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Climbers stuck on Glacier


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Welcome back!!


And you thought the mountain was dangerous, be careful of the E. Coli from the burger [chubit] !!


Seriously, glad the three of you are better than worst, and you have not reached gaper status for being able to only get "911" thru on the cell.


Just get back on the horse this weekend [big Grin]


Cheers [big Drink] !!

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Glad you guys are alright bro!


I'm sure the SAR people were relieved when their pagers went off that they were actually going into the mountains and not looking for some runaway alzheimers patient.

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Originally posted by jon:

I'm sure the SAR people were relieved when their pagers went off that they were actually going into the mountains and not looking for some runaway alzheimers patient.

I think if I ever need a rescue, I'm going to pretend to be a runaway Alzheimers patient.

If we all did that there would be no controversy about climbers paying for rescues!


Seriously..... glad you guys are down safe.

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Originally posted by jon:

Glad you guys are alright bro!


I'm sure the SAR people were relieved when their pagers went off that they were actually going into the mountains and not looking for some runaway alzheimers patient.

That's the f'ing truth right there. Way too many of those below-treeline vertical dirt searches for people off medication, etc.

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Ok I've never done this but Lambone - check your PMs. Now, I'm not calling you a woman and saying you have pre menstrual syndrome and that you should check it, but recent personal messages are not currently being displayed due to some new software upgrade and I believe you are unaware of a personal message I sent a while ago. [Roll Eyes]

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Thanks for the support folks.


Since some seem curious, and even though it sometimes may seem otherwise, I consider you all alpine brethren, here is a brief report of what the hell happened up there.


Short version: We got schooled and called for help.


Long Version:


The Plan:

Three days on the Frostbite Ridge. To get the full tour of the peak we planed to carry over the summit and descend the Sitcum.


Since we wanted to carry our gear over, we new we had to go as light as possible (being off the couch weekend warriors and all). We decided to save weight by bringing our lightest raingear (no gortex, basically windbreakers), down sleeping bags (mine was rated to 35 degrees when I bought it ten years ago), one fuel canister, and minimal food (barely enough for three days with a hungry walk out). We had the basic survival stuff including a map and compass, but no GPS.


Our skills are varied. Although I have been climbing for over half of my life, I still consider myself very a very "green" Cascades climber. My fiancé is even greener on glaciers (though learning fast), and our partner was experienced in the Rockies, but had never worn crampons or used an ice axe.


We chose the Frostbite due to the reports that we had gotten from others stating that there was little crevasse, or objective danger, the climbing wasn't very difficult, and it gives an awesome grand tour of the many glaciers on Glacier Peak. Also, I had done the descent previously and felt comfortable with it (or at least if it was visible). Plus we couldn’t get a permit for the dog route on Rainier. Anyway, we had a plan and we were way psyched about it, the weather looked good through Sunday afternoon.


The Climb:

The first day we approached up Kennedy Ridge and set up a camp around 6,000. Then we spent the afternoon practicing rescue skills and showing our partner the art of self arrest, rope management and crampon skills.


Saturday…what can I say, the climbing was great! The Frostbite Ridge is an excellent route and offers many amazing perspectives on the mountain, usually from a safe perch high on the ridge. We made it up past the Rabbit Ears without so much as close glimpse into a crevasse. The weather was excellent up high, but cloudy down low, and the temps and wind were very tame. We came across a few steeper icy sections where we used a running belay with pickets, and our newbie partner did awesome on her first front pointing experience. Spirits were high. We arrived at the summit crater at about 2:00 (we weren’t moving fast with full packs) and made the best of the melt water and flat gravel bed. Things couldn't have been better, until...


Mistake #1: This was the fateful decision that led to the whole mess.


We were pretty happy to be close to the summit, but be were tiered. The sun was beating down and we began to get lazy. The idea of camping in the crater, finishing the 30 min to the summit and down the Sitcum the next morning became very appealing. We all thought about the possibility of weather moving in, but the ceiling down low was beginning to break up, and we figured we'd have a few hours of sun in the morning. The boots came off, wet ropes and harnesses were laid out to dry, stove was fired up, tents and bevy set up, and we spent the afternoon basking in the sun at a truly glorious alpine bivi spot. The Sitcum Spire rose up directly below us, like an old bony finger pointing at me warning, "You should know better." We watched the spectacular sunset and crashed out eager to rest up for the long trudge down and out.


Things fall apart:

Then it came. Like a freight train in the night, crazy winds roared in out of calm skies. It howled and shook us awake, instantly we all knew we had made a grave mistake.


The next three days sort of seem like a surreal blur.


Our friend’s bivi died quickly in the wet torrent, and she moved in with us. We spent the hours wondering when the sun might come back out, how cold it was going to get, would the tent hold up, could we keep our down bags dry, how long would three cliff bars some jerky and a hand full of jolly ranchers last, and mostly...could the three of us make it down the Sitcum with the current visibility...basically 10ft.


We passed the hours playing twenty questions, and trying to think of another game that would kill time. Then shifted our focus to staying dry in the 100% humidity, and killed hours coming up with elaborate schemes of drying wet stuff out, none of which worked all that well.


By Sunday night the weather had worsened and we began to think of those back home who would be wondering about us. We wanted our friends and family to know that we were ok and sitting out the storm, unfortunately at the summit. The cell phone came out and we tried everyone’s number. We had a full signal but for some reason it wouldn't connect. I forget who said it first, but through the pounding wind on the tent, someone muttered, "Should we try 991."


"Uhhh....I guess...but what are we going to tell them." Just for the record...I never wanted to make that damn call, but I was out numbered 2-1. Now that we are home safe, I am glad we did. After listening to the SAR guys and reading iceguy's post, I think it was the smart choice. If we wouldn't have called, our parents would have, and then the SAR folks would have had no idea where we the hell we were. Plus one dude said if our parents called instead of us, he would have had to hump a litter in. That made me feel a little better.


Anyway, we tried and it went through. I'll spare the details, but the conversation that ensued with the Seattle 911 dispatch was quite comical. "I know you are on a mountain, but what city are you in...etc,etc..."


Finally we got through to the Darrington Emergency office supervisor, and insisted that this was not an emergency, we were ok, warm, and planned to go down when the weather broke. We let them know that our family would be in contact soon, and to please relay the message. Every thing was fine, and we snuggled in for another crammed night in the I-tent.


The weather got worse. I've seen some weather in my climbing experience, but I have a whole new respect for weather in the Cascades now. The I-tent rocked and bent and swayed all night. The guy lines broke, and I was almost blown off the mountain replacing them with shoulder length runners. We thought the seams were going to burst, sleep never came, meanwhile our stuff continued to absorb water while ice began to build on everything left outside.


Morning came after what seemed like an eternity, yet the sun did not offer any relief. Visibility was still 0 and wind continued to howl. We call back to let 911 know of our situation. We were cold, wet, and beat, and I did not feel confident that I could lead us safely down the Sitcum in the whiteout. I knew we could do it with enough time, but given’ the conditions I assumed that one navigation error could lead to hypothermia and big trouble. Then I learned that our partner forgot to pack shell gloves, and the situation became even grimmer.


Before we knew it a rescue was being organized. We insisted over the phone that we were safe in our tent and did not want anyone to risk their lives trying to come get us.


"The chopper is on its way" was the reply.


It seems that miscommunication between the 911 dispatch, us, and the search and rescue authorities, was the biggest downfall in the efficiency of the whole process. We could not speak directly to the rescue coordinators, and therefore they were given false information about our situation. It was the classic game of kindergarten telephone. We told them we had a green tent and blue bivi bag and could use two dry sleeping bags and some food...the rescuers heard that we were sleeping in a blue tarp and had only one sleeping bag for the three of us. [Confused]


Given the information they had, the rescue party assumed the worst, and an all out assault was launched. The summit team stumbled across us this morning at around 8:30, just as cold and wet as we were (though maybe a little less hungry). We had no idea they were even on the mountain looking for us, yet another miscommunication. As far as we were told on the phone, only attempts to reach us by helicopter were being made, and a team had left the trailhead at 5:30am. Anyway, the gnarly hardmen whom spent the night freezing under a rock at 10,00ft before saving our asses were awesome, and we were damn glad to hear their calls through the infinite whiteness.


In retrospect, considering that the weather broke today, I like to think that we would have been fine coming down on our own. However, after our third cold wet night in the tent, spirits were no longer high, and had the conditions persisted I think we would have been fucked. Things may have worked out smoother if we could have spoken directly to the SAR guys, but oh well, not everything works out perfectly.


I am just thankfull that no one was hurt because of our stupid decision to camp at the summit. It seem like the SAR guys/girls were more than happy to be out there doing what they love, riding around in bad ass army helicopters, and saving gapers like us. For that I salute them. [big Drink] If any of you guys are reading this, thanks for being there today(no smiley face expresses my gratitude). On top of the intensity of Cascadian weather at 10,000ft, I now have a whole new respect for the operation that SAR runs. Pretty damn impressive…


Next time I think I'll bring the synthetic bag, and get the hell of the summit while the gettin is good. Thanks for reading. Happy climbing [Cool][big Drink]



[ 07-31-2002, 12:19 AM: Message edited by: Lambone ]

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The miscommunication sounds like par for the course when it comes to bad-weather mountain rescue in the cascades. [laf] Unfortunately 911 can start the ball rolling on a very heavy duty incident response, particularly when you have an urban call center jockey relaying mountain rescue information. [laf] Your phone was probably having trouble figuring out which station to fix on, as it most likely had line-of-sight to many networks. Digital PCS phones have this problem. They see the network at full strength, but refuse it. Physically, the phone has a great signal, but it can't log on the network. Your 911 dispatch call could have easily been many counties away.


Glad to see you back. I would guess that's a good bit of experience to have under the belt and thanks for sharing it.

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Lambone--I think many would have made a similar decision to spend the night. Tired team, calm weather, an I-tent, an easy descent route, the prospect of a spectacular sunset/sunrise. Who out there hasn't been seduced by great summer weather only to slapped silly just when you let your guard down? That's probably the simplest lesson for a high bivy in the Cascades: be prepared for the worst because you can't outrun hypothermia. Glad you're okay. You guys used good judgement by staying put.


I understand how you feel. I took a friend up the Kautz headwall a several years ago and we spent an unplanned extra night in the crater. Just so happens they were airlifting bodies off the Emmons that day and after a cell phone miscommunication, my partner's parents assumed the worst and tried to initiate a search. It was a terrible feeling to meet the Ranger below Muir asking if we were "so and so." Our hearts sank knowing that family was worried, waiting for us in the parking lot and that NPS was on the mountain looking for us. I met Gauthier and a woman a week later on the Brothers, and he told me he was patroling the Kautz, retracing our route. And that was only one full day late.


Welcome to the club. Did you have analog roaming on your cell phone? That frequently pulls a better connection.

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"We all thought about the possibility of weather moving in, but the ceiling down low was beginning to break up, and we figured we'd have a few hours of sun in the morning."


You are among the MANY that thought this way on the same day in the Cascades. Just that most of us were in positions that we could bail easily.


Good to hear you are OK.


To you and yours... [big Drink]

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Matt – only one way to avoid this in the future: leave the cel phone at home… seriously, I’m glad to hear that you’re (all) ok and apparently no worse for wear. These things happen. We all make questionable decisions from time to time, but usually the weather stays fine and we get away with it.


For what it’s worth, I think miscommunications with the rescue folks are common. If they waited to have all the info, it would be too late for the people who really were in a desperate situation, so their tendency is to “mobilize first, ask questions later.”

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