Reality and belief are two concepts that are often difficult to separate. The following is reality, a true record of events that happened on Father’s day, together with the reason why these events occurred....at least, that is my belief:
Two weeks prior to the attempt, a final briefing took place at Paradise visitor center. The instructors made sure that minimum training requirements had been met and everyone was familiar with essential equipment and procedures. Amongst this gathering of weekend mountaineers, instructors and guides was a number of personal friends and Boeing coworkers. At the end of the day it was confirmed that the assault on the mighty 14,400 feet summit of Mount Rainier would take place on Father’s Day, June 21st, 1981.
It also transpired that another significant though less heralded event occurred that day, when my wife made the quantum leap that created an alternate universe.
This occurred when a friend unexpectedly called to invite her to a Seattle school fundraiser. With nothing much better to do she had agreed and, amazingly, had won second prize in the raffle (my wife was well-known for never having won anything that relied upon chance). The prize was an ocean fishing excursion, including fishing gear, for two. The location was the Oregon coast and the date, believe it or not, was Father’s Day, June 21st!
So, passing quickly over the family “discussion” that followed, I not at all graciously agreed to postpone my part in the Mount Rainier adventure and instead take advantage of my wife’s lucky win. A friend of many years, Gordy Heneage, was only too happy to take my place on the climb.
As it happened, the fishing trip turned out well; crossing the Columbia River Bar against the tide was an unforgettable experience in itself. Eventually our boat anchored in calm and open waters where, at the end of an enjoyable day, all on board had caught the legal limit of two full size salmon and numerous mackerel. Back on shore, we decided to stay overnight in Astoria to swap fishing stories and party with our newly acquired shipmates.
The first we heard of the accident was on the drive back to Seattle.
It was later learned that after making Camp Muir at 10,000 feet on Saturday night the climbers had started the final assault at daybreak Sunday. While preparing to cross the Ingraham Flats, a massive piece of ice had broken free from higher up the Mountain, smashed into a thousand pieces and swept eleven of the climbers into a seventy foot crevasse, burying them under tons of ice.
The possibility of rescue or survival was zero. This was, and is, the most deadly mountaineering accident in U.S. history.
Although names were held back until the relatives had been informed I somehow knew that Gordy was one of the eleven. Two other Boeing colleagues, whose families had treated them to the climb for Father’s Day, were also amongst the missing.
So you see, had my wife not made the quantum leap that created the Father’s Day paradox thirty some years ago, I would be traveling down the Mountain at glacial speed with the other ten, and Gordy would be out sailing his latest boat in Puget Sound - and, preserving the natural balance while easing my guilt a little, that is exactly what is happening now, in that other alternate universe.
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