Life, Death, and a Missing Pellet

Photo © John Krzesinski, 2013

I love hearing good stories. It’s a waste when they fade and you forget the details, so I’ve started to record the best ones I hear. I recently went on a climbing trip where one of the more experienced climbers had the whole group listening to his every word with a story he told. I’ve tried my best to retell that story here.

Our friend, Berny, was in Yosemite partway up a multi-day climb of the famous Half Dome with his climbing partner when they came across two Swiss climbers. The Swiss climbers seemed to be struggling, and it quickly became obvious that one of them had completely lost his head. At that point they had already passed a few one-way pendulums so there was no way back — they had to go on. Berny and his partner agreed with the other climber to climb as a four and help out.

As they climbed together Berny and his partner put some time and effort into helping the others, so when night came they didn’t quite make the ledge they were planning on sleeping on. They were one pitch (one stretch of rope) below it on a much narrower ledge, and the Swiss climbers another pitch below them.

During the night Berny woke up and needed the toilet. Yosemite protocol dictates that when nature calls and it’s not liquid, you can’t just do it over the edge. You do it in a paper bag, and then throw the paper bag over the edge.

So he leant back over the edge, hanging off his sling, and did his best to aim into the bag. At this point, because of the dehydration, he said that what came out was not very different to rabbit pellets. He counted one… two… three pellets coming out, but when he was about to throw the bag over the edge he could only locate two of the pellets.

Searching frantically for the third yielded no results, and he soon gave up. He decided that if it happened to be in his sleeping bag then so be it, he needed to get to sleep.

A few hours later he was awoken again, this time by movement.

The whole wall was moving.

They were to find out that it was an earthquake of magnitude 5.6. As they climbed on later that day, they saw that the earthquake had caused a severe rockfall, which had buried the entirety of the ledge above them — the ledge on which they had been planning to sleep. In a way, the Swiss climber had saved their lives.

He never told us what happened to the third pellet.

Thanks for reading! Please share, recommend, or leave a comment if you’d like to see more stories like this.

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