Thursday, August 16, 2007

People Do NOT Belong in Crevasses…

Crevase on Mount Rainier
This post is from Sarah McConkie who is a former Gearhead for Backcountry.com and who will be sending in adventure reports to the blog on a monthly basis.

The term graveyard shift comes from historical point where health was not completely understood. Graves would be reused when a digger felt the time was ready. They found that a disturbing number of people were being buried alive as evidenced by the fingernail claw marks on the inside of the wooden coffins, thus "graveyard shift" came about when small stings with bells were tied to the deceased when they were buried, so if they came to, they could be exhumed before suffocation. My mind could not help but instantly draw this parallel when I was chimney'd in crevasse on Mount Rainier last week, looking at my own crampon puncture marks on a glacier wall near my feet. I came to realization that people die where I was hanging. It was like drawing claw marks on your own coffin....it's funny to observe where your mind goes when you are under deep stress.

Climbing a mountain's glacier field is an experience out of this world. The expanse and subtle sounds are humbling. My rope team was the first in a stream of fifty or so headlamps making our way up the Emmons Glacier on Rainier last week. Climbing is always good, but is unideal when it is difficult to find rest in the heat of the day, when your sleep is shaken by the nearby rockfall and collapsing serac [ice] fields. You wake up in the mid evening and the "morning" is at your feet for the summit push. [In the spring and summer, most glaciers should be climbed at night, or you must be nearly off the glaciated sections before the afternoon as the ice turns to mush under your crampons, crevasses spread, and snow bridges weaken under the sun.]

People train for mountains, they build a variety of experiences for bigger challenges, there are advances in gear, an increased understanding in nutrition and human performance...and you have to tell yourself that this is enough to come off conqueror when in reality the mountain can choose to take anyone.
Sunrise on Mount Rainier - Little Tahoma in the foreground
It doesn't mater how long you have climbed, if you continue to climb mountains you WILL come up on sections that are run-out, sketchy gear placements, big mountains that can produce their own and often unpredictable weather systems, and you have to be prepared for it all. It is an inherent risk in this pursuit that you are building a relationship with the ever-changing natural forces—-and there is nothing like it!

While climbing the Emmons Glacier last week there were 45mph winds with even stronger gusts to what I estimate were near 60mph. I had studied up on snow brides and crevasse rescue. While ascending I was blown from a knifepoint ridge, a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other narrow stretch of glacier between two gaping crevasses, which I did not even consider as a possible scenario until it was happening. I attempted to self-arrest. I was blown hard enough, that when I swung my axe to catch myself it only caught air.

I have taken my share of climbing whipper falls and have always been able to get out a "take!" or a "falling!" yet this was a straight up scream from deep within.

Fortunately the rescue was as picture perfect as possible. Anchors Our gear, almost as organized my gear closetwere able to be set at an area beyond the knifepoint (thanks Nate). A fellow climber behind caught the fall (thanks, Court) and I was uninjured in the process, aside from the wind being knocked out of me and a small blow to the face causing a mild bloody nose. I was able to prusik out of the vertical section and was pulled over the lip of the crevasse that could have claimed me and my
team.

Sounds simple, and the objective was, but the process took 90 some minutes and then a few more to regroup. The moments that were most unnerving were when trying to communicate. The wind swallows all words, especially when you are hoping for crucial ones like: anchor, I got you, and I am okay.

A lot of climbers turned around at this point, considering the conditions and delay. Others took advantage of the now dying winds and 5 newly placed pieces of protection on the route. I cannot thank Nate, Courtney, and Dan enough for their strength and sound skills, the good times and the memories. Sunrise has never looked so good. I would rope up with this crew anytime and know we will all be able to overcome many obstacles. I hope the situation would never arise, but if ya'll fell, I would catch ya.

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1 comments

1 Comments:

Anonymous DSD said...

I've not gone in yet, but have much respect for deep dark ice...
What a day you had!
DSD

10/17/2007 7:38 AM

 

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