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Taylor Peak - 1989

13,153 feet - 4009 meters

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

The route; Copy of a picture from Richard DuMais' guidebook, 'The High Peaks'
Our route on
Taylor Glacier

Attempt via Taylor Glacier (Grade II, 1200 ft)
with descent same.


This was my bachelor party climb for my first marriage, in 1989...
I had been to the Wind River Range a week before this climb, for some remote
rock climbing, but this was my preferred rite of passage into marriage, a nice
alpine climb on a mountain with alpine features. I wanted to climb the
Taylor Glacier Buttress, but my partner Tom wished to avoid anything which
might contain a few pitches of rock climbing. I was okay with that. The main thing
was to attain the summit, turn around, and come home in one piece.
Although Tom did quite well with rock climbing, he disdained it, feeling that
rock climbing was mere practice for mountain climbing.

A daily occurrence in Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park

Afternoon clouds in
upper Loch Vale
9 September 1989

It was a very long day...

In the megamid
at Sky Pond
9 September 1989

The clouds of morning obscure the high peaks surrounding Sky Pond.

Morning cloud bank
at Sky Pond,
10 September 1989

So, after walking into Sky Pond, which lies at the head of Loch Vale, we set up a campsite and made ready
to ascend Taylor Peak, by whatever route. I thought Taylor Glacier Buttress would be shorter, but Tom
was ready to climb snow, period. I was just happy to be in the mountains. Besides, the glacier route was easier,
and that would mean an almost certain summit. So that's where we went.

The following morning, the clouds played havoc overhead, but we made ready for the climb anyway.
We crossed the lower snowfield and continued upwards on the main body of the glacier.

The Taylor Glacier is 'dead,' meaning it doesn't actually move. Although it is a remnant glacier, it had ice
beneath the snow. Being Autumn, there was a glassy medium to deal with under the firn snow, so I decided to
use both hand tools. Tom used only his ice axe. When I advocated tying into the rope, he refused,
saying we didn't need a rope here. He was correct, but only if each of us used two tools. The consequences
of falling were legion. There were fields of naked talus below us, insuring boundless potential of injury in the event of
a fall. Tom had health insurance. I did not, but I knew insurance couldn't restore a broken body. Every placement I made
was deliberate and secure. We climbed unroped, side-by-side, Tom with his axe, me with an axe and a northwall hammer.

Taking down the bivvy...

Hiding the bivvy
tent at Sky Pond
10 September 1989

We weren't sure if the weather would clear up this morning.

Ready to suffer,
Sky Pond bivvy
10 September 1989

Taylor Glacier buttress, foreshortened, as viewed from the glacier.

Taylor Glacier Buttress
from the lower glacier
10 September 1989

I was unhappy to be unbelayed. Tom was as happy as a clam. He climbed confidently, while I climbed
as if I were disabled. About two hundred feet from the top of Taylor Glacier, I spied Tom leaning anxiously over his axe.
I thought I should check him out with greater scrutiny, and placed my tools securely. Just as I turned my head,
I saw one of his crampons lever off of its boot, the tip of his axe pop away from the ice, and Tom launch downslope,
immediately trying to self-arrest on the shiny water ice. He accelerated despite his herculean effort to stop,
and I watched him slide hundreds of feet down the glacier, rotating sideways like a kid on a snow saucer.
I saw his helmeted head strike a large boulder, deflecting his ragdoll body down the ramp of the branch we
had ascended to get to this high point. He disappeared from my field of view. All I was thinking at the moment was
"There goes the rope!" It was, after all, still coiled in his backpack. Then I wondered how I was going to
explain this tragedy to his wife Vivian. Thanks, Jones...

The main branch of Taylor Glacier

Ben on the toe
of Taylor Glacier,
10 September 1989

We climbed the Eastern branch of the glacier, which is upwards toward the left.

The main Taylor Glacier,
rounding the buttress
10 September 1989

View from midpoint on the Taylor Glacier.

Cathedral Spires left,
Thatchtop right
10 September 1989

I started downclimbing the slope then. I fully expected to find a deceased Tom Jones. His head had hit
that boulder so hard and so fast that there was no way he could still be alive. But I was wrong.

"I think I've broken my leg," a voice wafted up from far below.

I found him splayed out on the low-angle ramp, helmet intact, writhing in place.
He was moving all extremities. I took the rope out of his pack and tied it to his harness.
I lowered him down the main body of the glacier, and he anchored himself with his axe. Then I climbed
down the easy slope to him.

We repeated this procedure until we reached the toe of the glacier. By that time, he could walk again.

It's steeper her than it looks! Alpine ice beneath the snow.

Axe & hammer,
upper Taylor Glacier
10 September 1989

Only 300 feet from the top of the glacier. Tom fell about 150 feet above this point.

The accident occured
150 feet higher,
10 September 1989

I would lower Tom a ropelength, then down-climb to him, set an anchor, and do it all over again.

Ben downclimbing to
Tom during the retreat
10 September 1989

We were hiking out afterwards, and Tom asked me what I would have done if he'd have been
seriously injured. I told him I would have been back to get him the following day...
I guess that didn't make him very happy, but what else could I have done?

Nineteen days later I was married, and my entire life changed forever.
We didn't climb another mountain together for eleven years.
But that's another long story...


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