Muir Seminar, Day Three: Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

By | 2016-09-28

Night two in the hut was somewhat more restful than the first.  Sleeping through the emphysema-like noises remained difficult, but my second attempt at a reasonably comfortable clothing-pillow was better than the first.  Still ample room for improvement.  Still two more days to get it right.

Our morning routine was the same as the previous day: quiet hours until 07:00, hot water to “cook” breakfast around 08:00, ready to rock by 09:30.  After the previous day’s clomping around led to very sore feet, I was relieved to learn we’d do a lot more standing around today.  Specifically, we’d spend the morning learning how to set up standing anchors in snow and ice.  After lunch, we’d learn how to perform a crevasse rescue.

Setting up anchors is really important stuff, but that doesn’t make it exciting.  While my feet appreciated the break, the rest of me was getting pretty bored standing there.  I welcomed the opportunity to hammer a picket into the snow, if only because it was a break from the monotony.  And learning how to build a V-thread ice anchor is pretty neat.

The combination of thinner socks, looser laces, and less walking seemed to be helping my feet.  Whereas each step the day before had been just shy of agonizing, the morning had been mostly painless.  That was good news, because we had to trek pretty far onto the Cowlitz glacier for our crevasse rescue course.

After lunch, we roped up and made our way down to the crevasse field.  We watched as the guides explained, setup, and performed the initial “rescue.”  Contrary to what you might see on screen, getting someone out of a crevasse involves a lot more than just pulling on the rope.  Fixed anchors must be set (we used snow pickets), the fallen climber’s rope length must be fixed/secured, and friction hitches must be tied to ensure that the rope stays put during the rescue.  It’s an fairly complicated, intense, all-hands-on-deck effort.

During the lesson, the day’s clear skies soon gave way to thick clouds—weather changes quickly on the mountain.  Sitting still soon became less comfortable than it had previously been.  In my fidgeting and shuffling to stay warm, I let my attention drift from the lesson.  The complicated setup of ropes and hitches soon looked like nothing more than a tangle of ropes.  Oops.

When the opportunity came to jump slide into the crevasse, I was eager to go first, to get the blood flowing and hopefully warm up.  Unfortunately, someone beat me to it.  Having not paid much attention earlier, I was less eager to lead a mock rescue effort.  I figured I could learn from my teammates’ efforts before I had to give it a go myself.

When it was my turn to go in, some of my excitement had died down.  There would be no dramatic jump to simulate a fall, just a slow easing down on the rope.  It makes sense—no need to introduce unnecessary dangers—but it was pretty anticlimactic.  Still, being down inside a crevasse is pretty cool.  It’s not often one gets an inside view of these mountain menaces without being in actual danger.

I ended up being one of the last two people to work the ropes for a fallen climber.  Unfortunately, observing my colleagues proved less helpful than I’d hoped.  They all seemed as confused as I had been, so I ended up observing a series of repeated mistakes.  I managed to get a couple of the hitches right on my first attempt, but had this been a real rescue attempt, I think my rope-mate would have perished.  I’d better get some practice before I try to lead a rope.

We wrapped the day earlier than we had the last two, but not without reason.  Our summit attempt was scheduled for the next day, which would mean an early start.  We needed to get ready and get rested.

Anticipation level: Maximum.

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