waited between 15 seconds and 1 minute (there is discrepancy between the clients as to how long they waited) when Jack heard a “whooshing sound” of “something like an avalanche without the roar” At that moment the rope jerks extremely taught. The tight rope pinned Sue’s head momentarily between it and the glacier. Sue was able to wiggle out from underneath. Jack said “I think Tyler fell into a crevasse” As per Tyler’s earlier instructions, the clients waited for 15 minutes for Tyler to extract himself from the crevasse. During the wait, the clients yelled for Tyler but heard no response. Somewhere during the wait, the rope became slack. Sue remembers giving 3 tugs on the rope and feeling 3 ‘weak but definite’ tugs in response to her tugs. She estimates that there was about 50cm of slack at that point in the rope.
After 15 minutes the clients decided to proceed upwards to investigate what happened. Sue was the first to reach the lip of the crevasse directly above her where Tyler had placed the ‘Bollard” (slung penitente) – She looked down and saw Tyler 20 m below her at the bottom of the crevasse in a sitting position with his leg badly bent underneath him, ‘patches of blood’ were evident on the snow around him and his helmet off to one side. The clients described Tyler’s eyes as “very swollen and white” The clients reported seeing there was a ice screw placed 2 meters behind him and the rope was ‘going through it”
“Tyler was mumbling and moaning, his eyes were very swollen and white, his left hand had the ice axe still and it was spastically whacking the ice from time to time. He would mumble ‘nice and easy’ slowly’ and other non-coherent things”
The clients yelled down to but they could get no coherent response from him. The clients traversed along Tyler’s tracks to where the rope had cut into the lip where Tyler had fallen. Sara placed the one picket they had and they all clipped into it. After 30 minutes of deliberating what to do, the clients decided to descend to find help. They pulled up as much rope as they could from the crevasse, then cut the rope with a small knife that Jack had with him, tied the rope that was connected to Tyler around a snow penitente and began descending down the slope, retracing their tracks. They were still tied together by the remaining section of rope. The descent was very arduous. “Very carefully we descended down the steep slope, we would all assume the self arrest position while one person would climb down a section”. Once they made it out of the technical terrain, they followed the tracks back down towards the Alternative Moraine camp (This is not the camp that the group was using). They decided not to return to their camp due to the steep ice that they negotiated on the approach. “We did not have any ice screws and felt we would not make it across that section without falling”. The final part of the glacier was very broken with lots of open crevasses. Fearing that they might fall into one of the crevasses, the clients decided to exit the glacier at their earliest opportunity and scrambled up and over a rocky moraine ridge to where they knew the road to be. Despite great difficulty the group arrived at the road around 4:30pm just as a SUV was passing by. They stopped the vehicle and the driver immediately agreed to help them find help. They drove to Cebolla Pampa and at 5:30pm Sara gets out at Cebolla Pampa and runs to the nearby camping area where she talks with Peruvian Guide; Cesar Vargas. Cesar takes out a radio and communicates with both the National Park and the High Mountain Rescue Police and alerts them to the details of the accident. (There response to this radio conversation is unknown) Then Cesar gathers a group of porters and heads to the moraine camp where Charmaine is still waiting.
Meanwhile, Nate, Jack and Sue continued driving to the park entry to the National Park Entry Post. They arrived there around 6:00pm and immediately talked to the park officials. They all drove a short distance to a rocky bluff where there was cell phone service. The park official called the rescue police who were reported as saying “It is too late to do anything today. We will come up in the morning”. The clients found this unacceptable and continued driving to the Llanganuco Lodge to seek more immediate help. Unsure as to its exact location, they drove around for an additional 40 minutes before finding the lodge. At 6:40pm upon arrival, they spoke with Charlie Good (owner) and Mike (manager.) Immediately Charlie called Chris Benway at the Café Andino and Ted Alexander at Skyline Adventures and alerts them that Tyler is in a crevasse on Yanapaqcha.
Chris Benway called Galaxia, a local agency, who gathered a group of 3 guides and 2 porters. Ted and Skyline guide, Jason Wheeler, joined up with Galaxia’s team and at 8:20pm they departed Huaraz with a litter and extensive first aid supplies to treat hypothermia, trauma and spinal injury. They also brought a satellite phone. At 10:45pm they stopped at Cebolla Pampa to pick up Skyline Adventure’s guide Alejo Lazzati and 2 porters who had been alerted via radio to descend form Pisco base camp to assist with the rescue.
At 11:10 the rescue team arrived at the “high trail head” for Yanapaqcha alternative moraine camp and began to hike towards the glacier.
Jason and Ted were the first to reach the glacier and saw that Charlie Good and 7 others who were already on the mountain searching for the crevasse containing Tyler. The 7 of them were either at Cebolla Pampa when Sara alerted them to the accident or were staying at the Llanganuco Lodge and left for the mountain immediately when the rest of the clients arrived there. Around 12:45am, Ted and Jason joined up with Charlie’s team while Galaxia’s 3 guides begin searching the lower crevasse field; the section of Tyler’s route that connected their camp with the main route. Charlie had a small hand sketched map drawn by the clients of where the crevasse is. It was difficult to read. Around 2:00am Ted Alexander called the clients at the Llanganuco Lodge to get further information. With the new information, 4 rescuers climbed up to search likely crevasses. Around 3:00am Ted called the clients again for more information. With this information they were able to locate the crevasse.
At 4:20am they see the rope hanging from the lip of a crevasse and approach the crevasse from the uphill side. Jason built an anchor and Ted rappelled into the crevasse with first aid supplies and found Tyler’s body leaning against an ice block on the bottom of the crevasse with several meters of loose rope on the ice beside him that he is tied to with a figure 8 knot. Tyler is cold and stiff with signs of massive head trauma. His eyes were closed. His black belay jacket is on but partially unzipped and he was wearing no gloves. His legs were both in front of him without signs of obvious deformity. His head was tilted back, facing upwards. His broken helmet was to his side unclipped and his belay devise is lying on the snow. The ice screw was inserted on a large block of ice. Tyler was attached to the ice screw with a clove hitch on a 2 meter tether.
Ted yelled up confirming that the victim has expired and prepared Tyler’s body for the extraction. Jason lowered a Canadian drop loop and Ted attached a chest harness to Tyler and then fastened Tyler to the Drop loop. Ted gathered Tyler’s belongings with the exception of his back pack which had fallen further down the crevasse and climbed out of the crevasse on 50 degree slope leading to safety.
Ted then called Jenn Hrinkevich who is the designated infield communications center point to report the death.
The rescuers pulled out the body and then through a series of fixed lines and rappels transported the body to the glaciers edge where it was loaded into the litter. At 9:30am they began the carry-out through the moraine and then along the trail to the road. At 11:00am, 400m before arriving at the road, the rescuers were met by a group of 7 “High Mountain Rescue Police” who arrived brandishing their cameras, it was noted that they brought no first-aid or rescue equipment. The rescuers made it clear to the police that at that point they would not accept their ‘help’ and continued carrying Tyler to the nearby road. As per Peruvian law, the Rescue Police were the only ones allowed to transport the body so it was loaded into their waiting vehicle and driven to the morgue in Yungay. As we were loading Tyler onto their vehicle, a large Andean Condor circled in – and for a moment soared directly over our heads as if in farewell – In true Tyler form, it seemed he wasted no time in finding the perfect vantage point to watch his mortal remains being carried from the mountains he loved so well.
What happened to cause the accident is largely speculation based on what the clients reported, and what we found during the recovery of Tyler’s body.
We presumed that Tyler continued traversing the crevasse lip until he found a suitable crossing. He crossed what he thought was the crevasse bridge and set up his belay station what he thought was the safe ground on the other side (uphill)of the crevasse. He placed a screw and attached himself with a clove hitch then began belaying up his clients. After a few minutes, Tyler must have noticed some thing was wrong as he yelled down to Sue who then stopped climbing. Less then a minute after yelling, the bridge where Tyler was on gave way with Tyler on it. As the bridge falls, Tyler who is attached to the falling bridge by a screw and 2 meters of rope, is pulled into the crevasse but is temporarily suspended by his belay device made tight on the rope to his clients, the rope is still running through the intact “bollard”. After a moment Tyler releases his hold on the belay and continues to the bottom of the crevasse. Had Tyler not been attached to the bridge with an ice screw and 2m of rope, the bridge could have fallen out from below him and the rope between Tyler and his climbing team below would have kept Tyler from falling deep into the crevasse.
We will never know exactly how long Tyler survived after his fall but based on autopsy reports of massive head trauma, and a broken neck and broken leg it can be presumed that Tyler expired a short time after the fall. The chance of him regaining consciousness or his mental faculties is very slim. When rescuers found him, rigor-mortis had already set in.
The only change in position between when the clients last saw Tyler and when rescuers found him was his leg had been straightened out and was in front of him verses underneath him as the clients remembered seeing before they left the scene.
Special thanks go towards the group of clients; Nate, Jack, Sue and Sara for their heroic efforts under harrowing conditions to get the rescue underway. The decision to leave the scene of the accident was a heart wrenching process and in the end was the only course of action they could have taken. And their descent off the mountain proved to be anything but easy.
Special Thanks go to those who went out on the rescue party. (See names below.)
Special thanks go to the staff at the Llanganuco Lodge for their constant services throughout the rescue. The clients would particularly like to thank Mike for his constant support and unwavering help throughout.
Special thanks go to Jenn Hrinkevich for fielding difficult phone calls and handling the myriad of front country logistics.
Special thanks go to the members of the US Embassy who happened to be at the Llanganuco Lodge at the time of the accident and offered their support and connections throughout.
Note about the Rescue Police:
The dismal response of the Police High Mountain Rescue Team is of special note and the Huaraz climbing Community would like it to be made clear that their refusal to initiate a rescue due to the ‘lateness of the hour” when they were alerted at 6:00pm is token to their gross inadequacy as a Rescue Unit. We would move to have the title “High Mountain Rescue Team” stripped from them as it causes confusion and delay. Because of this misleading title, people in need of rescue, call them instead of calling motivated and capable rescuers.
The rescuers would also like to make it clear that the Police did nothing to aid in the rescue despite the next day’s newspaper article that states “Four Rescue police performed the extraction and recovery of the fallen climber’s body.”
On behalf of the Huaraz Community, we are grateful to have known you Tyler during the many seasons that you spent with us. Your lively spirit and contagious love for adventure and beauty will stay with us and you will be dearly missed by all of us. We stand together with your family and Charmaine during this difficult time as we all try to make some meaning of this and let your departure from us become our new reality. Some how it is not hard to imagine your spirit out there somewhere on your next adventure. We will remember you often and most of us can’t help but smile when we do.
Feliz viaje hermano!
• Jenn Hrinkevich
Field Incident Command
• Ted Alexander
• Jason Wheeler
• Richard Hidalgo
• Miguel Maza
• Diego Z
• Stephan Schanderl
• Jorge (Peruvian Guide)
Non technical support on the glacier:
• Charlie Good – Llanganuco Lodge
• Sheldon Boodt - Llanganuco Lodge
• Zosimo Luna – Llanganuco Lodge
• Jonas Frank
On the ground
• Alejo Lazzati – Guide, Medical technician
• Freddy – Porter
• Justino – Porter