SPOKANE, Wash. — A team of about 13 Gonzaga alumni reached a summit they weren’t expecting when they helped rescue a group of three graduate students on Mt. Whitney in California.
The experience all began on Thursday, May 9, when the Gonzaga team began their alumni hiking trip up the mountain.
“Our first camp was fairly low on the mountain, but yet it was still about an 8,000 or 9,000 elevation,” said Adrian Popa, a Gonzaga professor and one of the group’s climbing leaders.
The next day, the team met a group of three other climbers along the way.
“They were tremendous young men who were highly energetic, certainly had their own plans for how to move forward on the mountain,” Popa said.
The Gonzaga group spoke with the other climbers, then parted ways.
It was the following day, after beginning the next leg of their trip, when the Gonzaga team noticed something was wrong.
The team found an abandoned backpack and hiking pole on the ground.
“We yelled out. There were no responses,” Popa said. “So we continued onward.”
It wasn’t long after they continued their trek when they found two of the three hikers they’d met the previous day.
Popa said he asked the hikers, “‘What are you guys doing here? What happened?’ And they quickly said, ‘We were trapped here overnight.’”
Nick Gloria was one of the hikers who spent the night in the sub-freezing temperatures.
“We tried to call emergency services to make an S.O.S. and also tried contacting some friends,” he said.
But they received no response.
Gloria’s friend, the most experienced climber of the students’ group, had attempted to climb Mt. Muir, one of Mt. Whitney’s connecting peaks.
But he injured his shoulder attempting to scale it.
That left him stranded on the peak alone and Gloria and the other climber on Mt. Whitney separated from him.
“At the time, because of the confusion of the accident, it was already dark, so we basically had to stay at the top,” Gloria said.
The Gonzaga group found them the next morning.
“We took their boots off quickly,” Popa said. “Some of our climbers that came up, we tried every strategy possible to try and warm them up. [We] took the bare feet of one of the climbers and submerged them under their armpits to try and regain that body heat in his feet.”
The Gonzaga team was in full rescue mode but Popa said it was difficult for them to help them with limited resources.
“You quickly run out of provisions at that altitude, because you’re consuming fast and quickly, let alone if you’re trying to sustain someone who’s been there overnight already,” he said.
At the time, emergency response had found the climber with the injured shoulder. The Gonzaga team helped the other two hikers descend the mountain.
“[The team was] very gracious with their help,” Gloria said. “They had a phone that someone used to immediately call emergency services, and they were able to get through. They offered us jackets, water. They helped cheer us up.”
“There was no heroism,” Popa said. “People just were essentially engaged in the work at hand.”
Although most of the Gonzaga team didn’t reach the mountain summit as planned, they said it was a journey that resulted in victory.
“In many respects, it could have gone in so many different directions. But because of how everyone mobilized and attended with their own skill sets and compassion of being there for these climbers, in that respect it was a tremendous and very memorable journey," Popa said.