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Backpacker Magazine – April 2008

Shock And Awe

You think climbing Rainier is tough? Try it blind. Or with one leg. Then see who you pity.

by: Michael Perry, Photos by Gabe Rogel

Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Ed Salau on the Muir Snowfield
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Salau cramponing toward the Nisqually Glacier
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Scott Smiley's climbing party on Disappointment Cleaver
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Salau adjusts his $30,000 titanium prosthesis
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Smiley feels his way across Pebble Creek
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Salau on his knees at the foot of the volcano
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Guides Rausch and Fawley modify Salau's crampon
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
Slow progress on Day 1 results in a forced bed down below Camp Muir
    Tags:

He makes it across to a relatively flat traverse and everyone exhales. There are no more rocks or crevasses between here and the summit. Just snow. But from here on, it's unrelentingly upward, and the air is getting rare. Five minutes into the next leg, Smiley and the other unacclimated members of the group are huffing like emphysema patients, and Smiley is back to suffering. The constant stress of having to balance without visual cues has spread to his abs and back and arms–everything taut and sore–and now the thin air has put his pulse to pounding in his head. Think through it, he tells himself. My feet, he thinks. My calves. And more to the point: Why did I say yes to this? Break after break, he is sure he won't continue. The pitch is so steep Fawley and Rausch have warned him not to set his water bottle on the snow or it will slide off to some couloir thousands of feet below. Each time, he catches his breath just enough to tell Rausch he'll go one more. He is on autopilot. The sun is well up when Marin's group summits. Turning, they drop their packs and sit, watching for Scotty. He will be hidden until the final switchback. Last they saw him, Smiley wasn't talking, all his energy devoted to putting one foot before the other. Another party of climbers celebrates boisterously, but Marin's group is quiet, eyes fixed on the final switchback. At some point during the climb, each person has closed his eyes for a step or two, just to get a sense. The vertigo comes on fast, like a shove on the shoulder. Your hand shoots out, you drop your center of gravity, your eyes snap open. Given a sliver of Scott Smiley's life, you opt out.

And there he is now.

"Aw'right, Scotty!

"

"Y'got it, bud!"



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READERS COMMENTS

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

Agnes Currran-Tonkin
Jun 06, 2011

Ed, you are my hero! How proud I am of you, and how wonderful that SIU brought us together. I'll tell Jo about this site so she can glory in knowing you too. Keep up the good work. We know you have a big heart and we appreciate it so much.

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May 19, 2011

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Ames
Jan 24, 2011

Excellent writing

Sung
Oct 21, 2010

I just want to thank you so, 1Lt Ed Salau for what you did and for who you are! Thank you so much again!

Dave
Oct 07, 2010

I know this is like two years later, but I found a back issue and thought this story was incredible. God bless you, Ed, for all you do for your wounded brothers and sisters, and for all you've done for the rest of us too.

Susie Bare
Jul 09, 2008

Ed, I belong to the Havelock Civitans and I was so impressed with you when you spoke to our club and I am still impressed. You are doing a very commendable thing by sharing with us about your struggle and others too, I really admire you soooo much ! keep up the good work ! Semper Fi

Donna
Jun 29, 2008

Thanks for telling this story...you did a great job Mike. I am proud of you and glad you are safe.

Liz Flaherty
Jun 13, 2008

Oh, man.

Thank you.

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