We Can Be Heroes
The western slopes of Snowmass Mountain. Courtesy of Dr. Jon Kedrowski.
Earlier in the week I was trying to solidify my weekend plans – I didn’t want to miss this sublime autumn weather. I had exchanged a few texts with Dr. Jon Kedrowski about a possible Sunday adventure, but our schedules were a bit off and we ended up doing our own things. The upshot was I spent Sunday trying out new Front Range mountain bike trails and Jon got busy on Snowmass Mountain saving an injured climber’s life.
Even though his doctorate is in Environmental Geography and not medicine, Jon was incredibly qualified to help. Earlier this year, he safely reached the summit of Mount Everest. In 2011, he spent an amazing summer sleeping on all of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. peaks. He chronicled this adventure in his fantastic book “Sleeping on the Summits”. He’s fast, strong, smart and perhaps most important of all, he’s well acquainted with peak involved.
Snowmass Mountain stands at 14,092 ft. in the Elk Range not far from Aspen. Its two standard routes are both class 3 scrambles and both involve a good deal of route finding. The west slopes are particularly imposing, due to the abrupt cliffs that skirt most of the deep grooves cut in the mountain. The injured climber, whom we will call JL, was attempting connecting the “S” ridge via the west slopes. This isn’t a highly technical line but it does require astute route finding. Recent snowfall and ice had made this normally tame route much more treacherous.
Jon’s first hand account of the Snowmass rescueis available on his website and is a riveting read. To summarize the incident: JL fell or got injured on Saturday afternoon and spent a very cold night on a sketchy ledge. Jon was the first to reach JL and helped provide critical first aid while search and rescue teams made their way up the peak. JL was airlifted from Snowmass and is recovering in a Denver area hospital.
With all apologies to the brevity of my report, there’s a deeper thought that such an incident brings to mind. How many of us are heroes in waiting?
There is something noble in heroism that transcends mere ego. It is the rare occasion when an action is intensely and soulfully satisfying in a closed system, without the need for accolade or reward. Of course, there are the somewhat structured heroics of doctors, firemen and others who train and prepare for these situations. I mean no disrespect to these professionals.
The randomness and unexpected nature that summons those of us not highly trained nor necessarily prepared is a somewhat fascinating study. It’s not always something as dramatic as a life or death rescue. I remember pushing a stalled truck out of a busy intersection along with the driver of the vehicle and another person who had stopped: a sharply dressed businesswoman in an expensive skirt-suit and high heels. More recently, I was on the receiving end of some help when a couple saw the camp stove my group was using burst into flames and ran over to help throw dirt on it to put out the fire. The volunteers who rallied together to save a dog abandoned on the Sawtooth Ridge of Mount Bierstadt are yet another example of those who answered the call.
It’s easy to forget that the heart of darkness that lurks in the spirit of mankind is balanced by an equally powerful heart of light. For the majority of our lives, this spirit has a limited radius: our close friends and family. We shine with unique brilliance when we can extend ourselves to complete strangers, where the altruism and complex dynamics of family systems do not play a role.
How lucky then are those who are in a position to help! In Jon’s case, all those years of hard mountain trips led up to a moment where he was able to assist a kindred spirit who had wandered into trouble. Surely he wasn’t training for a specific situation like the one on Snowmass Mountain but by virtue of the accumulated experience he had earned, he was ready to harvest his inner hero. Same thing with the woman who pushed a broken down old truck from a busy intersection. Something in her life fine tuned her sympathy and she had power to do something about it, stylish pumps be damned.
It’s not everyday that we are put in a position to help and truth be told, those with advanced training are much better suited to act in most scenarios. But sometimes we’re the only ones there and the clock is ticking. Even when it’s scary and the outcome is yet unseen, the courage to act in a crisis is one of few undisputed acts of nobility left in a selfish world.