Santa Rosa resident Julian Lopez tried to jam his crampons into the wall of ice as it raced beneath his feet-first slide down the icy slopes of Mount Shasta.
But they could not stop his fall as he flew down the mountain in one of the most dangerous parts of the mountain Saturday under the moonlight of a clear Halloween night sky.
"I was trying to stop my fall with my crampon, hook my foot," the 43-year-old part-time mountaineer said. "That was when I thought I would die."
He came to rest on a pile of rocks, his helmet shattered and his hip broken. But he was alive and his thoughts then turned to the young man stranded about 2,000 feet up, his guide now bruised, battered and unable to move.
Ismeal Rios of Sonoma wasn't a trained mountain climber and now had no one to help him down.
"In that moment I was worried for my friend," Lopez said Monday, speaking from his home where he was recovering from his injuries.
"I yell at him to be careful. Come down very slow."
Rios 90-minute descent was the start of what would be "the worst night of my life," Lopez said, broken only by the site of a rescue helicopter that arrived after daybreak and airlifted him to a hospital in Redding.
Lopez and Rios began their adventure Saturday morning at about 9:30. Lopez is an avid hiker and said he likes the thrill of climbing at night.
"I enjoy the full moon" at a summit, he said.
His love for the sport began in his native Mexico, before he moved to California about 25 years ago. He said he has previously climbed Mount Whitney and had also been here at Mount Shasta in previous climbs. He was eager to share it with others.
While Rios wasn't experienced at hiking he was willing to try the challenge, with Lopez providing the gear and expertise, he said. They hoped to reach Mount Shasta's summit with the moon illuminating the mountain.
They made camp at Lake Helen by 2 p.m. At about 5 p.m. they began the trek to the top; by about 10 p.m. they were in the treacherous Red Banks area at about 12,000 feet.
"Red Banks is, I'm told, one of the most dangerous parts of the climb," Siskiyou County sheriff's spokeswoman Susan Gravenkamp said Monday.
Lopez agrees. "You make it that far the other is easy," he said. "We almost made the most difficult part."
During the climb he noticed one of his crampons - the spikes lashed to your boots to grip the ice - had come loose.
"I was trying to tie my crampon," he said. But he lost his balance, slipped, and began sliding down the mountain.
It was such a minor thing at the time, he said. But sometimes that's all it takes.
"One mistake," he said. "One deadly move."
Rocks finally broke his fall. But he'd dropped about 2,000 feet. The pain in his hip made it impossible to stand. But his mind was preoccupied with shouting encouragement to Rios who was making his was toward his friend.
"&‘Julian you are the expert and you are the one who fell,'" Lopez recalled Rios saying when he arrived.
Rios had a cell phone with him and Lopez said he called for help. But the men spent the night on a rocky outcropping, far from their tent and sleeping bags and with little food. Despite the pain Lopez said he tried to keep moving as much as he could so he wouldn't freeze.
They were found Sunday morning by a search party that included five Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office search and rescue volunteers and a U.S. Forest Service ranger.
The rescuers guided the CHP helicopter to the men and Lopez was hoisted into the chopper and flown to an awaiting medical helicopter and taken to Mercy Medical Hospital in Redding where he was treated and released.
"It's really a miracle he wasn't more seriously injured," Gravenkamp said.
Rescues or recoveries are fairly common from that area, she said.
"Luckily this one had a better outcome. Most of the time people are more seriously injured or killed," Gravenkamp said.
Lopez, married and the father of three children, was driven back to Santa Rosa by his wife and he is now recuperating.
He said he has worked at Dow Pharmaceuticals Sciences Inc. in Petaluma for about five years and hopes to be back to work soon.
"Thanks to God," he said, still trying to comprehend how he was able to survive the moonlit fall.
He also hoped his fall and injury wouldn't discourage his hiking partner, Rios.
"I hope he doesn't get discouraged," Lopez said.