Article on recent fatal accident

Posted by: Whitney Zone

Article on recent fatal accident - 04/14/05 11:50 AM

Posted by gravlin, 04-14-05
When Martin Kozaczek watched his friend cartwheel down a steep, snowy chute and slam against the rocks, it occurred to him that the climber might already be dead.

Then he watched Patrick Wang of Hillsboro vanish over the edge of a sheer cliff.

Wang, a 27-year-old Intel software engineer and experienced mountaineer, died Sunday afternoon after slipping while descending the summit of California's Mount Whitney, at 14,494 feet the tallest peak in the continental United States.

Search and rescue climbers from Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks recovered Wang's body Monday morning. It was the second climbing fatality at the same location in a month.

Services are pending in State College, Penn., where Wang was raised. And his friends in Oregon plan a service for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Orenco Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro. There, they'll memorialize a creative, technically savvy intellectual who loved adventure, the outdoors, photography and rock 'n' roll.

In less than three decades of life, Wang had traveled much of the world. He'd learned to climb with the Mazamas and summited more than two dozen peaks. He helped found and played lead guitar for the Portland-area rock band Spontaneous Woo.

"I can't believe all this ability and talent just disappeared," said Bruce Hope, a volunteer Mazamas instructor who taught Wang basic mountaineering in 2002 and watched his skill and desire soar.

Kozaczek and Wang, friends since junior high school in Pennsylvania, had talked for months about their trip. Kozaczek said Wednesday that Wang wanted to reach the highest and lowest points in the continental United States in one trip: Mount Whitney and Death Valley.

Kozaczek is athletic but had never climbed before. So he left the technical details to his friend, who, he said, "was a nut when it came to planning . . . the routes, avalanche reports, approach data. . . . He could have climbed this thing blind, I think."

He picked up Wang at Los Angeles International Airport last Wednesday. They spent the night at Kozaczek's place in Pasadena, Calif., going through their gear, packing and talking. The next morning, they drove about four hours north to Bishop, Calif., where Wang had to make one important stop: to see Mountain Light Gallery, featuring the work of the late Galen Rowell, a storied mountaineer and photographer, whom Wang idolized.

By nightfall Thursday, the two men had hiked to about 8,300 feet and set up camp.

On Friday, they planned to make it to Iceberg Lake, at 12,600 feet the preferred base camp for those climbing Whitney in the spring.

In summer, hundreds of hikers summit Whitney's craggy peak each day. But in spring, the climb is sometimes hairy and always technical, requiring such gear as crampons and ice axes. Some climbers rope together on the steep pitch approaching the summit.

Things took more time on Friday, it turned out. By the time Kozaczek and Wang got to Boy Scout Lake, well below Iceberg, the weather turned. At 3:30 p.m., winds howled and snow fell in a near whiteout. They decided to set up camp for the night, took shelter behind a rock, digging a partial snow cave and setting up their tent.

Their night was cold and wet -- miserable, Kozaczek said.

Saturday, the storm passed, but the two men decided to stay put, warm up and dry off their gear. To pass time, Wang insisted his novice-climber friend practice self-arrest, or stopping with the help of an ice axe. They talked about making the summit and agreed they wouldn't try it unless conditions were good.

"He was pretty adamant about safety," Kozaczek said. "We were almost rehearsing our 'Yeah, we didn't make it' speech."

When they rose at 4 a.m. Sunday after a good night's sleep, they ate a quick breakfast and began the ascent, headlamps lighting the way under a cloudless sky.

Shortly after noon, they made it to an area known as The Notch. They sipped water, ate a snack and rested before pushing up the brutal pitch to the summit. For 90 minutes, Kozaczek said, they were "basically crawling up the mountain on all fours. It's pretty damned steep."

At the top, they found nothing but warm sun and tremendous views in all directions.

"I don't really ever remember seeing Pat that happy," Kozaczek said. "He was just thrilled."

They spent 45 minutes on the summit reveling in their accomplishment, taking pictures and resting up for the descent.

Wang suggested the best way to head down would be to glissade, or use a controlled sliding technique in which the ice ax works as a break.

Kozaczek went first. Being new to climbing, he struggled. He tried sliding feet first, on his stomach. Then on his rear. Then walking slowly, digging in his heels.

He slipped, sliding fast down the snow. He rolled onto his stomach and planted his ice axe. He stopped but had fallen at least 30 feet. Nervous, Kozaczek changed his tune and slid just 5 feet at a time, slow and steady.

Below, a climber on the way up reprimanded Kozaczek. If he slipped, the climber said, Kozaczek could have taken the man out. Kozaczek moved to the side of the chute to let the climber pass.

Just as he did, he heard the man yell: "Oh no! Oh no!"

Kozaczek heard his friend next. Wang was cursing as he slipped on his rear down the chute. He was going too fast. Just then, he flipped and tumbled, passing Kozaczek and the other climber. When Wang slammed into some rocks, his cursing stopped.

His fall didn't.

Wang cartwheeled down the slope. A piece of his glasses struck the other climber. Kozaczek worried his friend would hit another field of rocks.

Then he was gone.

It was about 3:30 p.m. The entire fall, Kozaczek said, took maybe five seconds.

"The idea that he could fall off the mountain was just impossible," Kozaczek said. "He was just gone. He disappeared. That was the weirdest, strangest feeling in the world. I was in disbelief."

Wang tumbled an estimated 300 to 400 feet before plunging off a 1,000-foot cliff. His fall at that point was obstructed from sight.

Kozaczek and another climber peered over and wondered whether there was any way to reach his friend. But there wasn't.

By the time word reached rescuers, darkness approached. Efforts at recovery would have to wait until morning.

Later, Kozaczek told Bruce Hope, the Mazamas climbing instructor in Oregon, that his friend's death resulted from a simple combination of bad luck and poor judgment. "We've all had bad luck and used poor judgment," Hope said Wednesday. "But we didn't pay as big a consequence for it."


Posted by Memory Lapse, 04-14-05
Thank you posting this story, it clears up for many the probable cause of the accident. Many have wondered if it was general conditions or just a misfortunate accident.

After hearing the intial report, I spent a lot of time viewing Patrick's web-site, he was a very talented photographer and apears to have been a well experienced mountaineer. I am sure he will be missed by his family and friends; from what I saw of his life (from his website), the hiking/climbing community will miss him as well.


Posted by Rick Kent, 04-14-05
I too spent some time looking over Patrick's fine website. He definitely was talented in many ways. Fine photography with a good eye for shots. Unlike impersonal reports, the movies on his site drive it home that this was a living human being who enjoyed life to the fullest. You see trips from his point of view and often hear him speaking on tape. One movie I found particularly emotional. On the June 18, 2002 Mt St Helens movie Patrick celebrates the birthday of one of his fellow climbers. They all sing happy birthday together. Emotional stuff. He is also concerned for their safety and cautions them not go too close to the cornice.

His web site is here:

http://patrick.dzero.org/

-Rick


Posted by cuffel, 04-15-05
This is my first reply on this website. Was this on the main trail? We have a trip planned for June 9-11th and are taking a snow skills class next week.
This is pretty scary to hear esp. if he was on the main trail.


Posted by EricJLee, 04-15-05
This and the previous accident in mid March occurred on the top of the Mountaineers route. The terrain is much steeper and more exposed than what you'll see on the main trail. Though still be careful when crossing snow fields, and bring crampons and an axe if you are very worried.
Eric J Lee


Posted by mooses, 04-15-05
No, this was the Mountaineer's Route. Maybe start a new thread if you have additional questions.


Posted by lcpman, 04-15-05
No, it was on the very top and steepest section of the MR (Mountaineer's Route)often called the shute. It is class 3+ (using your hands to climb). The main trail is class 2. The snow skills class is a wise choice. Even on the main trail, the ice and snow can be a problem, espically this year. Be safe, enjoy.


Posted by SpankyBob, 04-19-05
I usually think of the main trail as class 1. The trail is very easy to follow and has a gentle, if persistent grade. The Mountaineers Route is usually thought of a class 3 or perhaps class 4 in bad conditions. The differences in these class ratings is somewhat subjective and I don't mean to nit pick Icpman's response, but the difference between the MR and the main trail is very significant and much more than one class rating. The MR requires the use of good route finding skills, solid climbing skills using hand holds and foot placement, stamina, and expertise. The main trail requires basic walking abilities and stamina.

Cuffel, at this time I would not worry about the recent accidents if you are planning a trip up the main trail in June. As your trip date gets closer I would check the trip reports of others to see how much snow is on the main trail and whether ice is forming that might pose a hazard. It is likely that the worst case would be that you may want to invest in some instep crampons for your trip.


Posted by Jeffrey Cook, 04-19-05
Dang...a fellow mountaineer and a fellow Intel employee. Just 2 weeks ago a friend and I were enjoying a barely-in-control glissade down an icy slope on Arizona's Humphrey's Peak--I guess we're lucky we didn't pull a Sonny Bono in the trees 500 feet below.

In adventure there's always risk...it can't be eliminated, only managed.


Posted by 67brickie, 04-20-05
(for SpankyBob)

re - your reply to Cuffel about a mid-June hike up the Main Trail, and Icpman's admonition about "being careful, especially this year", I'm wondering if the snowfall and related conditions suggest that the Main Trail may still be snowed and/or iced by mid-July? a month later than Cuffel's trip, but the three days during which I'm permitted for the Main Trail. What do you think, given your experience and history?

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