Wednesday, August 4, 2010

May 20, 2010 - Kahiltna Base Camp, Alaska Range, AK

Watch for links to video below, and click on pics for larger versions.

We got about a foot of snow last night, so Denis and I have spent the last 40 minutes or so digging out our tent and tightening all the guy lines that anchor it to the snow. Today, I think, is real-life crevasse rescue training, if the guides think it's suitably safe weather for it, and mostly hanging out if not. In that case, it would be maybe some more in-camp discussion of other skills.

If the snow doesn't let up by tomorrow morning, we may have to wait, and even stomp out the glacier runway with other teams here to clear a path for planes to land.

The weather cleared to bright blue skies by about 10am, so as promised, we all suited up and took a walk up the glacier to find a crack to throw ourselves into, so we could all practice the crevasse rescue skills we were taught on our weather day earlier this week.

Before we headed up the glacier today, though, we spent a couple hours on some education in the basics of high altitude medical--made especially interesting by the fact that Ben is a doctor. He was able to illuminate some of the physiological mechanics of conditions like cerebral and pulmonary edemas... interesting stuff.

Anyway, the guides found a good crevasse that wasn't too overhung but was nevertheless huge--60 or more feet across--and we set up 3 stations, where we were all able to rotate efficiently through the training taking place at each. I started by getting down and dirty over the edge, hanging for a few minutes in midair by my harness as I set up for the real task at hand.

My job was to attach two prusiks to the climbing rope in a reasonable amount of time, prusik up the rope, and climb out of the hole--which I did. Prusiks make for hard physical work shimmying up the rope, but it sure beats having to do it with just hands and feet.

Still, getting out was some seeeerious work! I can see now why this is such an important skill to have. I imagined myself exhausted after a long day's climb, falling into a crevasse, and having to do this.... HARD!. Anyway, I climbed out of the hole totally steaming in the cold air from sweat, but I had a great time doing it :-)

Down over the edge when I started, I needed a little extra time getting the prusik setup right--took me a minute to figure out what I was doing wrong, but eventually nailed it, clipped in, and up I went.

Everyone else was rotating through different positions on a mock 4-man rope team. One guy was in the crevasse as the fallen climber, one was the primary anchor position, and two uprope to help anchor, transfer the load, to assist, or to help set up the pulley system that would get our buddy out of the crack.

I rotated to the belay station, and then worked my way through every other position on that rope in the remanining time. Getting through every station has taken most of the day--and what an educational day it's been! WOW!

Now that I know it, I feel like I just now need a lot more practice with these techniques before I have them totally nailed and second nature, but the books I have at home are now suddenly FAR more useful to me, having now had hands-on instruction in 3-dimensions, and interactively. I read a lot in them before I got to AK, but the crevasse rescue portions only kinda made sense to me at the time. Now they REALLY do :-)

We finished up the crevasse rescue earlier in the day and headed back to camp, where Tyler busted out the BBQ grill once again(!)--bacon cheeseburgers and one other incredibly awesome surprise: adult beverages! They've apparently been saving it for the end of the trip. (As this is a Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. trip, what other brand could it be but Rainier haha)

After dinner, we did some avalanche beacon training in camp, which was kinda wacky. Jason was leading the discussion, but Tyler, who seemed to be in a rather stern mood tonight, would bust in with long, passionate additional commentary. He was most aggro about the way to get to a person in an avalanche, and pointed out that the beacon is not your primary search tool initially... your brain is. Jason and Tyler crack me up. They're such good friends, they're like an old married couple

Tyler's philosophy is pretty simple and straightforward: don't walk... SPRINT to where you last saw people go down and visually scan rapidly for lost items or exposed things still on (or off) the climbers. Follow the breadcumbs. Lost gloves, hands, arms poking out of the snow, can lead you right wehere you need to go... but do it FAST.  He went on to say that our shovels and probes are the most immediate things that can potentially save their lives, followed by beacons--and while the beacon is a great tool, the point of it is is not a slow methodical search, because if you spend all this time on getting it just right, people might be dying under the snow. His point was learn to us it, and to do it quickly.

I do agree with much of this... and one of the recurring topics of this seminar came out yet again loudly and clearly through this discussion: be smart, be efficient, and above all, use smarts and efficiency to be safe, and to help keep your friends safe, too--and then that stay way. Common sense and being smart and THINKING about what you're doing and why while you're in the mountains has been talked about and talked about, and it's something I definitely believe in.

I'd characterize myself as a conservative climber anwyay--much of my inspiration has come from pragmatic climbers like Ed Viesturs--and I came here to learn the art of listening to and following your instincts based on what the conditions tell you, even if it means disappointment, turning back or waiting out a long storm. I've learned a great deal about just how to execute on that in my own climbing from the training here in AK, too.

AAAANYway, after beacon training, many group photos of our last night on the glacier together as a team, lots of sunset pics, and general camp jokeyness, I took off my boots for the last time, and we all headed off to sleep for our last night in the breathtaking shadow of Mt Crosson, and Foraker's Sultana Ridge, deep in the Alaska Range... with perfect weather.

Fingers crossed once again that we get off the glacier tomorrow as planned. If we do, tomorrow night will be dinner with certificates, and a lot of partying at the Fairview Inn! Raddddd...

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