Mount Silliman (N#127, T#54)
Nathan Day 84, Travis Day 30
Warning: this post is unlike others on this site. It describes an unprovoked violent attack with some coarse language. There are no pictures related to the attack. All pictures from the climb are after the story.
I felt a stir of movement come from the door of my van. It had been wide open to let in the cool night air. Thankfully I am a light sleeper, and a foot fall on my step stirred my eyes to open. Dull gray early morning light filtered through the doorway, but it wasn't the only thing coming through. A silhouetted figure had stepped into my van. Was I dreaming? In my sleepy haze I could tell it was a woman. She wore a black beanie and had long brown hair. A black buff covered her face and she carried a black backpack. Is this a dream?
She saw me. "Oh sorry," she mumbled and stepped out of the van.
Is she lost? What is happening?
Before I had any time to further question she aggressively jumped back in the van, stepped directly for me, and raised her right arm back behind her head. Instantly I recognized what she was holding in her hand and prepared to plunge into my flesh. It was a 5-inch blade. What the actual fuck?!
Without thinking my body did what humans bodies have been crafted to do after thousands of years of evolution: survive. I caught her knife hand mid-strike and jumped out of my sleeping bag. The next thing I knew, I had thrown her against the van wall, pinned her down with my right arm against her chest, and gripped the wrist of her knife hand with my left, rendering it useless.
"What are you doing!? Stop!" I yelled at her. She tried swiping the knife at me by flicking her wrist. I quickly readjusted to a more favorable position on the blade, with my hand over hers.
"Nathan!!!!" I screamed, hoping he would hear me from where he was sleeping in the woods. We kept struggling over control of the knife. I was fucking pissed and I wanted her out of my home. I'm not the type of person who seeks conflict but she had prodded the beast within me and it did not like being fucked with. I was enraged.
She seemed taken aback by my sudden burst of offense and hesitated for a brief moment. I took advantage of her mistake and dragged her by the knife hand out of the door. "Nathan!!" I yelled again. I remained on the offensive by pushing her backwards away from the van. "Just leave!!" I growled. "You hear me!?"
She spoke for the first time since the attack. "Ok let me go and I'll leave." I stared straight into her eyes for any sign of deception. Surprisingly she actually seemed a little scared.
"LEAVE!!!!" I shoved her away and ran back to grab my ice axe in case she would attack again. However, she did leave, and headed straight for the white Chrysler that was parked on the opposite side of the trailhead. Nathan had rushed over in time to watch her leave and asked what had happened. "She tried to stab me." As she turned the car on and drove away Nathan tried to commit her license plate to memory and I managed to snap a blurry photo. Then she was gone, and again the forest was silent.
We both sat in a daze, confused at what had just happened. It hadn't fully processed in my brain and I went about my usual morning routine of coffee and eggs. Then after twenty or so minutes we decided to call somebody. There is no service out there so we found a payphone at the visitor center and called 911.
We told them what happened, they sent law enforcement over and we told them the story. They had stopped her at the gate and asked me to drive down with them and identify her. We did. The window was down when they walked her out but she didn't look me in the eye. They took her to the hospital and then eventually jail. As I write this a week later I'm not sure what happened to her, I could call and ask but mostly I just want to move on. I wanted to get back into the mountains and away from people. So that's what we did. The rangers drove us back to our van, and off we went to go climb Siliman.
Still shocked from the morning's events, it was difficult to be present on the hike up. The basin was beautiful. A waterfall cascaded down the gray granite slabs. The air felt so crisp and clean. The water crystal clear. The alpine is a place of healing and I welcomed it's embrace but I still had so many questions. Who was she? Why would she do such a thing? What is her story? My emotions were flying all over the place as we continued up the granite slabs. I was scared of her, angry at her, but mostly I pitied her. She must be haunted by powerful demons.
We gained the west ridge of Silliman and continued to the summit. We found some fun climbing along the way. It wasn't the path of least resistance but we both needed a bit of good rock movement to lift our spirits. The summit was nice. The Western Divide peaks called to me. I desperately wanted to get away from people. If I had been attacked in the city, it wouldn't be surprising. I'd be less fazed. But this had happened in my home. It had happened among the pine forests and the mountains where I go to escape the wickedness of humanity. That is what upset me the most.
On our way down I was feeling a bit better but knew I still had a lot of processing to do. The image of her silhouetted figure standing over me with knife in hand was seared into my brain. It would be a long time before I imagined myself sleeping with my van unlocked. But at the same time I realized I ought to be empowered by the incident. I had actually defended myself and defused a dangerous situation. I promised myself not to bury the traumatic experience but rather learn from it. Deep down I am stronger than I realized. Bad things happen and how we react to those situations reveal who we really are.
I have always wanted to be a source of positivity and inspiration for others, and, with this project, have an opportunity to do so. Realizing this, I had a desire to continue the project more than ever. If I am to make any small positive impact on the world, it will be by doing what I love, climbing mountains. And so, when we returned to the van, we did the only thing that made sense to do, drive off to the next trailhead…
The route they took to meet the west ridge isn't described elsewhere, and is a possible first ascent. Nathan rates it "5.fun". The optional climbing on the ridge itself was just for fun.
View the activity here.