A Canadian teenager rescued from a snow-covered ledge on Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, wearing nothing but a cotton T-shirt and sneakers, may be more of a bad-ass than initial reports suggested.
Nineteen-year-old Samuel Frappier ventured onto the mountain with a friend last week with little experience mountaineering and with no technical climbing gear, despite that Longs Peak was still covered in feet of fresh snow and prone to springtime avalanches.
Frappier, who became separated from his friend, got lost on the descent and ended up stranded on a narrow ledge called Broadway. He used his cell phone to call for a rescue.
A National Park Service rescue team, consisting of more than two-dozen climbers and at least two helicopters, eventually rescued him after Frappier spent a cold night on the ledge trying to stay alive.
But a new account of the rescue gives Frappier more credit for aiding his own descent from the mountain than was originally reported. According to one of the NPS rescuers, Frappier boldly sprang over a gap in the snow-covered ledge — with a sheer 900-foot-drop below his tennis shoes — and then ran over unstable snowfields down to where the rescuers were staged in a meadow.
The rescuer, Estes Park climber Eli Helmuth, posted his account of the event on the Mountain Project website, a climbers’ discussion forum. While he still maintains that Frappier was “clueless,” it’s clear from his post that he was also a little impressed with the kid’s guts.
He also made it clear that he was not posting in an official capacity, but as a private citizen sharing his observations.
According to Helmuth, Frappier was descending a route known as Kieners, which looks reasonable from the top, but which quickly steepens to the point where, below the Broadway ledge, there’s nothing but a sheer 1,000-foot rock face.
To get off the mountain, climbers traverse Broadway to a point where it seems to peter out — but climbers can step over a frightening gap and continue to an easier descent over a snowfield called Lambslide.
“At the step-across, he couldn’t see that Broadway connected to Lambslide so he sits down on a rock and phones 911 for help (all of Broadway is currently 40-55 degree snow),” Helmuth wrote.
Last Wednesday, a ranger dangling from a rope below a helicopter tried several times to reach Frappier, but high winds forced the chopper to land.
“Kid on ledge mistakes dangling rescuer’s hand signals to helicopter (for maneuvering) as sign of which way to go on Broadway,” Helmuth continued, “and after the heli pulls away he quickly dynos the step-across move then run/walks the remainder of Broadway, literally runs down Lambslide, across Chasm Lake and down to the waiting helicopter (at the meadows) in about 20 minutes.”
“Perhaps this is a new speed record from Broadway?” he continued. “Everyone is shocked as we watch him cruise unroped across the steep snow on Broadway and then disappear from sight only to quickly re-emerge above the meadows and ranger cabin. Kid is a little thirsty and hungry but otherwise seems fine and waiting heli takes him to Estes.”
Other climbers responded with a mixture of head-shaking and admiration.
“Ok, well, brains are not this kid’s strong suit but goddamn, that is some seriously admirable descending,” wrote one user. “Sans rope, gear, in tennis shoes this kid dynos the step-across and runs across 45 degree snow above some serious exposure and runs down Lambslide and across the glacier in 20 minutes? After spending a night at altitude in a wet T-shirt?”