Standing stunned on a Montana mountain ledge, Phil Corah heard the Minnesota man cry out, “Dad! Dad!”
There was no response — just the sound of the wind blowing across the granite face of the mountain at more than 12,000 feet in the air.
On Tuesday, three days later, a search and rescue team recovered the body of Eric Lindberg, 65, of Circle Pines.
On Saturday afternoon, Corah and hiking buddy Grant Brinkman, both of Bozeman, Mont., had watched the Minnesota father and son make their way up Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana. They had paused along the mountain’s rock face, contemplating whether to climb the last 200 feet up to the summit.
The trek was a lot tougher and more technical than the Bozeman climbers had been led to believe by those who posted on online hiking and climbing forums about their experiences reaching the summit. The two even commiserated about that with the father and son as the Minnesotans passed them Saturday afternoon.
Earlier, Corah and Brinkman had run into other climbers. One couple turned back because they didn’t have the gear to navigate the snowfields. Another couple, equipped with ropes and crampons, did reach the summit and said its rock face was actually the easiest part of the climb.
Granite Peak, which rises 12,807 feet in the Beartooth Mountain range north of Yellowstone National Park, is considered one of the most rugged peaks in the Lower 48, according to local authorities and mountain guides. Brinkman, 40, and Corah, 27, were equipped with helmets and ice axes, but like the Minnesota men, they had no ropes.
The Montana men watched Lindberg and his 33-year-old son, Anders, climb the rock face, carefully finding ledges and crevices in which to place a foot and a hand. They appeared agile and experienced.
“They were heads and shoulders above us,” said Brinkman, who turned to go back down the mountain after deciding the climb was above his abilities.
That’s when Corah heard the father say he couldn’t get a foothold. Suddenly, the Minnesota man fell backward, sliding and crashing into the rocks before falling into the empty space below.
“He fell out of sight,” Corah said.
Lindberg’s son cried out, scrambling down the rock face to the snowfield below where his father lay motionless. Minutes passed before Corah and Brinkman could catch up. Anders was already performing CPR. Corah, a former lifeguard experienced with CPR, helped with the chest compressions, checking again and again for a pulse. They couldn’t send an SOS signal because the emergency GPS device that was in Eric Lindberg’s pack had been damaged in the fall, Corah said.
Together a son and a stranger worked together to try to save Lindberg, pushing on his chest. But the injuries had been too severe.
“We knew we couldn’t bring him back,” Corah said. “But you could tell [Anders] was trying to hold onto hope if he could get help.”
They wrapped Eric Lindberg in jackets and a silver emergency blanket, which would make it easier for a search and rescue team to spot.
Any hope of getting cellphone reception was at least 15 miles away along difficult terrain, Brinkman said. The son trekked into the darkness before reaching authorities about six hours later.
A recovery team lifted off in a helicopter at daylight Sunday, but discovered it would have to enlist a high-angle rope team to drop down from the helicopter because there was no place to land, said Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler, who helped oversee the recovery effort. “Then the weather turned bad for us,” he said.
Finally, on Tuesday morning, a team was able to recover Lindberg’s body. Authorities released his name on Thursday.
“It doesn’t appear that anyone did anything wrong. It was a tragic accident,” Bichler said, noting that the father and son were experienced in the mountains and were attempting to climb the highest peak in each state.
Brinkman and Corah can’t imagine the pain the family is experiencing, and yet the son went out of his way to thank them and others who helped in the recovery. They also know such tragedies reverberate through the climbing and hiking communities, becoming a harsh reminder about what could go wrong on top of a mountain.
Brinkman and Corah posted on social media about their experience in an effort to counter internet posts that said Granite’s summit could be reached without ropes.
“There are a lot of internet guides out there saying that this route can be done ‘without ropes’ ” Brinkman wrote. “Please ignore those posts and bring a full spread of safety gear.”
Unlike headlines about other accidents, the tragedy on Granite is personal now, Brinkman said.
“I’m sure 99 times out of 100 people like [the father and son] reach the top,” he said. “A lot of people who go climb that mountain haven’t really connected with the idea that it could be the last time you might see your family if something goes wrong.”