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Boyhood Friends Thankful to Be Alive Following Collapse of Baron Spire
Thursday, August 13, 2020


As the smoky cloud of silica dust began rising, the campers scattered around Baron Lake thought for sure that Daniel Gariepy and his climbing buddies Matt Hansen and Tristan Potters might be dead.

But the three had survived the collapse of the Baron Spire during a 4.2 magnitude earthquake on Friday, Aug. 7. The only casualty: A chunk taken out of the tip of Gariepy’s toe when he scraped it on a rock trying to outrun the rocks and boulders cascading down on their campsite.

Gariepy, a Ketchum lawyer, had hiked nine miles to Baron Lake Friday night with Casino employee Tristan Potters, whom he has known since they were babies, and Matt Hansen, a Sun Valley firefighter whom he has known since they were 5.

Hansen and Potters, had attempted climbing the Baron Spire during the 2017 total eclipse. But, when they got up to the ledge. they hung out there to watch the eclipse and were so moved by the experience that they decided to descend and return to climb the spire another day.

The 120-foot tall granite spire was considered one of the more difficult, technical climbs in Idaho, containing the longest known rock route in the Sawtooth Mountains. Known as "Old Smoothie," it's rated a 5.9 aid route.

Potters and Hansen were determined to make it to the top the next day while Gariepy hiked to another lake to fish.

They camped on the northwestern side of the middle lake a couple hundred yards above the lake and directly underneath the Baron Spire, as all the other spots were taken.

Hansen had just returned from getting water an hour after they arrived when the three felt the rumble of an earthquake. Hansen didn't think much of it at first. Then he heard the loudest crack he had ever heard, presumably the sound of the spire breaking off the wall.

As he looked up, he heard a rumbling thunder "beyond belief" as the rocks began crashing down the mountain towards them.

"It was surreal. I thought, 'No way can we escape this," he recounted. "I've been in Third World countries and seen how towns were taken out by mudslides and big boulders."

"Old Smoothie is falling! Run!" he yelled to his companions.

The three took off running as the mountain started crumbling. The sounds of boulders crashing and taking out trees filled the air as they ran towards the lake, hoping to take cover behind large rocks and cliffs.

“I can't explain the feeling I had as we were running for our lives, getting ready to try to avoid boulders, rocks, and anything else that would be projected our way. I fully expected one or all of us might die,” recounted Gariepy. “At one point during our run we stopped briefly before someone yelled, ‘Keep going and get ready to take cover.’ ”

Making it to the cliffs, Hansen lay down behind a boulder. Gariepy, Potters and Potters’ black lab Scout followed suit.

Hansen waited for everything to go black, but it didn't.

Within a minute or less, the sound of crashing dissipated and a smoky cloud of silica dust slowly filled in around them, blocking out the sun. The three, who had known each other since they were toddlers, hugged—a big hug. COVID be damned. They'd made it through!

"We were in disbelief. We realized we had made it and we had a helluva story to tell," said Hansen.

Looking down, Gariepy noticed that he had taken a big chunk out of the tip of his toe, scraping his foot across a rock while running for cover. He had lost one of his sandals in the chaos.

Looking up, he realized that the vertical rock face that Hansen and Potters had planned to stand atop just 12 hours later was gone. Gariepy recalled a picture taken of him on horseback at 17 with the Baron Spire in the background during one of the elk and deer hunting trips he and his father had taken to the lake every October.

“The chances of us being there for this crazy geological event is absolutely nuts!” said Gariepy.

In the place of the spire was a new scar on the mountain, caused by huge chunks of granite falling off the face during the quake. The quake was apparently an aftershock of the 6.5 magnitude earthquake that struck west of Stanley on March 31.

“Everyone who witnessed it, including Matty, say the spire fell off the backside,” said Gariepy. “Who knows what would have happened to us if it fell to our side? There were a couple aftershocks that night and the next morning and there were consistent smaller rock falls coming off the mountain all night and the next day, along with swirling dust being blown off the mountain. Just about everyone camped on that side of the lake thought we might be dead.”

Video of the event revealed a massive boulder slowly tumbling right above the young men’s camp. Somehow, it stopped right above their camp. Rocks slid down two pathways—one straight down the vertical wall and the other along the east ridgeline.

The slide paths split, enabling the young men to escape unscathed.

“The what ifs and hypotheticals of what could have happened are endless. But luck was on our side and props to both Matty and Potters for their quick reactions,” said Gariepy. “It was by far the craziest and scariest experience in my life. We are all happy to be alive.”

Hansen said he's bummed that he and Potters will never be able to climb "such an amazing feature."

"It's just full of history with climbing legend Fred Beckey putting in the bolt ladder there in 1949 And it's something that everyone saw as they climbed over the pass."

Climbers had already lost the iconic Arrowhead in the Sawtooths following the initial quake, Hansen said.

"Now, a 4.2-magnitude aftershock. That's huge. And so close to these delicate structures, it's just a mater of time. But it's the perfect metaphor to what we're seeing in 2020 with COVID and all. Pretty wild!"



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